Women Who Wrote the War


They left comfortable homes and safe surroundings for combat-zone duty. As women war correspondents, they brought to the battlefields of World War II a fresh optic, and reported back home what they witnessed with a new sensibility. Their experience was at once wide-ranging and intimate, devastating at one moment, heartwarming the next. In this book, Nancy Sorel eloquently demonstrates the role they played in bringing the war to the folks back home.

In their ranks we encounter ...

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They left comfortable homes and safe surroundings for combat-zone duty. As women war correspondents, they brought to the battlefields of World War II a fresh optic, and reported back home what they witnessed with a new sensibility. Their experience was at once wide-ranging and intimate, devastating at one moment, heartwarming the next. In this book, Nancy Sorel eloquently demonstrates the role they played in bringing the war to the folks back home.

In their ranks we encounter world-famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, the only western photographer to cover the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R. and among the first to photograph Buchenwald; Martha Gellhorn, writer and wife of Ernest Hemingway, who reported the menace of Fascism from the beginning; Lee Miller, legendary photographer, famously snapped taking a bath in Hitler's bathtub in 1945; the New Yorker's Janet Flanner, recording in her "Letter from Paris" the bleak realities of life in post-liberation France; and Marguerite Higgins, who dared enter the concentration camp at Dachau just ahead of the American army.

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Editorial Reviews

James Boylan
Those who believe the pioneering generation of women journalists did not arrive until the 1970s should read this rich account of the band who covered World War II, often in the face of opposition by colleagues and by the military, and frequently at heavy cost to their personal lives.
Columbia Journalism Review
Library Journal
Sorel, a freelance journalist who writes regularly for Esquire and the Atlantic, has assembled an impressive amount of biographical information about the women reporters who covered World War II. Though numbering fewer than 100, these women were extremely dedicated to overcoming the bias of their employers, who often felt that the front was no place for a woman, and of the military itself. The stories of these women reporters--e.g., Lee Miller, Martha Gelhorn--are at once inspiring, frustrating, and sad, and most are certainly worth knowing. The book, however, is more anecdotal than analytical. Important questions, such as whether these women reported the war differently from their male counterparts, is not treated systematically. In addition, the place of women in the history of news needs greater context. Still, as a journalistic account of an often neglected story, it is recommended for public libraries.--Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
M.G. Lord
In The Women Who Wrote the War, Nancy Caldwell Sorel has dug up and lovingly polished the spellbinding personal stories of women journalists in World War II.
Voice Literary Supplement
Washington Times
Hunger for books about World War II is never satisfied. Give his to your daughter or to anyone who doesn't see women as ambitious and tough as men.
Kirkus Reviews
A worthwhile, impressively researched history of the women correspondents who chronicled WWII. Sorel (co-author, with Edward Sorel, of First Encounters: Meetings with Memorable People, 1994) tells the trail-blazing stories of some two dozen women journalists who covered US military operations during WWII. Although these women faced the same dangerous conditions as their male counterparts, they also confronted the military's patronizing attitudes about women. In one memorable wartime example, General George Patton delivered an expletive-laden lecture to his staff officers, interspersing his tirade with sheepish apologies to the "lady" reporters in the back. Much of the book describes the resourcefulness of these women in circumventing the military's endless restrictions. Marguerite Higgins bent the rules to become the first reporter to detail the sickening horrors of Dachau, arriving at the camp within minutes of its liberation. "Dickey" Chapelle covered the carnage on Iwo Jima, getting shot at by the enemy and reprimanded by the US military. Martha Gellhorn had an especially rocky war, covering events in Europe and Asia with her philandering husband, Ernest Hemingway. Despite the risks, these woman forced their way to the front lines. Catherine Coyne's account of being at ground zero while Nazi bombers attacked a bridge is simply unforgettable. Janet Flanner, the famous "Genêt" of the New Yorker, brilliantly depicts the liberation of Paris. Sorel has a gargantuan task in attempting to capture the experiences of so many different women in so many different places, from North Africa to China to Normandy. At moments, her wide-ranging narrative suffers from a lack of depth. Thefamously tempestuous relationship between Gellhorn and Hemingway, for example, is described only briefly, as is Lee Miller's friendship with Pablo Picasso. Any one of these fearless women could be the subject of an entire book. An ambitious and entertaining examination of a neglected side of American military history: the war within a war waged by women journalists. (b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060958398
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Groundbreakers

In the early 1920s three American women, young then and unknown to each other, seized a chance at a reporter's life and never turned back. Each appreciated the rarity of her opportunity, her great luck, and gave back in kind. Their successes, both before and during the coming war, would prove pivotal in beckoning other women into the field.

Dorothy Thompson, Curtis syndicate

The oldest child of an English-born Methodist clergyman, Dorothy Thompson grew up in small towns in western New York. Her mother died when she was eight, and she rebelled against her stepmother's conventionality. As a scholarship student at Syracuse University, she was remembered as unusually articulate in class discussions, but also for monopolizing conversation and for the intense attachments she formed with other women students. She was tall and slender, with clear blue eyes and early indications of what would become a commanding presence. After three years of work with the women's suffrage movement, Dorothy went to Paris as a publicity writer for the American Red Cross, and from there to Vienna, where she supplemented her Red Cross duties by becoming a stringer for the Philadelphia Public Ledger Freelance submissions were for women a time-honored means of entry into the newspaper world. Hearing that her firsthand account of an attempted coup by Emperor Franz Josef's grandnephew had impressed her editors, she applied for a salaried position, and rushed off to the paper's Paris office to present her case. In person Dorothy could he magnificent. She got the job.

