The Housewife’s Dilemna-Women of World War II Hawaii Series

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Just how did the war impact life for the Hawaii housewife? Most of us have heard the stories about the long lines at grocery stores, the food rationing stamps, and the shortage of special ingredients. But, what else impacted these women?

During the first months of the war, schools were closed. Mothers had to deal with children who had to sit in blacked out living rooms at night huddled around the radio listening to war news and were not allowed out. Most schools didn’t reopen until February 1942 and when they did, many of them were on split-schedules leaving a mother with one child going to school from 7:00 a.m. to noon, and another from noon to 3:00 p.m.


Some of the private schools were leased by the military government forcing schools to close down or to hold classes in private homes. Those mothers would take one child to one house and another child to a different home.

Then there was the pressure on women to do their “patriotic duty.” Housewives were encouraged to conserve food. Cooking leftovers became patriotic. Kitchen management problems prompted the expansion of the University of Hawaii’s extension programs. Home agents were ready to assist rural families who could not come to town. Among those women were: Nellie Huffline, Lillian Raynard, and Irmgard Farden. (Yes, our own “Auntie Irmgard” of Hawaii music fame.)

Since the schools closed unexpectedly, there was a surplus of milk stored at the school cafeterias. Newspaper articles enouraged women to have their children “drink more milk at home.” In addition, recipes were run on making milk-based soups.

The Honolulu Gas Company sponsored “Foods for Victory,” a series about how to cook quicker and more efficiently to save gas. (Mrs. Jean Shimamura headed that series.) Another reason to encourage women to spend less time in the kitchen was so that they had more time for Relief Work and Red Cross projects. And, as for those women who worked full-time, many of them were required to work “forced overtime.”

Life got turned upside down. Small and major adjustments had to be made, some humorous in retrospect. Alice Sorenson told me that one of the surplus food ships brought a delivery of potatoes and children’s shoes to the island. “No rice,” she said. “Just potatoes. And what were we supposed to do with winter shoes for our kids? They didn’t even wear shoes to school in the lower grades.”

And food that was typically imported from Japan was just not to be found. Cracked seed substitutes were attempted