Organizing the Home Front: The American Women’s Voluntary Services in New Jersey during World War II
During World War II (WWII), the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS) became the largest service organization in the U.S. At the onset of American entry into WWII, the AWVS already included 18,000 volunteers. Within two years of its creation, the group expanded to 350 chapters nationwide, with the height of its wartime membership reaching roughly 325,000. Both on a national and local level, the AWVS proved instrumental to the success of home-front mobilization during WWII. With numerous community chapters, significant wartime initiatives, and proximity to the national AWVS in New York City, the New Jersey groups serve as a starting point for a more nuanced reflection on the AWVS during WWII. Along with considerations of gendered citizenship and volunteerism, the narrative of the AWVS presents women who both adhered to accepted forms of volunteerism and pushed social boundaries. The activities of the AWVS occupied a space somewhere in between nurturing and militaristic, blurring gendered lines of acceptable wartime participation and occupying a unique role not easily categorized. These women reimagined local activism and cooperation as encompassing more than their socially accepted supporting roles and expanded into areas of civilian defense, disaster response, emergency preparedness, and more.
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