Swiss women didn't only cook during the second world war

Chief medical officer and Red Cross chief physician Denzler shows one of the women volunteers of the Swiss Women's Army Auxiliary Service (FHD) how to wear a gas mask. The organisation was officially recognized in April 1940. Keystone / A. Jansen

When it comes to Swiss people who went the extra mile to defend and help their country during World War II, women are often overlooked.

This content was published on April 23, 2020 - 14:38

Thousands of women were ready and willing to serve alongside the men of Switzerland during the widespread mobilisation of September 1939. Many women's organisations had already been founded at the turn of the century and supported other groups like the Red Cross. The Swiss Women’s Auxiliary Military Service (FHD) was founded in 1939 although it wasn’t officially recognised until April 1940, six months after the outbreak of the war. Female volunteers worked for the army in communications, logistics, and as medical orderlies.

The male population and the government were initially reluctant to accept the support of their female counterparts, but they were forced to relent when hundreds of thousands of men were mobilised as part of the war effort. The absence of these fathers, husbands, and sons was sorely felt. Mothers and housewives had to do double the work at home and stepped into men's jobs. Their responsibilities went up on all fronts. Encouraged by activist women, like FHD co-founder Else Züblin Spiller and other women's organisations, thousands of women became directed involved in the war effort.

Many women who had already proven their tenacity and versatility during the First World War hoped that this would lead to a new role for women in society, and the introduction of female voting rights. Victory evaded them until 1971 when the were finally allowed to participated in federal elections.

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