Women, Booze and the Homefront: 1943


Women are encouraged to use beer to get the best kind of friendships

“More of your women characters should drink,” a friend told me as we were discussing the World War II research I’ve done for my next book. “After all…those harried women were keeping up the homefront, raising a pack of kids and waiting for their men to return—if they made it. Surely those gals were drinking?”

Well…that stumped me. For the past 6 months I’ve done research

  • Interviewing a”Rosie the Riveter”(yes, a few are still alive).
  • Reading over 200 “Rosie” memoirs
  • Reading 5 non-fiction books on women at war and on the homefront
  • Interviews with 27 people who lived through the times.

There have been only a couple of references to”party girls” (Young women who got jobs then boozed and danced away their newly earned riches. Most of the women talked about the challenges, the confidence they gained, and how tired they were.

Maybe the boozy party girls didn’t leave diaries or documentaries to later be found by their families? Perhaps they don’t remember what they were drinking (What happens at the USO Club, stays at the USO Club.)

Is it possible that  only the sober, hard-working gals have left testimonies to the times?

Advertising archives have few clues. There are hardly any alcohol ads targeting women.  Cigarettes?…Sure, lot’s of encouragement to smoke.

Women are encouraged to use beer to manipulate hubby

“First the Schlitz. Then the Hat.!”
Women are encouraged to get their new wardrobe by plying their guy with beer.

So…Do you know?

I’m wondering…does anyone have a Granny or Aunt who remembers what women were drinking during the WWII?

And just for fun…

I included an ad from my favorite local wine campaign:
Mad House Wife Wines from the state of Washington.

Advertising toward women has changed a bit, hasn’t it?

Wine_Mad Housewife

About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
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45 Responses to Women, Booze and the Homefront: 1943

  1. haha! How cool to see the Mad Housewife ad — I live in Germany now, but I went to college at the University of Florida. While there I did an internship with a graphic designer and he is the one who made that wine label! And the woman on it was a local chef and caterer, and I worked for her catering company for extra cash during school. And now browsing your blog, which I found through a blog having to do with life in Germany, I stumble upon this logo😀 Made me smile! Wish you a nice day.

    • Barb says:

      What a small world is that??? I love this wine and haul it to every event where wine is needed. Unfortunately the copany is transitioning out of the label. My last few bottles only had the text…no graphic. I think it affects the taste of the wine. Thaqnks for checking out the blog and making the world a more connected place.

  2. That’s what I find difficult about historic fiction. To be accurate, you have to include characteristics such as that, even though current women might be turned off by them. A tough tightrope to walk. Luckily, my history fiction is paleohistoric–1.8 million years ago. All they drank then was water.

  3. The world does turn into something more fun with a bit of drink. Too much is no good too. I believe everyone deserves their “me” time and that includes food and beverage.

  4. I’m from a town they called “The Moonshine Capital of the World”. Were the women drinking? You bet. Usually delicately though – in a glass instead of straight from the jar.

  5. Recie says:

    I started my own blog on WordPress, so among other things, I can follow you. Good post on drinking. My mom rarely drank, and wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Dad had she even tried.

    • Barb says:

      Thanks O. I can’t wait to get over to your blog and check you out. I’m wondering in your German Family, if you drank beer.?

      • Recie says:

        Actually, Dad preferred the hard stuff, and Mom only had the occasional drink. While I was in the convent, relatives that lived in the surrounding ‘German communities supplied the nuns with a round of beer a couple times a year. For those who imbibed, (beer isn’t my favorite) it was reason for celebration.

  6. Red says:

    My grandmother drank brandy and whiskey. My grandfather sent it to her. He was in Indo-China. She did not drink but tiny increments because she had work and children. Unlike today where friends get together and share a bottle of wine, cordials were an after the children went to bed occasion. We talked about this while she was alive. Society, especially her church social circle, was far more judgmental and even more ostracizing than it is now.

    The WWII-era advertising you will find shows alcohol was viewed as a way for men to have better business dealings (drinking with or after his meetings to relax the pressure) and to give soldiers a reprieve from the wear of war. Post-Prohibition alcohol was advertised as fun and a conduit for social mobility, moving it from the shame of the working class to the norm of the middle class, which is where Rosie lived.

