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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jan 24, 2015 08:50AM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This thread focuses on the Role of Women in World War I.

A decent book about World War I.

The First World War by John Keegan by John Keegan John Keegan

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
The Role of Women in World War I

This Role Would Challenge All Traditional Views of Women as Being Helpless

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Women's Roles in the World Wars:

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Women and World War I:

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Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Feature Articles - Women and WWI - Women in the Workforce: Temporary Men

One immediate result of the war's outbreak was the rise in female unemployment, especially among the servants, whose jobs were lost to the middle-classes' wish to economise.

However, it was soon seen that the only option to replace the volunteers gone to the front was employing women in the jobs they had left behind; conscription only made this need even more urgent as had the Munitions of Work Act 1915 by which munitions factories had fallen under the sole control of the Government.

As the main historian of women's work, Gail Braybon, claims, for many women the war was "a genuinely liberating experience" (link) that made them feel useful as citizens but that also gave them the freedom and the wages only men had enjoyed so far. Approximately 1,600,000 women joined the workforce between 1914 and 1918 in Government departments, public transport, the post office, as clerks in business, as land workers and in factories, especially in the dangerous munitions factories, which were employing 950,000 women by Armistice Day (as compared to 700,000 in Germany).

Women's job mobility also increased enormously, with a large number of women abandoning service for factory work never to return to it to the chagrin of the middle-class women that were left without home help in many cases.

In general, women did very well, surprising men with their ability to undertake heavy work and with their efficiency. By the middle of the war they were already regarded as a force to be proud of, part of the glory of Britain. However, their entrance into the workforce was initially greeted with hostility for the usual sexist reasons and also because male workers worried that women's willingness to work for lower wages would put them out of work.

The Government, besides, combined a welfare policy offering subsidies to families with husbands at the front with increasing female work in order to conscript skilled workers formerly regarded as indispensable to the war effort. To make up for the loss in the skilled workforce the entry of women in factories was often facilitated by 'dilution', that is to say, the breaking down of complex tasks into simpler activities that non-skilled women workers could easily carry out.

The women employed in munitions factories, popularly known as munitionettes have became the most visible face of the woman worker in WWI, though doubt remains as to whether their motivation was patriotic or simply economic. The factories they manned had been seized by Lloyd George's Government and he also caused suspension of all trade union activities in them.

Munitionettes produced 80% of the weapons and shells used by the British Army and daily risked their lives working with poisonous substances without adequate protective clothing or the required safety measures. Although this can be seen as a gauge of their will to sacrifice everything for Britain it should be read, rather, as part of their treatment as cheap, easily replaceable labour.

The public recognition and sympathy that the 'canaries' (thus nicknamed for the yellow tinge that skin exposed to sulphur acquired) received could not make up for their work conditions. Leading trade-unionist Mary MacArthur, Secretary since 1903 of the Women's Trade Union League, led an energetic campaign to demand they were paid as much as the men employed in the same industry - the women only got half the men's wages - but by the end of the war the proportion was roughly still the same.

The Government also invited women to join the ranks of the Women's Land Army, an organisation that offered cheap female labour to farmers not always keen to employ women. The 260,000 volunteers that made up the WLA were given little more than a uniform and orders to work hard as the fuel restrictions made a return to manual agricultural labour unavoidable; unless, that is, the Government used this as an excuse, counting on these women's cheerful acceptance of any hardship to make working the land as cheap as possible.

It's hard to say whether women workers understood from the beginning that their employment could only be temporary but so it was. The same situation was repeated in the main belligerent countries: women were dismissed back home to make room for the returning veterans, only in some cases their efforts were thanked with the right to vote. There are, besides, disagreements among historians, depending on whether they call themselves feminist or not, as to how much resentment this return home generated.

