Considering Women in the Aftermath of WW2
Updated: Sep 17, 2022
WW2 is Over. Now What?
When we think of women and World War II, we think of:
Rosie the Riveter
Wendy the Welder
Women Ordnance Workers (WOW)
Women Government Girls
Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps or WAC),
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and
Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services (WAVES)
Coast Guard Women's Reserve (SPARS)
Women in the Army and Navy Medical Corps (especially dangerous jobs)
Women's Land Army (WLA)
Women Red Cross Volunteers (including as ambulance drivers)
Certainly WW2 opened occupations to many women. They gained skilled and attitudes about themselves that would not have happened without the war.
And even women who stayed home with children still contributed to the war effort in many ways from volunteer work, to saving cans and turning them in, to growing vegetables, and canning fruits and vegetables for their own use.
...with our focus on the participation of women during WW2, we often overlook what it was like for women after the war. Today, we're sharing Becky Lewellen Povich's story that increases our understanding of that period.
Ruby and Opal: Two Gems
Becky Lewellen Povich
It Wasn’t All Hugs and Happiness
At the end of WWII, when millions of American mothers and wives were celebrating the return of their husbands, hundreds of thousands were grieving the loss of theirs.
Ruby Lorenze and Opal Green*, two first cousins who were as close as sisters, were among the grieving. Their husbands had lost their lives within weeks of each other, one in January 1945, and the other in February 1945.
Ruby and her two young daughters lived in Greenfield, Iowa while Opal and her two small children lived in Osceola, Iowa—close in distance, but far when needing each other’s companionship and comfort.
An Unexpected Post-War Change
The end of the war brought many changes — cessation of food and gasoline rationing, resumption of car production, return of men to the workforce, the GI Bill that opened educational opportunities for many — and surprisingly, a housing shortage.
NOTE: According to a May 1946 Greenfield, Iowa newspaper article, a family built a new home and sold their "granary" to Ruby -- Mrs. George Lorenze.
Many families who lived in rural America before the war had made their way to cities where women became Rosie the Riveters, Wendy the Welders and Government Workers. And even in smaller towns, due to shifting populations based on previous war needs, there were not enough homes. So makeshift dwellings were moved by truck and train from one location to another. Those houses were sometimes nothing more than a small rail car, an abandoned roadside diner, or even a shed.
A Closet and a Bath Are Add-Ons!
Ruby owned a lot next to her home and urged Opal to come back to Greenfield. How could Opal refuse her treasured cousin’s request after learning Ruby had already purchased a tiny house and had it transported to the lot. She had even added essential rooms: bedroom, closet, bath and dinette!
NOTE: According to the same newspaper article, Ruby had already brought sewer and water services onto the vacant lot next to her home. And although the article makes it seem that Opal wanted to move next to Ruby, the family knows the real story -- Ruby wanted her favorite cousin to live next door so that they could support each other in their grief and navigate their future lives.
Opal and her children, Gary and Nancy, did move into the house next door to Ruby and her two daughters, JoAnn and Marian. The children had each others company and the mothers often helped each other during the following months and years. Opal sometimes helped out when Ruby went to work at the ticket window of small movie theater in Greenfield.
All Types of "Homes" Arrived On All Types of Conveyors
Sharing a little more of the May 1946 newspaper article, you'll see that when "houses" (and I use that term loosely) were brought into Greenfield (and I'm sure many towns across America) -- they arrived on "Rollers, Trucks and Trailers." If you look closely, you'll see that each story also tells about the soldier and how long he was in the service. For instance, "Russell Smith, who was 41 months overseas with the 34th division, returned to take a job as a lineman--and a bride. When other housing was unavailable, Smith bought a hoop-roofed tenant quarters from a farm ...and had it moved on a tractor-trailer the 12 miles into Greenfield."
All Types of Structures
And here are pictures of two more types of "homes" used in the post-WW2 period. The first shows a train's dining car moved to a lot. The second is a 2-story, 4-room home that was cut into pieces, moved about 50 miles, and then put back together.
Eager to have a "normal" home life, women showed great determination to create the life that had been impossible during the war.
And an Even Bigger Change
Both women -- Ruby and Opal -- eventually remarried and became mothers again. How do I know all this? Because Ruby was my mother. She became Ruby Lewellen when she married my father.
The years that followed held many changes. Mother moved to Illinois with her new husband and had my brother and me. Opal had one son with her new husband and continued to live in Greenfield for the rest of her life.
Greenfield, A Continuing Attraction
Because many relatives and friends lived in Greenfield, we visited often when I was young. I especially loved being around Opal because she constantly talked and laughed. It was obvious she truly enjoyed life. Even after my grandparents, parents, and older relatives died, I continued to visit Greenfield as often as I could.
Why? Mainly so I could sit and talk with Opal and eat her famous Sugar Cookies.
Opal’s Sugar Cookies
I think of Opal every time I bake her cookies—the best!
4 c flour
1 c Crisco
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
½ t salt
1 c sugar
⅓ c milk
1 t vanilla
Hand mix first 5 ingredients (flour through salt) in large bowl.
In separate bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla.
Pour egg-sugar-milk-vanilla mixture over flour mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
Put dough on a lightly floured surface.
Sprinkle additional flour on the dough. Roll out dough and cut with your choice of cookie cutter.
Bake at 350° for about 8 minutes.
After cooling, spread with frosting if desired.
Thanks from RosieCentral
Becky, thanks for putting the spotlight not only on your mother’s life, but also on a relatively unknown facet of post-WW2 life. We knew about the major home building boom after the war—after all there were soon a lot of babies to be housed—but had never read about the variety of shelters used during the crunch. We appreciate your story and Opal"s recipe.
* Ruby and Opal -- I can just imagine that their mothers must have both loved the names of gems. Now it's obvious to you why I named my story "Ruby and Opal: Two Gems" for they were in name and in person. ~ Becky Povich