Arguments continue to rage over whether and how female soldiers should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, even as we approach the April 1 deadline for all combat roles to open to women. It's a landmark achievement for gender equality in the U.S. However, it is important to remember that this will not be the first time women have fought for this country.
In a 2013 article published on the science-fiction-and-fantasy blog, A Dribble of Ink, Kameron Hurley recounts a conversation with one of her professors regarding her Master's thesis on women resistance fighters. When Hurley claimed that "women have never been part of fighting forces," her professor corrected her:
Women have always fought ... Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people.
As Hurley realized, the idea of women in combat isn't a part of our normal, everyday narrative, even though, from a historical standpoint, it is actually quite typical.
I make this point because, when you come to Item No. 8 on the #BustleReads Challenge, you might be at a loss. Read a book about women in war? Where are you going to find one of those? This is just going to be dry, boring history, isn't it?
Women's war histories are out there. Whether you're interested in reading about soldiers on the front lines or the ones who supported war efforts from home, there's a book about women in war for you. Although the books on this list certainly do not represent all women, it is my hope that they cover a broad spectrum of lives and experiences. As always, please share your own recommendations with others on Twitter, using the #BustleReads hashtag.
1. Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
The Nazi regime imprisoned women at many of its concentration camps, but Ravensbrück was the only prison designed to house women exclusively. A very small percentage of its prisoners were Jewish; most were political enemies of the Third Reich, lesbians, former experiment victims, and prostitutes. Sara Helm's Ravensbrück is the story of the camp and the women it held.
2. On Her Their Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War by Angela Woollacott
The magnitude of World War I required societies to change in order to sustain their war efforts. In Britain, working-class women could go to work in munitions factories as a means of supporting their families. But those who did faced sexism from their employers and unions, as well as classism from their middle-class coworkers.
3. Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe
Helen Thorpe's Soldier Girls follows the 12-year careers of three young women from the Midwest who joined the National Guard and were shipped off to Afghanistan and Iraq. Based on interviews with the soldiers, the book tells of their lives before, during, and after deployment.
4. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook
Soldiers who lived as men for years after the war, gave birth in their encampments, and stepped over the bodies of their dead husbands to carry on the fight. In They Fought Like Demons , authors DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook examine the lives and stories of the women who fought in the Civil War.
5. Girl at War by Sara Nović
Girl at War is one of only a few novels on this list, but it's a good one, I promise. Former child soldier Ana is now a grown woman living with her thoroughly-American younger sister in New York, but she doesn't feel as though she can truly connect with anyone in the U.S. So she sets out alone to Croatia, on a return trip she hopes will heal old wounds.
6. The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict
Female soldiers often fight without other women by their sides. The five stories contained within The Lonely Soldier inspired the eye-opening documentary The Invisible War.
7. Ghost Warrior by Lucia St. Clair Robson
In Ghost Warrior , Lucia St. Clair Robson recounts the story of Lozen, who fought against the U.S. Army to protect her fellow Apaches. Although U.S. history courses that cover the battle focus on Geronimo and Cochise, Lozen's story is still prominent among her people.
8. The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy by Judith L. Pearson
Virginia Hall left home in 1931, joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and worked with the French Resistance to liberate the country and rescue Allied soldiers. The Wolves at the Door is the story of how a privileged expat became a gritty spy.
9. The Women Who Lived for Danger: Behind Enemy Lines During WWII by Marcus Binney
Another story of women in the SOE, Marcus Binney's The Women Who Lived for Danger follows 10 women who led double lives in order to gather critical information from behind Axis lines.
10. A Woman Soldier's Own Story by Bingying Xie
Bingying Xie escaped an arranged marriage by going to military school. In the 1920s, she took part in the Northern Expedition under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. She was arrested by the Japanese in the 1930s, and emigrated to the U.S. to escape the Communist Revolution in the 1940s.