We must assume single women in families with no male casualties must have been more resentful than married women whose families had faced important loses or whose husbands had returned safely from the front. It's important to remember at any rate, as Joanna Bourke does, that for women "Even more traumatic [than losing jobs:] was the painful process of readjusting to the return of loved ones from the battlefields. Hundred of thousands of men returned from the war injured in some way. Women bore a large part of the burden of caring for these men. Even worse, women lost their fathers, husbands, lovers, brothers, and sons. For these women, life would never be the same." Nor would it be for the men; they, however, needn't fight for their right to have a job.

There is, therefore, a generalised consensus among historians that women were not truly emancipated by the Great War in any country involved in it. Ute Daniel explains in The War from Within: German Working-Class Women in the First World War that this was indeed the case for German women, noting that WWI's most important outcome was shifting German factory women workers from one sector to another. She is quite critical that safety standards in factories fell back to 19th century standards and that women only acquired superficial skills as they were expected to be soon demobilised.

In Germany pronatalist policies together with an expanding welfare state focused on the family seem to have overruled the more pragmatic British and French approaches to using women in the war effort. Interestingly, Daniel points out that the German Government did not foresee how the scarcity of consumer goods - especially food - and the pressure this put on women would eventually create pockets of discontent that would undermine the women's support for the war effort.

In Britain the gains were also modest, clashing not only with the upper and middle-class women's desire to conquer a firm foothold in the professions but also with working women's trade unionism. Leaders like Margaret Bonfield saw with dismay that the 1915 Board of Trade call for women to register at the Labour Exchange would work against the efforts of trade unions, saturating the job market with women happy to work for the lowest wages. She and Mary MacArthur tried to redress the situation asking that all women employed for war service became trade union members and that they got the same wages as men. They failed in both accounts.

As Gail Braybon and Penny Summerfield observe in Out of the Cage: Women's Experiences in Two World Wars, (1987: 69), only women welders, tutored by the Women's Service Bureau, managed to form during the war a compact, skilled, unionised group though this needn't mean they did stay in their jobs. Joanna Burke adds that while by 1918 around 1,000,000 women were members of female trade unions, their wages did not significantly grow (Women and Employment on the Home Front During World War One, BBC) because of dilution: "By 1931, a working woman's weekly wage had returned to the pre-war situation of being half the male rate in more industries."

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Some other great articles on women and World War I:

message 7: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) This is not a subject that I had read much on till very recently. I read and really enjoyed this account:

The Other Anzacs  by Peter Rees by Peter Rees
Publishers blurb:
By the end of The Great War, 45 Australian and New Zealand nurses had died in overseas service and more than 200 had been decorated. These were women who left for war on an adventure, but were soon confronted with remarkable challenges for which their civilian lives could never have prepared them. They were there for the horrors of Gallipoli and they were there for the savagery the Western Front. Within 12 hours of the slaughter at Anzac Cove they had more than 500 horrifically injured patients to tend on one crammed hospital ship, and scores of deaths on each of the harrowing days that followed. Every night was a nightmare. Their strength and humanity were remarkable. Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps, wards, and tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battlefronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these courageous and compassionate women to enrich their experiences, and ours. This is a very human story from a different era, when women had not long begun their quest for equality and won the vote. They were on the frontline of social change as well as war, and the hurdles they had to overcome and the price they paid, personally and professionally, make them a unique group in Anzac history. Profoundly moving, The Other Anzacs is story of extraordinary compassion and courage shown by a group of Australian and New Zealand women whose contribution to the Anzac legend has barely been recognized in history. Peter Rees has changed our understanding of that history forever.

Apparently this is a very good account as well:

The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald
Publishers blurb:
'On the face of it,' writes Lyn Macdonald, 'no one could have been less equipped for the job than these gently nurtured girls who walked straight out of Edwardian drawing rooms into the manifest horrors of the First World War...' Yet the volunteer nurses rose magnificently to the occasion; in this book they get a chance to tell their own stories. In leaking tents and draughty huts they fought another war, a war against agony and death, as men lay suffering from the pain of unimaginable wounds or diseases we can now cure almost instantly.It was here that young doctors frantically forged new medical techniques - of blood transfusion, dentistry, psychiatry and plastic surgery - in the attempt to save soldiers shattered in body or spirit. And it was here that women achieved a quiet but permanent revolution, by proving beyond question they could do anything. All this is superbly captured in "The Roses of No Man's Land", a panorama of hardship, disillusion and despair, yet also of endurance and supreme courage.

