Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II

Rating: 4 out of 5


Emily Yellin decided to write this after discovering her mother's letters and diary entries from World War II. "From my mother's writings, I was understanding for the first time what ultimate sacrifices women made for the war." [1]


Yellin's book has a very clear goal: addressing the ways that World War II women addressed and occasionally overcame attitudes about being a woman and a wife. She incorporates letters and journal entries from other women to show how they adapted to the shifting roles experienced on the homefront during World War II. Yellin asserts “through my mother, and all the women in this book, I came to see that the small things, the less dramatic changes in the world, were sometimes the most revolutionary. And often those were the kind women effected.” [2] The book addresses the ways that these incredible women ventured out of the realm of socially acceptable, often banding together, to create new ideas of acceptability.

The book doesn't attempt to paint a picture of a struggle free adaptation for women and Yellin makes time to address the problems that these women encountered in assuming new roles and responsibilities. Yellin stresses that each of these women was well aware that they would have to give up these roles once the war was over. A touch of bias is evident in Yellin's writing, probably because she was inspired to create this work after learning new things about her own mother. Yellin's bias however, is focused on highlighting the bravery displayed by these various women. So not necessarily a bad thing!

In some ways this bias is taken to the extreme with the women portrayed as martyrs almost. I don't think that she overplays the importance of the emotional burden these women carried, if anything she highlights the importance of acknowledging that various levels existed in adapting to the changes on the homefront. While Yellin has some clear bias and it tints some of her examination she truly believes that the women on the homefront sacrificed the most of any participant of World War II. I think most important about Yellin's book is that she uses letters, journals, and diaries written by these women because she believes “before the war, no one imagined a woman’s voice could be influential.” [3] Her sole aim is to prove that a woman's voice is and can be influential.

I would suggest reading the book with a critical eye simply because Yellin's bias is so transparent at times. However, I don't think it subtracts from the point that she makes. World War II was a time of extreme social upheaval and change; in no place more so than on the homefront. It took brave women to adapt to new expectations and take on new roles. These women experienced a vast amount of freedom; yet they knew that it was not something that could last. Even knowing that they stepped into these new roles with little hesitation. Yellin is correct that the small things sometimes matter the most and prove to be most revolutionary.

 

[1] Emily Yellin, Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II (New York: Free Press, 2005), xii.

[2] Yellin, Our Mothers' War, 381.

[3] Yellin, Our Mothers' War, 77.


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