Securing the Homefront: Continuities in Women’s Gendered Roles During World War II.

During spring term Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!

This post was written by Aleksia Harris.

University students’ experiences during World War II were far from traditional for both young men and women. Male students trained for combat through the campus’s ROTC program, and female students continued their studies while filling in for their male peers. Oregon State University’s courses continued to enroll students in numerous areas of study such as engineering, agriculture, home economics, etc., motivating students, particularly female students, to continue a normal college education. The School of Home Economics at Oregon State University’s “General Statement” in the 1943-43 Oregon State College course catalog outlines the college’s purpose and goals for its primarily female student population.[i] While this field of study seems unbiased, program requirements reinforced gender norms that relegated women to motherhood and housekeeping which not only affected OSU students, but women across the nation.

Figure 1: “Student Home Ec. Mentors,” Oregon State Barometer. These five young women attended OSU in 1941 and are referred to as ‘Officers’ for the Home Economics program.

This “General Statement” included in Oregon State University’s course catalog enforces gender roles through language, encouraging women to continually carry the burden of providing a sense of normalcy through a perilous reality. The “General Statement” is directed at their female student population; it uses feminine pronouns, thereby suggesting that this major was primarily dedicated to producing the perfect housewife. This document is found in a bound book, written on paper with presumably a typewriter, and is a fraction of the complete catalog. It is also presented in a keen condition, a consequence of the archival storage it has enjoyed at the Oregon State University Valley Library. The school’s “General Statement” promises to prepare students for “all problems of the home and family,” hinting towards a gender bias when referring to the audience because women are expected to deal with familial issues during this time.

With the obvious gendering seen in the School of Home Economics “General Statement,” many of the degrees within the school focused on family-building classes that emphasized women’s role in the home. Classes such as, “Family Relationships” and “Child Care and Training” (347-348) presumed that many Home Economics majors were preparing for a future life as housewives. The Oregon State Barometer published an article in February 1941 titled “Active Home Management Girls Practice the Arts of Housekeeping” that touched on these gender roles. This article describes female Home Economics students’ daily tasks of making breakfast, laundry, housekeeping, hosting lunches, classes, and social events. While these actions are seen as an application of learned knowledge, housekeeping skills were considered a requirement for future housewives which is emphasized through OSU’s Household Administration curriculum.

There was obvious pressure on young women to continue their education and normal everyday life during the early years of the war. Doris P. Adamson attended OSU during the war and maintained a scrapbook that provides insight into the life of young women attending OSU during 1939-1941. This scrapbook contains handouts provided by OSU detailing ‘Co-Ed Codes’, and a ‘Save Your Blushes’ pamphlet, both of which describe the ideal female students at the school through proper manners and socialization.[ii]

Figure 2: “Housewife Special,” SCARC. Housewives in Salem eagerly assist in Oregon’s agricultural workload.

Other women, particularly housewives, in Oregon, were continuously assisting in agricultural fields due to the lack of male workers being sent to the war. The photograph titled, “Housewife Special,” found on the OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center website, shows women boarding a bus, with tied-up hair and hats in hand ready to work in Marion County’s bean crop.[iii] While these women are pictured ready to work, they are still called ‘housewives’, reducing them to one simple characteristic of their identity. A 1940 Oregon State Barometer article titled; “Driving Bulk Truck on Wheat Ranch Proves Strange Occupation for a Girl” explains that Doris Crow tends to be the “only girl hauling around Pendleton” (3), making her a unique example of unusual female occupations. While many women participated in occupational or familial agriculture, gender norms during this time discounted women’s ability to enjoy “unfeminine” labor. This article is considerably newsworthy during the 1940s because young women were not imagined wanting to work in agricultural positions unless absolutely necessary.

Figure 3: Adel Manufacturing Corporation. “Mother, when will you stay home again?” This advertisement discusses the perks of working for ADEL Manufacturing Co. which comes in handy around the home, as well as in the workplace. This type of propaganda encouraged mothers to join the workforce, while also providing skill-building opportunities that can be used to fix appliances around the home.  

