America on the Homefront:
Selected World War II Records of Federal Agencies in New England
- Rationing and Controlling Prices
- Defending the Homefront
- Wartime Research and Development
- War Work & the Role of Women
- Additional Online Homefront Resources
The following is a selection of records compiled from NARA's Northeast Region at Boston that illustrate different aspects of life on the homefront during World War II. More than any war before or since, the federal government was active in numerous ways, both military and civilian, at the regional level and in local communities. How was an entire country mobilized to support a war of such magnitude and to solve all the associated problems that arose? These problems could only be solved at the national level by the federal government, but the programs created had an impact on every community and every individual. Several federal agencies such as the War Manpower Commission and the Office of Price Administration were established specifically to address wartime concerns and ceased to exist soon after. The records presented here relate to four broad themes that had a direct impact on homefront life in New England: (I) rationing and controlling prices, (II) defending the homefront, (III) wartime research and development, and (IV) war work and the employment of women.
I. Rationing & Controlling Prices
During World War II fewer manufactured goods were available because of military needs. A system of rationing and price controls were established to provide resources needed for the war and to avoid the kinds of economic problems that had resulted during World War I, such as high inflation. Government programs for rationing and price controls were administered by the Office of Price Administration (OPA) whose activities were especially important at the local level and affected virtually every household in the United States.
Selected records of the Office of Price Administration, Record Group 188, NARA's Northeast Region, Boston:
- Minutes, July 13, 1944 (5 pages), February 5, 1944
(4 pages), New Haven,
Connecticut Price and Rationing Board, Records of the War Price and
- Radio Clips to be used during January 1944, Information
Division, Records of Region 1 (Boston)
- "Talking about Ration Book
Four", Lawrence J. Bresnahan, OPA Director for Massachusetts, October 20, 1943
(9 pages), Transcripts of Radio Broadcasts, Information Division, Records of Region 1 (Boston)
- "Talking about Black Markets", Patrick Carr, Chief Investigator for Massachusetts OPA,
December 5, 1943
(8 pages), Transcripts of Radio Broadcasts, Information Division, Records of Region 1 (Boston)
- Volunteer Training Manual, 1943
(6 pages), Records of the War Price and Rationing Boards
- Weekly Field Reports from Raymond Mead, Area Price Representative, August 16-21, 1943 (3 pages); August 23-28, 1943 (3 pages) Weekly and Monthly Narrative Field Reports, Price Board Management Division, Records of the Connecticut District
- Newspaper Photograph of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Price Control Board, 1946; Newsclippings, Cambridge Price and Rationing Board, Records of the War Price and Rationing Boards
- "Price Control Panel Wants Two Women to Investigate Local Price Ceilings", Reading Chronicle, August 13, 1943, News Clippings, Reading [Massachusetts] Price and Rationing Board, Records of the War Price and Rationing Boards
- "Double Trouble: What to do about Inflation and Deflation" (Pamplet, 10 pages, nd, ca. 1945), Regional Publicity Files, Information Division, Records of Region 1 (Boston)
- Ration Coupons, Ration Book Four, Regional Publicity Files, Information Division, Records of Region 1 (Boston)
- Photograph showing the results of OPA egg price controls, nd., Records of the War Price and Rationing Boards
- List of the Concord, Massachusetts Price Control Board showing occupations, 1943, Concord Price and Rationing Board, Records of the War Price and Rationing Boards
- Price Report for the Fashioncraft Company (located in Cambridge, Massachusetts), filed 1946, Survey Files, Massachusetts District (Boston)
II. Defending the Homefront
Protecting the important northern shipping lanes and guarding against coastal invasion was made even more urgent by the frequent presence of German submarines along the New England coast. A coalition of military and civilian groups carried out patrols in the northern ship lanes, escorted convoys, provided defenses such as mines along the coast, carried out search and rescue operations, investigated submarine sightings, and were prepared to attack the enemy when necessary.
A Navy War Diary:
- Selections from Chapter II, Activity and Suspicious Events, April 1944, Northern Group War Diary, April 1944 (13 pages), Monthly War Diaries, Operations Officer, First Naval District, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, Record Group 181, NARA-Northeast Region (Boston).
