This dissertation inserts servicewomen into military history and women’s and gender history by analyzing how women voiced their place in the Canadian military between 1938 and 1966. It studies how women negotiated the conditions of their service during the Second World War, resisted demobilization in 1946, and shaped the terms on which women entered the forces permanently in 1966. Drawing on official texts, unofficial histories, and personal scrapbooks, the thesis identifies the voices of women who pursued military careers and makes three arguments. First, women have actively negotiated with defence officials for a place in the armed services in war and peace. Second, servicewomen have adopted a perspective that went beyond the war in their plans for future service and their reflections on past service. Third, servicewomen crafted their legacies and pushed for recognition of female military expertise. The thesis moves beyond Ruth Roach Pierson’s pioneering work on women in the Second World War to consider women’s long-term identifications with the forces.
Chapter one covers the establishment of the wartime women’s services. Chapter two studies wartime debates over alcohol and sexual (im)morality. Chapter three analyzes reports on the future of women in the forces written in 1946 by Acting Captain Adelaide Sinclair, Lieutenant-Colonel Daisy Royal, and an unnamed senior member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Chapter four examines women’s continued participation in the military community through veteran’s organizations and cadet groups, and discussions over their place in the armed services between 1946 and 1955. Chapter five concentrates on a 1965 study recommending a permanent place for women in the services. Chapter six explores how servicewomen narrated their histories in scrapbooks and unofficial histories.
The research answers Cynthia Enloe’s appeal to listen carefully to women inside the military, and identifies ways women’s voices have been silenced, by both defence officials and scholars. The thesis highlights the military as a site of feminism, linking paramilitary women, servicewomen, veteran’s organizations, and cadets. Studying women’s negotiation of their military roles and their history reveals the policing of gender norms in the armed services, Canadian society, and the scholarship of the Second World War.