Women of the Springfield Armory, World War I & II

By Paul Anthony

We_Can_Do_It!Women in the factory workforce from World War I up through World War II had to face many challenges. They had to constantly fight poor working conditions, low wages compared to their male counterparts, discrimination, and a host of other obstacles along the way. Many of these women decided to move into these factory jobs for the needs of the country within these war periods themselves. The men were all off to war and there was a need for the manufacturing of the war time goods that the men needed to continue fighting overseas.  There were many women who answered the “call of duty” on the homefront throughout both time periods. Women in these jobs consisted of 20% of the workforce in World War I and in World War II women consisted of 35.4% of the total workforce.[1]

Many of these working women were not only active within their perspective job environments, but also outside their work with additional support for the war efforts overseas in both World Wars. The Springfield Armory was no exception to this. Many of the women working at the armory during both World Wars worked long hours and kept up the fight for the freedom and patriotism they so cherished. The impact of these women working throughout both time periods was crucial to winning both of the wars for America. The following pages in this paper specifically deal with the women working at the Springfield Armory within both time periods of World War I and World War II and what they did to support the war efforts, and how the women of the generation of World War I directly impacted the women at the armory during World War II.

World War I Armory Women

The United States entering into the First World War caused a change within the working structure on the homefront. Due to many of the men enlisting into the military or being drafted to serve their country caused a large shortage of laborers within the American workforce. Many of these men worked within the growing industrial center of the US from the large economic boom of the industrial revolution. To counteract the shortage of laborers the industrial center saw the need for women to enter the workforce in order to not only supply their male counterparts with food rations, ammunition, and other necessary items they may need in the battlefield; but also the general laborers within other sectors of the workforce too. Springfield and the armory is a prime example of the need for women within the industrial sector to assist in supplying the men fighting the war.

By November of 1918 the shift and need of female laborers grew to 748 female employees which consisted of 18% of the total workforce within the Armory.[2] Some of the women that worked at the armory during World War I worked their way up to higher positions. Miss Helen E. Moriarty was one example. She was a “forewoman” at the armory throughout the American involvement in World War I and was in charge of 53 other girls on the factory floor. She was also one of the first female workers that were employed by the armory at the turn of the 20th century; she resigned to take a secretarial course in late 1918.[3]

The World War I era was a pioneering time for women in the workforce throughout the United States. Within the Springfield Armory women took important roles over from the men that were being sent overseas to fight in the war in Europe. These women took over the roles within the factory itself assembling many of the parts needed to supply the American troops with guns and other munitions.

This change in roles helped women to really begin asserting their independence not only within the workforce, but also within the home as well. Many of these women took jobs as filers, drillers, and inspectors during World War I. They also took on many other roles outside of the Armory to help support the war effort on the homefront. Some women knit socks for soldiers and others joined the American Red Cross to help gather the necessary funds and donations to help supply the war effort. Much of the extra outside effort was more propaganda in order to push the women into not only helping the American soldiers by supplying them with weapons but also the necessary everyday items they needed in the trenches in Europe. The Springfield Armorer (which was the monthly publication put out by the Springfield Armory) had propaganda ads every month to promote women to do extra work outside the workplace to help American soldiers.[4]

In addition to the outside work activities, their working conditions were generally poor. They did not even receive their own separate restrooms until January of 1918; an excerpt from the January of The Armorer gives the details of the new restrooms:

The ever increasing number of Uncle Sam’s women workers will undoubtedly be much pleased to learn of the new restrooms which are being prepared for them.

New two story buildings are now nearing completion at both the Hill and Watershops Plants where ample provision has been made for toilet, locker and restroom accommodations. Each building is to be in charge of a matron and will shortly be ready for use.[6]

Aside from the women fighting to get their own restrooms and other small things, they also fought to create a much safer workplace for themselves. Many of these women had somewhat of an understanding of the connections between workplaces safety and production levels. The fight to increase safety not only for the female workers but all workers of the armory caused major changes in the way things were run within the armory itself, they brought attention to work safety and eventually changed the factory workplace from a safety standpoint for future generations to follow.

To counteract the long hours and tedious shifts for the women working at the armory the owners held many morale boosting benefits to keep the men and women from getting too overworked from all the long hours. The armory held occasional bowling nights, dancing, and other events throughout the year in order for workers to go out and have fun, keep employee attendance up, and boost the morale of the men and women of the armory.

