America’s Women Reach the Front
by Kara Dixon Vuic
Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2019. Pp. x, 382.
Illus., notes, index. $29.95. ISBN: 0674986385
Prof. Vuic (Texas Christian), who earlier wrote an excellent book on Army nurses in Vietnam, looks at the evolving role of women in support of American military personnel since the onset of the Great War, at home and abroad as “Donut Dollies”, relief workers, morale boosters, recreation directors, entertainers, and the like.
Vuic examines the motivations of both the women who served and the armed forces, which eventually permitted, and ultimately encouraged them to serve. For the women, service was most often a desire to do their bit, and for many also a chance for travel and adventure. For the Brass – and the politicians – allowing women to serve initially developed from a desire to keep the “boys” in touch with home. Putting the troops in proximity with presumably “good, wholesome” American “girls”, would help prevent them from associating with supposedly “bad” local women, insuring racial purity and helping in the fight against STDs. But Vuic also noted that by the era of Korea and Vietnam, women entertainers would frequently offer strong hints of sexual allure.
The presence of women closely associated with the army created unexpected problems, but ultimately proved valuable, and the role of women changed as the armed forces slowly incorporated more women into the actual ranks as WACs, WAAFS, Spars, and so forth.
As she tells this story, Vuic also examines the changing perceptions about gender roles in America’s social and military institutions, making The Girls Next Door a useful read for anyone with an interest in American society over the past century.
Note: The Girls Next Door is also available in several e-editions