The Women's War
As the Second World War progressed,women shouldered an ever larger burden of responsibilities. They continued to fulfill what most thought of as their appointed domestic roles and responsibilities, and many of them continued to work in traditional occupations such as teaching, nursing, and bookkeeping. As more and more men left jobs, businesses, and farms for the fighting overseas, women found themselves stepping into a host of new environments and situations previously dominated by men. Women took over the operation of farms and businesses; went to work in factories, tackling physically demanding work; and, in 1942, began serving in the military.
In 1942, the Canadian military established women's divisions within the Army, Navy and Air Force. These were the Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC), the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) and the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division (RCAFWD), respectively. This action was undertaken to free up male members of the services for combat roles and to appease a growing demand from women that they be allowed to serve. Women had previously served the military, but they did so as members of the Red Cross and were limited to nursing roles.
Some expressed concern that women’s continued involvement in the military and other non-traditional occupations would threaten traditional family values. This would lead to the breakdown of marriages and family structure and a rise in childhood delinquency. Following the war, women were forced to relinquish their newfound roles, responsibilities, and positions to accommodate the tens of thousands of men who expected to return to their jobs and the traditional role of the family breadwinner.
The Canadian military disbanded the women’s Army, Navy, and Air Force divisions in 1946. The CWAC was reconstituted in 1948 and operated until 1964; Navy and Air Force women’s divisions were re-established in 1951, and both remained in place until the unification of the three branches of the military in 1968. Following unification and a four-year hiatus, women were once again permitted to serve in the land forces (Army). Since that time, women have progressed through the ranks and, commencing in the mid to late 1980s, they have been permitted to serve in front line and combat roles.
Bannister, Lisa (ed.). Equal to the Challenge: An Anthology of Women's Experiences during WW2. Ottawa: Canada Department of National Defence, 2001.
Morin, Renée. “Women after the War.” Canadian Affairs. 2, 4 (1945).
Pierson, Ruth Roach. “They're Still Women After All” : The Second World War and Canadian Womanhood. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1986.
Status of Women Canada. “In Praise of Canadian Women Volunteers: An Historical Look at Women and Volunteer Work in Canada.” Women's History Month 2001. (accessed September 2007).
Veterans Affairs Canada. “Women's Contribution during Wartime.” (accessed September, 2007).