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    European Women in the 20th Century Essay

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    As I thought about the role of women in Europe in the 20th Century, I tried to make comparisons and put that information into the context of my own life. I thought of women from history who had influenced my opinions, and then began to think of the women in my family who had molded and influenced my character. Although some of the things I researched about the roles of women from this time in history would suggest that they were largely relegated to the background, that they were an after-thought and found mostly in their kitchens, this was certainly not their entire experience. For example, photographs and television commercials from the 1950’s, in Europe and elsewhere, portray women as happy in the kitchen and their home as a place where they found their singular fulfillment.

    I was born in 1969 in Texas, so my impressions of this image are from personal memories of my mother in shirtwaist dresses, pearls and pumps that looked just like what June Cleaver wore on our black and white television, and what Jacqueline Kennedy wore in LIFE magazine photographs. However, in addition to performing all the regular homemaker duties most women of the time performed, my mother was also a secretary and a dispatcher for the Houston Police Department (the predecessor to the 911 Operator of today). This combination role was common for the mothers of my neighbors and friends, so even at the midpoint of the 20th Century, my mother’s role had begun to evolve, not unlike the roles of women elsewhere. With Mother’s Day approaching, my thoughts have turned to my favorite aunt, Lucie, who was born in 1947, my own mother, Landa, who was born in 1938, and my grandmother, Maurine, who was born in 1920, and the roles of their contemporaries. These women are from my mother’s family, they were the most influential in my life, and they represent the typical 20th Century women of the United States. All of them, and several generations before them, were born in Texas.

    However, my great-grandmother, Fannie Alecia, was my father’s grandmother; she was born in 1886, and her life was different from the other women in my family. She raised my father, and she influenced my early life tremendously, as well as that of our everyday family life until her death in 1973. She was an incredible teacher when we were young, our family benefitted from her influence, and the women in our family benefitted from what she shared with us about how she emerged from the expectations of women from the late 19th Century. She was quite an example of the evolution of women into the 20th Century, as well as the influence of European immigrants on American life and American women, and how that changed their families. My great-grandmother’s family immigrated to the United States from Wurttemberg, Prussia, an area that is today a German state bordered by Baden-Wurttemberg on the north, west, south, and Bavaria on the east.

    She married my great-grandfather in 1902 and they had fourteen children before his death in 1958. Four of her sons served in Europe in the US Army during World War II and, although the only ‘job’ she ever had was running a household and the business end of the family farm, all of her daughters had jobs outside the home, as well as raising their own families. Because of these influences, I view the women in my family as a small-scale version of all the examples of the 20th Century Woman. The roles of women in Europe during the 20th Century were many times dictated to them in propaganda that was designed to further political and military interests. Mussolini encouraged women to “accept their traditional roles as wives and, especially, mothers” (Shubert, 2012), and Hitler “encouraged women to lead healthy lives so that they could bear healthy, happy, and Aryan children” (Baxa, 2007). In Europe, China and Japan, two world wars were fought in the cities and countrysides where women lived with their families.

    Women there had to try to raise children, conduct a normal home life, and sometimes work outside the home while dealing with the ravages of war. Food shortages, shelter damage from attacks, living under martial law and the other difficulties of war were only part of their lives; social activities, religion, education, work, finances, politics and even fashion were also part of their lives. My grandmother was alone during the early years of World War II while my grandfather was away in the Army. My mother was born in 1938, so she was a child during the war.

    Grandmother worked for the City of Houston as a secretary at first, then a city construction estimator when most of the men in her office left for the war. Her pay never changed with these additional duties, so she lived in a boarding house with several other mothers with small children, and she supported herself and my mother during the long years my grandfather was away. Similar to my grandmother’s experience, when Japan conscripted male workers from industrial jobs during World War II, that country’s’ labor needs were primarily satisfied through the efforts of millions of women. These women, children, students, and older men all worked in jobs that were new for them while the younger men served in the military.

    Women not only served in these jobs during the war effort, their contribution to the Japanese economy included being paid less for their work than the men who had worked in similar jobs before the war. Comparable to a practice in Japan, the US also ‘set aside or ignored’ child and female labor laws during the war (Havens, 1975). After the war, the new Japanese constitution prohibited the exploitation of children and, although it guaranteed “standards for wages, hours, rest and other working conditions shall be fixed by law” (kantei. go.

    jp, Article 27, 1947), the wages paid to female workers in Japan was materially less than the amounts paid to men. This phenomenon has not improved much over time. Indeed, “in the United States, the median childless, full-time-working woman of reproductive age earns 7 percent less than the median male full-time worker; however, for women with children, the wage gap more than triples, to 23 percent. That gap in Japan is even bigger, as the median Japanese mother working full time earns 61 percent less than the median Japanese full-time male worker” (NY Times, 2012).