Women across America each had unique experiences during the war yet were continuously categorized as either a housewife in training or a housewife regardless of the women’s social or economic status. The war provided numerous job opportunities for women of all ages and races, but these positions were temporary. Manufacturers hired women to keep up with the workload while men fought in the war, reminding them of their true calling in the home. Maureen Honey’s article, “The ‘Womanpower’ Campaign” notes that women were increasingly depicted as housewives rather than working women despite women’s increasing presence in the workforce, encouraged through magazine and poster ads.[iv] These housewives were eager to aid and assist their country during the war but were expected to keep up with child-rearing and housework. The idolization of home-making during this period seemingly stems from the morale-boosting comparison between housewives and frontline soldiers leading America to victory.[v] This propaganda tactic emphasizes the idea that women’s role during the war was to protect the home front through continuing childcare and housekeeping to provide normalcy for returning soldiers.[vi]

Further endorsing housewives to work, ADEL Manufacturing Corporation released this ad in the Saturday Evening Post in 1944 which presents a mother in factory overalls talking to her young daughter wearing similar clothing.[vii] The ad’s subtly sexist rhetoric implies that although women worked in key wartime industries, they desired to be housewives.[viii] The ad assured women that their time working would not be wasted on insignificant tasks, but on skills that they could later utilize around the home after the war when women would be able to return to their tasks of child care and housekeeping.vii This ad alludes to the idea that when needed, women will work but house-making is preferred, seemingly speaking for all American women.

American women in the workforce were not uncommon in the years leading up to World War II, but the numbers rose as more men were sent overseas. Marc Miller discusses the small town of Lowell, Massachusetts in his article, “Working Women and World War II,” pointing out the major push to get more women involved in the workforce, ultimately ignoring the working-class women of this area. But as the war progressed, new job opportunities for women opened up which provided a sense of occupational agency newly instilled in working women.[ix] Miller points out the “strong ideology prohibiting women from working” (60) similar or better jobs than men, which accounted for the number of women who willingly stepped down from their wartime jobs and returned to textile factories or tending to their household chores.

Oregon State University’s Home Economics program helped perpetuate gendered expectations stemming from national pressure to continue a sense of normalcy for returning soldiers. Social norms required women to utilize their feminine characteristics to find a sense of purpose which was typically child rearing and housekeeping while men provided financial support and physical protection. As young men were sent off to war, women were urged to join the workforce and assured that the nation appreciated their patriotic work, but they were also reminded through college courses and advertisements that women’s destined occupation was as a wife and mother. All the dedication and effort women gave to support their country during unpredictable times was only met with the constant reminder that women’s place is in the home even with a staggering number of female employees participating in the workforce before and during World War II.

Works Cited

Adel Manufacturing Corporation. “Mother, when will you stay home again?” May 1944, Saturday Evening Post.

“Active Home Management Girls Practice the Art of Housekeeping.” Special Collections and Archives Research Center (hereafter SCARC), Oregon State University. Oregon State Barometer, February 25, 1941″ Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-06-07.

Ava Milam, Frances Alexander. “Household Administration,” Oregon State College Course Catalog. Oregon State University SCARC. 1942-43. 347-349. Doris P. Adamson Scrapbook, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, SCARC, 1939-42. MSS Adamson.

“Driving Bulk Truck on Wheat Ranch Proves Strange Occupation for Girl.” OSU SCARC, Oregon State University. Oregon State Barometer, February 1, 1940, Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-06-01.

“General Statement,” School of Home Economics. Oregon State College Course Catalog, 1942-43. SCARC. 333.

Honey, Maureen. “The ‘Womanpower’ Campaign: Advertising and Recruitment Propaganda during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 6, no. 1/2 (1981): 50–56.

“Housewife Special,” SCARC. Oregon State University. Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-05-30.

Miller, Marc. “Working Women and World War II.” The New England Quarterly 53, no. 1 (1980): 42–61.  

“Student Home Ec. Mentors,” SCARC. Oregon State Barometer, February 25, 1941″ Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-06-07.

[i] “General Statement,” School of Home Economics, Oregon State Course Catalog 1942-43, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center (hereafter SCARC), 333.

ii Doris P. Adamson Scrapbook, Oregon State University SCARC, MSS Adamson.

[iii]  “Housewife Special, Oregon State University SCARC website,

[iv] Maureen Honey, “The Womanpower’ Campaign: Advertising and Recruitment Propaganda  during World War II,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 6, no. 1/2 (1981): 50.

[v] Honey, “The Womanpower Campaign,” .

[vi] Honey, “The Womanpower Campaign,” 53.

[vii] Adel Manufacturing Corporation. “Mother, when will you stay home again?”

[viii] Adel Manufacturing Corporation. “Mother, when will you stay home again?”

[ix] Marc Miller, “Working Women and World War II,” The New England Quarterly 53, no. 1 (1980), 57.

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