Women and the French Army during the World Wars, 1914-1940

Women and the French Army during the World Wars, 1914-1940

Women and the French Army during the World Wars, 1914-1940

Women and the French Army during the World Wars, 1914-1940

Synopsis

How did women contribute to the French Army in the World Wars? Drawing on myriad sources, historian Andrew Orr examines the roles and value of the many French women who have been overlooked by historians--those who worked as civilians supporting the military. During the First World War, most officers expected that the end of the war would see a return to prewar conditions, so they tolerated women in supporting roles. But soon after the November 1918 armistice, the French Army fired more than half its female employees. Demobilization created unexpected administrative demands that led to the next rehiring of many women. The army's female workforce grew slowly and unevenly until 1938 when preparations for war led to another hiring wave; however, officers resisted all efforts to allow women to enlist as soldiers and alternately opposed and ignored proposals to recognize them as long-term employees. Orr's work offers a critical look at the indispensable wartime roles filled by women behind the lines.

Excerpt

Jeanne D’ARC’S memory hangs over any study of women and the French military. the fifteenth-century peasant girl from Lorraine who, despite being wounded by an arrow, led French soldiers to victory at Orleans and went on to take Jargeau after suffering a head wound has captivated women and men for nearly six hundred years. Her improbable string of victories turned a dynastic conflict into a holy war that reached its zenith when her army allowed the dauphin to be crowned King Charles vii of France in Reims on July 17, 1429. Even being burned at the stake in Rouen by her English enemies for allegedly practicing witchcraft added to Jeanne’s romantic appeal by making her a martyr, and later a saint of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately the heroic image associated with St. Jeanne d’Arc has, too often, obscured the contributions other women have made to France’s national defense. For all of her prominence, Jeanne’s story was ordinary in its extraordinariness. Rather than a unique figure, Jeanne d’Arc was merely the most prominent example of the many individual women who took up arms during the Middle Ages. Other examples included Isabel of Conche, Jeanne de Flandre (Jeanne la Flamme), and Jeanne Florquet (Jeanne Hachette). Although few women fought in field armies, let alone commanded them, like Jeanne d’Arc, many helped defend cities and castles. in individual instances their contributions were significant, but they were limited and remained extraordinary exceptions to the male preserve of combat. Focusing on the small number of women who either impersonated men or, like Jeanne, fought openly as women in . . .

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