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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Scouts in the Second World War

Robert Baden-Powell, writer of Scouting for Boys and founder of the Boy Scouts organization in England in 1910, stated “An invaluable step in character training is to put responsibility on the individual.”

Trustworthiness, obedience, loyalty, and responsibility are just a few characteristics that define a true Scout. These qualities are exactly what the Office of War Information, created in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, needed for distribution of war posters across towns and cities in the United States. The work and diligence of Scout organizations played a key role in conserving materials for the war effort and providing propaganda materials in local businesses for the American public. 
Boy Scouts display a recruitment poster at a local store.

Many Scouts distributed posters, by the thousands to local stores. In October 1942, the first poster was issued for Columbus Day, which celebrated the 450th year of the Columbus voyage. Over 2,300 communities joined the program, by 1942, with new posters produced every two weeks. In 1943, the Boy Scouts were named the “Official Dispatch Bearers” with participation of approximately 1,600,000 members. Also, in 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order, which banned discrimination against government and defense workers. Due to Roosevelt’s order, African-American troops received the same war posters to distribute in their communities. Other organizations that participated in the program were the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, the Association of American Railroads, and Western Union.

Scouts also contributed on the home front by conserving materials for the war effort such as aluminum, paper, rubber, and milkweed (used to fill life jackets). Scouts were responsible for going door-to-door collecting substances. Between March and April of 1944, Scouts collected over 300,000 tons of wasted paper.  The War Production Board gave 299, 936 Scouts the Eisenhower Award for their contributions in collecting paper products.

Scouts collecting scrap metal during the Second World War.

“Truly, ours is a circle of friendships, united by our ideals.” –Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America

The Girl Scouts organization started in 1912 in a meeting of eighteen girls in Savannah, Georgia. Juliette Gordon Low developed an outdoor and educational program in order to develop character and confidence in young girls.

During the Second World War, the Girl Scouts collected scrap metals, fat, and clothing. They also grew Victory Gardens, participated in Farm Aide projects, and managed bicycle couriers. During the war, young girls had the opportunity to participate in new programs, such as the Defense Institutes, in which they learned survival skills.
Girl Scouts collecting fat or lard outside a local shop. 

Due to rationing of certain ingredients, including butter and sugar, the Girl Scouts stopped production of the famous Girl Scout cookies in 1941. Until 1945, Girl Scouts distributed calendars to the public.

The efforts of Scouts throughout the Second World War boosted morale among the American public. They provided tons of materials for supplies sent overseas throughout the war. For example, Girl Scouts collected 1.5 million pieces of clothing for war refugees, according to author Sarah Sundin. The achievements by Scouts were monumental for the U.S. home front commission.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An Unsung Hero of World War II: Jacqueline Cochran

Discussions of the American women who participated in World War II has a tendency to revolve around the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Women’s Nurse Corps, or of the thousands of women who worked in defense plants all across the country, who had picked up where their husbands, sons, and fathers had left off. While most people have basic understandings of women’s participation in the Navy via the WAVES and in the Air Corps via the WASPS during World War II, less is known about the women who started it all – the women who paved the way for female service in the United States military.

For this Women’s History Month, it is important to pay tribute to the women who opened the door to and began conversations about women’s involvement, treatment, and equality in the United States. When thinking of the World War II generation of women who had a great influence on our position in society today, my thoughts ran to Eleanor Roosevelt and the many Rosie the Riveters. However, this post is dedicated to all the unsung heroes, such as the lovely Jacqueline (Jackie) Cochran, who not only was a founder of the Women’s Army Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, but also helped normalize women in aviation in America. Jackie Cochran’s story is lesser known and for someone who was instrumental in American aviation and military history, she deserves to be recognized on this platform and many others.

Jacqueline Cochran was born May 11, 1906 in Florida. Soon an orphan, Jackie spent much of her childhood living with a foster family and grew up in poverty. As a teenager, Jackie began training to be a beautician, and as a young adult, made her way up the social ladder while residing in New York City and working in a prestigious salon on Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1932, Jackie married millionaire financier Floyd Odlum, which provided her the means and supported her in pursing other interests, such as taking flying lessons. In her 1953 autobiography, Jackie stated that, “at that moment, when I paid for my first lesson, a beauty operator ceased to exist and an aviator was born."

By the time World War II broke out in 1939 in Europe, Jackie had already established herself within the aviation community, having set and broke various flying records. Believing that she and other female pilots could put their passion and skill to good use serving their country, Jackie appealed to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to create a “squadron of female pilots…who [in the eventual U.S. involvement in the conflict] could fly military aircraft on support missions, releasing men for combat duty.” However, it was not until 1941 and 1942 did Jackie see her dream of flying for the military come to fruition. After being inspired by the female pilot squadrons utilized in England, Jackie returned to America and with the blessing of President Roosevelt, “hand-picked 25 American women recruits” to implement female aviation into the U.S. Army Air Corps by ferrying planes. After their success, Jackie was asked to organize a program for training women pilots in the United States. In 1943, Cochran’s program became known as the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs).

The WASPs boasted impeccable flying records, and in “January 1944, the War Department announced that the Army Air Forces women's fatal and non-fatal accident rates were lower than the men's.” Cochran and the WASPs continued to train and fly non-combative missions for several months more, but the end of 1944 and the turn of the war in the Allies’ favor deemed the WASPs’ service obsolete and unnecessary. Jackie hoped that Congress would make the WASPs an official branch of the U.S. military, but this dream was not to be. The WASPs were grounded and absolved on December 20, 1944.

