Few would argue that war has been a defining experience for people born in Europe and North America in the twentieth century. The degree to which war has been instrumental in improving women's social situation remains a vexed question, however. Conventional wisdom repeats the cliche that the Great War liberated women by allowing them to demonstrate their fitness for equality by recruiting them to work in men's jobs previously considered beyond their capabilities. In fact, their patriotic enthusiasm was used against them after the war, when they were seen to have profited from the deaths of the men they replaced. As Europe prepared for the Second World War, this resentment of women's perceived war-profiteering helped to smooth their transition from sacred, protected icon to target.
In "Beyond The Home Front," Yvonne M. Klein provides selections from autobiographical writing by women in the two World Wars that illustrate the richness and complexity of women's war-time lives. Although women generally did not take up arms, this collection reminds us that their war stories are neither peripheral nor secondary to the battle stories of men. This volume helps to reclaim women's experience of war as part of the universal experience of the twentieth century, different from that of men, but not as different as might be thought.
Bringing together more than forty selections from the two wars, "Beyond the Home Front" includes the work, much of it long out of print, of a wide array of voices including Sylvia Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Lee Settle, Mary Borden, Gertrude Stein, and Joy Kogawa. The volume, which will appeal to the general reader as well as to the student of history and literature, includes contextual introductions as well as brief biographies of each of the writers.