World War II Armory Women

The World War II era of women working at the Springfield armory was drastically different from that of the women of the prior generation. During World War II women represented the majority of people hired into the armory. By June of 1942 women represented 20% of the labor force and by the following year in June of 1943 it doubled to 43% of the total workforce in the armory.[7] The amount of women hired by the armory was staggering between 1942 and 1943, as the demand grew for weapons in the war increased exponentially and the shortage of skilled men went down due to the draft. Between September and October of 1942 some 1600 women were hired by the Springfield Armory to account for the ever increasing demand of weapons on the battlefield.[8] The drastic increase of female workers during World War II posed new questions to the factories that they worked in and the government, what to do with the children of the women working in the war industry?

Child Care

Childcare during the World War II era posed a problem to many women that wanted to support the war effort by working in the war industry, but could not find a way to do so with young children.  According to Alyssa Parks author of Child Care During World War II for the Springfield Armory said:

Day care became a site of patriotism for many Americans. Such centers provided working mothers with the security that their children would be safe while they worked in factories across the country.[9]

This held true for the Springfield Armory as well. The armory made it relatively easy for working mothers to contribute to the war effort overseas by manufacturing guns for the military. The innovation of providing onsite day care facilities to the mothers employed by the armory was influential in getting more working mothers to work for the war effort.[10]  The day care center was located right across the street from the armory. This then gave the opportunity for working mothers to begin to earn money that helped to support their families, as well as do their patriotic duty by supporting the men fighting in Europe and in the Pacific by giving them more weapons to continue fighting.

Morale

Morale of the laborers was another major factor that the Springfield armory had to deal with. Much like the World War I era the Springfield Armory held after work activities for the employees of the factory in order to keep their morale up and continue working. The hours at the armory were often long and many consecutive days were spent pushing out thousands of new M1 rifles for the soldiers overseas. To counteract the loss of morale the Springfield Armory like in World War I had bowling nights, dances, as well as other activities like the rifle club and others to which many women had participated in. Mary Aronoisky and Eugenia Pietuchoff were two of the women who had participated in the Rifle Club in 1942.[11] Aside from the after work activities the Springfield Armory highlighted women for their great service to the effort as well as commemorated them for achievements made within the factory. Miss Florence Dorothy Johnson was the first women to receive a Certificate of Merit at the Springfield Armory. The certificate read: “For outstanding performance, ability, and cooperation in the line of duty which has resulted in expediting production of the M1 rifle.” [12] Why did women like Miss Johnson and many others feel the need to go to work in the war sector when there were many other jobs they could have taken that allowed them to stay at home?

Employment Training

The Second World War brought on a new light within the nation and the Springfield Armory was no exception.  Approximately 35% of the total workforce in America at that time were of working age women, which is a staggering number compared to the 20% of working women in World War I. Many of these women held factory jobs and the Springfield Armory was no exception. As previously mentioned about 40% of the armory workers were female and did the jobs that many of the men had held prior to the war. The main issue at hand was training the unskilled women; who were mainly young women and stay at home mothers at that time for the new factory jobs that were open due to the lack of men in the workforce. Much of the nation did not give any formal training for these women, but the Springfield Armory saw a problem for the unskilled women entering with a relatively high turnover rate for the new women as well as an increase in the lack of productivity. The Armory dealt with this issue by reaching out to the Springfield Technical school systems to “design and implement new training methods to teach women skills necessary for war production employment”.[13]

By using federal and state funds the armory was able to develop fast and valuably significant training programs that prepared the new female workforce to enter the war industry. This was not met with open arms though, much of the management staff was very skeptical of women being able to fill the necessary gaps in the industrial sector because they thought the women would not have the necessary knowledge to get the work done.  The skepticism is where the famous propaganda tool of “Rosie the Riveter” came into play that was fashioned by the US government to urge the women into heavy war industry. Incorporated in with the Rosie the riveter posters women also began the W.O.W. (Women Ordinance Workers) movement within the industrial war sectors throughout the country. The Springfield Armory was no exception to the WOW movement. Many of the mothers and young women working in the armory gave up their dresses and aprons for what were called “womenalls” with all their jewelry and handkerchiefs wrapped on their heads and got down and dirty in with the remaining men.[14]

The Springfield Armory did what they seemed as logical for this new abundance of workers about to enter the war effort. They took the remaining men that could not go and serve their country by directly participating in the war itself, promoted them, trained them to be able to multi task the new female workers now entering the armory, and training the women on the jobs these men previously held. This new process of getting these women trained and into the armory opened up a huge door within the Springfield Trade school industry as well as the apprenticeship school at the armory itself.[15] This process also allowed the Springfield Trade Schools to have to hire much more qualified instructors for the new courses that were able to train the women at a much faster rate than prior to the war.