In the spring of 192 1, now a bona fideforeign correspondent, Dorothy Thompson tentatively entered into the Viennese world of love, sex, and gossip. Gossip linked her with a handsome Hungarian writer, Josef Bard. Love was instantaneous; sex, her first, welcomed. Commitment was another story. "I am so scared of marriage," she confided to a friend, but marry him she did. Not long afterward the Curtis syndicate promoted her to the position of Central European bureau chief for the Ledger and the New York Evening Post -- in Berlin. Berlin was many hours by train from Vienna. If Thompson weighed the pros and cons of a long-distance marriage, if for a moment she considered not accepting the job, she left no evidence.

Sigrid Schultz, Chicago Tribune

Born in Chicago to parents of Norwegian descent, Sigrid Schultz grew up with the outward demeanor of a china doll complemented by a razor-sharp mind. Her father was a portrait painter, and when she was eight, the family moved to Paris. Sigrid graduated from the Sorbonne in 1914, then joined her parents, who had settled in Berlin. When World War I broke out a few months later, they remained, secure in their American citizenship. Even after the United States entered the war and they had to report daily to the authorities, their lives were little disrupted.

Supporting herself by teaching English and French, Schultz turned to international law, where her fluency in those languages in addition to Dutch, German, and Polish stood her in good stead. In 1919 the Chicago Tribune Berlin office took her on as an interpreter. She watched for her chance, and before long she was reporting, seizing initiatives available to one with her command of German politics. She was not averse to a little flirtation either: there were few attractive young single women in Berlin's professional circles, and if getting the story required charming the German establishment, why not? Schultz would have years of success in that arena before the political situation hardened. Sure that a reporter's best approach was to inspire confidence and be a good listener, she maintained a low profile. By the mid-1920s prominent men in government including the chancellor and foreign minister were seen at the Tribune office in the Hotel Adlon, talking with the knowledgeable young woman on staff there.

In late 1925 the Tribune's Berlin bureau chief was reassigned to Rome, and Sigrid Schultz inherited his job.

That was the year that Dorothy Thompson was assigned to Berlin. Nothing at all like sleepy, romantic Vienna, the German capital was a bizarre metropolis, with its mix of stolid Weimar Republic officials and extravagantly garbed cabaret patrons of undetermined sex, its high culture of music and theater alongside pornography and drugs. The German nightmare of postwar inflation had waned; the mark stabilized, and with it the lives of the average Herrenvolk. An Austrian war veteran had recently been released from prison, where he had been detained for his part in an attempted coup d'état against the Munich city government; Adolf Hitler was still largely unknown.

On arrival in Berlin Thompson was warmly welcomed by the "news gang," Schultz said, even while she deplored Dorothy's "sketchy" grasp of languages and European history. They were friendly but never close, partly because Thompson shared a house facing the Tiergarten with Edgar Ansel Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News, the Tribune's competition. Her share was sufficiently spacious to accommodate her husband, but Josef Bard stayed in Vienna. As was customary for an unmarried European woman, Schultz lived with her widowed mother, in a large atelier apartment.

In their early thirties, Thompson and Schultz were natural reporters, willing to go to great lengths for a story. Berlin offered plenty of material. By day there were chancelleries to visit, press conferences to cover, dignitaries to interview, and by night, the lights and bustle of the concert hall, opera, and theater. The evening often ended in the bar at the Hotel Adlon, second home to the American correspondents. When Josef Bard did visit Berlin, he found his wife distracted and the apartment without the requisite quiet for a contemplative writer like himself. He preferred Vienna; before long he preferred another woman as well. Although she had thought herself a sophisticated, modem wife (and logic hinted that it was she who had left first), Dorothy found the rejection devastating. The first solution to her distress was work. "Good old work!" she noted gratefully, "it stood by me and doesn't let me down. Good old routine, good old head that functions automatically at the sight of a newspaper." The second solution was another man...

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Foremothers
1 The Groundbreakers 1
2 Cassandras of the Coming Storm 12
3 Apprentices in Spain 25
4 The Lessons of Czechoslovakia 43
5 One Thought, One Holy Mission: Poland 58
6 Waiting for Hitler: The Phony War 71
7 Fleeing France 81
8 Braving the Blitz 92
9 Working Under the Swastika 106
10 Margaret Bourke-White Shoots the Russian War 117
11 Treading Water, Marking Time 125
12 China Hands 131
13 Facing the War That Is Our War Now 148
14 Women Behind Walls: Manila, Siena, Shanghai 159
15 Learning the Rules, Dressing the Part 170
16 Women on Trial: North Africa 180
17 Touching Base on Five Continents 193
18 Slogging Through Italy 200
19 New Women Come Over for Overlord 211
20 D Day 224
21 Trekking North from Rome 235
22 That Summer in France 242
23 Liberating Paris 256
24 Crossing the Siegfried Line 272
25 The Battle of the Bulge 283
26 Penetrating the Pacific Barriers 293
27 Iwo Jima 301
28 Of Rain, Ruin, Relationships, and the Bridge at Remagen 314
29 The Month of April: The Advance 330
30 The Month of April: The Camps 347
31 The Longed-for Day 362
32 "It Is Not Over, Over Here" 377
33 Women Winding Up a War 382
Epilogue 390
Notes 399
Selected Bibliography 439
Index 443
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