Mothers, Not Breadwinners, in Occupied Germany, 1945–49

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Christine Fojtik, University of Wisconsin-Madison
In the context of post-WWII shortage, food became a mark of social worth, reflective of one's conduct in the past and anticipated value in the future. Rationing categories corresponded to one's occupation: those deemed of particular value in rebuilding the devastated nation, such as coal miners, were granted elevated regular rations, extra rations (Zulage), and better access to available goods. Though German women represented Germany's moral future as well as the extremely visible agents of its brick-and-mortar rebirth, they seldom enjoyed access to extra or even adequate supplies of food. Occupiers and German administrators alike continued to believe in an increasingly imaginary male breadwinner, even as women assumed the role of head-of-household in the absence of their imprisoned or deceased husbands.

Women fought to feed themselves and their families, drawing on their own resources to provide for older and younger family members and mounting a disproportionate number of individual appeals for food aid to the occupational administrations. They largely did not, however, argue that their role as de facto providers in the absence of their husbands and fathers entitled them to increased rations as a class. The individual, rather than collective, nature of women's appeals underlines their investment in the male-breadwinner model. Though women in WWI took to the streets to demand government-guaranteed access to food, women after WWII found themselves in a very different position politically, socially, and culturally; they did not seek a re-consideration of women's role in the home or recognition of a new breadwinner status. Women in defeated and occupied post-WWII Germany acted as breadwinners but imagined that an eventual reversion to the traditional family model would mark a return to normalcy and a healed Germany.

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