The Second Line of Defense

American Women and World War I

By Lynn Dumenil

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 34 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3121-9
    Published: February 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3122-6
    Published: February 2017

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In tracing the rise of the modern idea of the American “new woman,” Lynn Dumenil examines World War I’s surprising impact on women and, in turn, women’s impact on the war. Telling the stories of a diverse group of women, including African Americans, dissidents, pacifists, reformers, and industrial workers, Dumenil analyzes both the roadblocks and opportunities they faced. She richly explores the ways in which women helped the United States mobilize for the largest military endeavor in the nation’s history. Dumenil shows how women activists staked their claim to loyal citizenship by framing their war work as homefront volunteers, overseas nurses, factory laborers, and support personnel as “the second line of defense.” But in assessing the impact of these contributions on traditional gender roles, Dumenil finds that portrayals of these new modern women did not always match with real and enduring change. Extensively researched and drawing upon popular culture sources as well as archival material, The Second Line of Defense offers a comprehensive study of American women and war and frames them in the broader context of the social, cultural, and political history of the era.

About the Author

Lynn Dumenil is Robert Glass Cleland Professor of American History Emerita at Occidental College.

Reviews

“In The Second Line of Defense, one of twentieth-century America’s leading historians remakes our understanding of the First World War. Drawing on fascinating new sources and written with a storyteller’s ear for the lost voices of our nation’s past, Lynn Dumenil’s book should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the America we live in a century later.”--Chris Capozzola, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"An elegant writer and vivid storyteller, Lynn Dumenil brings to life the experiences of women during World War I. She shows how the war offered women different opportunities--including protest, home front work, and service abroad--and challenged gender conventions. A great read!"--Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound