The Second Line of Defense
American Women and World War I
University of North Carolina Press 2017
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network April 18, 2017 Mark Klobas
When America went to war against Germany in 1917, the scale of the conflict required the mobilization of women as well as men in order to achieve victory. In The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), Lynn Dumenil describes the many ways in which women participated in the war effort and the ways in which it transformed their lives. As she notes, in the years leading up to the war increasing numbers of American women were employed outside the home and involved in the public sphere. For many the politically-engaged among their number, the decision to go to war presented an opportunity to demonstrate their gender’s patriotism and worthiness for the vote. Thousands showed their support for the soldiers by participating in a variety of volunteer activities, with some even traveling to Europe to work in canteens or as nurses. Many more took up the jobs that the men left behind, filling the void created by their enlistment. These efforts were celebrated in the popular media of the time, though often with the message that these new roles were only temporary. Yet as Dumenil demonstrates, while postwar gains were indeed limited, the involvement of women in the war accelerated many of the changes taking place in politics and society, changes which were reflected in new attitudes and expectations held by these women in the 1920s and beyond.