272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 26 illus., 1 table, appends., notes, bibl., index
Gender and American Culture
The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II
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.
"Details with humor and insight a generally unreported segment of feminine history. It's crucial reading for anyone wanting to understand 20th-century feminist issues and yet it delivers emotional justice to the thousands of women who just wanted to 'do their bit' for the boys at war."
"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."
"A must-read for anyone interested in the home front during World War II."
"Winchell's lively narrative relies on USO records as well as oral history interviews with former hostesses. . . . Recommended."
"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
"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."
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