John Cilio, author and historical presenter will tell the epic story of an era when American men went off to war and the women remained behind to care for families and fill the enormous gap left by the soldiers. His talk will question what contemporary women's options would be if our nation had not experienced the conditions that unlocked so many new opportunities.
Not only did women enlist in every branch of service open to them, serving around the world, they took the place of men at home. They organized bond and scrap drives, wrapped packages for GI Christmases, knitted and sewed. But they also worked at "men's" jobs: with very little formal training or time for apprenticeships, women became machinists, carpenters, meteorologists, radio broadcasters, farm workers, nurses, munitions specialists - and of course, riveters. They started with the mission to help their country and their friends and relatives in the war and ended up proving their competence in thousands of roles previously held by men only.
Proving their competence gave women a status they had not had in this country at any time in the past. They were aware of their new capabilities, they were making their own decisions, and they were earning their own money, truly a New Woman. As Hudie Ledbetter famously sang, though from a rather different point of view, in his National Defense Blues, "every payday would come, her check was big as mine." Although the postwar years saw a return to a pre-war social milieu, the seeds were sown and women would not remain long in their old roles, even if paychecks have lagged.
John Cilio will use a large collection of vintage quotes, stories and photographs to document the chain of circumstances that propelled the nation to realize that women can be an overtly sustaining force within our society.
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