US Women in World War I in Photographs

The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has released an online collection of photographs showing the role of women in World War I and their impact on the Women’s Rights Movement of the early 20th century.


As stated in NARA’s Unwritten Records Blog:

At the outset of World War I in 1914 women were not allowed to serve in the military. They were not even allowed to vote nationwide. Prior to the U.S. entering the war, most women were relegated to domestic life as wives or servants. Some worked in textile manufacturing, retail, government, and education. Many wanted more and saw the war as an opportunity for women to prove their worth. The suffragist movement was in full swing as tensions with Germany escalated following the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania in 1915 and the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram in 1917. The United States entered the war in 1917, immediately drafting nearly 3 million men into military service and drawing unprecedented numbers of women into the workforce.

Women on the Home Front

As men were drafted into service in record numbers, women were called upon to fill their roles in factories. While their work was especially important in munitions factories, women played a vital role in industrial output building airplanes, cars, and ships.


The blog article is available at while the photographs are from 165-WW, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918 at Please note that this is a “work in progress,” meaning that the images are presently being digitized and placed online. The work is not yet complete.


I haven’t looked at this blog yet, but I certainly will. A second cousin of my grandmother’s served in WW I as a nurse. I discovered this by accident in the 1920 census. She lived in ND and was an Army nurse. Since there was an Army base near the very small town where she lived, and she grew up in MN, I dug around in the military records. She was shown as having volunteered soon after the US entered the war, trained at the base in ND, and was shipped overseas after her training. I didn’t discover where she was sent. I do know from my reading of novels about British women nurses in WW I, which seem to be based on a lot of research, that because of the lack of nurses, they were posted hither and yon depending on where the need was the greatest. That would probably make it difficult to trace a particular nurse. The same would probably be true of an American Army nurse. This woman had an unusual Norwegian name, which might help a bit, but not much. The 1930 census shows her as a nurse in a Seattle hospital, where one of my grandmother’s sisters was head nurse. My grandmother held “teas” for her women cousins (broadly defined), and there are a number of pictures taken in the Seattle home where the family lived from 1933 on. Judging by the dresses the women wore, and my grandmother’s increasing age, these teas continued through the 1930s and into the early 1950s. Unfortunately, few of the dozen or so women are identified. My mother could tell me only one or two. The one who served in WW I can’t, therefore, be picked out from the others, most of whom wore floral print dresses and hats, even indoors. Thanks for bringing up memories of Rena Jermstad.


I got interested in genealogy because of a package of papers inherited from my grandmother’s sister. She was quite a character, not a feminist, but a truly liberated woman whomnever took “no” for an answer to anything she thought was important. She learned to drive, played polo, and earned her own living as a medical secretary, which is how she came to go to England with the army medical corps during WWI. Rumor has it that she then came home and marched for Women’s Suffrage. At the start of WWII she again went overseas, this time with the Red Cross, and had to be evacuated from Paris after the Germans took control of the city. Recently I have begun to suspect that she may have been traveling under a false identity at the time, because the Red Cross initially turned her down because they felt she was too old. Too old? Ha! She hadn’t even reached her middle age yet. She subsequently made yet another trip to Europe in the 1950s, walked all over Montreal and Quebec City in the 1960s and lived to be almost 100.


When will the National Archives have a month devoted to men? Maybe it isn’t politically correct??


    Sorry, but with all of the hoopla that has been devoted to WWI, this is the first item I have seen that mentions an important role played by women that has largely been overlooked or forgotten, so it seems a special Women’s History Month is still needed to right the overall balance.


Balance? What balance? The White male is currently the most disparaged person in USA. Yet it was the White males who founded our great country. And no, they did not shout: White lives matter!

Equitable treatment of everyone regardless whether male of female and regardless of ethnicity should be our goal. But the diversity myth of academia has invaded our culture.


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