Historical Background of
Lily’s Home Front
Although Lily’s Home Front is fiction the story closely ties in with the historical period of World War II, especially as it relates to Oregon.
During World War II evil forces caused horrific suffering around the world, but it was also a time of amazing heroism and communal efforts to survive.
We know much about the heroism of men in the Armed Forces, risking their lives in such places as Guadalcanal, the Leyte Gulf, Northern Africa, Omaha Beach, and the Battle of the Bulge. They were aware of what damage torpedoes, mines, 88 mm guns, kamikaze pilots, and U-boats could inflict. Many men enlisted even though they knew they could be killed or seriously injured. Women became Army and Navy nurses and joined the WACs or Red Cross, risking their lives helping the men near the battle fronts.
Most people on the home front had to face the terrible possibility that their husbands, brothers, friends, sons, or fathers would not return. Nevertheless, they accepted that the men had to fight this war against the Axis powers. Those not actively fighting the war were willing to make sacrifices and did what they could for the war effort. It wasn’t just a matter of buying war bonds.
Rationing became necessary so that there was enough food for the Armed Forces. People were given rationing coupons, which placed limits on food they could buy: meat, cheese, eggs, sugar, coffee, and many other food products no longer as available as they were prior to the war. Because it was hard to buy vegetables in markets people began their own “Victory Gardens” in backyards, window boxes, and building rooftops. People couldn’t buy new cars, lawn mowers, and many other appliances made of material needed for the war effort. They also had to ration gas.
Women worked in jobs traditionally taken by men. Their help was indispensable to the war industries. They were known as “Rosie the Riveter” in the aircraft factories or “Winnie the Welder” at the shipyards. My character, Lily, is a welder in the Kaiser Portland shipyard, known as Oregonship. She works in one of three shifts because “Liberty Ships,” which carried important cargo, were built around the clock. She works six days a week. In cold or hot weather she welds on high scaffolding or down in the “double bottom”—the deepest part of the ship.
Many women not only took jobs but were left to raise children on their own. Henry J. Kaiser, who established the shipyards, understood the necessity for quality twenty-four-hour childcare centers where working mothers could feel comfortable bringing their children. Children as young as eighteen months of age were accepted. These centers had extended day programs for children of school age and an infirmary with a nurse for mildly sick children. It was not merely custodial care but the centers applied the latest techniques in early childhood education.
Kaiser also knew that housing was a problem in Portland, Oregon and with funding from the United States Maritime Commission he created Vanport, a huge community for his workers in an area close to the three shipyards (Oregonship, Swan Island, and Vancouver). Kaiser not only created many multiple dwelling units he established schools, shopping and recreation centers, a fire department, a police department, and much more. Unfortunately, these prefabricated apartments were built on a floodplain and after the war, in 1948, Vanport was destroyed by a flood.
Problems existed as well on the home front. Vanport was de facto segregated, day care centers were not hospitable to African-American children, several states, including Oregon, maintained Jim Crow laws, in Western United States Japanese-Americans were shamefully removed from their homes and placed in internment camps, immigration quotas resulted in Jews remaining in Europe under dire circumstances, and as my character, Lily, knows, prejudice toward Jews prevailed in the United States.
Nevertheless, as flawed as the home front was the American men and women were committed to fighting a far greater evil perpetrated by Hitler and the Axis Powers. Many lost their lives to keep the freedoms they cherished.