11. Cathy Williams: From Slave to Buffalo Soldier by Phillip Thomas Tucker
After Union soldiers took her from the plantation where she was born, Cathay Williams served as the troops' cook. When the Civil War ended, she disguised herself as William Cathay and joined the ranks as a Buffalo Soldier, making her the first African-American woman to enlist in the U.S. military.
12. Warrior Women by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles
In a series of short vignettes, Warrior Women authors Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles relate stories of women who led rebellions, fought on the front lines, and participated in some of the biggest wars to ever wrack the globe.
13. Women, Resistance and Revolution: A History of Women and Revolution in the Modern World by Sheila Rowbotham
Published in 1972, Sheila Rowbotham's Women, Resistance and Revolution centers on the roles of women in major 20th century revolutions, from Russia to China and beyond.
14. Battle Cries and Lullabies : Women in War from Prehistory to the Present by Linda Grant De Pauw
Like Women Warriors , Battle Cries and Lullabies presents a comprehensive look at women in war from the prehistoric period to ongoing modern conflicts.
15. To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African American WACs Stationed Overseas During World War II by Brenda L. Moore
During World War II, black women who enlisted in the U.S. Army comprised the Women's Army Corps (WAC) 6888th. In To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race , Brenda L. Moore tells the stories of the women who served in that historic unit.
16. One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC by Charity Adams Earley
A member of the 6888th, Charity Adams Earley was the first black woman to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. military. This is her story, of how she battled sexism and racism to serve her country and become a part of history.
17. Secret Service: Untold Stories of Lesbians in the Military by Zsa Zsa Gershick
In Secret Service , former U.S. Army reservist Zsa Zsa Gershick profiles closeted lesbians serving in the U.S. military.
18. Serving Our Country: Japanese-American Women in the Military During World War II by Brenda L. Moore
In Serving Our Country , author Moore recounts the history of second-generation Japanese-American soldiers who served in the WAC during World War II.
19. They Fought for the Motherland: Russia's Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution by Laurie S. Stoff
In what was practically a revolution in its own right, 6,000 women joined the Soviet ranks to fight for their country in World War I. Some would later defend the Empire from Bolshevik forces. Although they were largely ignored over the last century, Laurie S. Stoff brings their stories back to life in They Fought for the Motherland .
20. I'm Still Standing : From Captive U.S. Solider to Free Citizen — My Journey Home by Shoshana Johnson
Both Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch were captured by enemy forces, but when Lynch garnered media attention, Johnson found her story largely ignored. In I'm Still Standing , Johnson recounts her imprisonment, rescue, and the aftermath of the incident.
21. Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America by Ji-Yeon Yuh
In Beyond the Shadow of Camptown , Ji-Yeon Yuh uses Korean war brides' experiences in the U.S. as a lens to examine Korean-American relations. In particular, she focuses on how women she interviews must negotiate two potentially-conflicting identities as part of their integration into American life.
22. Women in Nazi Germany by Jill Stephenson
Nazi propaganda portrayed women as the bearers and nurturers of the 1,000-year empire, but what was life really like for women in the Third Reich? Jill Stephenson's Women in Nazi Germany examines the lives women of all stripes led throughout the duration of Hitler's regime.
23. Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War II by Yoshimi Yoshiaki
The subject of Japan's mid-century sex slavery has been largely swept under the rug. Non-Japanese women were kidnapped and imprisoned to become rape victims for Japanese troops. Perhaps no history of the "comfort women" is more comprehensive that Yoshimi Yoshioki's 1995 book.
24. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines by Jeannine Davis-Kimball
In Warrior Women , archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball recounts her search for historical evidence to back up the legends of female fighters in antiquity.
25. Warrior Woman: The Exceptional Life Story of Nonhelema, Shawnee Indian Woman Chief by James Alexander Thom and Dark Rain Thom
Co-written with his wife, this novel from historical fiction author James Alexander Thom retells the life and legend of Nonhelema, the Shawnee Women's Peace Chief who was forced to fight in a war against the white Virginians who refused her diplomacy.