Lynn Dumenil


Women Citizens and The Great War

A major facet of the “Great War” was the role civilian women played in its prosecution.  So much so that the ways in which women supported the war effort are part of the very definition of how a global, modern war is now understood.  More than in previous wars, women faced danger: aerial bombardments, forced labor and migration, and serious food shortages.  But they also worked for the war effort in their various countries. While combatant nations privileged the role of men as soldiers on the battlefront, women contributed significantly to their countries’ war efforts in many ways.  They worked in munitions factories and served as nurses and other aids to the military machine.  In previous wars, women had been camp followers, cooks, and nurses in previous wars, but now their efforts were formalized and tied to the bureaucratic organization of the modern state.  In varying degrees, national leaders turned to voluntary associations, especially those of middle-class and elite women, to disseminate propaganda, raise funds, and conserve food and materiel.  This was especially true in the United States, where women’s participation reveals the complex interplay between the federal government and voluntary associations in war mobilization.   Drawing upon my recently published book, The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I  (2017), this paper will focus on American women and war mobilization, but include a comparative perspective by examining the experiences of women in other combatant nations.