I am often asked what we know about how Canadian women went about completing the work of producing over 50,000,000 items for the war effort during WWII. Where did they meet, how did they organize, who was in charge, did they work on an assembly line, did they work to quotas, where did supplies come from, how much were they paid?
So far, I have few of these answers conclusively. But I do know that they weren’t paid, and some rural groups even required a fee of 25 cents at each meeting the women attended. Some Red Cross units offered white work smocks, but women workers were required to pay for those if the wanted one.
As for the other questions, I am constantly on the look-out for little ‘snippets’ of primary source materials that will give clues that answer some of these questions. I have found few. Most newspaper articles just provide a record of how many articles were produced in a specific period of time, or explain where the group will meet the following week. But today, I happened upon the most expansive article I have found so far that details the work that was being done at one Red Cross unit, in one city, in one province — how it was organized and what was being made. It is a very informative read, so I have included the full article from the Windsor Star, November 2, 1940.
I found this article because I was researching a phrase “willing hands”. Between 1940-45, that phrase is found 489 times in articles recorded in Canadian sources in Newspapers.com. It is a phrase that was used a great deal during the war, not only referring to the work of women. When you read this article, keep an eye out for other phrases like this, used to describe, encourage, perhaps even cajole (and guilt?) people to continue the work for the war effort. These phrases became part of the everyday language of the media throughout the war.