    The United States had, until the attack on Pearl Harbor, the luxury of distance from these wars. Even into the early 1970’s, the conflicts on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s, and in Vietnam during the 1960s, kept war far away from the American home. My father was a Korean-era Marine before he married my mother, but my Aunt’s husband [my Uncle Dave], was a Green Beret officer who completed two tours in Vietnam. I remember my Aunt writing letters to my uncle, with orange juice cans in her hair for curlers.

    I watched her apply frosted pink lipstick so she could kiss the creases of the letters she wrote to him; before she sealed the envelopes, she sprayed the letters with Chanel #5. She worked in secretarial jobs and volunteered with the USO while my uncle was in the war. My Aunt’s life during the Vietnam war was quite different from that of a female war correspondent like Dickey Chapelle (born Georgette Louise Meyer). Dickey was one of the few reporters who accompanied the US Army on search and destroy missions, and was present during part of Operation Black Ferret, the initial landing and expansion of US involvement in Vietnam in 1965.

    On the 4th of November 1965, Ms. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel, which severed her carotid artery; she died soon after and became the first female war correspondent to be killed in action (Ostroff, 1992). Her dramatic death was made even more newsworthy by the fact that she was the first American woman reporter ever killed in action, as pointed out by her friend, S. L. A.

    ‘Slam’ Marshall in the obituary he wrote for her that was published in the Los Angeles Times on November 25, 1965, “Dickey was cremated and brought back to Milwaukee on November 12th by an honor guard of six Marines, one of whom was Staff Sergeant Albert P. Millville, who had been tossed flat by the explosion and would be returning immediately to Vietnam. The honor guard was an extraordinary tribute for a civilian and a woman” (Marshall, 1965). During the 20th Century, women in Europe and Asia did not fare as well as the women in America; Jewish women in Europe were especially deprived. Although there are also terrible stories from China, like the Japanese treatment of women in Nanking from the 1930’s, and Yugoslavia in the early 1990s (Shubert, 2012), by far, the Jewish women of the 20th Century suffered beyond compare, and an entire library could be written about their unique suffering.

    The one perspective I will capture here is that of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl of fourteen who had been in hiding for over two years in the early 1940s. She kept up with the war details in her diary. She also kept up with and understood social stereotypes and evolving roles of women in that time. She wrote in her diary, “Generally speaking, men are held in great esteem in all parts of the world, so why shouldn’t women have their share’soldiers and war heroes are honored and commemorated, explorers are granted immortal fame, martyrs are revered, but how many people look upon women too as soldiers?. . .

    Women should be respected as well! Women, who struggle and suffer pain to ensure the continuation of the human race, make much tougher and more courageous soldiers than all those big-mouthed freedom-fighting heroes put together! ” (Frank, 1944). With respect to Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, the war there involved the use of rape on a large scale as a tool of war: “rape as torture, mutilation, femicide, and genocide. It is war fought on and through women’s bodies. It is rape as a military strategy.

    It is rape that, at last, has caught the world’s attention” (Niarchos, 1995). According to a Human Rights Quarterly article written by Catherine Niarchos, the result of outrage at the atrocities in Yugoslavia was the creation in 1993 of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia Since 1991. Unlike the International Military Tribunals in Nuremberg (IMT) and in the Far East (IMTFE), this Tribunal included in its founding statute an explicit reference to rape, and it was encouraged to give priority to cases of abuse of women and children. It is likely unrealistic to hope for justice for the thousands of rape victims in Yugoslavia, but there is hope “that the Tribunal will establish precedent relevant to all women, in times of peace and war” (Niarchos, 1995).

    Like others of the early 20th Century, Adolf Hitler held very misogynistic views of women. According to Baxa, Hitler considered women ‘inferior beings’, useful in a basic way and primarily for procreation. These attitudes were a part of his general policies on women once he rose to power, which had the effect of keeping women in traditional roles as homemakers and mothers, and removing many of them from the workplace. His speeches and propaganda encouraged women to lead healthy lives so that they could ‘bear healthy, happy, and Aryan children’ (Baxa, 2007). Evans spoke of Marxism from Hitler’s perspective. He was said to have commented, “The so-called granting of equal rights to women, which Marxism demands, he remarked on another occasion, in reality does not grant equal rights but constitutes a deprivation of rights, since it draws the woman into an area in which she will necessarily be inferior.

    It places the woman in situations that cannot strengthen her position – but only weaken it” (Evans, 1976). Dr. Josef Goebbels delivered a speech just six weeks after Hitler took power, on March 18, 1933, and it is his first speech after taking charge of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The occasion of this speech was the opening of a women’s exhibition in Berlin called, “The Woman. ” In his speech, Goebbels states the intent of the government is to change the role of women in society in Germany, and clearly defines the ‘different mission’ for women and their responsibility to their country.

