The purpose of the study is to identify historic places that best represent the wartime mobilization that occurred in the United States and its territories and possessions between 1939 and 1945 to assist in identifying whether any of these places should be considered for potential inclusion in the National Park System. The task of identifying places that can tell the home front story is a challenging one. Thousands of factories, government office buildings, research laboratories, housing projects, military bases, United Service Organization (USO) canteens, day care centers, and schools were built or expanded during the war. Theaters in hundreds of communities across the nation sponsored War Bond drives and showed both terrifying news reels and uplifting and entertaining movies. Railroad and bus stations in large cities and small towns could barely contain the millions of men and women passing through them on their way to military service or new defense jobs. Other places represented less positive wartime stories: segregated housing and military bases, war relocation centers for persons of Japanese descent, prisons where conscientious objectors were held, and sites of racial conflict or labor/management confrontation.
Some home front properties have already been recognized. A number are included in the National Park System. The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, in Richmond, California, was established in 2000 specifically to recognize the important wartime contributions of workers, including women and minorities, and ordinary citizens, who collected and saved and sacrificed on the home front. Others have been designated as National Historic Landmarks or listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Because World War II is still so recent, most home front properties have not yet been comprehensively surveyed or evaluated. In addition, many sites have been lost to demolition or destructive change, in part because no one knew they were important. While these facts have
made the completion of this theme study more difficult, they have also underlined the urgent necessity of providing the historic contexts needed to identify and recognize these properties as quickly as possible.
The historic contexts section is divided into four parts. The first, written by John W. Jeffries, Professor of History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, gives a general overview of the wartime home front, concentrating on the critical role of the federal government in mobilizing industry, science and technology, agriculture, manpower, money, morale, and security. It also discusses the impact of mobilization on the nature of the American political economy, on prosperity and living standards, on opportunities and expectations, on demographic and geographic change, and on national politics.
The second part was written by William M. Tuttle, Jr., Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas. It provides more detail about how ordinary men, women, and childrenreacted to sometimes overwhelming population movements, to the absence of fathers and
brothers in the military, to massive, if temporary, changes in women’s roles, and to the all-pervasive presence of the war in popular culture.
The third part, written by Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses the effects of the massive industrial mobilization on working people, particularly women and African Americans, and the central role of organized labor. This part also includes the battles for union recognition during the “defense period” between the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; the dramatic growth in union membership during the war; and conflicts among union leaders, their rank and file, and the government over wages, shop floor issues, and strike policy.
The fourth and last part of the historic contexts section was written by Harvard Sitkoff, Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. It deals with the impact of the war on African Americans and other minorities, most of whom made significant progress in some areas while suffering continued discrimination, sometimes violent, in other areas. Inevitably some important subjects, such as population movements and the changing status of women and African Americans, are covered in more than one of the essays. The perspectives the scholars bring to these subjects help demonstrate that there are many ways to understand the
complex reality that was the World War II home front.