Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

4.08 avg rating
( 423 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780743245166: Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

Our Mothers' War is an eye-opening and moving portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society. Never before has the vast range of women's experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers' War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated.
Our Mothers' War gives center stage to one of WWII's most essential fighting forces: the women of America, whose extraordinary bravery, strength, and humanity shine through on every page.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Emily Yellin is the author of Our Mothers’ War, and was a longtime contributor to the New York Times. She has also written for Time, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Smithsonian Magazine, and other publications. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin—Madison with a degree in English literature and received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue: For Carol Lynn

Unearthing Our Mothers' War Years

After my mother died in 1999, I was going through some of the things from her life that had made their way into my attic, when I came upon an old manila envelope I had never seen before, neatly labeled in my mother's handwriting, "Saipan Diary and Pictures." I knew right away it was from the time my mother spent as a Red Cross worker in the Pacific during World War II. Carefully, I extracted a number of thin, yellowing pages with typewritten entries on both sides, and about thirty pictures, in black and white. As I read my mother's words, her familiar voice resonating once again, and as I saw my mother's youthful image, the cheerful smile she wore in every picture ever taken of her glowing still, I felt like an archaeologist, unearthing a precious past. And then, under another pile of papers, inside four shoeboxes labeled "1940s," I found hundreds of letters my mother had written home to her parents in Oklahoma during World War II. My grandmother had lovingly saved every one of them. I was becoming a prospector, discovering gold.

I already knew a lot of the details of her war years. In August 1942, eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World

War II, my mother, Carol Lynn Gilmer, had married Tom Heggen, a promising writer and an editor at Reader's Digest. She had just finished her bachelor's degree in history and master's degree in journalism at Northwestern University. After he joined the Navy, my mother was one of a couple of women hired in editorial jobs at Reader's Digest in New York to replace the men, like her new husband, leaving for war. In 1945, the last year of the war, she quit her job, joined the Red Cross, and was sent to Saipan. Right around that time, Tom Heggen began sending chapters to her of a novel he was writing while serving aboard his Navy cargo ship in the Pacific. When the war ended, my mother did not go back to her editorial work right away, but instead tried unsuccessfully to devote herself to being a full-time wife. After only a few months, in spring of 1946, she and Tom Heggen were divorced. Months later, the novel he had written, Mr. Roberts, was published. It centered around the crew of a supply boat in the Pacific, like the one on which he served, and the book's dedication read, "For Carol Lynn."

It went on to become a best-seller. The stage version won the 1948 Tony Award for best play. In 1955, the film version of Mr. Roberts, starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon, was nominated for best picture and won a best supporting actor Academy Award for Jack Lemmon. But in 1949, Tom Heggen was found dead, drowned in the bathtub of the New York apartment he was sharing at the time with writer Dorothy Parker's ex-husband, Alan Campbell. He had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.

Mom had talked to me about the pain of that marriage and her divorce and his death. But the happy ending was always that she moved on, met and married David Yellin, my father, her true love, a few years later, gave birth to my three older brothers and me, and continued a long editorial career at Reader's Digest. I had not asked much else about her time during the war. It never came up. Like most of us, I had mostly known the war through my father's stories of serving in the Army in Burma, not my mother's story.

Suddenly, sitting there on the attic floor, I was beginning to realize there were more dimensions in my mother's wartime experience than I knew. I saw that it had been a transforming time for her, a time when she first came into her own, exerted her courage and took advantage of new opportunities for herself, as a woman. In these letters and pictures, and her diary, I began to see the war through a new lens, a female perspective. It was an unfamiliar but intriguing view.

I found it in letters like the one to her parents dated January 4, 1945, in which my mother, then twenty-three, tried to explain her decision to leave Reader's Digest and join the Red Cross.

Hope you can see how the Digest life is almost too perfect, with the world in the sorry mess it's in....I just have to get out and try to do something active and direct when so many other people are doing so much. It's not enough for me to say that my husband is doing it -- and that's my part in the war. I want to do something myself. Do you see what I mean?

My grandparents did understand and wrote back supporting her move. But in her grappling with that decision, I was learning what a huge step joining the Red Cross had been for her. In her next letter I also recognized a younger version of the woman I remember, who organized Equal Rights Amendment rallies in the 1970s and 1980s. The letter, dated January 8, 1945, showed prevailing attitudes about women and being a wife that my mother and many other women faced down during the war.

You see, when I decided to do this, I anticipated that lots of people would think I was doing a pretty foolish thing. I'm finding that lots of people who don't know the facts of the case think just that. Julie's husband Ken for example, who's one of these people who think that the only reason any girl joins the WACs, WAVES or Red Cross or any other such thing is just to have a wonderful time and meet lots of men. He thinks that I must be a pretty unstable sort of war wife who doesn't keep the home fires burning.

...And I expect that many other people, when I announce the decision more publicly will have the same reaction. But...I'm prepared for it. I don't expect everyone to heartily approve of what I'm doing. But now that I know that the people who really matter -- my parents and Tom's parents -- think I'm doing the right thing, I have the moral reinforcement that I really do need. And I'll be able to go ahead with it now with so much greater peace of mind, and really work for what I'm trying to accomplish -- establish a better and broader basis of understanding between Tom and me, while at the same time doing something direct and satisfying in the war effort.

In her diary too, I saw for the first time what it must have been like for a woman in the mostly male world of war. Her good humor about it all is evident in this early excerpt from 1945, when she arrived by boat in Hawaii from Seattle, before being sent to Saipan.

April 19 (Thursday)

Tonight we went to our first dance overseas -- at an on-post Red Cross club. And we got our first taste of the uneven ratio of men to women in these islands. At this point, the ratio is about 75 to 1 -- not nearly as bad as it used to be when it was 250 to 1. But even so, if you don't bear it constantly in mind you begin to think you're pretty irresistible. The boys are so grateful for small favors that it hurts -- just the fact that you come to their club and dance with them seems to be the finest thing in the world....Many told us it was the first time they'd danced with any girl for more than a year.

And from my mother's writings, I was understanding for the first time what ultimate sacrifices women made for the war. While women were not usually the ones killed in combat, they were the ones who bravely had to endure the news, and keep going after husbands, sons, and brothers were killed.

Wednesday, May 2

Today I was with Jean Archer when she received a letter telling of her older brother's death in Europe. We were on our way to the hospital to get our yellow fever shots. Jean had just picked up her mail at headquarters. The first letters she opened were from neighbors back home -- letters of sympathy....He was more than an ordinarily favorite brother. I'd heard her speak of him so often and had read some of his letters approving of her joining Red Cross. She was very composed about it -- didn't even break down and cry until she was going through the rest of her mail and found a letter from her brother himself -- written only a few days before he was killed.

When I read another entry in my mother's diary from 1945, after she had arrived in Saipan, I saw the modest, initial stirrings that led to her support of the civil rights movement living in Memphis during the 1960s. Though Americans were fighting injustice abroad, segregation was encoded in the U.S. Army in 1945, just as it was encoded in the Jim Crow laws of the American South at that time. And its inextricable partner, racism, was prevalent among many Americans then too.

Thursday, May 31

Today I went on my first clubmobile run. Taking coffee and doughnuts to the ground crews as they serviced the B-29s....We then began stopping and serving various working groups, engineers and warehouse workers, road construction gangs, etc. One interesting experience was serving Negro soldiers. I'm sure that for most of them it was the first time they'd been served by Red Cross girls. Most of them had to be invited several times before they realized we wanted to give them refreshments. One of them said, "The good Lord must have sent you, ma'am." Another group said "Well, that's the first time I ever believed it about Red Cross being at your side, yes sir." Both Jean Quirk, the other girl I was working with, and I were very glad we'd stopped. And we almost didn't because we had quite an argument with our driver (an Indian boy from Oklahoma, incidentally) before we convinced him that we wouldn't be raped or murdered on the spot if we stopped to serve Negroes.

Among her letters I also found a few that my mom's former mother-in-law, Mina Heggen, Tom's mother, had written to my grandmother. Particularly telling was one letter, written in April 1950, in which mom's former mother-in-law talked about Tom's death, his marriage to my mother, and the war. Reading it, I found not only more insight into my mother's life, but also the pain of another mother who, although belatedly, felt she somehow had lost her son to the war as well.

I remember him [Tom] calling up right after they had separated and saying how badly he felt about it all. He said it was al...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Buy New View Book
List Price: US$ 18.00
US$ 4.99

Convert Currency

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.

Destination, Rates & Speeds

Add to Basket

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Yellin, Emily
Published by Free Press 2005-03-01 (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback Quantity Available: 6
Seller:
BookOutlet
(Thorold, ON, Canada)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Free Press 2005-03-01, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Bookseller Inventory # 9780743245166B

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 4.99
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Yellin, Emily
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Paperbackshop-US
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2005. PAP. Book Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # VS-9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 9.31
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

Emily Yellin
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon and Schuster. Book Condition: New. Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 0743245164

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 10.47
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.50
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Emily Yellin
Published by SIMON SCHUSTER, United States (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback Quantity Available: 10
Seller:
The Book Depository US
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Our Mothers War is an eye-opening and moving portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society. Never before has the vast range of women s experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated. Our Mothers War gives center stage to one of WWII s most essential fighting forces: the women of America, whose extraordinary bravery, strength, and humanity shine through on every page. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 15.12
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Yellin, Emily
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Quantity Available: 4
Seller:
Pbshop
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2005. PAP. Book Condition: New. New Book.Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # IB-9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 11.18
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Emily Yellin
Published by SIMON SCHUSTER, United States (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback Quantity Available: 10
Seller:
Book Depository hard to find
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Our Mothers War is an eye-opening and moving portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society. Never before has the vast range of women s experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated. Our Mothers War gives center stage to one of WWII s most essential fighting forces: the women of America, whose extraordinary bravery, strength, and humanity shine through on every page. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 15.40
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

Emily Yellin
Published by SIMON SCHUSTER, United States (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Our Mothers War is an eye-opening and moving portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society. Never before has the vast range of women s experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated. Our Mothers War gives center stage to one of WWII s most essential fighting forces: the women of America, whose extraordinary bravery, strength, and humanity shine through on every page. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 15.70
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Yellin, Emily
Published by Free Press
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Mediaoutlet12345
(Springfield, VA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Free Press. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0743245164 *BRAND NEW* Ships Same Day or Next!. Bookseller Inventory # NATARAJB1FI754825

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 12.01
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Yellin, Emily
Published by Free Press 3/7/2005 (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback or Softback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
BargainBookStores
(Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Free Press 3/7/2005, 2005. Paperback or Softback. Book Condition: New. Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II. Book. Bookseller Inventory # BBS-9780743245166

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 17.89
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Yellin, Emily
Published by Free Press (2005)
ISBN 10: 0743245164 ISBN 13: 9780743245166
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Free Press, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # 0743245164

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 16.17
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 1.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book