Symposium Examines Women's Roles During World War I

Apr 9, 2019

Lander University recented hosted a symposium on World War I, which ended just over a century ago.  The symposium drew scholars and authors primarily from the Southeast to discuss various aspects of the war, which then was known as "The Great War."  One aspect covered by a panel of experts examined the role of women during the war.

According to Dr. Keith Gorman of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, women were recruited  by the government to fulfill multiple roles.  One obvious need was to fill in a labor shortage created when men left their jobs to enlist - or be drafted - in the armed services.  But another was to urge women to support the war effort  by sanctioning the conscription of their men - husbands, sons, brothers - to be sent overseas to fight a foreign war.  This was a delicate topic for the government, which needed the aid and approval of the nation's women. 

Not only did women step into wartime roles such as manufacturing everything from textiles to tanks and airplanes, but panelist Dr. Kathryn Silva said they also found work as secretaries, nurses and in the world of academics, with some women going into higher education to earn Ph.D. degrees.

Dr. Janet Hudson added to the list of  women's wartime contributions with their efforts through a variety of women's organizations: " they...turned their efforts towards things like raising money, selling the bonds...and getting the word out about food," which the goverment urged citizens to grow at home so more farm-produced goods could go to soldiers fighting overseas.

Gorman said in spite of the fact that women lost factory jobs after the war to returning veterans, they ulimately gained ground in the working world, as they retained jobs in some areas such as nursing, telephone operators, stenographers.  They benefitted from a growing government and economy, and shortly after the war enjoyed another big benefit - the vote.

The historians agreed that whether the war helped women achieve that particular milestone is still open to debate.