What We’re Thankful For, Part Two: Trailblazers

Yesterday we talked about global things we’re thankful for, via President Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms. Today, it’s time for a more personal note.

From Mary M. Ryan. She is somewhere in the sea of women at Hunter College.

As you know, my mother was a WAVE during World War II – and it was her story which inspired this project. And the WAVES were truly trailblazers during the war. This blog is called “Hinges of History” to recognize that contribution. The WAVES were the first women admitted into the service at the same rank and pay as men. And it wasn’t just the service – women during that era generally were paid less than men, under the rationale that they didn’t need the money as much because men were supporting families and women were “only” supporting themselves. So for the Navy to pay women the same amount for the same work was pretty groundbreaking.

WAVE Pay Scale Recruitment Poster, U.S. Navy

But the WAVES weren’t the only ones forging new territory during the war. Inside of the military, the Army WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later Women’s Army Corps) were the first women other than nurses to travel overseas in troops with men.

WACs in Formation, U.S. Army

The WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots) were the first women to regularly fly planes, mostly ferrying planes in the continental United States from one side of the country to another. They weren’t “in” the service, but had the same risks as male pilots: 38 WASPs died while flying for their country.

WASPs on a Plane's Wing, International Women's Air and Space Museum

Of course, there were also the Women Marines (about 20,000 during World War II) and the SPARs (Coast Guard women, about 12,000 served; their name comes from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus, Always Ready). And we can’t ignore the contributions of the “Rosie the Riveters,” millions of women who entered the workforce during the war to take jobs on assembly lines and in other formerly-male jobs. Before World War II about 12 million women were in the workforce. By the end of the war, that number had swelled to 18 million, a full third of the workforce, and three million of those were “Rosies.”

A "Rosie" working as a Electrician, National Archives.

While historians are divided about the lasting contributions of these women, those who served in both civilian and military jobs believed their work mattered. They were the “hinge”: without their contributions the world wouldn’t have changed in the same way. Without them, our world would be a different place.

First post-WWII WAVES take the oath of office, U.S. Navy.

Our friends at the National Women’s History Museum seem to be on the same wavelength this week. They put together a fabulous video series about women who blazed a trail for those who followed – and those who are dedicated to keeping those histories alive. Part One is embedded below (see Part Two and Part Three on their YouTube channel).

Thank you, this Thanksgiving eve, to the National Women’s History Museum and everyone else who is honoring the trailblazers in women’s history! And, of course, thank you to the trailblazers!

What We’re Thankful For, Part I – The Four Freedoms

In January of 1941, months before the United States would become officially involved in World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt gave one of his radio addresses.

Roosevelt was an innovator in using mass media to help bring his message to the public. His speech about the banking crises in 1933 was the first time a President had used the power of the radio to speak directly to the American public (in this case to attempt to stop the bank runs which nearly destroyed the nation’s economic system in 1933).  That speech would lay the groundwork for the Fireside Chats, 31 radio addresses on a variety of topics, ranging from the New Deal to the War in Europe.

The Four Freedoms speech wasn’t one of those Fireside Chats. It was the official State of the Union Address for 1941. But it nonetheless illustrates Roosevelt’s skill at using the public airwaves to speak to the American public:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms…That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb. To that new order we oppose the greater conception—the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Roosevelt included two Constitutionally-mandated freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship) in his speech, and then added two freedoms which he said should be a part of the social contract we have with our fellow Americans. Freedom from Want means that Americans shouldn’t go hungry or be without basic human needs (food, shelter, etc.) – and that a modern society had a responsibility to provide for those in need.  Freedom from Fear means that we should live in a country where we don’t have to worry about our safety. Roosevelt went on to say that these weren’t just American values, but should be values available to everyone in the world.

The Four Freedoms would later be illustrated by Norman Rockwell in a series of drawings for the Saturday Evening Post.

The Four Freedoms wasn’t a Thanksgiving speech, but nonetheless we’re thankful this time of year for Roosevelt and his identification of the Four Freedoms.