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Thank you Aussie Rick for all of the adds here and on the other First World War links.

message 9: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments I agree that The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald is a terrific book, Aussie Rick! The other one you mentioned also looks interesting!

War Girls the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in the First World War by Janet Lee by Janet Lee gives a detailed look at the work of the FANY - First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. The FANY had units stationed in several areas of France and Belgium, and their work was often harrowing and dangerous. For example, units stationed in Calais had to endure - and often drive ambulances through - 198 bombing raids.

FANY members earned 136 medals and decorations during WW1. One of them was Pat Beauchamp, who lost a leg in the line of duty. She recounts her experiences in her memoir, FANNY Goes To War by Pat Beauchamp

message 10: by Gabriele (last edited Apr 11, 2010 01:45PM) (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments Testament of Youth (Penguin Classics) by Vera Brittain by Vera Brittain is a classic about the life of a VAD nurse.

A rather different look at the life of a VAD is the memoir Rainbow Comes and Goes by Diana Cooper. Lady Diana Manners (later Cooper) - the "Princess Di" of her day - was reputedly the most beautiful woman in England and expected to marry the Prince of Wales. Her mother was very much against Diana becoming a VAD, as Diana states in the book. "She explained in words suitable to my innocent ears that wounded soldiers, so long starved of women, inflamed with wine and battle, ravish and leave half-dead the young nurses who wish only to tend them." The Duchess gave in, but "… knew, as I did, that my emancipation was at hand," Diana says, and goes on to admit, "I seemed to have done nothing practical in all my twenty years." Nursing plunged her and other young women into a life-altering adventure.

I found the contrast between these two books - and women - quite fascinating.

message 11: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Gabriele,

They look like great books, especially the one about Lady Diana Manners. I have seen this book about but haven't actually purchased or read a copy yet:
Elsie & Mairi Go to War Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front by Diane Atkinson by Diane Atkinson
Publishers blurb:
When they met at a motorcycle club in 1912, Elsie Knocker was a thirty year-old motorcycling divorcee dressed in bottle-green Dunhill leathers, and Mairi Chisholm was a brilliant eighteen-year old mechanic, living at home and borrowing tools from her brother. Little did they know, theirs was to become one of the most extraordinary stories of the First World War. In 1914, they roared off to London 'to do their bit', and within a month they were in the thick of things in Belgium driving ambulances to distant military hospitals. Frustrated by the number of men dying of shock in the back of their vehicles, they set up their own first-aid post on the front line in the village of Pervyse, near Ypres, risking their lives working under sniper fire and heavy bombardment for months at a time. As news of their courage and expertise spread, the 'Angels of Pervyse' became celebrities, visited by journalists and photographers as well as royals and VIPs. Glamorous and influential, they were having the time of their lives, and for four years, Elsie and Mairi and stayed in Pervyse until they were nearly killed by arsenic gas in the spring of 1918. But returning home and adjusting to peacetime life was to prove even more challenging than the war itself.

message 12: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments Sounds great, Aussie Rick! I've added it to my to-read list. Thanks for the info!

message 13: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) These sound like amazing stories! I too am adding to my reading list. Thanks!

message 14: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hmmm, maybe I better get a copy too!

message 15: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) I just came across this book which also looks like it has a lot to offer for those interested in reading more about the role of women in WW1:

