World War II would drastically change society on the home front.
Some changes were temporary and frivolous. Silk was needed for parachutes and rubber for tires; stockings were no longer on the shelves. The ingenuity of the cosmetics industry came to the aid of fashion conscious women.
You could even draw a seam up the back of the leg if you wanted.
A more serious and lasting change was the dire need for labor. Men were being drafted for war or working in support industries.
For the first time after a decade of depression, workers were highly sought after. With wage controls in place to control inflation employers offered perks like retirement, health care and child care packages on a scale never seen before to attract workers.
Much of our current employer provided health care system was born in this era.
Eleanor Roosevelt championed the cause of allowing women and African Americans equal opportunities in the work place and services like better housing and childcare.
As Doris Kearns Goodwin notes in her book “No Ordinary Time” some letter writers to the White House were offended. They wanted the first lady to essentially shut up and stay at home.
Her husband Franklin relied his wife to keep him independently informed on conditions outside of Washington. Though the President would often act more slowly than his progressively activist wife wished, he often came to her point of view when he sensed a shift in public opinion.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the first presidential spouse to address a national political convention, today it is expected.
America was slow to acknowledge the threat and even after the bombing at Pearl Harbor many industrialists resisted hiring women or people of color but eventually the need proved too great.
Rosie the Riveter built bombers that were desperately needed. By war’s end nearly 300,000 airplanes alone had been built in America.
When Britain stood alone against the Nazi onslaught it turned to America for material assistance. Seventy years ago the Soviet Army was locked in a desperate struggle, America provided goods to maintain the fight. The argument was that the western allies had a better chance if the Russians keep the Wehrmacht occupied until America was strong enough to mount an invasion at least a year in the future.
America needed to equip their own armed services as well and transport that material across vast distances and dangerous waters to fronts near Moscow, London, Cairo, and strange sounding islands South Pacific.
American armed services were still segregated but during the course of the war examples of success like the Tuskegee Airmen would open the door to change. (The African-American fighter pilots did not lose one bomber entrusted to their care.)
According to Wikipedia, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) flew more than 12,500 aircraft over a distance of sixty million miles freeing up male pilots for combat.
Total war means no stockings.
In San Luis Obispo County much of the labor was tied up in the lucrative work of building the giant installations at Camp Roberts, Camp San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Camp Cooke [now Vandenberg AFB]. With the Japanese — many of them farmers — relocated to internment camps finding workers to bring in the harvest was acute.
This story is from the Sept. 5, 1942 Telegram-Tribune:
Workers Needed to Harvest County Almond, Beet Crops
San Luis Obispo county is experiencing a critical labor shortage of emergency proportions necessitating the organization of volunteer groups of citizens to harvest beet crops the county department of agriculture war board declared today.
R.S. Dixon, U.S. employment service will attempt to organize groups of volunteer workers to harvest beet, pear and prune crops, only partially harvested at the present time due to the shortage of labor.
Need Prune Pickers
Several crops of pears and prunes are falling to the ground in the Atascadero area, according to John Ruskovich, supervisor of district 2 of Atascadero who states he will donate his prune crop to some worthwhile organization if labor can be found to harvest them.
It was thought that Atascadero high school student labor would be utilized in the pear and prune orchards at Atascadero and the Paso Robles schools have delayed their opening until Sept. 14 in order to release students for agricultural work. Several of the county school principals have agreed to allow older students time off in order to help in this important wartime work. R. L. Bird, county superintendent of schools said.
Need Almond Knockers
The almond situation in the Paso Robles area is particularly critical, according to growers. If almond knockers are not available within the next few weeks, many of the crops will suffer from the inroads of squirrels, the Slate Almond Co. of Paso Robles stated today. The work of harvesting the almonds continues for about a two month period.
The situation in the county this week was as follows:
100 beet toppers needed.
75-100 almond knockers needed.
Volunteers offering to devote some of their time to aiding in the present emergency will receive compensation for their labor Dixon stated. Cooperating with Dixon are W.L. Reber chairman of the labor committee of the farms use planning committee, and Parker Talbot, representing the county USDA war board.
In other news on the page, Jews were being systematically rounded up in France and shipped east under orders from Germany. Over 300 suicides were reported in Paris alone as despair swept the community.