Women and the home front During world war ii
Although World War II began in Europe in early September of 1939, the United States did not join until December 8, 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Entering the war drastically changed the United States economy, and the nation immediately demanded more from its men and women. Since women's participation in the war effort was essential for an Allied victory, gender roles were dramatically altered, at least temporarily. While some women joined the new female branches of the military, many of those who stayed at home went to work in factories and filled other traditionally male jobs while their husbands, fathers, boyfriends, brothers, and sons left to fight. Many women who did not fight or work for pay chose to volunteer their time and energies for the war effort.
Minnesota women participated a great deal in the home front war effort. In the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, sixty percent of the workers during the war were women. Women worked in the shipyards in Duluth and on Lake Superior and as streetcar conductors for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company. They also worked on farms to replace their husbands and the hired workers who had gone to fight. Wives and daughters were often left in charge of family farms when their husbands and fathers were drafted.
Although only one-third of the state's adult female population was employed during the war, the two-thirds that were not employed found other ways to assist the war effort. Among many volunteer activities, women offered their services to the Red Cross and the Office of Civilian Defense, providing recreation to the men in canteens and selling war bonds.
Get Started With Secondary Sources
- Dear Poppa: The World War II Berman Family Letters, compiled by Ruth Berman.
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1997.
MHS call number: Reading Room D 810 .C4 D347 1997.
- The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s, Susan M. Hartmann.
Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.
MHS call number: HQ 1420 .H34 1982.
- "Life on the Home Front: Minneapolis in 1942," by Iric Nathanson.
In Hennepin History, vol. 61, no. 2 (spring 2002), pp. 4-19.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 612 .H52 H42 v:61:2.
- "Life on the Home Front Through the Eyes of Myrtle Fortun," by Patricia Dooley.
Fortun was a telephone operator in Lyle, Minnesota.
In Roots, vol. 17, no. 2 (winter 1989), pp. 7-15.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 602 .A28 v:17:2.
- Minnesota Goes to War: The Home Front During World War II, by Dave Kenney.
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005.
MHS call number: D 769 .85 .M6 K46 2005.
- "Minnesota Women Journalists During World War II," by Patricia Dooley.
In Roots, vol. 17, no. 2 (winter 1989), pp. 22-26.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 602 .A28 v:17:2.
- Out of the Kitchen, Into the War, by Susan Brownell Anthony.
New York: S. Daye, .
MHS call number: HD 6095 .A68.
- A Social History of Women: Linda James Benitt, developed by Shiela C. Robertson, Kathleen Ann O'Brien.
[Minnesota: Women Historians of the Midwest], 1981.
MHS call number: HQ 1438 .M6 S62 no. 3.
- "War, Women, and Lipstick," by Thomas C. Thompson.
Article about advertising.
In Roots, vol. 17, no. 2 (winter 1989), pp. 27-35.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 602 .A28 v:17:2.
- "We Were the Lucky Ones."
Interviews with New Ulm residents reflecting on their experiences during the war, including life on the homefront.
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Public Radio, 1985.
Restriction: For research only; may not be reproduced for broadcast.
MHS call number: Audiotape # 40 (1 55+ minutes cassette).
- "World War II Women's Civil Defense: Winona, Minnesota," by Gregory P. Kaiser.
College paper (St. Mary's College, Winona).
MHS call number: D 810 .C69 K34 1986.
- Minnesota History index terms:
- Women -- in World War II
- World War II -- home front
- "Help, Housing 'Almost Impossible to Find': A Single Mother During World War II," by Hilda Rachuy.
In Ramsey County History, vol. 26, no. 4 (winter 1991): pp.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 612 .R22 .R3 v:26:4.
- 'When is Daddy Coming Home?': An American Family During World War II, by Richard Carlton Haney.
Madison, Wis.: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2005.
MHS call number: D 736 .H364 2005.
- Women Remember the War, 1941-1945, edited by Michael E. Stevens, Ellen D. Goldlust, assistant editor.
Madison, Wis.: Center for Documentary History, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1993.
MHS call number: D 810 .W7 W67 1993.
- Marion Backus Papers.
Backus was a Red Cross nurse in France during the First World War, and worked on the home front during World War II. Included are materials about her involvement in American National Red Cross recruitment work (1943) and World War II home front activities (1946).
MHS call number: P1356; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are 55 items).
- William A. Benitt and Family Papers.
