Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
The theme is a freebie, and since today is the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, here are 10(ish) nonfiction books exploring women and their experiences during the war.
My compilation is far from being a complete list of nonfiction books on women in the second world war. I also recommend A Mighty Girl’s Telling Her Story compilation of 35 books about women in World War II, and Kaia Alderson’s Exploring the “Hidden Figures” of the WWII Women’s Army Corps.
Blurbs are from Goodreads.
War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich
This book is a confession, a document and a record of people’s memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also fired a sniper’s rifle, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering and killed… They killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, had attacked their land, their homes and their children.
Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn Atwood
Twenty-six engaging and suspense-filled stories unfold from across Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history. An overview of World War II and summaries of each country’s entrance and involvement in the war provide a framework for better understanding each woman’s unique circumstances, and resources for further learning follow each profile.
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland—some still in their teens—helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these “ghetto girls” paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town’s water supply. They also nursed the sick and taught children.
Glory in their Spirit by Sandra M. Bolzenius
Women Army Corps (WAC) privates Mary Green, Anna Morrison, Johnnie Murphy, and Alice Young enlisted to serve their country, improve their lives, and claim the privileges of citizenship long denied them. Promised a chance at training and skilled positions, they saw white WACs assigned to those better jobs and found themselves relegated to work as orderlies. In 1945, their strike alongside fifty other WACs captured the nation’s attention and ignited passionate debates on racism, women in the military, and patriotism. In the end, Green, Morrison, Murphy, and Young chose court-martial over a return to menial duties. But their courage pushed the segregated military to the breaking point ”and helped steer one of American’s most powerful institutions onto a new road toward progress and justice.
One Woman’s Army by Charity Adams Earley
Charity Edna Adams became the first black woman commissioned as an officer. Black members of the WAC had to fight the prejudices not only of males who did not want women in their “man’s army,” but also of those who could not accept blacks in positions of authority or responsibility, even in the segregated military. With unblinking candor, Charity Adams Earley tells of her struggles and successes as the WAC’s first black officer and as commanding officer of the only organization of black women to serve overseas during World War II. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion broke all records for redirecting military mail as she commanded the group through its moves from England to France and stood up to the racist slurs of the general under whose command the battalion operated. The Six Triple Eight stood up for its commanding officer, supporting her boycott of segregated living quarters and recreational facilities.
Looking Like the Enemy Mary Matsuda Gruenewald
The author at 16 years old was evacuated with her family to an internment camp for Japanese Americans, along with 110,000 other people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. She faced an indefinite sentence behind barbed wire in crowded, primitive camps. She struggled for survival and dignity, and endured psychological scarring that has lasted a lifetime. This memoir is told from the heart and mind of a woman now nearly 80 years old who experienced the challenges and wounds of her internment at a crucial point in her development as a young adult.
Bitter Fruit by Maureen Honey
Despite the participation of African American women in all aspects of home-front activity during World War II, advertisements, recruitment posters, and newsreels portrayed largely white women as army nurses, defense plant workers, concerned mothers, and steadfast wives. This sea of white faces left for posterity images such as Rosie the Riveter, obscuring the contributions that African American women made to the war effort. In Bitter Fruit, Maureen Honey corrects this distorted picture of women’s roles in World War II by collecting photos, essays, fiction, and poetry by and about black women from the four leading African American periodicals of the war period: Negro Digest, The Crisis, Opportunity, and Negro Story.
The Women With Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck
When Japanese planes executed a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Cornelia Fort was already in the air. At twenty-two, Cornelia had escaped Nashville’s debutante scene for a fresh start as a flight instructor in Hawaii. She and her student were in the middle of their lesson when the bombs began to fall, and they barely made it back to ground that morning. Still, when the U.S. Army Air Forces put out a call for women pilots to aid the war effort, Cornelia was one of the first to respond. She became one of just over 1,100 women from across the nation to make it through the Army’s rigorous selection process and earn her silver wings.
And If I Perish by Evelyn Monahan
In World War II, 59,000 women voluntarily risked their lives for their country as U.S. Army nurses. When the war began, some of them had so little idea of what to expect that they packed party dresses; but the reality of service quickly caught up with them, whether they waded through the water in the historic landings on North African and Normandy beaches, or worked around the clock in hospital tents on the Italian front as bombs fell all around them.
Serving Our Country by Brenda Moore
Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war on Japan, the U.S. War Department allowed up to five hundred second-generation, or “Nisei,” Japanese American women to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps and, in smaller numbers, in the Army Medical Corps. Through in-depth interviews with surviving Nisei women who served, Brenda L. Moore provides fascinating firsthand accounts of their experiences. Interested primarily in shedding light on the experiences of Nisei women during the war, the author argues for the relevance of these experiences to larger questions of American race relations and views on gender and their intersections, particularly in the country’s highly charged wartime atmosphere.
The Indomitable Florence Finch by Robert J. Mrazek
As the war drew ever closer to the Philippines, Florence fell in love with a dashing American naval intelligence agent, Charles “Bing” Smith. In the wake of Bing’s sudden death in battle, Florence transformed from a mild-mannered young wife into a fervent resistance fighter. She conceived a bold plan to divert tons of precious fuel from the Japanese army, which was then sold on the black market to provide desperately needed medicine and food for hundreds of American POWs. In constant peril of arrest and execution, Florence fought to save others, even as the Japanese police closed in.
Code Girls by Liza Mundy
Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them.
We Band of Angels by Elizabeth Norman
In the fall of 1941, the Philippines was a gardenia-scented paradise for the American Army and Navy nurses stationed there. War was a distant rumor, life a routine of easy shifts and evenings of dinner and dancing under the stars. On December 8 all that changed, as Japanese bombs rained on American bases in Luzon, and the women’s paradise became a fiery hell. Caught in the raging battle, the nurses set up field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan and the tunnels of Corregidor, where they saw the most devastating injuries of war, and suffered the terrors of shells and shrapnel.
D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose
In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was fighting. Churchill believed Britain was locked in an existential battle and created a secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharp-shooting. Their job, he declared, was “to set Europe ablaze!” But with most men on the frontlines, the SOE did something unprecedented: it recruited women. Thirty-nine women answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France. Half were caught, and a third did not make it home alive.
Our Mother’s War by Emily Yellin
Our Mothers’ War is an eye-opening and moving portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society. Never before has the vast range of women’s experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers’ War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated.