Published Date

June 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 31: Do You Want Your Wife to Work after the War? (1944)

The double burden of work both inside and outside the home is not an inevitable consequence of the way women are made. And yet a woman often finds that when she takes a “man’s job” in industry it is not instead of but in addition to a “woman’s job” in the home. Even when she has a competent maid, or when the children are in a day nursery or busy at school and she can buy ready-cooked food at a community kitchen, children have needs which nurseries cannot meet, and shopping must be done. Often these responsibilities might be and are shared by her husband. Women hear patriotic appeals from men concerning the desperate need for woman power, yet realize that if they respond theirs may be still the traditional privilege of cooking the evening meal at the end of a hard day. Occasionally an exasperated woman writes to the paper that if some women seem slackers in regard to war industry, it is because some men are slackers in regard to work in the home. It is a sober statistical fact that women in war production are more likely to absent themselves from work than are men. This seems to be due in no small measure to their attempt to do a double job.

Working mothers are usually blamed for the wartime increase in juvenile delinquency. This has become a serious unsolved problem, and undoubtedly there are many women working who ought to be at home keeping an eye on the children after school. Certainly fathers also should take more interest in their children’s welfare. Likewise more could be done by school and community toward keeping children out of mischief.

In spite of wartime need, there is still potential opposition from both management and labor to women wage earners, especially those who are married. Even when employers are dependent upon women workers, they are sometimes slow to provide special facilities for women. Difficulties sometimes center in trivial issues such as the wearing of sweaters. It may be granted that a concern for safety is involved but the rush of press agents to offer the services of shapely movie stars as arbiters probably does not help matters.

In the United States, although the tendency has recently been for the unions to accept women members, it is pretty much a case of softening prejudice against the membership of women in unions or of facing the problem of scab labor. The tendency is likewise to recommend equal pay to women for equal work, in order to protect wage standards. Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent of masculine opposition. In England where the tradition of skilled workmanship is strong, it does not seem quite right to many that a daughter running a new type of automatic machine receives the same pay as her father whose skill, though now little used, was slowly mastered. In this country union men are concerned lest women acquire seniority rights. American women workers are less likely to be upgraded than are men workers, and have received less encouragement to participate in war training programs.

It is true that some of the obstacles to satisfying work for women are being swept away by war conditions. As the reserve labor force, women are in demand. There is a desire to please them and to further their comfort and convenience. While the War Manpower Commission urges that women with young children be the last group drawn to the factory, there is recognition of the need for child care. At the end of 1943 two or three million children of working mothers needed care. Numerous communities have organized day nurseries. Funds have come from the Office of Community War Services, the Children’s Bureau, and the Works Progress Administration. Of the approximately 1,500 nursery schools formerly under the Works Progress Administration about 1,000 are eligible to be continued under the Lanham Act.

Various attempts have been made to ease the burden of food preparation, of shopping, of transportation, and laundry work. The provision of staggered hours, time off, and part-time jobs in order to harmonize work in home and factory are important developments.

Women gain from the rivalry of unions and employers. Labor leaders worry about the fact that unorganized women workers are as numerous in this country as all union members combined. They argue that the unions must serve women well, directly and through pressure on the government. Otherwise, they fear that employers will. obtain good will through various services and draw women into company unions.

When the war is over there will be less concern with courting the favor of women workers. But gains will have been made toward furthering satisfactory work opportunities for women.

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