The USA entered World War I in April, 1917. Life before this point for women in America was fairly limited. Women couldn't vote, had few employment opportunities, and were expected to be content as wives and mothers to their husbands and sons respectively. However, if I was an eighteen-year-old American woman in 1917, I might have had some optimism about my future.
In retrospect, the early 1900's is seen as a progressive era for women. Momentum was building behind the campaign to give women the vote, and the first female suffrage parade took place in New York City in 1910 and was attended by several hundred supporters. Two years later in 1912, approximately 20,000 supporters participated in another parade in the same city. Four years later, in 1916, Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to be elected to the Congress. All in all, for women at this time, things seemed to be changing—if slowly, then at least for the better
While America was involved in World War I, beginning in April 1917, the American Red Cross recruited more than 22,000 female nurses into the US Army. If I was a nurse at this time, the likelihood is that I would have been sent to serve close to the Western Front. This was where almost half of the 22,000 nurses were sent. I might even have been sent to work at a front-line clearing station. At these stations, nurses would treat the battle wounds of injured soldiers. This was hard work carried out in hellish conditions. This was also a time before antibiotics, so infections and diseases would have been rife. If I was a nurse working in one of these clearing stations, I probably would have felt proud to be helping my country—but also exhausted and no doubt horrified by the bloody and brutal consequences of war witnessed close up.
After the war, America entered what has retrospectively been described as the 'Jazz Age,' or, alternatively, the 'Roaring Twenties.' For women, this meant more liberties and freedoms. In 1920, partly as a response to the efforts of women during the war and also partly as the culmination of the women's suffrage movement (which had been gathering momentum before the war), the 19th Amendment was passed, granting women the vote across America. Spurred on by this new-found political representation, women in America started dressing more liberally which meant, in part, dresses that didn't cover the ankles and flapped against the knees, hence the term 'flappers' to describe this new type of liberal, independent woman.
If I was a young woman at this time, it is likely that I would have been one of these flappers. I would probably have been wearing shorter dresses than women had worn before and sporting a 'bob' hairstyle. I maybe would have taken up smoking too, and spent my evenings dancing to jazz music in clubs. In short, I likely would have been very much like Daisy and Jordan from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. This new type of woman redefined womanhood at this time in America and asserted her right to exist as an independent person, not defined by her relationship to a man.
When the Great Depression began in 1929, after the Wall Street Crash, life for most women in America didn't change quite as drastically as it did for most men. This is because the industries that were most affected and in which there were the most redundancies were the manufacturing industries, and these industries were still largely dominated by men. In contrast, women were much more represented in service industry jobs, like teaching and nursing, and these industries were not as badly affected. Nonetheless, it is likely that whatever income I had as a young woman at this time would have been depleted if there were any men in my life who I needed to help support. Indeed, my father, brother, or husband would likely have been very badly impacted at this time. Lots of men during the Great Depression had to travel across the country looking for work and had to accept less pay for their work than they would have done previously. Therefore, if I was a woman at this time and fortunate enough to have kept my own job, then as well as wanting to give some of my income to support a father, brother, or husband, I would probably have had to live without the man or men in my life while they travelled to look for work. This period of my life, therefore, might have been for me a period of financial hardship and also a period of some loneliness.