The armory took the process one step further by attempting to pair specific women up with specific jobs according to their natural physical abilities. The armory hired pedagogical expert Ed Whalen to carry out aptitude tests that Whalen specifically developed in order to see how women fared in particular job categories within the armory.[16] These test measured a woman’s natural abilities as opposed to the abilities that women gained from the education of specific courses. This proved to be very beneficial and cost effective for the armory by placing the women with the highest skills naturally known for each specific job needed into that position with much less education and training necessary than a woman that did not already have some basic natural knowledge of that type of job. Specifically speaking; women that could do more than one thing at a time (like pat your head and rub your stomach) had a significant advantage over working in a position such as profiling rifle barrels to be cored, or assembling  trigger mechanisms fared better than women who could not. This in turn saved the armory a substantial amount of money by not having to train women in positions to which they were not particularly naturally inclined to do, which long term increased productivity and made the armory that much more efficient. By somewhat micro managing the entire process of how and where these women were hired and placed within the armory made more sense that the women who were hired on ended up staying at the armory for the remainder of the war. This was not just because they had nowhere else to go, but the high level of training they received and the occupations that they stayed in within the armory, made them feel like they were doing their part in aiding in the war efforts both in Europe and the Pacific.

Roles of the Women in the Armory

As the need for women in the armory grew, they played many different roles within the Armory. They saw working in the armory as their patriotic duty in order to help the “boys” overseas win the war. Many of these women took on extra tasks above and beyond their roles in working in the factory assembling the parts needed to make the guns for the American soldiers. What kind of roles did the women play in the wartime efforts? Why was it so important for women to fill the roles of men during the wartime production? What were the differences between in the working conditions and morale between World War I and World War II for these working women? Finally, what impact did the women of the World War I era have on the women of the World War II era in the Armory?

The roles that women played in both the World War I and World War II era were crucial to the war effort overseas as well as keeping life at home continuing on as it should have. Many of the women who went into the Springfield Armory took on man of the manufacturing roles once previously held only by men.  Some women that worked there prior to the war starting were either office workers or inspectors for the parts and completed M1 rifles that the men worked on to put out.

Once America joined in the fight in World War I many of the men were sent over to Europe to fight through the draft. In order to fill the void women had to be conscripted and hired into the military arms sector in order to fill the void left by the men. Although not many women decided to join in the fight by working in “war jobs” during World War I some women felt the call to help their fellow Americans by filling in the positions left behind by the drafted men. About 15% of the workers at the Springfield Armory were women and they filled in the role of the men that left due to the draft by assembling the parts necessary in order to produce many M1 rifles. The Armorer monthly newsletter highlights some of the women that were involved in working towards the common good of helping the American soldiers that were serving their country. The June 1918 printing of the Armorer highlighted the Armory Red Cross workers started by Miss Anna Martin. These women spent one night a week making surgical dressings for the soldiers in the field, the article read:

A Red Cross Unit has been started by the young ladies of the office under the direction of Miss Anna Martin of the Disbursing Section. Many of them are spending one evening each week at the Red Cross Work Rooms at the corner of State and Willow Streets, assisting in making surgical dressing and doing other relief work.

An invitation is extended to all other girls, who as yet have not joined the Unit, to register at the rooms on Tuesday and Friday evening.[17]

Other women found their call by other means. Marion E. Phelan was one of the women who worked in the Armory during World War I and published many of her poems to keep the issue of donating money into the war effort within the Armory as well as to keep up the morale of the workers. The July 1918 printing of The Armorer highlighted one of her poems called “Keep it Full” which stressed the need to keep putting money into the War Chest to keep the fight going against the Germans.[18]  Publications like this were also used as propaganda in order to keep the women going on their tasks throughout the armory and to make sure they did not lose sight of the ultimate goal which was to bring the war to an end and bring the men back home to a normal life.

