Some time ago, I found an interesting book, called Women’s War Work, written by Jennie Churchill, also known as Lady Randolph Churchill and the mother of Winston Churchill. In the introduction, C. Kay Larson says that Jennie Churchill was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and believed that “the war would advance the position of women in society, not only by aiding the suffrage movement, but also by making many women unwilling to return to ‘a sense of uselessness’, and ‘pleasure-loving’ lives”.
Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem would be more than impressed.
Women also took on various combat and espionage capacities – I wrote an article on this for David Lawlor’s blog History With a Twist called In World War I Women Were Heroes Too. Many women were heroes, demonstrating the same willingness as men to take a role in war. But I think the women of France or Britain who lived with the challenges of war, particularly near the front, are heroes too. And many of them worked to support the war effort while at the same time raising children and looking after household matters. They constructed airplanes, were subway workers, taxi drivers, train conductors, munitions workers, farmers, provided relief services, managed shops and on and on.
Have a look at these photos showing women in various pursuits in France and Britain. Or take a read of How War Seems to a Woman written by Mrs. Arthur Gleason (clearly not emancipated enough to use her own Christian name) who was a volunteer ambulance driver. Or read between the lines of Agar Adamson’s WWI letters for information about the relief work his wife took on in Belgium while he commanded troops in Northern France.
And, all of these roles were taken on amidst the uncertainty of whether those they loved, or indeed they themselves, would survive. Definitely heroes in their own right! Lots to inspire readers and writers of historical fiction.
This post originally appeared on One Writer’s Voice.