America Enters World War I
Years before the 19th Amendment, nine million American women mobilized themselves for American entry into The Great War in 1917, with American involvement from April 1917 to November 1918. The lion’s share – eight million – volunteered for the American Red Cross providing goods and services as well as working as nurses and drivers for the war effort. Women also enlisted in the military in great numbers for the first time, filling non-combat roles so that more servicemen could be rotated to combat duty. Over 11,000 women performed shore duty roles for the U.S. Navy, and twice that number served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps both at home and abroad. With many American men drafted into military service, women also stepped into the jobs they left behind, keeping U.S. agricultural and industrial sectors afloat throughout the war.
The violent reprisals of men during the 1913 Women’s March were unifying memories for many, galvanizing the suffrage movement into one that advanced not just voting rights, but the rights of safety for all women. Media depictions of the war in Europe were rife with reports of violence against women perpetrated by soldiers in occupied territory. American recruitment of women into the war effort was due, in part, to a desire to use military force to protect themselves and other women from sexual assault.
Women were vital to the American war effort, and suffragists were not going to let the country forget it. They stressed the unfairness of a system that relied on the contributions of women to win the war, while simultaneously denying them the right to contribute as full citizens without the vote. Suffragists argued that women’s service in the war effort totally refuted the anti-suffragist claim that women should not be enfranchised because they do not sacrifice for their country. As the war neared its end, suffragist sentiment percolated up to the federal government and President Wilson who declared to Congress, “ We have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege?”
Women work at Gray & Davis Co., an artillery plant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during World War I in 1914. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
Women prepare to deliver various government packages during World War I. They were members of the National League for Women's Service. Women were employed as drivers, ambulance drivers, messengers, etc. ca. 1917-1920. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
Esther Pohl Lovejoy (far right) poses with other members of the American Women’s Hospitals in 1918. (Courtesy of OHSU Historical Collections & Archives)
American photojournalist Helen Johns Kirtland stands in a trench during World War I. As a war correspondent, she covered many battles, photographing and reporting for
Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)