Correspondence, clippings, and account books relating to the farming activities-poultry, livestock, grain, and orchards-of William and Linda James Benitt of Apple Acres Farm outside Hastings, Minnesota. During the World War II, when most men were off to war, women from Hastings were employed to pick, grade, and pack the apples, and they literally saved the Benitt's apple crops from rot, working long hours at harvest time.
MHS call number: P30; see the green "P" Manuscript Notebooks for more details (there are 2 boxes of material)
- For a brief biography of Linda Benitt, excerpts from her letters, and lesson plans for teachers, see "A Social History of Women: Linda James Benitt" in the Secondary Sources section above.
- Reuben Berman and Family Papers.
Papers documenting the activities of Reuben Berman of Minneapolis, Minnesota during World War II, and "V-mail" correspondence from his family in Minneapolis. The family letters contain information on family matters and activities, and life in Minneapolis during World War II.
MHS call number: P2449; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are 4 folders of material).
- A compilation of the V-mail correspondence has been published as Dear Poppa: The World War II Berman Family Letters, see the Secondary Sources section.
- Myrtle E. Fortun Diary.
Diary-scrapbook (1941-1948) containing letters, clippings, pictures, and reminiscences, largely concerning World War II, collected by Myrtle Fortun, a telephone operator in Lyle, Minnesota. Included are letters written to her by servicemen; newspaper clippings on homefront wartime activities and routines, various military and political aspects of the wartime period; several WWII ration cards and books; and Fortun's own diary entries.
MHS call number: P25; see the green "P" Manuscript Notebooks for more details (there is one volume).
- Hazel Hamey Golling Papers.
Personal correspondence, printed materials, and photographs relating mainly to Hazel Golling's volunteer activities in the 1940s with the Red Cross and charitable organizations in Minneapolis. The personal correspondence, printed materials, and photographs (2 folders, 1941-1969) reflect Golling's work during World War II in canteens run by the Hennepin County Chapter of the American Red Cross, and her work with the Hennepin County War Chest.
MHS call number: P2487; see the green "P" Manuscript Notebooks for more details (there is one box of material, but not all relates to this topic).
- Marianne Hamilton Papers.
Among other things, this collection includes correspondence, draft articles of incorporation, membership lists, printed circulars, newsletters, meeting programs, radio scripts, and news clippings regarding the GI Wives Club of Minneapolis, organized in 1945.
MHS call number: See the green Alpha Manuscripts Notebooks—filed under Hamilton, Marrianne—for more details (there are 3 boxes of material but not all relate to this topic).
- Elizabeth Bradley Heffelfinger Scrapbooks and Related Papers.
Original materials and photocopies of news clippings from four scrapbooks containing correspondence, memoranda, reports, trip itineraries, passports, mimeographed bulletins and circulars, pamphlets, programs, awards, and photographs documenting the home front war work during WWII of the Women's Activities Division of the Minneapolis Civilian Defense Council (Heffelfinger was the chairwoman), and the political work and public life of Elizabeth Bradley Heffelfinger. The roles of the Defense Council's Victory Aides and the Women's Division in the sale of war bonds, scrap salvage, food conservation, overseas donations, and other home front programs are extensively documented.
MHS call number: P2250; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are 2 boxes of material, but not all relate to this topic), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- Semper Fidelis Papers.
Articles, clippings, and correspondence of publicity chairwoman Ardis L. Parker, documenting the members and activities of this organization of female relatives of men serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.
MHS call number: P1219; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are 38 items).
- John S. and Geogiana Sonnen Correspondence.
This collection (1944-1946) includes letters between John Sonnen and his wife Geogiana describing his experience serving in the anti-aircraft battalions and her life at home in St. Paul during the war. Her letters include information about her daily activities, news about their young son, their family's grocery business, as well as local news and events.
MHS call number: P2263; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are four boxes of material), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- A Time of Remembrance: Fifty Years and a Day, December 7, 1941 - December 8, 1991.
Photocopy of a commemorative pamphlet containing fourteen brief reminiscences about life during the Second World War by members of the Macalester-Plymouth United Church community. The reminiscences include information about men's and women's service in the Armed Forces, life on the home front, and the replacement of men by women in the factories.
MHS call number: P160; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is one item).
- (Albert Lea) Evening Tribune
- Duluth News Tribune
- Minneapolis Star
- Minneapolis Tribune
- St. Paul Dispatch
- St. Paul Pioneer Press
- Willmar Daily Tribune
- Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
- Check the library catalog for other materials.