Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19




Women, Higher Education, and the Home

Front: Women Students at the University

of Cincinnati during World War II




As the University of Cincinnati marked the first anniversary of the attack

on Pearl Harbor, Dean of Women Katherine Ingle told the women students

assembled at the Women's Convocation that "We are surrounded by danger

but there is also opportunity, opportunity such as has come to no other gen-

eration of women, to no other race of women...."1    Ingle foresaw the com-

ing decade as a period when the only "trained brains," in virtually all fields,

would be women and anticipated that the massive shift in the gender compo-

sition of the nation's universities caused by World War II would revolutionize

women's roles in higher education and society.2

Ingle's prediction foreshadowed a broader debate among historians concern-

ing the impact of the war on the status of women in American society.

Some historians argue that the war was a turning point in regard to economic

and social equality for women and that the rise of second-wave feminism in

the 1960s and 1970s had its roots in wartime changes. Others contend that it

led to few enduring economic and attitudinal transformations regarding

women, and that wartime changes were "for the duration" only and accom-

plished in ways that did not challenge basic assumptions about gender roles.3

The literature is voluminous but most of it concerns women in the work

place. Relatively little attention has been paid to the impact of the war on



Patrick F. Callahan is Assistant Dean for Library Technical Services at St. John's University

in Jamaica, New York. He is also a doctoral candidate in U.S. history at the University of


1. News Record, Dec. 12, 1942.

2. The phrase "trained brains" was coined by Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard

College, in an article in New York Times Magazine, May 29, 1942, p. 18, and was widely re-

peated by educators.

3. William Henry Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and

Political Roles, 1920-1970 (New York, 1972) and Sherna Berger Gluck, Rosie the Riveter

Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change (New York, 1987) stress the transformations

caused by the war. Leila Rupp in Mobilizing Women for War: German and American

Propaganda, 1939-1945 (Princeton, 1978), D'Ann Campbell in Women at War with America:

Private Lives in a Patriotic Era (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), Karen Anderson, Wartime Women:

Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II (Westport, Conn.,

1981), and Susan M. Hartmann, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s

(Boston, 1982) stress the limits of wartime changes.