Elevate Difference

Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War

A book about women's involvement in war that shows, in part, their commitment to nonviolence? It may seem contradictory, but it's just one of the fascinating aspects of this well-researched book, Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War.

Jensen presents case studies ranging from female physicians and aid workers to women in combat, delving into their relationships with the state and the dynamics of violence. It should be noted that Jensen doesn't just focus on women’s military involvement; a lot of text is devoted to women who organized aid to help displaced women and children in Europe, for instance.

While pacifists may not agree with their decision to take up arms, it's interesting to note that women during World War I used military service as a critical argument in favor of full citizenship. When the United States entered the war in 1917, just twelve states and territories granted women the right to vote; two years later, suffrage was achieved.

Like most historical tomes, if you happen to be against imperialism and violence in general, this book will, at times, make you gasp. Particularly maddening are the beginnings of the "100% Americanism" that led to increased government surveillance in the name of patriotism (sound familiar?), and the literal trial and conviction of such feminist heroines as Emma Goldman as "unmotherly women deemed incapable of true citizenship" for merely opposing the war.

While it's discouraging, on the one hand, to see that so little has changed in the way of continuing war and government heavy-handedness, the lives of the women in this book, and the social change they forged, are truly remarkable to read about.

Written by: M.L. Madison, June 15th 2008

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