Many of the mothers and young women who worked in the Springfield Armory traded their dresses and aprons for womenalls. They wrapped their jewelry and pearls along with their hair in handkerchiefs so they could “get down and dirty with the remaining men”.
(excerpt from Pointless Sacrifice)
During WWII, women entered the workforce in much bigger numbers than they ever had in WWI. The collective spirit of their participation opened doors for future women to be taken seriously as capable and industrious workers after the end of the war.
For this reason, the historical women of the Springfield Armory are the focus of today’s article. The Armony has a long history and provides an important backdrop to the release of Lynda Cohen Loigman’s second novel, Wartime Sisters. The women in Loigman’s story are a generation who answered the call to defend America and bring peace to the world.
You can learn more about Loigman as this week’s modern-day woman making history on Wednesday and Thursday. She is a consummate storyteller whose craft and philosophical insights help us to better understand peace and forgiveness.
If you’re like me, the picture of women working in an armory that makes guns in the name of peace might seem paradoxical. I thought the same knowing how vocal women have been lobbying for changes to our gun control laws. But it’s also impossible to drop the historical context of their contributions to history and the vital role they played in the workforce. Because women turned out in droves to replace the men that were needed to fight in the war in Europe, their contributions and intentions remain true to their peacebuilding role.
The effect of women’s participation in WWII cannot be underestimated. Unlike WWI which saw just 15% of women’s involvement, the number of women working the lines and in related labor and administrative roles swelled to 43% by the end of WWII. The demand for weapons grew exponentially and women were well suited for assembly lines that needed dexterous and small hands to work faster assembling guns and doing delicate work like repairing triggers and parts of M1 rifles.
One of the several sources of information used by Loigman in creating the backdrop for her story was a book called Pointless Sacrifice by C.L. Dvarecka. In it are detailed accounts of the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. It was one of the original munitions factories in America established before the Civil War when Congress voted them into existence in 1794. The Springfield Armory became the nation’s first manufacturing operation for a national defense arsenal.
Some of the stunning vignettes and the characters of some of the women who worked in the Armory (the entrance is pictured below) during WWII have been preserved in voice recordings, photographs, and records that remained after the war. While the original layout has changed a great deal and some of the buildings have been replaced, efforts are being made to preserve some of its history.
Before WWII, women had not proven themselves “able to fill the necessary gaps in the industrial sector because (men) thought the women would not have the necessary knowledge to get the work done.”
This skepticism noted in Varecka’s book speaks to how the perception about women’s abilities changed as they proved themselves worthy of the job given.
In fact, much of the war propaganda tapped into the valuable skills of women and “Rosie the Riveter” got its start as a fashionable marketing image to pull more women into the war industry. The W.O.W. (Women Ordinance Workers) movement gained in popularity, as women helped to push for legislating work hours, employee training and important labor law protections.
Francis Perkins served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor for twelve years, from 1933-45. She was the first woman appointed to the Cabinet and was a key figure in shaping the New Deal, as a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She made the cover of TIME magazine for her contributions to government policy related to labor unions, including the introduction of the minimum wage.
An interesting side note of one of Perkins contributions was the She-she-she camps. They were organized in large part with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt who hoped to support unemployed women during the depression. The idea was to provide training for women to go into forestry, conservation, and domestic services, but the training camps became an expensive failure and closed after just three years in 1937.
Despite these setbacks, women secured jobs and helped to shape the Armory’s community of worker. Captivating stories from the Armory newsletters reported events organized by the women who worked there. The newsletters were published monthly to keep up morale and detailed what life was like for this community.
Singers, musicians, and actresses volunteered to entertain the community on their off-time and helped to organize dance hall events and concerts. Others submitted poems or raised money or supplies for the Armory Red Cross. All of these women helped to push women into a new age with new freedoms, new opportunities, and new appreciation.
Tomorrow WomanScape will share some fascinating photos from the Armory, as well as a story about the Canary Girls who worked in the munitions factories in Britain. Many worked in perilous working conditions with dangerous artillery that required incredible skill and courage.