Vol 29 (2009): Special Issue: Remembering Family, Analyzing Home: Oral History and the Family
Families As Archives: Sources of Identity and Experience


During World War II, the United States government asked women to behave in an untraditional manner. Young women were encouraged to leave home and enlist in the military. Each military branch had its own female force, including the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, which fell under Naval jurisdiction during the war. This article will analyse oral history interviews with female veterans, discussing why the women chose to enlist and how that enlistment transformed their lives. The Great Depression strengthened “kinship ties,” which were then disrupted by World War II, as men and women were pulled into unfamiliar circumstances far away from home. Women enlisted in the Navy and Coast Guard to help the war effort. But service offered an additional motivation: a sense of belonging to a sorority of similarly-minded women who were somehow different or “better” than those in other branches. Women, many of whom came from working-class homes, aspired to a better way of life that could be obtained only through Naval military service. This sense of elitism, as this article demonstrates, extended beyond the women’s enlistment and into their civilian postwar lives. In a sense, the women moved from the comfort of their familial kinship ties into a new family, which transcended blood relations.