Good food, good fun, and good girls: USO hostesses and World War Two
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractHistorical scholarship has shown how the state and media mobilized women into "men's" roles including soldier and industrial worker during World War II, but little work has been done on the ways in which quasi-state organizations such as the United Service Organizations (USO) mobilized them to perform "women's" work. In the United States, the USO offered wholesome recreation to millions of servicemen outside of camp in their off duty hours. USO hostesses conducted work that helped to maintain the role of the virtuous woman in this time of crisis. Senior hostesses, married women over age 35, mothered servicemen by sewing insignias on their uniforms, and by baking sweets and making sandwiches for them. Senior hostesses also selected junior hostesses and chaperoned their interactions with servicemen. Junior hostesses, single women ages 16 to 25, comforted servicemen by serving as compliant dance and game partners, as well as eager listeners. The USO functioned as a normative force that emphasized women's domesticity and sought to contain female sexual activity to marriage. The USO assumed that white middle-class women were inherently sexually respectable and feminine. It groomed these "good girls" to represent the USO alongside a federal crackdown on female prostitution and the arrest of thousands of pickups girls suspected of passing venereal disease to servicemen. Junior hostesses, in turn, used the USO to explore a safe form of sexual expressiveness at the same time that they contributed their basic sexual services to the federal government and military. These institutions were the primary benefactors of senior and junior hostesses' unpaid morale work. Their work helped to humanize the military experience for servicemen. This project investigates race and class issues within the USO, along with sexuality and gender, because these categories were paramount in the hostess selection process and interactions between servicemen and hostesses. USO publications and government records form the basis of the archival research for this project. This project also draws on 35 oral interviews conducted by the author with former hostesses, and questionnaires from an additional 35 former hostesses.
Degree ProgramGraduate College