    • Barb says:

      Interesting observation and facts, Red. I had one email reader who told me that her WWII era grandmother hid the beer whenever her in-laws came over. Strange how most people now offer the in-laws something to make the visit more amenable.

  7. I know my Mom loved to dance (jitterbug) and roller skate, but I never heard her mentioning a beverage preference … or, even, that she drank. In the middle of WWII, she got married and had a baby. That kept her pretty busy and away from any drinking emporiums. Good luck on your research. It was great “seeing” you again.

    • Barb says:

      Hi Judy,
      Well, I’ve been emailed and told a lot of the stories, but most of them were “under the table” tales. Some women drank, but they sure didn’t talk about it much. Seagram and Seven seems to be the leading drink, so far.

  8. Margie says:

    My Canadian mom was employed in a bank in Dawson Creek during WWII – there was a lot of work available up there because the Americans were building the ALCAN highway. Her best friend from those days just passed away in June. There are so many things I never thought to ask her, or my mom – women and alcohol would have been interesting to find out about!

    • Barb says:

      You know, I read all the advice to talk to the wise, old ones before they passed, and I tried. But now I find the questions I have now are different than the ones I had then. I’m wondering with the eternal archive of the internet, if some of the wondering about our ancestors will go away?

  9. Elyse says:

    I spoke with my mother-in-law. She was too young, actually. I thought she was older during the war, but arrived here in DC at age 18 in 1944. She had no idea. She did say that she got corrupted later!

    • Barb says:

      Thanks Elyse for checking. And thanks, everyone, for the information shared.

      I totally understand you thought your mom was older. War does that….makes everyone older. Hugs for asking and getting back to me.

  10. Helen says:

    My mother and aunts drank a small glass of wine on holidays as that was the drink of choice up here on the hill. Usually homemade as I recall. I’m sure some of the women did drink & party, but the serious drinkers, I’m sure drank at home by themselves as it was not socially accepted. The gender roles were very defined in those days and very confining. Love the topic. Be sure and keep us updated as to what you find. I will ask around, too!

    • Barb says:

      Thanks, Helen. I think the social taboo of women drinking is the main reason I’m finding very few references to ANY drinking at all. And those gals who drank were known as “party girls.”
      Of course, a glass of sherry or black berry cordial wouldn’t be considered partying, would it? Unless you danced around with a lampshade on your head…but during a black out….who’d see you?

  11. Hi-ya, Barb! Good to hear from you again.

    Good question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. During WWII, an awful lot of women held down what had been traditionally considered “men’s jobs,” so I don’t think it’s inconceivable to think that some of them picked up what had been traditionally considered “men’s vices,” too. My mother and all her sisters certainly drank as far back as I can remember, so my guess is, they were drinking during the war, too. I’d ask them, but they’re all long gone now.

    • Barb says:

      Ain’t it the truth? I went through my list of relatives and friends and discovered there wasn’t anyone to ask anymore. I was uninterested when I was younger and now that I’m ready to hear their stories…they’re gone.
      It’s a lesson, I’ve started taking to heart, now

  12. My husband was in WWII. Celebrated his 19th BD in a foxhole drinking medical alcohol/grapefruit juice and biscuits/marmalade. The sky was lit up like the 4th of July. He doesn’t know about the women drinking, however.

    • Barb says:

      I simply can’t imagine being 19 with bombs exploding all around. Interesting how they still found a way to help him celebrate. I’m glad he made it home to enjoy many more birthdays.

  13. How lovely to see another post from your good self. I have missed you.
    I am certain that women did drink. My mother (now a past person) certainly spoke of some spectacular binges, like the one where she wound up driving a tank home because someone had stolen her bicycle.
    However, it would have been very hard to have anything resembling a ‘girls night out’ with alcohol involved because of the social difficulties in buying the stuff.

  14. VERY interesting Barb! They didn’t have time to tip a few probably, unlike the likes of us, LOL! and if they did! it was in secret. Hmmm. Margie

    • Dang it, wrote my comment on my iPad and the auto correct makes me crazy more times than not. Margie

      • Barb says:

        Oh heavens!!! That’s a whole post right there. I HATE TYPING ON GLASS!!! And that stupid auto-correct. You know there’s a new movie out about an Operating System: “Her”.

        Well, I’d like to take “Her” aside and have a strong worded girl to girl chat about correcting my words. No wonder women drink more now…even the females in our machines nag us like mothers.

