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Women In World War I

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World War I is remembered as a soldier's conflict for the six million men who

were mobilized and for the high military casualties compared to civilian deaths. However, it was also a total war, where the entire nation's population was involved. Everyone contributed to the war efforts from civilians working in factories making uniforms, guns, tanks and ammunition, to families with men at the front. Probably the most prevalent group that contributed a major role in World War I, were women. They took on many responsibilities not only at the home, replacing men in offices and factories but also serving in the arm forces. More that 25,000 women served in Europe in WW I, they helped nurse the wounded, and provide food and other supplies to the military. They served as telephone operators, entertain troops and adhered to the expectations that were pressured on them from society. Their actions in World War I eventually led to the passing of the 19th amendment.

When all the men were across the ocean fighting a war for world peace, the home front soon found itself in a shortage for workers. Before the war, women mostly depended on men for financial support. But with so many gone to battle, women had to go to work to support themselves. With patriotic spirit, women one by one stepped up to do a man's work with little pay, respect or recognition. Labor shortages provided a variety of jobs for women, who became street car conductors, railroad workers, and shipbuilders. Some women took over the farms, monitoring the crops and harvesting and taking care of livestock. Women, who had young children with nobody to help them, did what they could do to help too. They made such things for the soldiers overseas, such as flannel shirts, socks and scarves.

Many factories became short-handed and had to hire women to cover the jobs. The factories were very dangerous and unhealthy, and the women were only getting paid half the wages of men. The women were not unionized because the Labor Union said that they had to hire many women to replace one man and that the skilled tasks were broken in to several less skilled tasks. They had no protection, so their lungs and skin were exposed to dangerous chemicals. Many women worked in munitions factories, where they worked with sulphur. The sulphur actually made their skin turn yellow. These women were given the name of 'canaries', because people recognized them because of the importance of their job, it was not used as a term of abuse. Eventually, women started there own union, The National Women's Trade Union League, still the wages were not raised. Women had a hard time adjusting to a lot of changes, but they persevered.

Girls' as young as 16 were working as nurses. Help wanted ads for nursing increased by the day. Many young women volunteered to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment and First Nursing Yeomanry. They had very basic nursing skills but they could still help the wounded soldiers at the war zone by giving them basic medical treatment. A nurse by the name of Juliet Goodrich said, "I knew nothing about nursing and had to learn on my patients, a painful process for all concerned." The volunteers did not get paid. The First Nursing Yeomanry were in charge of driving the ambulances and running the soup kitchens for the soldiers and getting baths ready for the soldiers that had time off at the front line. Physical and Occupational Therapists were called Reconstruction Aides and saw service in the armed forces by serving in hospitals in the United States and overseas. At least three Army nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which is the nation's second highest military honor.

Florence Aby Blanchfield was one of the most respected nurse leaders. After High School Blanchfield attended the south side Hospital Training School for Nurses where she received her nursing degree in 1906.(Sheater, 41) In April 1920, she was promoted to chief nurse, later she was promoted to the relative rank of captain. Once WWI broke out, Blanchfield became superintendent of the Nursing Division of the Army Nurse Corps and was promoted lieutenant colonel in 1942.(Sheater,42) Blanchfield established a basic training center for the new inexperienced nurses. She was then given full military rank for Army nurses in 1944. She was responsible for Army nurses to gain full military rank by getting support from key government officials. Many nurses were wounded and several died overseas and are buried in military cemeteries.

Women not only enlisted in the army as nurses, but many were sworn into the U.S. Army Signals Corps as operators.



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