By the end of the war, Nurses had received more than 1,619 medals, citations and other accommodations for their courage and dedication under fire. Sixteen of those medals were awarded posthumously to nurses who had died in combat. Sixteen women won the Purple Heart and 565 women were awarded the Bronze Star for their service overseas. Also, more than 700 WAC were awarded medals and citations for their efforts during the war. Despite the high number of awards that women received at this time, their story had largely been ignored by the stories of valor and courage on the part of their male counterparts.
Only until decades later, did the next generation learn about the heroics that their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters accomplished during this time “Countless women served in all branches of the services stateside and relieved or replaced men for combat duty overseas. ” It was a liberating, although sad time for women at this time. The end of the war was also a time of mixed feelings for many women who had previously served their country in the capacity of the aforementioned.
The immediate effect was the reality that women, at least in the eyes of the government and the factory owners, were not needed now that the men were coming home from the war and needed their old jobs back. ‘No longer was there any need for women to leave their husbands and children to work eight hours in a factory. They could once again stay at home and take care of their families. ” As important as their families were to many women, such a life, especially in comparison to the freedom and independence that they had experienced during the war, being relegated to such a life again was just not what they were looking for anymore.
The war, for many women, allowed them to experience a degree of social and economic freedom that had not been present in the history of American culture. It just was not there. There were many women who were glad to return home as their plans to marry and have a family, or to simply return to their homes, became a reality. However, for many, women still desired to work. In 1945, when Allied victory was in sight, a survey was conducted by the Women’s Bureau in which nearly 75% of women who replied, continued to work in some capacity after the war was over.
The desire to continue to work and experience some level of economic and social freedom, had taken hold within many American women. It would be a freedom that women, despite their best efforts and desires, they would not completely enjoy until years after the war had ended. Brought on by a post war boom, the next twenty years in America was prosperous for a larger percentage of Americans than had been experienced in the country. This helped to eliminate the need for a family with two incomes.
Taxes were much lower than they are today. Factory jobs had not yet been sent overseas and the American economy was strong. Since there was no necessity to work, a large majority of women stayed at home. The cultural demands to take care of one’s children were too strong for many women to deny; both within their own sense of duty as well as the sense of duty that society placed upon millions of women as the idea of the perfect homemaker continued to be portrayed in many areas of American popular culture.
Women would not enjoy an exponential increase in the freedoms; both social and economic until many years later. Some would argue that women have yet to enjoy complete equality with men in all areas of American life. What cannot be argued, is that during World War II, women, whether they were at home taking care of their families, in the factories or overseas, met an essential need for the American Armed Forces who were then enabled to win the war against Hitler and fascism.
The victory in WWII is as much their victory as it is for their male counterparts.
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