Around the beginning of World War I there was a presence of large numbers of women in the workforce which had ultimately given a sign to the start of the modern equality in female jobs. Women for the longest time had a hard time finding jobs, making up only 18.3 percent of the labor force and earning half of the pay of men in 1900 (DeBois 419). Therefore, later on in 1917, conflict had been created for American women as the U.S. entered the war and the labor shortages opened new job opportunities for women, but still had left them on the sidelines of the battle (DeBois 444). Yet again women were given equal access to the same job opportunities as men at home but were banned from fighting overseas alongside their husbands and loved ones.
Those who had opposed the war were accused of “political disloyalty” (DeBois 444) and often were thrown into federal prison for up to six months. Those who did not disobey, which was a large amount of U.S women often spent the majority of their time contributing to wartime efforts. Often times other activist women, such as Carrie Chapman Catt had believed that supporting the war was a full claim to their citizenship, stating such claims as, “I’d be willing, if necessary, to die for my country” (DuBois 444). Such women as Catt had worked hard for the creation of organizations such as the Women’s Committee of the Council for National Defense (WCND). Throughout World War I this organization had turned this into a channel to publish and circulate articles and illustrations that had linked women’s war service to the suffrage fight.
Even though women were not able to directly fight on the war front, they had contributed to war efforts in other ways. One way women had contributed was through the organization of large public marches to raise money for “wartime Liberty Bonds” (DuBois 447). Women had also organized “America’s housewives” to conserve wheat, sugar, and meat during wartime. In addition, women had raised money for relief funds for refugees in Europe while other women had been active in “Americanization work” where women had worked to accelerate the assimilation of immigrants into American society (DeBois 448).
However, women’s largest contribution to wartime efforts was their labor, with over 10 million women now holding jobs as, “men go awarring, women go to work. War compels women to work. That is one of its merits” (DuBois 449). Although the war had brought women out of the house and into the workforce, they still were held in their traditional roles as housewives or mothers and as those who are there to care, not start violence.
Although women had formed forces such as the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), their jobs were still limited, keeping them at home and in the traditional roles that had already been held for hundreds of years. This was especially seen in posters and other sorts of propaganda that had been circulating throughout World War I, such as the YWCA poster created by Edward Penfield in 1918 titled, The Girl on the Land Serves the Nation’s Need. Pictured are four women walking with a horse and two of the women are carrying farming equipment and products while all four women are wearing coats that look like dresses, once again keeping a clear line between the physical appearance of men and women.
These women also look well kept and clean with gentile expressions, once again not painting them as tough figures which were usually pictured as men in the front of a battle. Underneath the main title, it reads “apply Y.W.C.A. Land Service Committee” (Penfield). Even within the title, it refers to women as “The Girl” almost like a child who is not able to protect themselves and needs men fighting a battle for them overseas while they stay “on the Land” (Penfield). Within the title, it also says to “Serve the Nation’s Needs” (Penfield) which sounds demeaning in the sense that the women are just here to serve the country while their loved ones are given opportunities they wish that they could have and believe they should be involved in.
Carrie Chapman Catt had stated “when war murders the husbands and sons of women, . . . it becomes the undeniable business of women” (DuBois 4445). However, women’s business during wartime extended as far as farm work, knitting socks or clothes for soldiers, volunteering at Red Cross, or forming an organization to further fight for women’s suffrage. Wartime did not bring upon new advanced opportunities for women but instead had just further advanced their traditional roles to help support wartime efforts.