Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Salute to Volunteerism

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Women's Voluntary Services, known as the AWVS, was the largest U.S. women's service organization during WWII, yet perhaps the least remembered. Founded in January 1940, nearly two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the organization offered opportunities for every interest and skill level. Initially tasks focused on preparing the country for war.

However, because the AWVS began before the war, it was accused of being alarmist and was viewed with suspicion by isolationists. In addition, the social mores of the time frowned on married women working. However, once the U.S. entered the war, it was considered one of the few “acceptable” organizations where women could volunteer.

Women provided support services such as message delivery, ambulance driving, selling war bonds, emergency kitchens, cycle corps drivers, dog-sled teamsters, aircraft spotters, navigation, aerial photography, fighting fires, truck driving, and canteen workers. Later, many of these same tasks were performed through other organizations such as the Office of Civil Defense and Red Cross.

AWVS was one of the many non-military organizations that allowed their members to wear uniforms. Utilitarian in nature, they were designed to use as little fabric as possible. In addition, with metal in short supply, buttons were often made of wood and painted gold to resemble brass.

Some of Hollywood’s elite such as Joan Crawford, Betty White, Hattie McDaniel, Jeannette MacDonald, and Lillian Randolph joined the AWVS. Movie columnist Louella Parsons also regularly volunteer with the organization. The men did their bit to help out, too. According to a collection of essays titled Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture, the crooner opened his home for a day “to aid the American Women’s Voluntary Service.” In February 1943, Peter Lorre appeared in “All Star Convoy,” a benefit performance for the AWVS.

What’s your favorite place to volunteer?

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, blogger, and history geek. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a Trustee for her local public library. Active in her church Linda serves as treasurer, usher, and choir member. To find out more about Linda and her books visit http://www.LindaShentonMatchett.com. Sign up for her newsletter for links to free ebooks, book reviews, historical tidbits, and more.


  1. Hi Linda, I enjoyed reading about the contributions that were made during WWII. At this time my volunteer efforts are limited to my church but I will hopefully be able to do more in the future!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great post about AWVS and their contribution during WWII. I volunteer at church, hospice and a couple social service agencies.

  3. I volunteer at the dinner we put on once a month at Church for the visually impaired.