Researching how women served in World War I, surprised Forest Park author Kathryn Atwood as she wrote her most recent young adult history book.
“When you think of women in WWI, you think of the numbers of casualties that were so high, and you say, ‘Oh yeah, there were nurses.'” Atwood said.
Atwood spoke at the Forest Park Public Library Sunday about the women she profiled in Women Heroes of WWI (Chicago Review Press). But in addition to nurses, what she found were resisters, spies, soldiers and medics.
In a lengthy war that caused lots of bloodshed, Atwood said, women struggled to help their countries.
“The motivation that sent Europe to war in the summer of 1914, was a hyper-nationalism that killed and maimed the lives of an entire generation,” Atwood said in an email. “It’s much easier to take an interest in WWII because the difference between heroes and the bad guys was so crystal clear.”
During the last part of the war and the immediate years that followed, women got the vote throughout Europe and the United States. This was, in part, because they proved equal partners to men, Atwood said.
Even Woodrow Wilson encouraged the U.S. congress to pass women’s suffrage in 1918 after the war, saying:
“We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” Women’s suffrage was granted in U.S. Federal elections in 1920.
Atwood has always believed history is better transmitted through memoirs than dusty old dates and battles.
“I write young adult books on women in history because we’re always interested in stories about people,” she said.
Atwood has also published a book on female heroines of WWII and a memoir of WWII special agent Pearl Witherington. She’s working on a sequel to the WWII book because there were so many stories left to tell.
Atwood said women in WWI broke barriers by shouldering the duties of a catastrophic war that killed millions. And post-war social breakthroughs such as women’s suffrage made sure that if there was another war, women would have a say.
“Even if their war was not heroic, many of them were, and for that they deserve remembrance,” Atwood said.