Role of Women in UNRRA Explained at Presentation

Ramapo welcomed Dr. Ellen Ross on Thursday for a presentation titled “Food and Shelter for Seven Million: The Women of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) 1945-1947.” The Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies sponsored the event, which took place in the Alumni Lounges. 

Emerita Professor Ross was a part of the history and women’s studies departments at Ramapo College before retiring three years ago; she also co-chaired the women’s studies program on campus.

Ross earned a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and later went on to receive her master's at Columbia University. Ross’ previous research involved London’s women’s history. Currently, her main research is focused on the transformation of female philanthropy. Ross is also an author of two books titled “Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London,” published in 1993, and “Slum Journeys: Lady Explorers in Darkest London,” published in 2007. 

“Food and Shelter for Seven Million” was a presentation that shined a light on the women of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, also know as UNRRA, and their experiences with the occupying armies at the end of World War II. UNRRA was a government-funded organization that hired just as many women as they did men to repair the destruction of the war. Ross explained to students, alumni and faculty members the hardships women employees faced following a massive human catastrophe. Examples included were the workers who the Germans had enslaved during the war who were liberated, the large number of Jewish people drifted into the United States and British zones to escape anti-Semitism, and the death toll of the concentration camps. 

Because of the population’s desperate need of immediate aid and rehabilitation, the jobs women who were involved in UNRRA usually consisted of driving ambulances, training in first aid and the like. The salary they were paid was the highest women had ever earned during that time period. Ross provided visual examples of European maps along with her lecture to further emphasize where these women were located in Germany. 

“Compassion seemed to be a huge part of these women's jobs,” said Ross as she talked about how food played a big factor in the UNRRA. “Food represented civilian order to them.” 

Additionally, Ross included an in-depth background of a woman named Francesca M. Wilson, who wrote a book about her personal experiences with DP Camps, armed troops and German zones of occupation, while going into more detail about what it was truly like to be a woman and a part of UNRAA. Wilson’s book is titled “Aftermath.” 

“I thought Dr. Ross’ presentation was empowering because it’s not very often when women were recognized for their hard work during those times,” said senior Jennifer Badrow. “So listening to how they made an impact on so many people was really cool.”