Before World War II, women were wives and mothers. Their primary role was taking care of their husband and children. But the war changed how women lived, giving them new opportunities. World War II gave women the ability to be more independent at home. Women took on more responsibilities, to make sure their household was able to function with the wartime restrictions. Following the British model, the U.S. government created the Office of Price Administration: which helped control the food supply through rationing. Before this the only rationed items were sugar and coffee (10). Since women did most of the shopping, this gave them an opportunity to be responsible with the household budget. Ration books were essential during the war, everybody had one. There were two different types of ration points: red for meat and fats, and blue for canned and bottled products. Each food item had a different value assigned to it depending on its size and choice. For example: “lamb or hamburger cost less in points compared to sirloin steak or rib roast.” Canned items had a different value too, such as “4 oz. of corn= 14 points,” and “14 oz. of sliced pineapple = 24 points (10).” Fresh produce was not rationed during World War II. So, women had to be savvy shoppers when using their ration points, in order not to waste them. The government used propaganda to promote their agenda for rationing, playing to women’s feelings. They used phrases like “food is a weapon-don’t waste it” or “ration for victory (8/10).”
The government also promoted the need to not waste anything. They wanted women to “embrace frugality and conservation and reinvented the way that they cared for the families (1).” Many household goods were used to help in the war effort, such as bacon grease, newspapers, aluminum cans, and razor blades (1).
Gas was important to the war effort too, and it was rationed similar to food rationing. Each car had a colored sticker on the windshield with a different letter. Depending on a person’s job determined how much gas a person would receive. People were encouraged to drive the victory speed which was 35 mph (10). The table below explains the gas rationing system.
To supplement their food supply for their families, many women planted victory gardens. This gave women more responsibility in the household. Women became more independent by planting these victory gardens. They did not have to depend on their husband to supply more money for food. They were able to take charge during the wartime restrictions. Planting a victory garden, brought families closer together, doing their part for the war effort, saving food for the soldiers fighting overseas. Having a victory garden also saved the family money too (1). “Over 20 million victory gardens sprung up across the country and by 1940, 40 percent of the vegetables grown in the United States came from ‘victory gardens (10).’’’ Some women kept chickens in their backyards too. This provided their family with another food source: eggs and meat.
Women became more independent at home too, by preserving their food. By preserving their food from excess produce, from their victory gardens, women were resourceful by maximizing their food source and ration points. Women could apply for an extra sugar ration, up to 20 pounds, for preserving their food. For women who did not know how to preserve their food, Florence L. Hall (director of Woman’s Land Army), and Grace E. Frysinger demonstrated the basics of preserving. If a woman did not own a canner, centers were open, so that women could preserve their food (14). “Canning, like gardening, was presented in official propaganda as a patriotic and unifying act, linking soldiers’ activities to women’s roles in the kitchen (14).” The government used posters showing that preserving food was just as important as fighting the war. They used catchy slogans such as “can all you can: it’s a real war job,” “am I proud!… I’m fighting famine…by canning food at home” and “preserve (11).” Women across America preserved many jars of food, both savory and sweet during World War II. In 1943, approximately 4 billion jars of food were produced during that year (14). A woman took on many roles at home to provide for her family, becoming more independent.
Some women took on more responsibilities by working outside the home as well. Click here to follow the women’s path to independence.