World War II opened up the most diverse range of job opportunities for women in Canada at that time. Although women played a role in World War I, World War II was an entirely different type of warfare requiring every nation to stretch itself to its physical limits. This new type of warfare had to be fought with the “total war” ideology in mind. The governments of all the participating nations soon realized that if they were going to win this war they would have to include women in their plans. Women were inspired by propaganda that aimed to strengthen their already existing patriotism and encourage them to leave their homes for work in factories and farms. In 1941 it became apparent to the government that there was a need for a women’s branch of the armed forces to help free up men for combat duties. The Canadian government’s call was answered when women flocked to the armed forces in great numbers. By the end of the war over 50,000 women served in every branch of the Canadian military. Canadian Women joined the armed forces because they were patriotic, to satisfy a taste for adventure, a chance to independently make a good income and in response to encouragement from propaganda.
Many Canadian women felt it was their patriotic duty to do everything in their power to help their nation win the war. They knew they were desperately needed to work in factories or on farms, but for some this simply was not enough. Many longed for more than simply working on the land or in a factory (Reese). They sought adventure and a chance to move more freely outside their domestic space. The Canadian army offered an opportunity to fulfill this desire as well as a chance to serve their country. In the military women could do things that were ordinarily reserved for men such as piloting planes. There was also the possibility to be posted overseas. Women chose to leave the comfort of their homes and enter the army even when they could do far safer jobs working in factories or on farms.
Although most women had an income from their husbands, inflation caused prices to go up and increase the cost of living. Many women were attracted to the army because of the high wages and the pride and independence of earning one’s own living. A female private on enlistment earned a base salary of $31.50 a month as opposed to a live in domestic servant who would earn only $14 dollars a month (Santor, 23). Even though both jobs offered housing and food with the job, in the army there were also additional benefits. “Medical and dental care were furnished free and one could be eligible to receive extra pay if one had to assist in caring for an invalid family member if one qualified for trades pay” (Santor, 23). Unlike a factory or farm job, in the army there was the possibility of promotion. In the women’s branch of the army a women could work her way through 12 ranks to reach the top rank of Sergeant-Major with a base salary of $100.50 a month (Santor, 23).
The Canadian government used propaganda as an instrument for creating and then maintaining a common purpose for Canada’s diverse population in every region of the homefront. It was used to persuasively suggest to women to enter the work force to help fuel the war effort. The government used statements like “The inspiration of Canadian Women.” pictured with of a band of marching female soldiers (Mortensen). This type of propaganda re-enforced Canadian women’s already existing patriotism. It also illustrated to women that they were capable of doing things that they might have thought were impossible a few years earlier.
A deep sense of patriotism, a taste for adventure and the opportunity to earn higher incomes as well as a susceptibility to government propaganda were reasons Canadian women joined the army. Women tried to be good citizens and respond to the “call” from their country to do their part in helping the war effort. For the first time in history, women were in larger numbers were able to earn a reasonable income in fields newly opened to females. Well-aimed propaganda encouraged women to believe that they were capable of performing roles outside of the traditional female sector. The legacy of women in the armed forces is that it has paved the way for women in gaining entrance to the corporate business world in positions previously held exclusively by men.
Prentice et. al. Canadian Women: A History, second edition Harcourt Brace & Company, Canada 1996
O’Connor, Edward. Women Changing Canada
Oxford University Press, New York 1999
Santor, Donald. Canadiana Scrapbook: Canadians at War 1939-1945 Prentice-Hall of Canada, Scarborough, Ontario. 1979
Reece, Lyn.http://womeninworldhistory.com 1999
Mortensen, Mark http://www-db.stanford.edu~mmorten/propaganda/wwii
(year not supplied)