Women in the War Zone Hospital Service in the First World War by Anne Powell by Anne Powell
Publishers blurb:
In our collective memory, the First World War is dominated by men. The sailors, soldiers, airmen and politicians about whom histories are written were male, and the first half of the twentieth century was still a time when a woman's place was thought to be in the home. It was not until the Second World War that women would start to play a major role both in the armed forces and in the factories and the fields. Yet there were some women who were able to contribute to the war effort between 1914 and 1918, mostly as doctors and nurses. In "Women in the War Zone", Anne Powell has selected extracts from first-hand accounts of the experiences of those female medical personnel who served abroad during the First World War. Covering both the Western and the Eastern Fronts, from Petrograd to Basra and from Antwerp to the Dardanelles, they include nursing casualties from the Battle of Ypres, a young doctor put in charge of a remote hospital in Serbia and a nurse who survived a torpedo attack, albeit with serious injuries. Filled with stories of bravery and kindliness, it is a book that honours the often unsung contribution made by the female doctors and nurses who helped to alleviate some of the suffering of the First World War.

message 16: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments Sounds good, too, Aussie Rick.

I enjoyed Your Daughter, Fanny The War Letters of Frances Cluett, Vad by Frances Cluett by Frances Cluett. In 1916 Fanny went overseas from Newfoundland (not yet a part of Canada) as a volunteer nurse. Here are a few excerpts:

Before leaving Canada - “[The doctor:] inoculated us underneath the collarbone. Oh my! Wasn’t it tender afterwards, I could hardly bear the weight of my clothes on it, it was just like a boil… We have to have three inoculations… I just dread it.”

In England - “Oh Mother! We are put on rations. A 2 lb. loaf of bread must last us two days: and we are also given [1/2:] lb. sugar to do us for a week. Each nurse was presented with a small bag to hold her loaf of bread and tin of sugar.”

From a French hospital - “I go on duty at ten minutes to eight in the evening and come off at 8 a.m… I have the care of five wards at night; so you can imagine I am kept a bit busy…. One must keep a look out for all sorts of things, such as amputation bleedings, deaths, drinks, etc. This is a very wicked world, mother; you cannot realize what sufferings there are. Some of the misery will ever live in my memory.”
“Mother I have never seen so many flowers in all my life as I have seen since I came to Rouen. All the hospital tents have them at their front entrances; oh! they are beautiful.”
“Ah! Lil, many a bedside have I stood by and watched the last breath, with rats rushing underneath the bed in groups, and the lights darkened.”

Fanny really enjoyed her leave on the Riviera in the spring of 1918.

message 17: by 'Aussie Rick' (last edited Apr 12, 2010 02:34PM) (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Gabriele,

Great stories from your book, thanks for sharing them. It sounds like a very interesting account. I've decided to order copies of "Elsie & Mairi Go to War" by Diane Atkinson and "The Roses of No Mans Land" by Lyn MacDonald.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front by Diane Atkinson by Diane Atkinson

The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald

message 18: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments I found the contrast between the British and Canadian nurses and VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses) interesting. The British in France were under strict regulations, and were forbidden to fraternize with men when off-duty, including their co-workers. One girl wasn't even allowed to go for a walk with her father, who was a General! Nor were they permitted to dance, although the neighbouring Canadian and American nurses were, which caused some resentment.

The Canadian Army Medical Corps nurses also had the rank of Lieutenant, but the British had no rank - which rankled. (Sorry, couldn't resist!) The Canadians were also better paid - at all military levels - than the British.

message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 15, 2010 01:01PM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Very strange rules - almost draconian. Some old prune obviously wrote them. (smile). Poor British nurses.

I also enjoyed your play on words (smile)

message 20: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments Thanks, Bentley. Apparently the British Matron-in-Chief said that they were in France to work, not to have fun. One would think that some dancing and socializing would be a good way to de-stress, and reassure that life is not as completely grim as what they had to deal with on a daily basis.

Here's a good website about the British nurses -

For Canadian nursing sisters -

Women at War -

message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Oh dear..I knew there was a "matron in charge of no fun" at the top.

I so agree with you. But then again if matron had or is having no fun; I guess nobody was.

