Housoldiers!: Women in the Home

By far the largest contribution made by Canadian women to the war effort came through their unpaid labour in the home and in “volunteer” work. Almost immediately after Canada’s entry into the war, women across Canada took the initiative, founding organizations to coordinate women’s volunteer war work.


It was not until September 1942, that the Canadian government organize or direct volunteer work. It developed an organization, based off an existing group, the Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) which would organize women’s homefront war effort.. The federal WVS introduced a Block Plan in the larger urban centres to organize house-to-house canvassing and collection. Local WVS centres participated in a wide range of national programs, distributing ration cards, recruiting and training volunteer staff in wartime day nurseries, promoting the sale of war bonds and encouraging the sewing, knitting, quilting and packing of “ditty bags” for the servicemen and women overseas.

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Women were told that “the first line of Defence was in the kitchen” or theat they were “Guardians of of the hearth” in order to encourage rationing, prince controls, etc. Women were called upon to abide by and enforce rationing, prevent waste and save and collect materials that could be recycled for use in war production. As one poster put it, women were to “Dig In and Dig Out the Scrap”—metals, rags, bones, rubber and glass. These campaigns for scrap metal or funds would occur nearly every week or so. Home life could be challenging during the war years. “Rationing” was in effect during both the First and Second World Wars, making it hard to obtain sugar, butter, eggs and other scarce food items that were needed to help feed the men fighting overseas. Goods such as rubber, gas, metal and nylon were also difficult to come by because they were needed for the war effort.

Women did their part by donating old cookware and other household items to recycling scrap metal drives and encouraging others to “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.” This spirit could even be seen in advertisements. “I'm patriotic!” says one woman on a Second World War-era poster as she rolls her hair in tissue rolls instead of curlers, thus saving metal and rubber that could be used to make guns and tires for military vehicles.


It was not easy for women to fill the new roles that arose due to the demands of wartime, while maintaining the traditional female roles of the time. Many women worked tirelessly in the home, often combining their domestic labours with war-related volunteer work with women’s organizations or in military canteens.


Women also contributed to the war effort by giving blood and buying war bonds. Many also tended their own gardens (known as Victory Gardens during the Second World War) or volunteered in community gardens so more vegetables and fruits could be grown to feed the local population.

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The Women’s Institutes (WIs) and other women’s groups did their part, as well. Helping neighbours was a part of their members’ daily lives and, during wartime, their “neighbourhood” expanded to include those in the military. Making quilts, bandages and clothing for the men overseas were just a few of their wartime projects. These groups sent books, newspapers and special treats to military hospitals overseas. They also held “send-off” and “welcome home” parties for servicemen from their area and, after the war, were in the forefront of efforts to create local war memorials. The WIs also had a “Central War Charities Fund” that raised millions of dollars during the Second World War. They also held “canning clubs” to keep up with the high demand for preserved fruits and vegetables. Their members’ experiences in adapting recipes to wartime shortages also led them to publish special cookbooks. The average homemaker, struggling to prepare meals within the restrictions of food rationing, found these books to be a great resource.

Housoldiers!: Women in the Home