Enhancing the Curriculum Using Primary Sources: Women Engaged in War

By Crew, Hilary S. | Teacher Librarian, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Enhancing the Curriculum Using Primary Sources: Women Engaged in War


Crew, Hilary S., Teacher Librarian


PRIMARY RESOURCES CAN BE PARTICULARLY USEFUL FOR ENRICHING CURRICULUM AND FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING, IN THIS ARTICLE, I DEMONSTRATE HOW A VARIETY OF PRIMARY SOURCES CAN BE BROUGHT TOGETHER TO ENRICH STUDENTS' KNOWLEDGE OF WOMEN WHO PARTICIPATED IN WAR IN VARIOUS WAYS, I HAVE CHOSEN FIVE WOMEN WHOSE STORIES ARE INTERESTING TO TELL AND FOR WHOM THERE ARE FEW OR NO RECENT PRINT BIOGRAPHIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.

"Women have always and everywhere been inextricably involved in war," states De Pauw (2000, p. xiii) in Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War From Prehistory to the Present. Scholars such as De Pauw and Reina Pennington, editor of Amazons to Fighter Pilots (2003), have brought an awareness to the roles that women have played in war, although women's and girls' involvement in wartime activities has not always been well documented.

A look at what has been published in the documentation off women's contributions during wartime in literature for youth reveals that multiple biographies are published for only a small number of women. For example, as of November 2007, Library of Congress records list the following for the years 1996-2007 under juvenile literature: 15 books about Joan of Arc, 28 books about Florence Nightingale, and 23 books about Clara Barton, who during the Civil War, refused to take a salary from the government and dedicated herself to aiding soldiers on the frontlines. Yet there is no in-print biography published for young people about Dr. Mary Walker, who is one of the nation's 1.8 million women veterans but the only one to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher are two other popular figures documented for children, and both are associated with the War of Independence, although writers such as Berkin (2005) have frequently noted debates over Ross's contribution and whether Pitcher was indeed a genuine historical figure.

In a content analysis of 13 high school textbooks used in Connecticut, including textbooks published by mainstream publishers across the United States, authors Gordy, Hogan, and Pritchard (2004) concluded that although many of the texts contain information on the contribution of women to World War II, the coverage is limited; it is viewed from the perspective of White women; and only a few texts address issues of discrimination. Especially absent too are African American women's contributions to the war. African American women, write the authors, are "the invisible women" (p. 88) in the majority of the texts. This invisibility pertains to books published for children and young adults. One exception is Reef's African Americans in the Military (2004). There is also a dearth of printed material published for junior high and high school students that is focused on women's contributions to war in countries other than the United States.

Yet, the field does have its bright spots. High school students can take advantage of current research reflected in biographies marketed for an adult audience, such as Blackman's Wild Rose (2005), about Civil War spy Greenhow, and Robinson's Mary Seacole: The Most Famous Block Woman of the Victorian Age (2004), which documents the contribution of Seacole (a contemporary of Florence Nightingale) to nursing in the Crimean War.

In general, there has been an increase in collective biographies and general texts on women's participation in wars, from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf wars. A number of books are for young adults on women and the military, such as Nathan's Count on Us: American Women in the Military (2004]. Haley's anthology Women in the Military (2004) addresses such issues as women's involvement in combat and sexual harassment in the armed forces. Mace (2001) writes of her experience of being a cadet in a once all-male institution, in her autobiography In the Company of Men: A Woman at the Citadel.

Limitation of print resources and short biographies can be supplemented by primary sources online, including documents and visual resources such as photographs, posters, portraits, realia, statues, monuments, and maps. …

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