As women were traditionally the managers of the home, the rationing and shortage
of domestic resources fell more heavily on women to accommodate. Women's shopping
and food preparation habits were affected by having to deal with ration stamps or
other rationing methods, as well as the increased likelihood that she was working
outside the home in addition to her homemaking responsibilities. Many worked in volunteer
organizations connected with the war effort.
In the United States, women were urged by organized propaganda campaigns to practice
frugality, to carry groceries instead of using the car to preserve tire rubber for
the war effort, to grow more of their family's food (in "Victory Gardens" for example),
to sew and repair clothing rather than buy new clothes, to raise money for and contribute
to war bonds, and generally to contribute to the morale of the war effort through
In the US, the marriage rate increased greatly in 1942, and the rate of babies born
to unmarried women increased by 42% from 1939 to 1945.
Civilian consumption increased 22% during the war, though there were many shortages
in critical areas. Production stopped on many civilian items, such as automobiles,
new houses, and new appliances. Many products, such as meat, sugar, butter, coffee,
gasoline, tires, shoes and clothing were rationed. Local schools set up stations
where people could get their ration coupons (with teachers handling the paperwork.)
Each person (regardless of age) received the same food and clothing coupons. To purchase
an item three things were needed: the storekeeper had to have the item in the first
place; the purchaser had to have the cash, and had to have the coupons. With half
of all canned goods going to the military or to allies, Americans turned to Victory
Gardens, planting 20 million of them to provide vegetables for their families. Most
automobile drivers received coupons for 3 gallons per week; those who could document
special needs received extra gasoline coupons. (There was plenty of gasoline; the
rationing was an efficient way to ration automobile tires, with rubber in very short
supply.) Bread, milk and beer were not rationed. People eating in restaurants had
to pay with cash and ration coupons.
Rationing was generally supported by the civilian population, although there was
some black market activity, that is, purchase of an item without the coupons. The
government prosecuted black marketeers. There was much "gray market" activity-that
is family and neighbors selling or trading ration coupons; that was technically illegal
but rarely prosecuted. The main result was a striking egalitarianism of consumption,
especially regarding food. Rationing was needed because of the needs of the men and
women serving overseas. The commodities were a very important key to the success
of the U.S. war effort. Rationing was also needed because of the limited shipping
capabilities during the war. Many cargo ships were converted from public use to military
use to aid in the war effort.
Civilian Support for the War Effort
The Civil Air Patrol was established, which enrolled civilian spotters in reconnaissance.
Towers were built in coastal and border towns, and spotters were trained to recognize
enemy aircraft. Blackouts were practiced in every city, even those far from the coast.
All lighting had to be extinguished to avoid helping the enemy in targeting at night.
The main purpose was to remind people that there was a war on and to provide activities
that would engage the civil spirit of millions of people not otherwise involved in
the war effort. In large part, this effort was successful, sometimes almost to a
fault, such as the Plains states where many dedicated aircraft spotters took up their
posts night after night watching the skies in an area of the country that no enemy
aircraft of that time could possibly hope to reach. The United Service Organizations,
or USO, was founded in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt
to provide morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel.
There was large-scale migration to industrial centers, especially on the west coast
of the United States. Millions of wives followed their husbands to military camps.
Many new military training bases were established or enlarged, especially in the
south. Large numbers of African Americans left the cotton fields and headed for the
cities. Housing was increasingly difficult to find in industrial centers; commuting
by car was limited by gasoline rationing. People car pooled or took public transportation,
which was seriously overcrowded. Trains were heavily booked, so people limited vacation
and long-distance travel. Also, people had to recycle many things such as tin cans,
glass, metal, and steel.
Women staffed millions of jobs in community service roles, such as USO and Red Cross.
Women Airforce Service Pilots
The Women Airforce Service Pilots, also known as WASP, and the predecessor groups
the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying
Squadron (WAFS) (official from September 10, 1942) were each a pioneering organization
of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of
the United States Army Air Forces during gender-sensitive days of World War II that
eventually would number in the thousands of female pilots, each freeing up a male
pilot for combat service and duties. The WFTD and WAFS were combined on August 5,
1943 to create the para-military WASP organization.
Marriage and motherhood came back as prosperity empowered couples that had postponed
marriage. The birth rate started shooting up in 1941, paused in 1944-45 as 12 million
men were in uniform, then continued to soar until reaching a peak in the late 1950s.
This was the "Baby Boom."
The federal government set up the "EMIC" program that provided free prenatal and
natal care for the wives of servicemen below the rank of sergeant.
Housing shortages, especially in the munitions centers, forced millions of couples
to live with parents or in makeshift facilities. Little housing had been built in
the depression years, so the shortages grew steadily worse until about 1948, when
a massive housing boom finally caught up with demand. (After 1944 much of the new
housing was supported by the GI bill). Federal law made it difficult to divorce absent
servicemen, so the number of divorces peaked when they returned in 1946. In long-range
terms, the divorce rates changed little.