Conclusion

Women workers in America in the time periods of World War I and World War II impacted one another for a great change in American history. The World War I era women had to deal with really poor working conditions, long hours, and as a result directly impacted the female workforce of World War II. For the first time in history women in the workforce broke the gender barrier of what was predominantly male and what was predominantly female types of work within industry. They pushed forward to unionize in certain industrial sectors and worked towards the ever changing safety of all those around them within the war industry. The Springfield Armory through the women of the World War I era made many strides to improve safety within the workplace, which had a direct result on the efficiency and manufacturing capabilities of the armory itself. Productivity increased, the overall working conditions in the armory increased, and although after the end of the war many of the non-essential women who were not the sole financial support of their families were laid off, they laid the groundwork for the next generation of women some thirty years later in 1941.[19]

This spill off from the World War I made the women of World War II much more independent.  They were able to fully infiltrate the war industry sector and with their help pushed America into a new age of history. If not for the women workers from both of these time periods the result of World War II may have been dramatically different. The Springfield Armory experienced a boom in women workers and through their dedication and patriotism to the job that they had to fill pushed forward not only the issues of equality for women, but proved the phrase “anything you can do I can do better” for women across the country.


NOTES:

[1] http://www.mscd.edu/history/camphale/www_001.html – World War II percentages of women in the workforce

[2] www.forgeofinnovation.orgEmployment of Women, WWI: Introduction

[3] Springfield Union – 1918

[4] The Springfield Armorer was a monthly newsletter put out by the armory to keep people informed on what was going on not only within the factory itself, but also to keep people informed about new events outside the workplace in order to further support the war efforts. The Armorer was often filled with many types of propaganda to appeal to the men AND women who worked in the Springfield Armory to what was not only needed by the armory itself, but what was needed as a whole to supply US soldiers overseas.

[6] Springfield Armorer – Jan 1918 pg. 24

[7] History of the Springfield Armory  – January 1942- June 1943 – pg 155

[8] Ibid

[9] Alyssa Parks – Child Care During World War IIhttp://www.forgetheinnovation.org

[10] Ibid

[11] The Armorer –  1942

[12] The Armorer – June 1942 pg. 7

[13] Frank Murphy – Providing Their ‘Latent’ Abilities: Employment and Training of Women During World War II Production at Springfield Armoryhttp://www.forgetheinnovation.org

[14] Kim Kramer – Longing Won’t Bring Him Back: Why Springfield Women Went to Work for the Armory – In specifics to the word “womenalls” which was used to describe the overalls that women wore in the war industrial sector.

[15] Frank Murphy – Providing Their ‘Latent’ Abilities: Employment and Training of Women During World War II Production at Springfield Armoryhttp://www.forgetheinnovation.org

[16] Frank Murphy – Providing Their ‘Latent’ Abilities: Employment and Training of Women During World War II Production at Springfield Armoryhttp://www.forgetheinnovation.org

[17] Springfield Armorer – June 1918 – pg. 6

[18] Springfield Armorer – July 1918 – pg. 13 – The poem Miss Phelan wrote is on the last page of this article and highlights the amount of extra work that women did during the First World War. Although their numbers were not as great as World War II they still saw the need to “keep the fight” going through their patriotism.

[19] History of the Springfield Armory – 1919 – June 1939 pg. 5

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Allen, Virginia. Women’s Roles in the Armory. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

Armory, Springfield. “The Armorer.” The Armorer. Springfield Armory, Jan 1918 – Dec 1918 1918.

—. “The Armorer.” The Armorer. Springfield Armorer, 1942 – 1943.

Caliri, Rachel. Impact of the End of World War I on Female Armory Workers. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

Colton, Richard. Women in World War II: Introduction. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

History of the Springfield Armory 1919- June 1939. Springfield, MA: Springfield Museum Archives.

History of the Springfield Armory Jan 1942- June 1943. Springfield: Springfield Museum Archives.

History of the Springfield Armory July 1939 – December 1941. Springfield: Springfield Museum Archives.

Murphy, Frank. Proving Their Latent Abilities: Employment and Training of Women During World War II Production at Springfield Armory. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

Museum, Springfield Armory. Employment of Women, WWI: Introduction. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

Parks, Alyssa. Child Care During World War II. http://www.forgetheinnovation.org (accessed December 2011).

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