Thank you for the links.

message 22: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments I've corresponded with Susan, who is the mastermind behind Scarlet Finders (the British nurses' website). She's very knowledgeable and passionate about nursing in WW1.

message 23: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Gabriele, You and Bentley have made me realise that I have pretty well neglected this aspect of WW1 so I have ordered copies of "Elsie & Mairi Go to War" by Diane Atkinson and "The Roses of No Mans Land" by Lyn MacDonald.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front by Diane Atkinson by Diane Atkinson

The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald

message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
So Aussie Rick has your better half agreed to the wing or to the new house (lol). These books look tremendously interesting in view of Gabriele's comments.

Gabriele, thank you for your info.

message 25: by Gabriele (last edited Apr 15, 2010 06:01PM) (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments My pleasure, Bentley! Aussie Rick, I'll be very interested to hear what you think about those books. I found The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald absolutely fascinating and so critical to my research. In fact, that bit of info about the VAD who wasn't allowed to go out with her General father came from that book, if I recall.

I have the other on on my TBR list!

message 26: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) OK, will do, I am just trying to think how to smuggle them into the house when they arrive :)

message 27: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Aussie Rick, you might need some other conveyance for getting them into the house, like wrapped up with the dry cleaning or in the grocery bag, bring it in with something else you conveniently left in the car....:-)

message 28: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Alisa, some good ideas there, I'll let you know if they work!

message 29: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments : )

Just to clarify - The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald is not just about women's roles, but also gives a detailed look at medicine in general during WW1, including such things as innovations in plastic surgery for those unfortunates who had devastating facial injuries. I was so impressed with the research she had done, and captivated by the various voices of the participants she quoted.

message 30: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Gabriele,

Thanks for the clarification on Lyn MacDonald's book I had an idea it covered a wide range. I rate her books as some of the best covering WW1 so I am looking forward to reading "Roses of No Mans Land", its just when I'll get the time!

The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald by Lyn Macdonald

message 31: by Gabriele (new)

Gabriele Wills (muskoka) | 173 comments Ah yes, the perennial problem!... Other than finding room for all the new books! : )

message 32: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) The memoirs of an Englishwoman who joined the Red Cross and served on many fronts throughout the war.

With the Armies of the Tsar: A Nurse at the Russian Front

With the Armies of the Tsar A Nurse at the Russian Front, 1914-18 by Florence Farmborough by Florence Farmborough (no photo)


This is a compelling firsthand account of an extraordinary woman's experiences with the Russian Army in World War I. Florence Farmborough was a 27-year-old Englishwoman employed as a governess to a family in Moscow when war broke out. She volunteered with the Red Cross and found herself at the forefront of military events in Poland, Austria, and Rumania. She witnessed the effects of Lenin and Trotsky's bloody revolution, and of Russia's collapse into chaos and civil war. Illustrated with nearly 48 of Farmborough's photographs.

message 33: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Thanks of course

message 34: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) You are welcome.

message 35: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) WWI was the turning point for women's rights in the United States.

Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One

Fighting on the Home Front The Legacy of Women in World War One by Kate Adie by Kate Adie (no photo)


In l914 the world changed forever. When World War One broke out and a generation of men went off to fight, bestselling author Kate Adie shows how women emerged from the shadows of their domestic lives. Now a visible force in public life, they began to take up essential roles - from transport to policing, munitions to sport, entertainment, even politics. They had finally become citizens, a recognised part of the war machine, acquiring their own rights and often an independent income. Former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie charts the seismic move towards equal rights with men that began a century ago and asks what these women achieved for future generations. This is history at its best - a vivid, compelling account of the pioneering women who helped win the war as well as a revealing assessment of their legacy for women's lives today.

message 36: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) WWI and Its Impact on Women's Lives

WWI and Its Impact on Women's Lives by Lisa E. Jobe by Lisa E. Jobe Lisa E. Jobe


Lisa E. Jobe explores the roles women served in during the tumultuous times surrounding WWI. The Great War would serve as a launching pad that would ultimately catapult women into untraditional roles, once only attainable by men. Written while working on a graduate degree in History, Jobe's WWI and It's Impact on Women's Lives serves as a reminder how far women have come and who they have to thank for many of their current rights and freedoms.

message 37: by Jill (last edited Oct 28, 2016 02:11AM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) The 'forgotten voices" of the title include women who served.

