Women Heroes of World War I by Kathryn J. Atwood

This highly readable and informative book is categorized as young adult nonfiction/history and it’s good reading for older adults, too.

It’s the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a girl growing up on movies like The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Great Escape. I was fascinated by war and wanted to see women portrayed in the thick of things. Unfortunately, back then (and, sadly, still now) women’s contributions to the war effort were lucky to get more than a sentence: women worked in factories, nursed the wounded, and knitted socks for the soldiers.

 As a girl who sought adventure it was frustrating and embarrassing not to see examples of women who had done heroic things in history books. Even as a young Marine and then college/graduate student it was a challenge to find books and primary sources about women who contributed to the war effort beyond working in factories or nursing the wounded (often times the images presented were of clean, orderly factories and hospitals far away from danger). If a history book mentioned that women were allowed to join the military during WWI, they got a sentence and maybe a group picture with a caption that stated women joined to “free a man to fight.”

As an adult I understand the importance of factory work for the war effort as well as for the advancement of women’s rights. I’ve read about the gruesome duty and long hours nurses worked. And if the woman who joined the military in WWI mainly did paperwork they are not to be dismissed because, as anyone whose been in the military knows, accurate and timely paperwork is sometimes just as important as water and food.

But I’d wager that no one, not even women in 1914, wants to join the military to do paperwork. Women, like men, have always wanted to do something to help when the chips are down (for altruistic reasons and/or to escape their lives) and this book shows that they did, whether officially in the military or with some other organization or by taking matters into their own hands. 

Women Heroes of World War I definitely helps round out the picture of what women are capable of doing during wartime and what 16 brave women did during World War I.

The book is divided into four sections:

Part I: Resisters and Spies

  • Edith Cavell
  • Louise Thuliez
  • Emilienne Moreau
  • Gabrielle Petit
  • Marthe Cnockaert
  • Louise de Bettignies

Part II: Medical Personnel

  • Elsie Inglis
  • Olive King
  • Helena Gleichen
  • Shirley Millard

Part III: Soldiers

  • Maria Bochkareva
  • Flora Sandes
  • Marina Yurlova
  • Ecaterina Teodoroiu

Part IV: Journalists

  • Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • Madeleine Zabriskie Doty

There are photographs scattered throughout the book, quotes, and mini articles in text boxes that give a bit of background on things such as poisoned gas, weapons & wounds, Greece’s neutrality and side-switching, Marie Curie & Radiography, Rosa Luxemburg, the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Russian Revolution, and more.

There’s an introduction to each Part which provides context and each chapter focusing on one women begins with her picture, a quote, and ends with a “Learn More” text box that includes books and occasionally websites about the subject. There’s a seven page bibliography would have made me weep tears of joy as a teenager. Entries with an asterisk point out books suitable for younger readers. A three page glossary explains some general concepts (e.g. artillery, shrapnel), historical events (e.g. Franco-Prussian War, Triple Entente), and people (e.g. Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas II). There is no filler or fluff in this book.

This picture alone made me want to know more about Flora. Not a typical pose of a woman having her photo taken during this time period.

Taken as a whole, the features of the book provide context and background about the war and women’s lives leading up to, during, and after WWI. It covers the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts, and conditions for civilians within Germany.  

Women Heroes of World War I would be an excellent addition to both school and public libraries and appropriate for both readers new to WWI and those who’ve already read much about the subject, whether YA or plain old adult readers.

This book is part of the Women of Action Series from Chicago Review Press. Atwood has two previous titles in the series, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent, Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Women Heroes of World War I
Kathryn J. Atwood
Chicago Review Press, June 2014
Source: review copy I requested
Rating: 5/5 stars
FTC disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. Since I usually only finish books I enjoy or am stimulated by for whatever reason and usually only blog about books I’ve finished, most of my reviews are about books I’ve enjoyed and therefore tend to be on the positive side. Life is too short to read books one doesn’t enjoy or learn something from. And life is certainly too short to waste time blogging about such books.

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