Women's Identities at War

Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War

By Susan R. Grayzel

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4810-4
    Published: June 1999
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2081-7
    Published: March 2014

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Awards & distinctions

2000 British Council Prize, North American Council on British Studies

There are few moments in history when the division between the sexes seems as "natural" as during wartime: men go off to the "war front," while women stay behind on the "home front." But the very notion of the home front was an invention of the First World War, when, for the first time, "home" and "domestic" became adjectives that modified the military term "front." Such an innovation acknowledged the significant and presumably new contributions of civilians, especially women, to the war effort.

Yet, as Susan Grayzel argues, throughout the war, traditional notions of masculinity and femininity survived, primarily through the maintenance of--and indeed reemphasis on--soldiering and mothering as the core of gender and national identities. Drawing on sources that range from popular fiction and war memorials to newspapers and legislative debates, Grayzel analyzes the effects of World War I on ideas about civic participation, national service, morality, sexuality, and identity in wartime Britain and France. Despite the appearance of enormous challenges to gender roles due to the upheavals of war, the forces of stability prevailed, she says, demonstrating the Western European gender system's remarkable resilience.

About the Author

Susan R. Grayzel is associate professor of history at the University of Mississippi.
For more information about Susan R. Grayzel, visit the Author Page.


"A wide-ranging cultural history of women in Britain and France during the first world war. . . . One of the most compelling aspects of Grayzel's wide-ranging work is the comparative aspect, the dual focus drawing out some fascinating similarities and differences between construction of a feminine identity in occupied and non-occupied nations."--Journal of Contemporary History

"Grayzel has entered into the fray with a genuinely fresh and original volume which should be required reading for teachers and students considering the impact of war on 'society' in general, and on gender roles in particular. . . . This is an excellent, well-argued text, and an immensely valuable contribution to the continuing debate about war and society."--History: Journal of the Historical Association

"This complex study. . . . is one of the few comparative studies of gender and war. . . . A provocative and worthwhile [book] and a welcome addition to the growing literature on women and war."--Journal of Military History

"This engaging book questions how the experience of World War I reshaped women’s identities in Britain and France."--Iris

"With great sensitivity, Grayzel uncovers how women's emotions as well as their bodies were mobilized and deployed in an era of total war. Pathbreaking in its recognition of the intensity of many women's patriotism, this is cultural history on a high level."--Susan Pedersen, Harvard University

"This book will be essential reading in the social and cultural history of the First World War. Grayzel has made us think again about fundamental questions of the links between front and home front, about women's work, and about the trajectories of mourning in a society devastated by the first total war in history. Refreshingly comparative in scope, the book shows how the Great War was inscribed on the bodies and the lives of millions of ordinary people in France and Britain."--Jay Winter, Cambridge University