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   No Man's Land:

   Women and the Great War (1914 - 1918)

About this collection

The First World War officially commenced on 28 July 1914. Although precipitated by a series of political and economic crises across Europe, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, during a trip to Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, is commonly credited as the event that solidified the declaration of one of the 20th Century’s most devastating and far-ranging conflicts. Intricate protection agreements between the United Kingdom, France, and Russia eventually led to the formation of the Allied powers in opposition to the Central powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary. Before the War’s end, fighting men and military support groups from Italy, Japan, and the United States would join these countries, resulting in the ultimate mobilization of more than seventy million soldiers and military personnel. Upwards of nine million combatants were killed during four years of global warfare characterized by the devastating use of weaponized poisonous gasses, trench warfare, the increasing mechanized power of artillery, horrific casualties, and the harsh collision of 19th Century culture and tradition with the new realities of 20th Century warfare. These losses do not account for the millions of civilian casualties and refugees, or the world-altering after-effects of the Great War upon the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of Europe and the world.


While men of the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and other nations were engaged in military campaigns of the First World War whose names would come to define a generation’s understanding of conflict and destruction; women from these same countries were involved in a variety of support and relief efforts on both the battlefield and the homefront. Women from both sides of the conflict entered the actual theatre of war in record numbers, serving as nurses and ambulance drivers. Close proximity to the front, and experience of enemy bombardments was a daily reality for many of these female volunteers. Back home in both Allied and Central countries, unprecedented numbers women were called upon to take jobs outside the home. For many, these jobs involved the production of ammunition, artillery, and other military items. While all women did not choose to actively engage in military conflict and war production, drives for refugee aid, scrap materials, and comfort items for soldiers were popular activities among women of all classes and affiliations. Furthermore, homefront involvement in efforts to maintain agricultural production and other infrastructure drew women out of their homes and into traditionally masculine arenas. While the efforts and activities of women in relation to the war effort cannot be underestimated, the significance of their experiences and contributions saw their most wide-ranging effects in the continued battle for women’s rights, and, in the United States in particular, for the cause of women’s suffrage.



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