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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 gender

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

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.--Publishers Weekly

Those of us who were in the military during World War II [and] longed for the recreation provided by the USO will thoroughly appreciate this account of the service the USO provided. . . . This book is wholly successful.--Journal of American Culture

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

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. . . . Recommended for all libraries.--Library Journal

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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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:
9781469624211
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
01/28/2015
Series:
Gender and American Culture Series
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.61(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Meghan Winchell has written an engaging account of the young and middle-aged women who provided a home away from home for soldiers during World War II. She takes full measure of tensions surrounding gender, race, and class during the social upheavals of the war years.--Susan M. Hartmann, Ohio State University

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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