Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II

Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II

by Meghan K. Winchell
     
 

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Throughout World War II, when Saturday nights came around, servicemen and hostesses happily forgot the war for a little while as they danced together in USO clubs, which served as havens of stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. Meghan Winchell demonstrates that in addition to boosting soldier morale, the USO acted as an architect of the

Overview

Throughout World War II, when Saturday nights came around, servicemen and hostesses happily forgot the war for a little while as they danced together in USO clubs, which served as havens of stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. Meghan Winchell demonstrates that in addition to boosting soldier morale, the USO acted as an architect of the gender roles and sexual codes that shaped the "greatest generation."

Combining archival research with extensive firsthand accounts from among the hundreds of thousands of female USO volunteers, Winchell shows how the organization both reflected and shaped 1940s American society at large. The USO had hoped that respectable feminine companionship would limit venereal disease rates in the military. To that end, Winchell explains, USO recruitment practices characterized white middle-class women as sexually respectable, thus implying that the sexual behavior of working-class women and women of color was suspicious. In response, women of color sought to redefine the USO's definition of beauty and respectability, challenging the USO's vision of a home front that was free of racial, gender, and sexual conflict.

Despite clashes over class and racial ideologies of sex and respectability, Winchell finds that most hostesses benefited from the USO's chaste image. In exploring the USO's treatment of female volunteers, Winchell not only brings the hostesses' stories to light but also supplies a crucial missing piece for understanding the complex ways in which the war both destabilized and restored certain versions of social order.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Allows the reader to view the issue [volunteer work of USO hostesses during WWII] as part of the tapestry of society . . . provides a temporal perspective of what had happened before and suggests what might happen next.—Canadian Journal of History

A well-researched and detailed account. . . . Winchell has significantly added to the historiography of gender, race, and class on the Home Front during World War II.—Louisiana History

A must-read for anyone interested in the home front during World War II.—Archways

Publishers Weekly

Think of saddle-shoed coeds jitterbugging with the boys. The dance could be as sexually evocative then as "grinding" is now. It was all in a night's work for the thousands of young American women who volunteered to host soldiers in United Service Organizations clubs during WWII. The USO's domestic mission was to steer idle troops away from liquor, prostitutes and venereal disease, offering instead homemade cookies and wholesome smalltown girls. In constructing a portrait of wartime sexuality through the lens of the USO's American ideal of women, Winchell highlights what she views as the USO's middle-class prejudices. But she also offers studies of leadership in minority women's lobbying for such issues as canteen integration and access for women soldiers. Winchell, an assistant professor of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University, can't seem to let impressive research speak for itself, and her insightful observations are couched in the academic language of race, class, gender and the economics of women's work. The hostesses should have been the voice of this book-sometimes, they manage to be heard. 30 illus. (Nov.)

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Library Journal

This fascinating social history of gender in American culture offers an insightful look at how femininity and women's sexuality came into patriotic service during the transformative era of World War II. Focusing on how and why the "good girls" of the USO (United Service Organization) were promoted as the alternative to the bad girls warned about in posters ("You Can't Beat the Axis If You Get VD"), Winchell (history, Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.) has written an engrossing, detailed account of the women who performed the (unpaid) "emotional work" of providing comfort to soldiers at home in a time of war. Winchell often cites internal USO documents related to how management viewed the objectives of these servicemen's clubs and how they sought to model hostesses on popular and traditional middle-class feminine ideals of mom (for the senior hostesses) and the girl next door (for the junior). She interviewed 70 former hostesses (all living in Phoenix, AZ) and her analysis includes sensitive and interesting commentary on how race was an influential factor, as well as gender, when it came to the mission and methods of the USO. How did Rosie the Riveter end up as the icon of women's roles in the war, asks Winchell, when the reality was that many more mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters did their part by dancing, baking pies, darning socks, and lending a sympathetic ear? This excellent work of documentary history may make feminists cringe at women doing their patriotic duty by serving officially as idealized sexual objects, while also feeling relief that such USO servicemen's clubs could never exist today. Recommended for all libraries.
—Theresa Kintz

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807832370
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
12/07/2008
Series:
Gender and American Culture Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Winchell demonstrates how the USO counterbalanced and undermined the new image of Rosie the Riveter by re-inscribing traditional roles for women and white middle-class social norms. Well written and well presented, Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun should be welcomed by both academic and nonacademic readers.—Maureen Honey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, author of Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II

Meet the Author

Meghan K. Winchell is assistant professor of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University and state coordinator of National History Day, Nebraska.

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