III. Wartime Research and Development
World War II saw a greater than ever emphasis on the importance of technology. All of the countries involved raced to develop superior technology, and the U.S. federal government established several top secret research programs that proved vital in the war, the best known of which was the Los Alamos laboratories. Less well-known was the secret project to develop the new radar technology that was established in the Boston area at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project was officially known as the Radiation Laboratory in order to keep secret its actual purpose. In 1943 a history program was established to document this project and a young historian named Henry Guerlac was hired to guide it. While many of the laboratory records are highly technical, the records of the history office are more accessible to lay readers and provide an intriguing instance of history being recorded as it happened.
Selected records from the Office of Historian, MIT Radiation Laboratory (Cambridge, Massachusetts), Records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Record Group 227, NARA-Northeast Region (Boston):
- Letter, F.W. Loomis, Radiation Lab Associate Director for Personnel, to Henry Guerlac, January 5, 1943
- Notes of Henry Guerlac, regarding conversations with different scientists, various dates, 1943-1944
- Notes of Henry Guerlac from an interview with Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), August 20, 1944
- Notes of Henry Guerlac from an interview with Kenneth Tompkins Bainbridge, May 11, 1943. Bainbridge was later at Los Alamos and oversaw preparations for the first nuclear test
- Photograph of the Receiver Lab, 1941
- Photograph of the Radiation Laboratory Steering Committee at a weekly meeting, 1943
- Photograph of the D-Day invasion on a radar scope, June 6, 1944
- Photograph of Cape Cod on a radar scope, nd
- Photograph of a radar produced at the Rad Lab in use in Germany, February 1945
IV. War Work & the Role of Women
Just as the shortage of manufactured goods was a concern, there was a shortage of civilian labor because of the vast number of men who were in the military. Who would do this work, especially that which was defense related? The federal government and the war industries sought to solve the problem partly by employing women to fill the gap. Records of several agencies reflect the keen interest that was taken in the women who performed what had formerly been men's jobs at many of the federal facilities in New England. The federal government addressed the labor problem by encouraging people to work and restricting the freedom of workers to move from one job to another. Controlling and regulating the supply of labor was the function of the War Manpower Commission.
A. Women in Defense Jobs
The following (#1- 10) are all news clippings in Scrapbooks, 1942-43, Watertown Arsenal (Watertown, Massachusetts), Public Information Office, Records of the Chief of Ordnance, Record Group 156, NARA-Northeast Region (Boston).
- "Lucky and Lovely Defense Worker"
- "3 Girls Run Arsenal Cranes as War Share"
- "Hie From Altar to War Jobs"
- "Boston Girls swings 10-Ton Crane"
- "Running 10-Ton Arsenal Crane A Delight for 'Tish' Barnum, 19"
- "Bay State Victory Girls Meet the Challenge of War"
- "30 P.C. of Arsenal Workers are Women/Girls Man Huge Cranes"
- a & b. "Women Playing Big Role at Watertown Arsenal"
B. Women at Work
The following (#11-12) are from records of the Port of Embarkation, Boston, Records of the Chief of Transportation, Record Group 336, NARA -Northeast Region (Boston)
C. Filling the Manpower Gap and Finding People to Work
The following (#13-16) are from records of the New England Region, Records of the War Manpower Commission, RG 211, NARA-Northeast Region (Boston)
- Case File #728,
April 5, 1944, the case of a shoe manufacturing worker who wished to work at the Navy Yard and make more money, Appeal Case Files
- Program for events at Boston Common (nd, typescript, 3 pages), Publicity Files, Records of Loyalty Week in Boston, July 30 - August 5, 1944, Publicity Files
- Report on plans for Loyalty Week (nd, typescript, 3 pages), Records of Loyalty Week in Boston, July 30 - August 5, 1944, Publicity Files
- Speech of Arthur C. Gernes, Acting Regional Director, War Manpower Commission, July 31, 1944 (typescript, 9 pages), Records of Loyalty Week in Boston, July 30 - August 5, 1944, Publicity Files
Additional Primary Source Material about the Homefront Available on the Internet
MIT Radiation Laboratory
Oral histories of the Radiation Laboratory staff, made in 1991
Homefront in General
Voices of World War II
Actual radio broadcasts: includes a large number of programs about Homefront concerns (in collaboration with Truman Library)