Lesbians in World War 2, through their letters
World War 2 in the 20th century changed everything for everyone, including for lesbians. As men went to war, women also enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp. (WAC) or joined the labor force to contribute to the war effort rather than stay at home in their aprons.
Many lesbians were drawn into the WAC, which was almost an exclusive all-women environment. Of course, it couldn’t be helped that a number of relationships developed in the environment.
Love during World War 2
This quiet part of history was noted at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, considered the biggest archive library for LGBT historical materials.
As previously noted, one way of getting a clear picture of lesbian history is through the letters women exchange with each other. For example, through Eleanor Roosevelt’s letters to Lorena Hickok, one could imagine how lesbians managed to express their love even during a time of intense homophobia.
It also helped that letters were the only form of communication between people who were located in different places during wartime.
World War 2 letters
“Good morning darling. I’m so very used to going to sleep watching you smoke that cigarette (if I’m not in your arms) that I couldn’t sleep,” wrote an unnamed girl in the service who was stationed in San Bernardino in 1944. She was then writing to her lover who was also part of WAC.
Speaking of the role of lesbians during the war, Fred Bradford, one of the former members of ONE Board explained: “They’re not always important people, but they’re important because they lived in a particular era and they wrote about it.”
The archivists at ONE are now in talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District to include LGBT history in the school curriculum. In particular, the letters can help inform people about the contributions of LGBT in history, especially what they did during World War 2.
Stories of World War 2
One of the unknown stories was that of an unnamed 95-year old veteran of World War 2 whose partner had already died. For decades, she had hidden the true nature of her lesbian relationship with her partner from the people around her.
To others, they were just two spinsters with a cat. But her story– and her love– came to light when she donated her love letters to the ONE archive.
Joseph Hawkins, director of the archives, said the collections of “ordinary folks put flesh on the bones of history and make it come alive.”
“Our history was not just one oppressive dirge after another, but little tiny victories, hard fought and hard won, that equal a really rousing triumph for humanity,” Hawkins said.
More importantly, it is these little tiny victories that give a lesbian face to the historical world-shaking events like World War 2.