Journal Article

Empowerment or Endurance? War Wives’ Experiences of Independence During and After the Second World War in Germany, 1939–1948

Hester Vaizey

in German History

Volume 29, issue 1, pages 57-78
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghq148
Empowerment or Endurance? War Wives’ Experiences of Independence During and After the Second World War in Germany, 1939–1948

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As German men were conscripted into the armed forces during the Second World War, more and more wives were left to manage their families alone. At the same time more women than ever entered paid employment to fill the gaps in the market left by their soldier husbands. Scholars working in the field have made much of the dislocation to gender roles prompted by the Second World War. This article questions whether women's wartime experiences changed their views on being confined to the home. Ultimately, this article argues, women wanted to return to a sense of normality at the end of the war. In the aftermath of defeat, in which mere survival rather than speculation about potentially improved models of the family set-up were paramount, ‘normality’ was most obviously represented by prewar gender roles. Women were hoping for normalization, not only in the public sphere in the sense of a flourishing economy, but also in the private sphere with the return of the men and a resumption of the old role divisions. It was therefore not only conservative politicians who wished to preserve prewar structures within the home—so too did women themselves. The re-emergence of the traditional family model in the wake of the Second World War was thus as much the result of popular aspirations ‘from below’ as of government policies imposed ‘from above’.

Keywords: women; hour of the woman; gender; family; the Second World War; letters; Germany; history of experience

Journal Article.  12194 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: European History

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