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  • Women, War, and the Military
  • Reina Pennington (bio)

When Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women was published in 2003, it was hailed in this journal as "the most important encyclopedia ever written in the field of women and war."1 So one might ask, with the appearance of Women and War: An Encyclopedia only three years later, do we really need another reference book on this topic, and so soon? The answer is emphatically yes. Military historians who are most interested in combat and military institutions will find Amazons to Fighter Pilots the best starting point for women's roles. Those who are interested in the broader cultural and social aspects of the history of warfare should turn to Women and War.

Although Amazons to Fighter Pilots and Women and War might seem similar, their focus and content actually differ considerably. Moreover, the topic of women and war is still badly underrepresented, especially in reference publications. There is plenty of room for new books and new explorations on the subject of women, the military, and war. Bernard A. Cook, Provost Distinguished Professor of History at Loyola University in New Orleans and editor of Women and War, has made an important contribution to this field.

Only a few reference works exist on the topic of women and war. A survey of Library of Congress holdings reveals only two listings under the subject heading of "women and war—encyclopedias" (Cook and Sherrow), one listing for "women and the military—encyclopedias" (Sherrow), and two listings for "women soldiers—biography—dictionaries" (Pennington and Salmonson). Compare this to more than a dozen biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias on the American civil war alone. (In broader terms, consider the fact that the Library of Congress lists more than two thousand books under the general subject heading for the Second World War, 1,700 for the Civil War, but only 150 for "women and war," "women and the military," and "women soldiers" combined.)

Although Women and War is categorized as an "encyclopedia" and Amazons to Fighter Pilots as a "biographical dictionary," they are quite similar in format. Both contain entries averaging 750–1000 words, with the majority of entries focusing on individuals, complemented by group or topical entries. However, there is surprisingly little duplication between the two books. More than seventy percent of Amazons' 350+ entries are not duplicated in Women and War, and nearly 80 percent of the 500 entries in Women and War do not appear in Amazons. This is explained by differences in the criteria for selection of entries. Amazons to Fighter Pilots focused primarily on the military roles of women [End Page 1204] throughout history, especially those who have participated in combat. Women and War has a much broader focus, covering the full range of women's roles in war—military and civilian; participant, observer, and victim; instigator and resistor.

The publisher's synopsis claims that "this authoritative encyclopedia presents the work of leading scholars from all over the world to give the first detailed coverage of the role of women in wars throughout history."2 While one might argue that this description fits Amazons to Fighter Pilots just as well, Women and War is still an extremely valuable addition to the field. The works are complementary, not competitive.

Women and War claims to cover "the entire range of women's role in war and battle."3 It does in fact include entries on the broadest possible array of the ways in which women have been involved in war. A strength of the book is precisely its broad coverage. Anyone skimming through the entries would be struck by the great range of topics. From "War and the Spread of AIDS" to Tokyo Rose, from "Rwanda: Women and the Genocide" to Martha Gellhorn, this collection highlights the widely varied ways in which women have been affected by war.

Cook is to be commended for this breadth of vision in choosing subjects. The "Topic Finder" reveals the categories that informed his choices. While many "big wars" are naturally included, there are also numerous entries under the headings of administrators, journalists, peace activists, and writers. Women in espionage and resistance roles seem to...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1203-1210
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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