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American Catholic Women's Participation in 20th century World Wars

American Catholic Women and Twentieth Century World Wars is one of a series of  websites on Catholic Women in 20th century America. The materials presented here depict how Catholic women’s organizations supported the war effort during World War I and World War II using collections from the American Catholic History Center and University Archives.

World War I and World War II profoundly impacted American life.  “Total war,” when the whole of a society’s resources are committed to winning a military conflict, mandated that every aspect of society be geared toward victory, was the order of the day.  With men serving in combat positions overseas, women actively participated in traditionally male-dominated professions as well as in supportive military positions. Nationalism became diffused throughout everyday life, with all Americans expected to place their support for the U.S. above all other cultural and religious fidelities.    

Catholics in the early twentieth century believed that the biological differences between women and men made women more suited for motherhood and home life. Women were viewed as protectors of the home, educators of their children, and subordinate to their male counterparts. These ideas shaped Catholic women’s identities as women more generally.  Men were supposed to work outside of the home, while women were to be in the supporting role of caretaker of the children.

Despite these traditional notions about womanhood and a woman’s place in society, Catholic women’s organizations in America were active participants in the war effort. The materials in this site describe what Catholic women’s organizations did during the war, how it shaped women’s ideas about being Catholic and American, and how it shaped women’s roles in public life and paved the way for their participation in American politics.