Published: 19 February 2023
By Yvonne Pipkin
via the Medium web site
It was the cultural norm that married women and many single women stayed home tied to the household and did not work. So, how, and when did American women enter the workforce?
The answer is U.S. involvement in World War I between 1917 and 1918.
Women Worked on the Homefront
Women in WWI ammunition factory
With the start of World War I, women were finally given the opportunity to enter the workforce.
This was a tremendous change in the social structure of the period, allowing women to participate in many industries that had previously been the exclusive territory of men.
Women stepped in and filled the manufacturing/production factories (weapons and ammunition, uniforms, airplanes, tanks, etc.) and agricultural (farming to supply food) positions.
Women Volunteered Their Labor Abroad
· Many women volunteered for the American Red Cross performing a variety of tasks from making surgical dressings, masks, and gowns, to operating servicemen’s canteens (entertainment).
· Women volunteers for the Salvation Army provided coffee, doughnuts, letter-writing, clothes repairing, and other services to soldiers and sailors at embarkation and debarkation ports, canteens, and other locations.
· Even American Librarians contributed to the war effort by volunteering to deliver 10 million books and journals to American service members at home and abroad.
American Women Entered the Military for the First Time
Hello Girls Operating the Switchboards in France Photo by Sgt. Abbott, U.S. Army Signal Corps
Back in the day, there were operators on switchboards to connect phone calls. They were referred to as “Hello Girls”. Why? Instead of callers dialing another telephone number directly, the “Hello Girls” greeted callers with “hello” when the switchboard rang.
Women, not men, were Hello Girls because women were patient, polite, and had the dexterity to connect the lines on the switchboard.
That explains who they were. Why were Hello Girls needed as military personnel?
Over in France during WWI, there was a problem with communication. Keep in mind, French was the language spoken in France; not English that Americans spoke.
To resolve the situation of poor communication, General John Pershing of the U.S. Army agreed to the proposal from the Signal Corp and AT&T to hire experienced American switchboard operators who were fluent in English and French to serve in the Signal Corp in France.
That’s how American women enlisted in the U.S. military for the very first time.
Read the entire article on the Medium web site.
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