Forgotten Voices of the Great War

Forgotten Voices of the Great War by Max Arthur by Max Arthur (no photo)


Max Arthur's compilation of First World War memories, Forgotten Voices of the Great War, offers a reminder of the scale of human experience within the 1914-18 conflict. Arthur, a military historian best known for his history of the RAF and his account of the Falklands campaign in 1982, has assembled hundreds of excerpts from the sound archives of the Imperial War Museum. Officers, rank-and-file troops, Australians, Americans, war widows, women in the munitions factories, and German soldiers too, all left oral testimony of their experiences, and these interviews provide the basis of the book. Arthur has put them in chronological and campaign order, and provided a general commentary, but beyond that, has left the rich and moving record to speak for itself.

The sheer humdrum ordinariness of modern warfare--the mud and rain, the relentless loss of life and inevitability of death, the pointless routine of attrition--come over in the matter-of-fact recollections of so many. But so too does the humanity and morality of the ordinary soldier--a factor that rather belies the recent emphasis amongst some historians on how soldiers loved to kill. Arthur might have intruded more. No biographical information is given about the owners of these "voices", nor does he say when, where and how this oral testimony was gathered.

message 38: by Dimitri (new)

Dimitri | 600 comments The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers

The Hello Girls America's First Women Soldiers by Elizabeth Cobbs by Elizabeth Cobbs Elizabeth Cobbs


This is the story of how America’s first women soldiers helped win World War I, earned the vote, and fought the U.S. Army. In 1918, the U.S. Army Signal Corps sent 223 women to France. They were masters of the latest technology: the telephone switchboard. General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, demanded female “wire experts” when he discovered that inexperienced doughboys were unable to keep him connected with troops under fire. Without communications for even an hour, the army would collapse.

While suffragettes picketed the White House and President Woodrow Wilson struggled to persuade a segregationist Congress to give women of all races the vote, these competent and courageous young women swore the Army oath. Elizabeth Cobbs reveals the challenges they faced in a war zone where male soldiers welcomed, resented, wooed, mocked, saluted, and ultimately celebrated them. They received a baptism by fire when German troops pounded Paris with heavy artillery. Some followed “Black Jack” Pershing to battlefields where they served through shelling and bombardment. Grace Banker, their 25-year-old leader, won the Distinguished Service Medal.

The army discharged the last Hello Girls in 1920, the same year Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment granting the ballot. When the operators sailed home, the army unexpectedly dismissed them without veterans’ benefits. They began a sixty-year battle that a handful of survivors carried to triumph in 1979. With the help of the National Organization for Women, Senator Barry Goldwater, and a crusading Seattle attorney, they triumphed over the U.S. Army.

message 39: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Alice in France: The World War I Letters of Alice M. O'Brien

Alice in France The World War I Letters of Alice M. O'Brien by Nancy O'Brien Wagner by Nancy O'Brien Wagner Nancy O'Brien Wagner


July 19, 1918: The wounded were pouring into the four Hospitals of the town. . . . We have decided to double up for a few days half of us work at the Canteen and half at the Hospitals, taking turns. It will be hard work for awhile but everyone feels that you can't work hard enough these days.

In March 1918, twenty-six-year-old Alice O'Brien and three close friends set off from New York harbor, bound for wartime France. Unlike the soldiers aboard their ship, they were unpaid volunteers. As the daughter of a wealthy family, Alice had no need to work no need to go to war. But she also drove her own car, was trained as an auto mechanic, spoke French, and had the passion and determination to contribute selflessly to the war effort.

Alice and her friends joined hundreds of American women serving as nurses, clerks, drivers, and canteen workers for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other organizations. Her letters home, full of breezy gossip and telling detail, describe living conditions, attitudes and actions of French soldiers and civilians, and her own remarkable efforts near the front. Alice was brave and funny, proud and jingoistic, privileged and unassuming, and Alice made a difference in France."


Minnesota Book Award Nominee (2018)

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