World War I

Urging the Senate to follow the House of Representative’s lead by approving the 19th Amendment, President Woodrow Wilson wrote in September 1918:

“…Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give, service and sacrifice of every kind, and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our sides in the guidance of the affairs of their nations and ours?  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 and right?”

Telephone Operators Poster World War I
"Back Our Girls Over There"
World War I Poster
Photo Credit:
University of North Carolina

World War I, also known as the Great War or the War to End all Wars, coincided with the Woman Suffrage movement, which had evolved into a potent political force in both Great Britain and the United States. To maximize fighting power on the Western Front, American women were recruited into the conflict so, as one poster phrased it, there would be “every girl pulling for victory."

World War I opened a variety of doors for women on the home front, in the workplace, and “Over There.”

world war I poster
First World War Poster
Photo Credit: First World War

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women in the military World War I
Women sworn into the ranks of Navy Yeomen (F)
in a Los Angeles recruiting office in 1917.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

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Although the United States did not enter the war until 1918, over 30,000 American women ultimately answered the call, serving in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, the Navy as Yeoman (F), as well as in the Marines, and Coast Guard.  The U.S. military recruited women as translators, telephone operators, drivers, and cryptologists. Overseas and on the home front, the contributions of these groundbreaking women encouraged support for the 19th Amendment, which granted voting rights to adult females.





World War I was also a turning point for American intelligence activities.  Besides more sophisticated undercover espionage activities, there were notable advancements in communications technology, requiring improved encryption techniques.  With the introduction of state-of-the art radio, telephone, and telegraph networks, intelligence-gathering and relay necessarily advanced into the expanding world of electronics. Breaking new ground, the Army Signal Corps actively recruited women as “Hello Girls,” bilingual telephone switchboard operators, for overseas duty. This marked the first time in the history of warfare that commanders serving on the front lines could communicate directly with the General command.  To help protect these and other military and diplomatic communications networks, the American Black Chamber, America’s first peacetime cryptanalytic organization and a precursor to the National Security Agency, was established under Herbert O. Yardley.

telephone operators during World War I
American women serving in France as phone operators.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army
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