Women of WWII Learned Everything from Dispatcher Training to Farming
Career Path : Automotive
Both World Wars saw an unprecedented influx of women into the workforce, replacing manpower lost to fighting, as previously male dominated industries saw sharp labour shortages, but the Second World War was a time of particularly intense mechanization, marking a transition that changed the landscape of labour even after the advent of peace time. In particular, women entering the work force required intense emphasis on skills re-education, from learning to use labour saving devices to industrial processes and radio dispatcher training, straight through to accepting women into research.
Mechanization happened in rural and urban environments that were previously much more dependent on horse power for very practical reasons. Though increasing use of tractors used petrol that might have otherwise gone to powering tanks and army ambulances, an increase in female farm labourers and a demand for increased crop yields meant making better use of limited land. For example, while old ways of ploughing took heavy upper body strength, any women or man could drive a tractor. Food shortages meant that while engines could lie dormant in the face of temporary shortages, rationed resources could be fatal for horses, which were themselves both a resource to be scooped up by the war office, and among a war starved people, a tempting meal. All this mechanization took maintenance and though auto mechanic schools and other technical colleges had been available since before the war, there was also a rapid need to retrain people, especially in making do and improvising in a time when replacement parts were severely limited. Â Government agencies stepped in with educational information and pamphlets to try to bridge the gap.
While the actual fighting was the province of men, women moved into support roles. In the army and the home front, female volunteers drove ambulances and trucks, and the then cutting edge radio networks needed operators. As well as more conventional occupations, women got radio dispatcher training to serve as the communications network for a potential British resistance. Because of the urgency of the training, dispatcher schools might even be run out of womenâs volunteer effort group alongside bandage rolling and canning efforts. And, as women were occupied with war work, the need for labour saving devices, such as washing machines, soared.
At the end of the war, there was a general return of women to more traditional home based occupations, but war fuel technological changes were here to stay. Returning soldiers spent their GI Bill funding on educational opportunities ranging from aero and auto mechanic schools to engineering, while post war wealth made home appliances more affordable, and more in demand. Women becoming housewives worked hard during the war and knew they deserved a rest, but their efforts and technology would also be the fuel of a second wave feminist movement in the ensuing decades showing they werenât completely ready to relax.
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