|Home Front San Francisco: the Challenges of Life During World War II
World War II would profoundly change the order of the world. With anxiety about war in the Pacific, San Francisco and the Bay Area could be a logical enemy target on the western mainland of the United States. Suspicions of espionage resulted in detaining or arresting some German and Italian residents, but even more dramatic was the denial of civil rights to all persons of Japanese ancestry, transporting them to remote inland camps. Civil defense became everyone’s job, protecting their home, rationing, salvaging and volunteering to win the war effort. The Bay Area would be further challenged by the throngs of new residents arriving to work in the massive local war industries.
San Francisco became a dynamic environment with military personnel passing through headed for hostilities in the Pacific, or arriving on leave. This course will examine the challenges of the war years, and the lasting effect they would bring to our region.
Students will have an opportunity to share stories about the war years, whether personal or from family. World War II challenged the values of everyone who lived through those years. But beyond nostalgia, it is important to reflect on the hardships endured by civilians, particularly women, who faced unique challenges managing home life under rationing and shortage conditions or working in traditionally male jobs.
Week 1: Setting the Stage – American Ambivalence about involvement in an Overseas War, contrasted with Local Preparations. Overview of the social and economic climate in San Francisco during the decade prior to American entry into WWII. Civilians mobilize for defense.
Week 2: First Casualty of War is Truth – Creating Hysteria about Invasion Threats and Saboteurs. Civilian Defense is broadened beyond the Bay Area.
Week 3: The Saga of Japanese Removal and Internment. Military authorities establish Alien Exclusion Zones and stricter restrictions on all resident aliens from Axis countries. Executive Order No. 9066 impacts the Japanese communities: legally, economically and emotionally; and bitterly divides the Italian community.
Week 4: Citizen involvement with Defense and Working to Win the War. Volunteerism permeates the entire civilian community. Shortages and rationing challenge civilians, but promote creative solutions.
Week 5: Women Confront Unique Wartime Challenges, embracing a new feminism, at least “for the duration”.
Week 6: Road to Victory and Peace: San Francisco overwhelmed by overcrowding with war workers and Service Personnel. New racial issues challenge the myth of San Francisco tolerance. Japanese return from Internment met by indifference, embarrassment or hostility. The United Nations meets to sign Charter in San Francisco tainted by Russian intrigue.
John Freeman is a native San Franciscan, receiving his B.A. in History at the University of San Francisco and Masters at San Francisco State University. For 35 years he taught in San Francisco Public High Schools. Retirement offered the opportunity to research topics of personal interest in depth, publish articles about a variety of local historic topics both in print journals and online. John has served as historic consultant for museum exhibits and for a novel set in San Francisco in 1896. He regularly gives presentations to groups on local historic topics. For the last three years he has taught local historic topic courses at the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning.