The Second Line of Defense

American Women and World War I

By Lynn Dumenil

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 34 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5206-1
    Published: February 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3121-9
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3122-6
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5236-6
    Published: February 2017

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In tracing the rise of the modern idea of the American “new woman,” Lynn Dumenil examines World War I’s surprising impact on women and, in turn, women’s impact on the war. Telling the stories of a diverse group of women, including African Americans, dissidents, pacifists, reformers, and industrial workers, Dumenil analyzes both the roadblocks and opportunities they faced. She richly explores the ways in which women helped the United States mobilize for the largest military endeavor in the nation’s history. Dumenil shows how women activists staked their claim to loyal citizenship by framing their war work as homefront volunteers, overseas nurses, factory laborers, and support personnel as “the second line of defense.” But in assessing the impact of these contributions on traditional gender roles, Dumenil finds that portrayals of these new modern women did not always match with real and enduring change. Extensively researched and drawing upon popular culture sources as well as archival material, The Second Line of Defense offers a comprehensive study of American women and war and frames them in the broader context of the social, cultural, and political history of the era.

About the Author

Lynn Dumenil is Robert Glass Cleland Professor of American History Emerita at Occidental College.
For more information about Lynn Dumenil, visit the Author Page.


"[A] unique and previously unexplored view into a rarely examined history."--Library Journal

“With an emphasis on African-American women, the author highlights the ways that these resourceful individuals proved their patriotism in the workplace, unions, suffrage, and the public square during [World War I]. Of particular importance is Dumenil's analysis of women's roles in films. . . . Recommended.”--Choice

"Dumenil, in this fresh interpretation, revises and updates the question of women's enfranchisement by putting suffrage history into conversation with histories of women's labor in the war."--Women's Review of Books

“Dumenil establishes without a doubt in this important overview that women provided matchless, indispensable service in a time of national crisis. The Second Line of Defense re-creates the vibrant, bustling, complex world that women carried upon their shoulders. Readers have no further excuse not to see them.”--The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

“An indispensable study of U.S. women’s experiences and efforts during World War I.”--Journal of Southern History

“A sweeping synthesis of American women’s responses to their country’s involvement in World War I.”--LABOUR