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I beredskap med Fru Lojal: Behovet av kvinnlig arbetskraft i Sverige under andra världskriget
Historiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2766-0087
2005 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Women’s wartime work is a well-known phenomenon in belligerent countries. But what happened in a neutral country like Sweden? With the outbreak of the Second World War, Sweden was put in a state of “national preparedness” that would last from September 1939 until the end of war in May 1945. From the autumn of 1939 the State Labour Market Commission (Statens arbetsmarknadskommission, SAK) had sent out signals to the employers’ associations in the engineering industry and at the ironworks that their male employees would not be granted exemptions from military service. Employers therefore had to find reserve workers, either men too old to be conscripted or women. The main purpose of this thesis is to explore how the threat of war affected the plans for and the use of women’s labour during the years of national preparedness.

The national preparedness organisation did not include a plan ready for use to mobilise women either for work or for voluntary efforts for the nation during this period. The absence of a state plan for women’s national efforts became the point of departure for the Women's Organisations' Preparedness Committee, (Kvinnoföreningarnas beredskapskommitté, KBK) in 1938. The founding intention of this organisation was to gather Swedish women as a demonstration of their will to defend their country. A huge number of women – 800 000 – signed up for various tasks. This organisation was dominated by women who were eager to contribute to the national defence, and was not fully representative of the traditional women’s movement.

With the passing of The National Compulsory Service Act (tjänstepliktslag) in December 1939 both men and women had become eligible for conscription. This was supposed to provide an instrument through which the government would be able to guarantee the supply of industrial labour. But the National Compulsory Service Act was never put into effect with regard to women. Instead, the governmental strategy to reach the female workforce was to establish a liaison between the state and the KBK.

The Swedish way was the volunteer way. But this policy required propaganda. And so “Mrs. Loyal” made her entry in a state initiated propaganda newsreel on Swedish cinemas in January 1944. Mrs. Loyal was introduced as an example of “the national preparedness woman of today”. As a reserve worker in the engineering industry, she replaced a man who was called up for military service. The Mrs Loyal propaganda was aimed at married women whose children were grown up. The film presented the ideal situation where women registered for these courses voluntarily, to be fully trained if and when they were needed in industry.

Towards the end of the war the SAK made inquiries to investigate the outcome of industrial employment during the war years. It then appeared that the Mrs Loyal-campaign had had an unexpected result. Few of the married housewives Mrs Loyal was supposed to attract had followed her example. In reality, it was a different group of women who took advantage of the opportunity. Young, unmarried women – daughters who still lived at home – saw an opening for them to leave home and earn their own livings. For these young women the preparedness situation and labour shortage actually became an opportunity for emancipation.

How are we to understand the significance of the years 1939–1945 in terms of gender relations? The years of national preparedness in Sweden never became the opportunity for a broad range of women to leave their homes and become wage earners. In terms of gender contract, the housewife contract remained dominant. The traditional gender order never changed. The call for women workers was never a question of equal rights, just the temporary needs of the nation. But even if the changes were as superficial as the propaganda image, the need for women workers led to some changes. The question of equal pay was finally brought up on the political agenda with women’s entry in the engineering and ironworks industries. The conditions of labour shortage also placed a focus on other questions concerning the consequences of the protective labour legislation for women, like the prohibition against women’s night work and the question of women’s part-time work.

The government had the opportunity to present new guidelines for women’s work at the end of the war. Instead a pattern was institutionalised that reinforced an image of women workers as a “latent labour reserve”. The propaganda picture of Mrs Loyal was forgotten, but in reality both married and unmarried women went on seeking solutions to the difficulties of combining wage work with children and housework.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International , 2005. , 245 p.
, Stockholm Studies in History, ISSN 0491-0842 ; 76
Keyword [en]
Women's work, national preparedness, gender contract, propaganda, housewives, loyalty, duty, voluntary work, compulsory national service
National Category
History and Archaeology
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-65265ISBN: 91-22-02110-8OAI: diva2:795256
Public defence
2005-02-25, hörsal 4, hus B, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2015-03-16 Created: 2013-02-06 Last updated: 2015-03-16Bibliographically approved

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Overud, Johanna
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