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War Work of Young Women's Christian Association - 1918

By A. Estelle Paddock, Publicity Director, War Work Council, Young Women's Christian Association.

A million and a half men were in the American Army a year after this country entered the war. A million and a half women at the same time were employed on war orders in factories.

A million other women were being speeded up in industries affected by the war. As the size of the army increases, the number of women in industry increases at the same rate.

A woman must replace each man who is withdrawn from factory work. This vast industrial army of women forms the second line of defense.

This sudden influx brings about shifting and changing of the women already wage-earners. They, as well as the newcomers, find themselves in strange environments.

Ten million women in this country are now facing the wage-earners' problems. The Young Women's Christian Association strongly feels its responsibility toward all women affected by the war.

Its fifty years' experience in housing, feeding, and recreation is brought to bear upon the situation. The War Work Council, now numbering a hundred and thirty members, was called into existence in June 1917.

The members are chosen from the whole United States. Its officers are Mrs. James Stewart Cushman, chairman; Mrs. John R. Mott and Mrs. William Adams Brown, vice-chairmen; Mrs. Howard Morse, secretary, and Mrs. Henry P. Davison, treasurer. Among other members are Mrs. Robert Lansing, Mrs. Josephus Daniels, Mrs. Leonard Wood, Mrs. John French, Mrs. Percy V. Pennybacker, Miss Mary E. Woolley, Mrs. Robert Bacon.

The Government has asked the YWCA through the Woman's Branch of the Industrial Service Section of the Ordnance Department to organize constructive recreation for women in the twenty-two federal industrial reservations.

The same work is also being extended to about one hundred cost plus plants now taken over by the Government. Miss Ernestine Friedman of the Industrial Department of the YWCA War Work Council is in charge of the work.

Social activities had been started by the first of July in Bloomfield, New Jersey; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Bush Terminal, Brooklyn; Carney's Point, New Jersey; Hopewell, Virginia; Long Island City, New York; Nashville, Tennessee; and Williamsburg, Virginia. Thousands of girls will be employed in some of these cantonments.

The women employed in the federal industrial reservations include all types and ages. They are teachers, high school girls, and industrial girls: many foreigners are employed.

Life in a munition cantonment is necessarily abnormal. The girls have no responsibilities outside their working hours. Also, many of them must face the problems of leaving home, loneliness, dangerous fatigue, lack of suitable recreation, and the responsibility of family support.

It becomes vital to fill the leisure time with constructive, continuous community recreation and service under such conditions. Local industrial service clubs are organized in each center, and all the clubs are included in the great industrial army.

Model recreation buildings are being put up. These contain a large living room, smaller sitting rooms, living quarters for the secretaries, a gymnasium in one wing, and a cafeteria in the other.

One executive secretary is appointed to each center, and a recreation leader and often an assistant secretary. Women war workers, in many cases, will meet industrial as well as personal problems.

Changing industrial conditions may mean, in some places, unemployment, unaccustomed tasks, irregular hours, unhygienic conditions, speeding and rush work, overtime under the guise of patriotism, and even the repeal of laws governing hours of work and age of workers.

Conditions like these invariably result in unsettled standards, obliterating high ideals, letting down personal restraint, and permitting loose social relationships.

Wherever bad industrial and social conditions prevail, labor turnover is extensive, efficiency is diminished, and output falls off. To prevent this disaster, the YWCA cooperates with employers and girls to uphold high standards.

Leaders with the right knowledge of industrial problems are trained in courses conducted by local associations, industrial councils, and at the National Training School in New York City.

During the summer, the YWCA cooperated with Bryn Mawr College in a course for industrial supervisors under the leadership of Dr. Susan Kingsbury.

The general public's widespread education in industrial standards is necessary to protect women, their safety, their health, and their moral welfare.

The association, through all its many avenues, impresses upon people in general that efficiency is dependent upon the eight- hour day, one day's rest in seven, minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, collective bargaining as expressed in trade unionism, and the abolition of night work for women.

Besides these activities in ammunition factories, the Y. W. C. A. carries on other enterprises for the well-being of employed women and other women affected by the war.