    He unambiguously stated the purpose of the speech as, “it will help make clear our attitude toward women,” and then left no room for doubt when he said, “there is nothing of greater importance than the living mother of a family who gives the state children”. While there were women in Germany during this time that held various roles outside the home, the focus on their preferred role for the “state” influenced women’s ideals for themselves and the view society held for them in general (Goebbels, 1934). In contrast to the European and American women of the 20th Century, Tojo Hideki, the prime minister of Japan, spoke on the subject of women in 1943, “That warm fountainhead which protects the household, assumes responsibility for rearing children, and causes women, children, brothers, and sisters to act as support for the front lines is based on the family system. This is the natural mission of the women in our empire and must be preserved far into the future. In other words, women could best serve the country and the government by “staying home, keeping their families happy, and producing more future citizens,” but, late in the war, the Tojo cabinet recognized the principle of “registering” all women, even married women, but ultimately shrank from a full-scale draft of Japanese women, into military service.

    Japan relied instead on the “spontaneous” support of volunteer women’s groups, and, similar to actions in Germany, started fertility campaigns for women to increase the birth rate of future citizens, as well as requiring sterilization of the “insane” (Havens, 1975). The message of women’s emancipation,” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf “is a message discovered solely by the Jewish intellect and its content is stamped by the same spirit. ” Comments like this were common from Hitler, and this source is from his own hand. Not only were his opinions about women and Jews unfavorable, this was similar to everything else about which he expressed opinions. He played to the lowest form of base humanity; he expressed his egomaniacal views of hatred, while cobbling together racism, bigotry, misogyny, torture, murder, genocide, and scientific quackery to create the most hated society known to modern man” (Hitler, 1925).

    In an interesting interview with Adolf Hitler before the start of World War II, the author H. V. Kaltenborn wrote about Hitler’s views on women, in part, when he said, “Here is a man with countless prejudices, with a provincial outlook deriving from his own narrow experience in education, life and thought. Man’s fleshly temptations mean nothing to him. He eats no meat, drinks no wine, smokes no tobacco, loves no woman.

    He enjoys solitude and crowds, architectural plans and mass meetings. He knows the mob mind, and his one concern is to win it and hold it” (Kaltenborn, 1932). One of the many war-related work efforts undertaken by women during World War II was that the Institute of British Geographers used many types of women from various backgrounds (geographers, recent college graduates, lecturers, regional and historical specialists, travelers and authors, artists and schoolteachers) to work in the geographical intelligence area of map production for military maneuvers and strategic action planning. The contribution of geography to the Second World War, which might be thought to be primarily a masculine endeavor, has been shown to have a strong female presence.

    When put in the context of the number of women members of the IBG in the 1930s is far from surprising. In the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), class and gender roles were entrenched and women undertook largely domestic-type and non-operational work until 1941. However, as the war progressed women increasingly undertook ‘military’ functions such as auxiliary air transport, staffing anti-aircraft batteries, inshore air-sea rescue, coxing pilot boats, plotting air and shipping movements, working on signals, cyphers and code work. Most of the 5000 messages relayed to and from the invasion fleet on D-day were made by the 500 WRNS operating signals in the underground tunnels at Fort Southwick near Portsmouth (Maddrell, 2008). Like the women at the Institute of British Geographers and those in other European countries, women in my family who molded and influenced my character in the 20th Century were not unlike women all over the world. Not until the attacks on the United States mainland in 2001 did American women face the visual effects of war at home; previous to this, it was an experience unique to European and Asian women in the 20th Century.

    Although some of the things I researched about the roles of women from this time in history would suggest that they were largely relegated to the background, that they were an after-thought and sometimes present primarily for making more babies or found mostly in their kitchens, this was not their entire experience – and certainly not that of the women in my family.


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    kantei. go. jp/foreign/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e. html.

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    org/Portabel Documents/G/German Speeches And Propaganda/German Women – Goebbels. pdf. Havens, T. R. H.

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    org/stable/1867444. Hitler, A. , Ford, M. (Translator), Mein Kampf, 1925; Elite Minds, Inc. , (California: 2009), retrieved from http://www. hitler.

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    org/stable/4634275. Maddrell, A. , The Map Girls – British Women Geographers’ War Work, Shifting Gender Boundaries and Reflections on the History of Geography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jan.

    , 2008, pp. 127-148). Marshall, S. L. A. , Los Angeles Times, Obituary of Dickey Chapell, November 25, 1965, http://www.

    spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/JFKchapelle.

    htm. New York Times, (Dec. 2012) http://economix. blogs. nytimes.

    com/2012/12/17/the-mommy-penalty-around-the-world/. Niarchos, C. N. , Women, War, and Rape: Challenges Facing The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 17, Number 4, November 1995, pp. 649-690,;type=summary;url;=/journals/human_rights_quarterly/v017/17.4niarchos.html.Ostroff, R., Fire in the Wind: The Life of Dickey Chapelle, Ballantine Books, (New York, 1992).Shubert, A., Goldstein, R.J., Twentieth-century Europe, Bridgepoint, Inc., (San Diego, CA: 2012).

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