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)

In a democracy, controversial issues are not decided by decrees of dictators or even by cold facts arrayed in formidable statistical tables. Democracy in one sense is government by discussion and it is through the disputes of men on the street and in the service that ultimate decisions are shaped. It is the thoughts and the feelings of the everyday men and women that count in the long run. Let’s listen in on a squabble in an American camp, behind the lines in Italy, or perhaps on an American transport.

Says Pvt. Pro, glancing up from an ancient American newspaper, “Say, you know with the way prices are going up I’m going to have to send my wife out to work after the war. I may not be able to buy myself a good suit of civies to say nothing of one of those helicopters unless the wife brings home a little bacon on Saturday night.”

Pvt. Con glares at Pvt. Pro, “Look here, Pro, where I come from we don’t send our wives out to work. If I can’t make enough money to support a wife, I just don’t expect to be married. My mother had plenty to do right around the house, and she didn’t take in washing either. Maybe you’re just too lazy to go and dig out a decent income. I’m not like that. I’m for the good old-fashioned way. I’ll pay for the food and the wife can cook it, and what is more, cook it the way I like it. A lot of these women who have been out trying to do a man’s job are going to be glad to go back home and be supported by some good man.”

Pvt. Pro disagrees, “All right, Con, you wait and see how long it takes to save up enough money to get married on in the way you look at it. You’re not going to get any bonus that will buy a bungalow for the little woman. Furniture costs money. of course, every girl expects to have a car. Your lady friend has probably been making big dough in a war plant and has gotten used to having a new hat once in a while. ‘When the nylons bloom again,’ she is going to want a few pairs. If you wait to do everything right, you’ll probably find that the girl won’t. Besides you’ll be too old to mow your own lawn by the time you save up enough for a house. If the girl likes to work, why stop her? You can get married sooner if there are two people to face the bill collector. A woman appreciates things a lot more if she has had something to do with paying for them. You know it’s not the Civil War but World War II that you are in. It just isn’t going to be the same kind of world when this thing is over.”

Pvt. Con protests, “So you think you’ve got it all figured out. How about competition from these women that are staying on the job to support guys like you? They’re going to make it harder for me to do it my way. Maybe your wife does help out, but if enough women are out gunning for jobs you’ll get such a measly pay check that you’re right back where you were before. That’s the way it was during the depression-a man couldn’t get a job and if he did he couldn’t make enough money to support a family; there was always a woman who could afford to work just a bit cheaper. A fellow went to jail if he didn’t support his family and he couldn’t support them because some other fellow’s wife was working in an office to earn herself a fur coat.”

Pvt. Pro is disgusted. “If most men thought the cockeyed way you do,” he says, “you’d expect women to get the jobs. Plenty of women can think straighter than you do. Why do you suppose a lot of women go to work during a war? To make everybody poorer? The more people you’ve got at work the more things get produced. If a wife works she’s got money to spend which creates some more jobs. She can hire a maid. She can buy an automobile and even a dumb cluck like you may get a job putting it together.”

From Pvt. Con, “All right, Pro, but don’t forget that automobiles aren’t the only things that need to be produced. How about kids? If women don’t have kids, pretty soon there won’t be any automobiles nor anybody to ride in them. A woman just can’t do everything. We need a lot of babies to make up for this war. Sure, you hear a lot about women who have become big shots. They make the headlines, hold big jobs, write books, perhaps become scientists, but do they have children? I bet they don’t pass on their brains to very many youngsters.”

Pvt. Pro objects, “Well, why expect all women to do the same thing? You don’t expect all men to run locomotives or all of them to work on a farm. Women have got all kinds of different abilities. A lot of them have been going to school, while you and I were out here. Why waste a college education on a floor mop? If a woman can run a store or teach school, she can have kids just the same, because she’s got money to hire somebody to help out at home who likes that sort of thing and can’t do anything else.”

Pvt. Con breaks in, “That’s just where you are wrong. You can’t hire anybody to do a really bang-up job of making a home and bringing kids up right. If the mother isn’t on the job, the children may get into trouble, get hurt, eat the wrong things. A man doesn’t have much of a home either when his wife is out on the job. His buttons don’t get sewed on and if he wants to step out and have a little fun in the evening the wife is just too tired or interested in something else. A man wants a wife, not a business partner.”

