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Our Mothers' War

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Our Mothers' War
American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II. By Emily Yellin. (Free Press: 2005. Pg. 464.) ISBN: 0743245164

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - February 7, 2005

World War II changed the lives of countless people the world over, and many books have been written about the causes and consequences of these changes. In Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, Emily Yellin investigates how World War II affected and changed the lives of American women. A sweeping and fascinating account, Our Mothers' War looks at the various roles that women assumed in America from volunteering for military duty and taking over industrial jobs left vacant by the men who were called upon to serve in the military to becoming the heads of their households and becoming fund raisers for the war effort.

Yellin looks at how women from all walks of life and races, from sex workers to the elite, dealt with the challenges presented by the war. These included dealing with rationing, the fear of what was happening overseas, and how the war was forcing role reversals that gave women an opportunity to expand their horizons as never before - including becoming professional baseball players.

Throughout this book, Yellin has incorporated first hand accounts from the women who lived through this pivotal period. Their stories are recounted through diary and letter excerpts, public records, and are garnered from interviews. Yellin explores how women were incorporated into the military, how they adapted to military life, and the jobs they performed while in the various services, from pilots to nurses. She also examines the various duty stations that these women served in, and the dangers they faced when working in foreign lands - including the danger of being captured or killed by the enemy. Yellin looks at those nonmilitary women, such as Red Cross nurses and USO entertainers, who also served in dangerous locations, living in rough conditions and facing the same possibility of capture or death faced by those in the military.

Yellin provides unprecedented insights into the lives of the women who went to work in jobs previously considered the sphere of men - and how they dealt with hostile work environment, especially those faced by black women. Yellin addresses the questions raised about a girl's morality when she ventured forth alone into the 'world' and the draconian measures taken by the government to control any woman who was thought to have questionable morales - including being incarcerated and forcibly tested for VD for such offenses as going into a bar alone! Yellin also addressed the familiar pressures faced by American women, both those that sought employment outside the home and those that stayed within their traditional gender role.

Our Mothers' War is a fascinating book, and one that should be read by anyone seeking greater understanding of how World War II impacted American Women. It is also a book that provides an unmatched glimpse into the lives that our American mothers and grandmothers led during World War II - a glimpse that will enable modern readers to better understand the mind set and background of these trailblazers. Well researched, this popular history is entertaining and informative and it is perfect for the general reader, as well high school and university students studying American History and Women's History.

Related Reviews:

Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the US Occupation, By Yuki Tanaka
Tanaka takes an honest and in-depth look at the history of Japan's Comfort Women - women who were forced into sexual slavery to meet the 'needs' of Japanese soldiers.

Combat Nurse, By Eric Taylor.
During World War II, numerous women volunteered to serve as military nurses. Often their jobs placed them at grave risk of injury or capture by the enemy, and all too often they met their deaths while doing their duty. In Combat Nurse, Taylor has woven a riveting book that describes what is it was like to be a British nurse, serving in combat areas, during World War II.

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