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Journal of Women's History 17.2 (2005) 169-176
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"Patriotism is not enough":
Women, Citizenship, and the First World War
Tammy M. Proctor
Nurse Edith Cavell's famous statement prior to her 1915 execution, "Patriotism is not enough," is inscribed upon the white marble of her monument just off Trafalgar Square in London, a smaller column than Nelson's grandiose one in the center of the square. Oft-cited by war enthusiasts and pacifists alike, the fact that "patriotism was not enough" could be read as a rallying cry for more sacrifice for the war effort, or it could be read as a call for an end to conflict. In addition, Cavell's words speak to the deep ambiguities of women's wartime experiences between 1914 and 1918, and to the contestation of their roles as citizens in the period. It was difficult for women to know what constituted active citizenship for them in wartime. For men, soldiering was the accepted sacrifice and duty; for women, the message was much more mixed. How could and should women be patriotic citizens in 1914?
A spate of books and articles published in the last five years have taken this question as a central problem and tried to discover how women's citizenship was shifted, renegotiated, and remapped during the First World War. These works begin by problematizing the notion of "home front" as a blurry category encompassing both "home" and "front" while describing neither. In its traditional formulation, "home front" evokes "steel-helmeted soldiers" going to war to protect self-sacrificial women who work "voluntarily to equip and arm the warriors and the war machine."1 This representation of manly protection and womanly support served both to mobilize [End Page 169] mass populations for war and to justify state actions in wartime over a four-year struggle. Recent investigation of the term suggests that the "home front" was a useful propaganda device, but that it may have obscured some of the complexity of the gendered experience of war for both men and women.2 With this caution in mind, scholars of diverse backgrounds have embraced this project, including historians, political scientists, literary theorists, and art historians.3 The move toward the gendered examination of World War I has crossed geographical boundaries as well, with major studies appearing in Germany, France, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, and the United States. This diversity has opened up a new space for dialogue about women and war that is both exciting and challenging.
The renegotiation of women's place and space in wartime has been accompanied by an examination of women's broader relationship to state and society. As many scholars have discovered, women's role in war has much to do with their use by political entities, their access to social and political structures, and their representational value for states. Whether as war workers or propaganda poster girls, women functioned as necessities for the successful militarization of society and the state rhetoric of warfare. Far from being tangential to war, women are central. Cynthia Enloe notes that while women are defined as marginal to the military, their services and representations have been and continue to be crucial to the fighting of wars. She claims that "officials need women themselves to nurture the boundaries that separate them from one another."4 Women are essential to maintaining and reinforcing the boundaries between civil and military; in short, women police men and themselves in wartime, providing justification and motivation for the...