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Women and World War II - Opponents

Spies, Traitors, Resistance Fighters, Pacifists, and Other War Opponents

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Jeanette Rankin About 1940

Jeanette Rankin About 1940

Getty Images / MPI Coco Chanel - 1930

Coco Chanel - 1930

Getty Images / MPI

As in every war, some spies and resistance fighters were women. Besides the obvious ability of women to use sexual favors and blackmail to get secrets, the image of women's purity and morality worked against suspicion of women.

Mildred Gillars, American-born, worked for Radio Berlin during the war as an actress and announcer, broadcasting a show called "Home Sweet Home" aimed at American soldiers. Her May 11, 1944, broadcast against D-Day earned her a conviction for treason in the US after the defeat of Germany.

Tokyo Rose - really a name for a number of women on Japanese radio -- similarly broadcast to American servicemen. The woman convicted as Tokyo Rose, the only one of the announcers with US citizenship, used "Orphan Ann" as her pseudonym and was eventually pardoned because it was clear that she was forced to make the broadcasts and had intentionally made them ridiculous.

Gender did not make one more or less likely to be patriotic. In Europe, many women in nations occupied by the Axis were collaborators with the occupiers; others worked in the resistance or underground. Women often were less likely to be targets of suspicion, and so had opportunities for success in the resistance that male members did not always have. Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe published resistance flyers from their home in the Channel Islands, occupied by the Germans. They often dressed in male clothing to move about and distribute their flyers. They were arrested near the end of the war and sentenced to death, but the Germans did not carry out the sentence.

Coco Chanel's affair with a Nazi officer in Paris cost her in popularity until a comeback in 1954, after a self-imposed exile to Switzerland.

Unlike World War I, in which some British and American women's suffragists were also pacifists, there were few pacifists in Allied countries during World War II. A notable pacifist was Jeannette Rankin, who was the only person in Congress to vote against the US entering both World War I and World War II. She cast her vote in 1941 against American entry, saying "As a woman I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else."

In America, a number of women were leading pro-Nazi voices. Laura Ingalls (not the same person as Laura Ingalls Wilder) was involved with America First. Cathrine Curtis is associated with the Women's National Committee to Keep the US Out of War. Agnes Walters worked with the National Blue Star Mothers of America, and the name was easily confused with the patriotic group, Blue Star Mothers. Lois de Lafayette Washburn founded the American Gentile Protective Association.

The Mother's Movement capitalized on the sentimental attitude towards mothers. This anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi group was made up of many organizations in different states, and included the National League of Mothers of America and We the Mothers, Mobilize for America. Elizabeth Dilling wrote books and a newsletter opposing American involvement in the war.

It was rumored that Elizabeth Arden's European salons were covers for Nazi operations, but an FBI investigation found no such evidence.

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