In the two years before the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans were divided over whether the country should get involved in the war against Hitler. Nowhere was this split more evident than among American women.

In 1940 and ’41, when politics was still largely a man’s game, women who never before would have done something as indecorous as marching with signs — let alone acting up in public — took to the streets. Others took to the airwaves of that new medium, radio. Some testified before Congress.

On one side were the Isolationists, women who believed America should stay out of the war in Europe. Under the umbrella term the ‘Mothers Movement’, they organized local groups with various affiliations across the country. Dressed in black and wearing veils, they screamed and spat on members of Congress who didn’t share their views. They held vigils and wailed. In Washington, DC, they hanged an effigy of Sen. Claude Pepper (who supported helping Europe) in front of the Capitol.

On the opposite side were the Interventionists. They believed America had a duty to help allies, defend democracy and fight fascism. Among their numbers, in addition to ordinary women, were women educators and journalists. One of the most prominent was Dorothy Thompson, who wrote a newspaper column as well as one in Ladies Home Journal and had a weekly radio program on NBC. In September of 1939 Thompson testified before a Senate committee, urging them to sell arms to Great Britain and France.


This clash of positions split families.

  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author and wife of the famous aviator, was an ardent Isolationist and the darling of the Mothers Movement.  She and her husband had been guests of top Nazi officials.
  • Her mother, Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, a noted educator who served as first woman head of Smith College, was an active Interventionist. She did a radio speech in favor of American involvement in World War II, and was the target of threats from the Mothers Movement.
  • Anne’s older sister, Elisabeth, likewise strongly supported the Interventionist cause.

For women, one particular issue added fuel to the disagreement: efforts to enact the country’s first ever peacetime draft. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s military advisors, alarmed at how ill-prepared the country was for war, wanted to start peacetime conscription so at least some trained fighting men would be available if needed.

On Sept. 14, 1940, both houses of Congress passed the Selective Service Act. At the end of the following month, one week before Election Day, the first draft numbers were drawn. Isolationist women continued to rally. If only they could prevent FDR’s re-election, they thought, their sons and other loved ones would never be thrust into battles on the other side of the world.

But he was and they did.

Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration


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A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get 1940s private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes, until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss.

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