World War Women

23 Oct 2015 — 3 Apr 2016 at Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Canada

Brian Gilks, In the Temple (1941–1942). Beaverbrook Collection of War Art Canadian War Museum.
Brian Gilks, In the Temple (1941–1942). Beaverbrook Collection of War Art Canadian War Museum.
17 FEB 2016

Canadian women performed crucial and often dangerous tasks during both World Wars, from manufacturing munitions to leading liberated prisoners through an Indonesian jungle. The Canadian War Museum is proud to present their stories in the special exhibition World War Women.

“During the two World Wars, thousands of women served in the military,” said Stephen Quick, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “Others redoubled their efforts at home, knitting socks and sending care packages to soldiers overseas. Women broke through gender barriers to become munitions workers, truck drivers, mechanics and more. This new exhibition tells these stories through their voices and looks at the many ways in which women threw their energies into the war effort, often while grieving husbands, sons and brothers killed in battle.”

Divided into five thematic zones, World War Women uses artifacts, images, audiovisuals and archival material to delve into the personal stories of Canadian women during the World Wars. Visitors will meet Charlotte, the ventriloquist’s dummy that Connie Laidlaw used to amuse troops as part of the Victory Entertainers troupe. They’ll see the medals of Lieutenant (Nursing Sister) Mary Adelaide Cooney, who treated casualties during the Italian campaign of 1943–1945. A Sten Mk. II submachine gun demonstrates the work of factory hands like Alice Wong. And an array of propaganda posters shows how, on the domestic front, women were expected to conserve food and salvage scrap metals. The exhibition also includes the stories of some of the more than 100,000 grieving wives, mothers and sisters who lost loved ones during the wars.

Together, these stories paint a picture of how women’s lives and social roles were transformed in wartime. Their experiences forged a new understanding of women’s capabilities, both within society and within themselves.