  15. Rose L. says:

    I have told yo about my fortune-telling grandma, and I can tell you she did not drink any alcohol (might have explained some things better if she had). She was never the kind of woman who would drink behind closed doors as she openly flaunted every thing she did. She was in WW 2 era of women. She did like water and tea (plain old Lipton) and also Kool Aid! My mom said that my grandma (her mother) only had a glass of champagne at a couple weddings and did not like the taste (that’s where I get it from!).

  16. Elyse says:

    My mother-in-law came to DC in the ’40s to work in the government, and stayed. She is still with us and I’ll ask what she knew. Her lot was different because the men were around, stationed nearby, for the most part. But I’ll check and get back to her.

  17. flyingfish3@comcast.net says:

    My mom almost quit smoking during the war, then grandpa gave her a rolling machine and taught her how to roll her own with pipe tobacco.

    • Barb says:

      Man o man. The amount of cigarette smoking was an eye opener to me. I thought it started in the 50s, but was wrong. I watched a documentary on the ladies making bombs and they had electric boxes (like a car cigarette lighter) outside in the break yard because no one could carry matches or a butane lighter or anything that sparked in a munitions plant. The women were lined up to light their cigarettes.

  18. flyingfish3@comcast.net says:

    Women who did drink didn’t admit to it and still won’t admit to it. It was shameful and unladylike. But every community knew about the women who, with a husband away at war, went wild, or quietly neglected the children and the house and became drunks. Perhaps, instead of asking Rosie, “Did you drink?” you might ask, “Did you ever hear about anyone who started hitting the liquor, quietly, at home?”

    • Barb says:

      I can barely get a word in edgewise when I visit with “Rosie”. She’s a sparky crackerjack. Runs a historical center. Teaches at a college…and gives historical tours of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma..(She gave up dancing this year, her rheumatism was getting too bad.)
      You’re right, though, Roxie. I’ll take a deep breath and try to dive into the mountain of info she hands out in each sentence. Thanks for the insight on phrasing.

  19. katecrimmins says:

    My mother’s generation did drink although not to necessarily to excess. After all, they had lots of kids and chores. I think the drinking was different then. Wine wasn’t big and many women didn’t drink beer. I remember Seagram’s Seven mixed with ginger ale when I was a child. My mother always called them highballs. Those tough ladies drank the hard stuff.

    • Barb says:

      Aaaahhhhh! Kate. I forgot all about Highballs. And that Canadian Blended Whiskey had a lighter taste than a Kentucky bourbon. A perfect woman’s drink for the time.. Thank you. Thank you.
      And you’re absolutely right about the restraint the women had. Binge drinking for women has steadily increased since 1945. Experts cite WWII as the inciting factor…when women began to shoulder “men’s jobs.” Now women are catching up to men in the frequency and quantity they drink.

      I don’t know if the 2011 research stating this is valid. It seems alcohol advertising is still geared toward me.

  20. I hope you find more nuggets from your readers. I do remember the following book about the Viet Nam era War Torn: The Personal Experiences of Women Reporters in the Vietnam War. Perhaps there are comments in there alluding to their history and how they got there.
    Check out http://www.wartorn.net, also.

  21. colonialist says:

    Complex question. I think that the stresses of the time did lead to a fair amount of drinking among the women doing hard physical labour in stressful circumstances (factories targeted in the Blitz, etc). I know that those of my mother’s generation became very fond of gin (she regarded herself as a teetotaller for having her one per evening) but she was in the WAAFs where the conditions were similar to those of the men in the Air Force except that those who flew did ferry or transporting jobs – still under great danger. The incentives to become ‘one of the boys’ were strong.

    • Barb says:

      Hi L.N. I’m so glad to hear about the gin. I’m finding Brits most often talk about the gin available during the war. I’ve checked the archives of New York restaurants in ’43 and found Tom Collins as a cocktail drink, but no martinis or straight gin. Plenty of flavored brandies, though. Perhaps it was “just not on the menu.”

      On another topic. Do you know if your Mom had to buy her own uniform? In the States, the WASPs were responsible for their own housing, transportation, and purchasing their uniform. If one died in an accident, transporting a plane or such, her family had to pay the expenses for getting her home and burying her. Tragic.

      All of these were such brave and dedicated women. I’d love to hear some of your mom’s stories.

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