World War I opens opportunity for women workers at RIA
By Sarah Patterson, U.S. Army Sustainment Command
via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service web site
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — During Women’s History Month, inspirational women such as Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony are often remembered, but it is also important to recognize women closer to home who helped pave the way for future female employees here at RIA.
During World War I, women from Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, Davenport, Iowa, and the surrounding areas, were hired in large numbers at RIA for the first time, in order to support the war efforts. As men were deploying to fight the war, women stepped in to take their place at the arsenal, reaching a peak of 1,400 female employees.
This was the first time that women held prominent roles at RIA. They initially held positions such as office workers, typists, and stenographers. As the war effort grew and needs increased though, women began taking on more technical jobs in the artillery, ammunition and clothing shops.
“Rock Island Arsenal was one of many arsenals that experimented early in the war with expanding the female workforce outside of clerical jobs,” explained Kevin Braafladt, U.S. Army Sustainment Command historian. “This was due to a fear of a shortage of male workers as a cause of the expanding war.”
Although women were not allowed to fight during this war, many women at RIA put their lives on the line by working one of the most dangerous jobs at the arsenal, filling the 155mm shells and setting fuses in building 250.
These were considered highly dangerous positions, so women were required to adhere to the safety dress code.
“All girls working in shop buildings, whether skilled laborers or skilled office laborers, must provide themselves with uniforms within 30 days after date of employment. Girls working at machines or near dangerous machinery will wear the bloomer uniform,” stated RIA Commanding Officer Col. Leroy T. Hillman, as reported in a 1918 issue of The Arsenal Record, the installation newspaper, accessed through the RIA archive.
Cora De Wilfond is an example of a particularly influential woman, a trailblazer for female employees working in previously male-only jobs.
Read the entire article on the DVIDS web site.
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