Changes in Women's Gender Roles as Reflected in a 1940s Uniform

By: Kristen Cnossen

 

1970.110.1 A-C, Gift of Mrs. Robert Wayland 1970.110.1 A-C, Gift of Mrs. Robert Wayland

  

This striking uniform from the 1940s (dating was established based on style) is a representation of the new forms of work that women undertook during the twentieth century. The strong lines and clean design give this uniform the same authority expected in a man’s uniform, differing only in the presence of a skirt and the accentuation of the waist.

The uniform consists of a simple, knee-length maroon skirt with a matching long-sleeved jacket. The jacket is tailored with two patch pockets at the waist, shoulder pads, and large, notched lapels. The front closes with four large gold buttons stamped with an eagle carrying an anchor surrounded by fourteen stars. The two small gold buttons above the breast on each side are stamped with the same design. The upper left sleeve sports a patch consisting of the Air Force logo with the letters “AWC” in white between the wings. The letters “AWC” will be discussed in detail later in this document. The pin on the maroon garrison cap is a white circle containing “Army Air Forces” and "AWS” framed by two brass wings. The uniform would have given stature to its wearer and demonstrated, outwardly, an organized mind. The gold buttons stamped with an eagle symbolize patriotism, while the Air Force logo and pin establish military status.

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 Detail of patch on left sleeve; 1970.110.1 A, Gift of Mrs. Robert Wayland

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 Detail of pin on garrison cap; 1970.110.1 C, Gift of Mrs. Robert Wayland

Unfortunately, the uniform did not come with much information about its wearer and additional research was needed in order to determine the meaning behind the acronyms “AWC” and “AWS.” The letters “AWS” most likely stand for Air Warning Service which was created during World War II by the Ground Observer Corps, allowing civilians to take part in ground sightings of enemy aircraft (Clements, 2016). “AWC” most likely refers to Aircraft Warning Corps, which was an organization under the Army Air Force that manned Army Radar Stations and sent visual reports to the Ground Observer Corps (Schaffel, 1991). The Air Warning Corps was an military arm of the Ground Observer Corps, whereas the Air Warning Service was a civilian arm of the Ground Observer Corps, relying mainly on volunteers.

The 20th century marked a turbulent time for the United States; men left for war overseas and women were expected to defend the homefront. Women rose to the occasion; donning feminized men’s uniforms, women volunteered for programs that did not have the funding to hire men - women became, essentially, a backbone the country relied on to keep order during wartime.

References:

Clements, John. “Ground Observer Corps Aircraft Warning Service, 1944.” Radomes. Retrieved 29 July 2016. http://www.radomes.org/museum/documents/GOC/GOCAWS1944.html

Schaffel, Kenneth. The Emerging Shield; The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960. Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force; Washington, DC. 1991. PDF Retrieved 29 July 2016. http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps48543/emerging_shield.pdf

 

Bibliography:

“Women at Home and in the Community.” Partner’s in Winning the War: American Women in World War II. National Women’s History Museum. 2007. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/partners/32.html

 “The Federal Civil Defense Agency (FCDA) Women Defend the Nation (1950).” The Cold War Museum. http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/women_civildefense.asp

“Office of Civilian Defense.” The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/office-civilian-defense.cfm

“Women in WWII at a Glance.” The National WWII Museum, New Orleans. http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/at-a-glance/women-in-ww2.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

“American Women in World War II.” History. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/american-women-in-world-war-ii