Fighting a war in two theaters utilizing 16 million in uniform led to shortages in labor, shortages in food and supplies, and a need to support the military and the civilian workforce.
As the United States industry moved to support the war effort, the armed forces were increasing at a rapid rate, leading to a worker shortage. Industry recruited new employees – women and minority men. More than 6 million women worked in non-traditional defense industry jobs during World War II. The integrated workforce would have an impact on Civil Rights and the Women’s Movements in the years to come. The defense industry had production goals, and companies, factories and even shifts would compete to meet the goals fastest. The need for more workers led to the largest migration of people within the United States in the history of the country. Industrial centers grew exponentially. Following the war, some residents chose to stay in their new locations.
The establishment of the WAAC/WAC, WAVES, SPARS, and women Marines led to thousands of women enlisting. Most served stateside, but many served overseas. Uniforms were created by famous designers to be serviceable but feminine, and the wearing of red lipstick, known as Victory red, was encouraged.
Food rationing, featuring ration point coupons limiting purchase of certain foods, led people to growing “victory gardens,” and more than half of the produce in the United States was grpwn in home gardens. Meatless meals and desserts that used less sugar were popular ways of stretching ration points. Price controls set by the government helped prevent inflation and price gouging. Gasoline and other materials were also rationed. Materials necessary to the war effort, such as metal and paper, were collected for donation. The purchase of new items was limited, and the motto “Use it up; wear it out; make do; or do without” was used to encourage consumer conservation. Posters were also used to remind people to conserve: “when you ride alone, you ride with Hitler” to save gasoline; and “Of course I can!” to make preserving food patriotic.
Civil Defense helped protect the home front and the military. Blackout curtains helped disguise the location of cities and the coastlines. Coastline defense included patrols and anti-aircraft emplacements. Air raid drills were conducted, and air raid shelters designated. Emergency alert radio systems were designed. Posters and news articles cautioned people that discussion of production or troop movements endangers our military: “loose lips sink ships” and “Telling a friend may mean telling the enemy.”
Volunteer work to show patriotism was encouraged, from nurse’s aides to Red Cross doughnut volunteers to USO Canteen volunteers. Popular volunteer activities included knitting socks for soldiers, collecting scrap and materiel needed for war production, and writing to serving military members. To enable the most mail using the least room, V-mail, which shrank the average letter size, was introduced.
Economic support for the war effort was provided in part by the selling of war stamps and war bonds. War bond tours to encourage continued purchase frequently featured movie stars and celebrities. Later in the war, returning military members joined the war bond tours.
To find other items that the Marshall Foundation has on the home front, search “home front” in the library catalog:https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/results/
Digitized items in the George C. Marshall archives: