Sometimes films in our holdings stand out for their entertainment value in addition to their historical value, The Hidden Army is one such film. When I came across it looking for another item, it stood out because of the unique way it covers a common topic in propaganda films of World War II, mobilizing women war workers. The film is stylized in a very dramatic way, reading almost as a soap opera at times. The beginning depicts a future time when Hitler is vanquished, captured and reflecting on the reason his efforts were unsuccessful. The film’s message is obvious from the beginning, the Allied Powers need American women to join the workforce and win the war. American women are the hidden army.
The film goes on to portray the moment movie Hitler points to as the reason he lost the war, underestimating the important role women would make in the war effort. in the clip below, a heated discussion reveals that America cannot win the war due to limited manpower. Men cannot serve in the military while also producing enough goods for the war. When it is suggested that American women could bolster production, that option is laughed off.
Everything for Hitler starts to go wrong in the below clip. He asks, “How was it possible for America to achieve such production and at the same time, build an army?” The answer: American Women. The film states that 20 percent of industrial man power was women power. The female workforce, or the hidden army as they are called in the film, grew by 6.5 million during the war. By war’s end in 1945, women comprised 36.1 percent of the civilian labor force. While this was not the first time American women worked outside of the home in large numbers, this would be the first time such a large number of women worked in “non-traditional” professions. Jobs in defense plants, factories and shipyards required women learn to weld and place rivets, in addition to other jobs in heavy industry.
It seems the producers of this film wanted to counterbalance the discussion of heavy machinery and remind the audience that taking a job in the defense industry did not mean women had to give up their gender roles and stereotypes. The narrator states “women have helped weld the landing craft…women have helped rivet the planes…women have helped manufacture the radio tubes…” just before using stereotypes of a “sensitive touch and delicate fingers” reiterating that while women can do heavy labor they retain their feminine characteristics.
The Hidden Army was produced and released at a pivotal moment in World War II as Allied Forces prepared for the invasion of mainland Europe. The invasion would require large amounts of supplies, machinery, weapons and vehicles. A drop in war workers would slow production and make it very difficult for a successful invasion. This film was produced to combat a loss of women workers experienced in 1943 and create greater support on the home front. Some reasons that caused women to leave their factory jobs are discussed in the following clip.
After recognizing that balancing work life and home life was practically impossible for working women, several improvements were made to make it easier for employees engaged in war work. Free childcare, extended hours for shopping and leisure activities, and on site access to healthcare, ration coupons, and hair appointments are highlighted in the film as benefits to engaging in factory work.
The film ends by reiterating the need for women war workers. It pulls at the heartstrings of the audience through emotional interviews with women currently working in factories. The audience is left with the knowledge that women working in factories to support the war effort are the reason the war will be won. To prevent more death and destruction, women must take it upon themselves to engage in work outside the home.
Several other films in NARA’s motion picture holdings focus on the contributions made by women during World War II. You can watch the digitized films in our online catalog at the following links: Night Shift, Glamour Girls of 1943, and Women on the Warpath.
Learn more about women’s involvement during WWII:
Read more about WWII propaganda productions:
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