Pvt. Pro retorts, “How would you like to stay at home all day, keep the kids out of mischief, and wash the same old dishes day after day? A woman is more interesting if she has a job too. There is a little variety; she knows what is going on in the world. With her own pay check she can do things and buy things without asking her husband’s permission or picking his pockets to get the price of a movie.”

Pvt. Con disagrees, “Pro, you just can’t seem to get it through Your head that there are two kinds of jobs in the world and two kinds of people for these jobs. One job is to get into the outside world, make a living, know what’s going on. The other job is to keep the home fires burning, to make a house into a home, to make children feel that they belong there, and to give a husband something worth coming home to. A real woman who isn’t spoiled by newfangled ideas just naturally wants children and likes to mother them. The job has to be done and women are best fitted for the job.”

Remarks Pro, “I catch on, Con. You’re just on the wrong side of this war. You and Hitler are buddies. He bad a revelation, too, about what women should be like. According to the kind of democracy I was taught to believe in, American citizens have a right to choose their opportunities and to make the most of them even if they are women.”

“Look, Pro, you’ve got me all wrong. I don’t think a man has the right to slave-drive his wife just because she is a woman. A man who doesn’t want his wife to work after the war isn’t trying to make her a servant. The wife-and-mother job is one to be respected. It takes real brains and imagination to keep a home running smoothly and to bring up children that you can be proud of. It may be hard to make an airplane that will go four hundred miles an hour, but a child is more complicated than any P-38. Being a mother is a real profession, with a lot of dignity and satisfaction about it if you look at it right. A woman who tries to hire a substitute homemaker may have to pay as much as she makes herself and then not get the real thing.”

“Look, Con,” says Pro, “You are still overworking this motherhood stuff. Maybe you didn’t know about it, but children do grow up and furthermore a woman doesn’t have them all her life. If she builds her life around children and nothing else, she is going to be left pretty flat when they grow up and leave home. If she has gotten used to thinking about nothing else but her kids she won’t believe that they have grown up. She may try to hang on to them, boss them around, and make a general nui­sance of herself. The really nasty mothers-in-law are the ones that don’t have enough to do. If a woman has a job to keep her occupied after her children are grown up she’s doing something useful and is likely to mind her own business.”

Pvt. Con breaks in, “Pro, you certainly do like to put women to work. I bet you wouldn’t mind going home after the war and sending your own mother out to run a blast furnace. Women just aren’t suited to work outside the home in the same way a man does. It takes a lot out of them to bear children. They need to be protected. By the time a woman has brought up a flock of kids she deserves a rest. There’s plenty to do around the home. If she’s taken the job of motherhood seriously and knows how to do it right she can help out with the grandchildren when they come thick and fast. If some women must go out and work, it should be the young unmarried ones that are now paid to take care of children. Let the housemaids work in the factories and let the grandmothers make some use of their experience in the home.”

Pvt. Pro objects, “Con, you talk as though a married woman could always count on a husband’s pay check, and that isn’t so. A married woman needs the extra protection that comes with a job or at least the chance to get one. Then she doesn’t have all her eggs in the same basket. If her marriage cracks up, she’s got something to fall back on and doesn’t have to depend on the skimpy alimony which even the sheriff may not be able to collect. Even if a marriage turns out all right the husband is going to get old and may lose his job. A lot of young husbands were walking the streets during the depression. Then there is the chance at any age that the husband may die. If the widow has a job and is used to working, she is in a lot better position to carry on.”

Pvt. Con snorts, “Didn’t you ever hear of insurance, Pro? Where were you when they were peddling the ten thousand dollar government policies? If a woman is an economical housekeeper her husband can afford to take out insurance which will take care of her if he kicks off. Sure, I know all about the depression. I peddled papers during a good part of it, but depressions aren’t necessary. When this social security business gets worked out a little bit more the family is going to be protected.”

Next section: Some Attempts to Solve the Woman Problem