When America's men went off to World War II, most women stayed behind to fight their own battles. They tell their tale of love and longing, coping and growing independent, making do and suffering, in their letters from home.
"While I am writing this I am being blinded with tears which are running faster than the pen is writing," Josephine Keutman wrote on Oct. 25, 1944, to her son, Charles, then missing in action. "Oh, God, please help send you back to me soon. I have nothing else in life but you."Hers was the anguish of fearing for someone, an experience shared by thousands - many who lost loved ones, others like Keutman who eventually got them back alive.
Other women gave voice to history, writing of their day-to-day trials and how their lives were changing, explained Judy Barrett Litoff of Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I.
Letters from home were promoted as the No. 1 morale booster for service personnel, but that didn't force the writers to be artificially upbeat, Litoff told an audience at the National Postal Museum recently.
Litoff focused on letters from her book, "Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front." She and co-author David C. Smith of the University of Maine collected 30,000 women's letters written during the war after making appeals through letters to the editor of daily newspapers nationwide.
Women didn't hesitate to discuss serious topics and to express their new sense of self-reliance, working, raising their children alone and grappling with loneliness and despair.
"You are now the husband of a career woman - just call me your little Ship Yard Babe," Polly Crow wrote to her husband, William, after she took a job at the Jefferson Boat and Machine Co. in Anderson, Ind., in 1944.
"Opened my little checking account, too, and it's a grand and glorious feeling to write a check all your own and not have to ask for one," she added proudly.
Likewise for Edith Speert, who warned husband Victor on Oct. 21, 1945, that "I'm not exactly the same girl you left - I'm twice as independent as I used to be."
A month later, she added that she had enjoyed working during the war and would have to continue holding a job."I get emotional satisfaction out of working and I don't doubt that many a night you will cook supper while I'm at a meeting. Also . . . I shall never wash and iron - there are laundries for that."
Mabel Opal Miller of East St. Louis, Ill., visited a farming friend in Arkansas during the war and admired the resourcefulness of farm women.
"I noticed on the farms, mostly the little ones with just a shack for a home, there seems to be no one but the women left to do the work. . . . It makes one proud to see how the women have picked up where the men left off," she wrote to a serviceman she had met at a USO club.
Patricia O'Brien Aiken's letter April 24, 1943, told her husband Al, in Alaska, of her anger over hearing that the husbands of friends had been killed in the war.
"I think it would be better to be in Poland or Greece where they kill all the family instead of just one person and leave the others grubbing around trying to make a life out of nothing, like those two kids will have to do," she wrote from Greenbelt, Md.
"I can't even feel good about us, if we do get out of it, we'll probably be fat, frightened and always running around trying to save our own necks like most of the people around here."
But Doris J. Winiker of Brooklyn, N.Y., expressed the joy of war's end and hopes for the future, closing her Aug. 16, 1945, letter to husband Walter:
"I hate to leave you sweetheart, but perhaps, very soon, our good nites will be said in bed, facing each other as we lie in each other's arms in our dimly lit bedroom on our cool blue sheets - ah heaven - we'll have it - won't we angel darling?"