About six hundred association workers are employed on war work in the United States. They are social workers, both white and colored, club and recreation leaders, physical directors, dietitians, businesswomen, household and employment experts, educationalists, and physicians. Association members now number about four hundred thousand.

The YWCA deals with the problem of industrial housing in several ways. In many cities, the local associations already have buildings.

Room registry bureaus have been established in Buffalo, New York; Chester, Pennsylvania; Dayton, Ohio, and other cities. Any woman entering a strange city can apply at the local Y. W.C. A. for assistance in finding room and board.

Emergency dormitories have been built by the War Work Council in Army City, Kansas, for girls employed in the Camp Funston laundry and at Deming, New Mexico, where Camp Cody is situated.

A model dormitory is being built in Charleston at Secretary Daniels' request for women employed in making uniforms. A similar house has been built in Camp Sherman Annex, Chillicothe, Ohio.

With slight modifications, these plans can be utilized anywhere to house women comfortably and economically. The Housing Committee of the Council, of which Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is chairman, presented to Secretary Baker memoranda regarding the housing of girls engaged in war industries after an exhaustive investigation of the subject.

Ninety-seven girls' club centers have been established in cities and towns adjacent to camps. Eleven of these are for colored girls. One hundred and thirty-five trained club and recreation leaders are employed.

Everything that the YWCA does for white women is also done for women of color. All their activities are under the leadership of colored college women and social workers.

From the beginning, the War Work Council planned to include not only American women affected by the war, but because of the pleas from France and Russia, the first budget contained an item for work in Europe.

Administrative, industrial, and recreational secretaries were sent to place their experience at the Russian women's disposal. In France, the activities have fallen into two general divisions - social work among American war relief workers and cooperation with French women in work for their people.

The object, in France as in Russia, is to cooperate with the women of these countries, developing such phases of social service for women as will meet war conditions and at the same time become permanent foundations for future work.

Hotel Petrograd has been opened in Paris, for American women war relief workers, at 33 rue Caumartin. Another hostess house has been opened at Tours.

A room in each recreation hut for nurses established at all the American base hospitals is provided with a YWCA social worker.

Three hostess houses to lodge the American Signal Corps women have been organized at army officials' request. The Foyers des Alliees are recreation centers for French munition women workers, for women otherwise employed by the French Government, and for French women, established by the American YWCA at the request of the French Government.

The YWCA's war activities may be summarized as follows:

In the United States

Establishing Club and Recreation Work for Girls, including a Patriotic League, now numbering 400,000, white and African-American, providing Emergency Housing for employed girls and women. Five centers have been provided to date.

They are establishing Hostess Houses in or near army and navy camps for women relatives and friends of the army and navy. Sixty-one are in use. Twenty-five others are authorized. Thirteen of these are for people of color.

They establish Work in African-American Communities affected by the war, led by African-American college women and trained social workers.

They are conducting a Bureau for Foreign-born Women, providing translations in eighteen languages of needed bulletins, interpreters in army camps, training for Polish women for reconstruction work in Poland, and home service for non-English speaking women, providing and Financing Social Leaders for women under the direction of the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities, establishing Room Registries and War Service Centers in cities employing girls in war industries.

The Government has asked the YWCA for leaders in twenty-two of its industrial cantonments. Maintaining a Bureau of Social Morality which cooperates with the War Department in furnishing a Corps of Lecturers on social standards in wartime, issues literature. Publishing a War Work Bulletin and other educational literature for women in wartime, maintaining a Bureau of Volunteer Workers.

In France

Provides social workers, recreation leaders, physical directors and cafeteria managers, foyers, and hostess houses. Working with American women in France (nineteen centers), Nurses, Signal corps (women), other English-speaking women with the American army French women (at the request of the French Government) (nine centers) Working in munitions factories, in stores, and French war offices.

In Russia

Club, cafeteria, and educational work in three centers for Russian women,

War Relief Work, The Annals, Philadelphia: The American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volume LXXIX, September 1918, pp. 208-212

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