Book Review: A Companion to Women's Military History


by Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining, editors

Leiden / Boston: E. J. Brill, 2012. Pp. xvi, 626. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $273.00. ISBN: 9004212175

A Companion to Women’s Military History is a  serious look at the role of women in war from earliest times to the present.  The editors, both curators in the military history department of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, open with an interesting introduction, noting that while women’s roles in war were usually as non-combatants, and until recently of dismissed as “camp followers,” they were hardly unimportant to the conduct of war.  Women tend the wounded, fed the troops, and even repaired and made weapons.  And women certainly took part in combat on surprisingly numerous occasions.  The main body of the volume is divided into three parts. 

The first part consists of eight essays surveying women’s roles in warfare down the ages.  Essays cover Classical Antiquity, early modern Europea, from the onset of the seventeenth century through Napoleon, women and military reform in the nineteenth century, women in support of and in military service during World War I and the interwar period, the Second World War, and two on the post-war period, one on women in the American and Western armed forces and one on women in revolutionary and insurgent movements in the non-Western world.

There follows a collection of 62 illustrations on the roles of women in war and military service. 

The third section consists of eight essays examining various specific cases of women’s military service since the Sixteenth Century, all of which are very interesting, women in early modern Russian armies, the role of nuns in supporting French military forces in Quebec, American military wives in the Philippines, depictions of women on World War I posters, women in support of the German armed forces in both world wars, Jewish women in the Resistance, Soviet “sniper girls,” and the experience of enlisted women in the U.S. Army since 1948. 

The essays are all by very well done, by specialists such as John Lynn II, Kimberly Jensen, and D’Ann Campbell.  There are, to be sure, some flaws in the book.  For one, it is strongly Western in perspective, with only one essay dealing solely with women in non-Western armies, and that only in more recent times.  It also omits both the “Dark” and Middle Ages. 

Despite these drawbacks, A Companion to Women’s Military History, a volume in Brill’s excellent series “History of Warfare,” is an essential read and useful reference for anyone interested in military history, and not just the role of women in war.                   

Note: A Companion to Women’s Military History is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-9-0042-0682-3

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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