Jackie’s flying career did not end with the disbandment of her creation, the WASPs. After the war, she continued to fly and break more records. She competed in many races, such as the Bendix Race, “coming in second with a time of four hours and 52 minutes.” Moreover, the 1950s saw further aviation accomplishments for Jackie, including record speeds for “propeller driven aircraft” and becoming the “first woman to break the sound barrier.” Jackie continued to derive passion for flying until her health and her husband’s death began to inhibit her career. After Floyd died in 1976, Jackie, who was aged 70 at the time, saw her health deteriorate further, and she passed away on August 9, 1980. Jacqueline Cochran loved flying until the day she died, and was instrumental in creating more roles for women in not only the U.S. Air Force, but within the aviation community as a whole. If Jackie had been alive in 2009, it would have pleased her immensely to witness President Obama sign the bill that awarded Congressional Gold Medals to veterans of the WASPs.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Women of World War II Mobile

When it comes to studying the impact American women had in World War many historians look solely at the numbers. Historians look at the number of women who joined the work force, the number of planes, ships, bullets, parachutes, bandages, and any other necessity these women produced that made Allied victory possible.  Yet, these women who took up new jobs in fields they never imagined, had an impact on history that goes beyond Allied production and victory. These women, who stayed behind to support the war effort by joining the work force, also witnessed the transformation of America, specifically the transformation of small towns that became centers for war production. Such a case can be made for the town of Mobile, Alabama.

Like so many American towns, Mobile went from a small, sleepy American city to a booming war production hub seemingly overnight. Before World War II began the work force in Mobile was around 17,000 men and few women. By 1943 Brookley Air Field would employ that many civilians by the end of the War and local ship building industries would employ over 30,000 workers by 1944. Before World War II women’s occupations were limited to administrative or teaching jobs where the average salary was around $800 a year. With the onset of war came a demand for ships, planes, artillery, and endless demands for support supplies. These goods required the skilled labor of welders and mechanics. At Huntersville or Redstone Arsenals women found jobs on assembly lines that paid around $1,400 annually. Shipyards in Mobile also hired laborers, paying $3,600 annually. These jobs provided unimaginable salaries and the chance for many to move to a new city and start a new life.

One such woman was Emma Bell Petcher. After graduating high school Petcher wanted a chance to put her love of mechanics to the test. Petcher breezed through the mechanics tests and secured a job working on airplanes. Petcher is just one example of women moving to take advantage of defense jobs in America. These women saw not only the value of their work and impact, but the American economy transform from the depths of the Great Depression to the vibrant booming economy of World War II. The economic boom would continue in the 1950’s with the War’s ed. It was due to the help of the six million women who entered the workforce that this economic boom was possible.

With workers came families. This caused the population of Mobile to more then double during the War from 110,805 in 1940 to 201,369 in 1944. With the great influx of workers came a housing shortage unseen in Mobile’s history. People were living in tents in vacant lots. Boarding houses would have four men per room or rent beds to multiple men and women with differing shifts. Oftentimes both men and women in the same family would take up a defense job, leaving childcare a much-needed commodity in Mobile. Thus, women ushered in and witnessed the evolution of day care in America. Day care centers were viewed as patriotic, promoting a safe place for loving mothers to leave their children as they went off and produced items needed to win the War. Women who manned and operated day care centers were viewed as protectors of liberty and praised for providing a service that allowed women to help win the War. Day care was not a practice forgotten after the War. Women would continue to use and work at day care centers after the War and into the later part of the twentieth century showing how the War gave women the tools needed to pursue both career and family.

The women of Mobile during World War II also witnessed many domestic events and policies that would help shape the remainder of the 20th Century. Mobile’s location in the Deep South made Mobile subject to Jim Crow laws. These racial regulations kept many black American citizens from taking advantage of defense jobs in the early days of war production. However, on June 25, 1941 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, banning racial discrimination in the defense industry. This was the first step toward equal opportunity employment in America, and women of all races, in Mobile witnessed the unrest and success this order brought. After the order was issued many small fights broke out in shipyards and factories in Mobile. Governor Chauncey Sparks called out 150 state guards to keep the peace, this created a precedent of having to use police and state troops to keep the peace as integration began and established itself in the defense industry. Segregated workspaces brought a peace and successful routine to the workforce in Mobile. However, Americans such as Thurgood Marshall and A. Philip Randolph were pushing to make the Fair Employment Practice Committee a permanent fixture in the Federal Government. It was the women of America, who stayed behind to serve and work who witnessed these milestone moments that would reshape America in the 1950s and 1960s.

The women of World War II Mobile gave their all to help American men win victory across the globe. The hundreds of thousands of hours spent in factories and shipyards gave the Allies and edge the Axis powers simply could not match. Yet, the women of Mobile also witnessed several key events and practices put into place during World War II that would shape the remainder of the twentieth century. Advancements in training, work assignments, childcare, and civil rights gave women new platforms to stand on after the War ended. These issues would also go on to be displayed on the national stage in the post-modern era. While it is important to remember and note the millions of supplies American women built and assembled to help the Allies win the war, it is equally important to note the transformation they witnessed and played a role in during World War II.