Saturday, November 3, 2012

Move Over, Rosie: Real Women of WWII


by Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers

Co-authors of Face of the Enemy

The winner of the free copy of FACE OF THE ENEMY is Nan. Congratulations! Thanks to everybody who left a comment.

Joanne Dobson



Beverle Graves Myers


Everybody knows Rosie. She’s the poster babe for the women of World War II—the can-do factory worker in the red bandana who’s rolling up the sleeve of her blue overall to display a determined bicep. But, as we discovered in our research for Face of the Enemy, life wasn’t all Rosie the Riveter for our wartime grandmothers.

In Face of the Enemy, besides writing a page-turning mystery, we set out to highlight women's wartime experience in New York, America’s largest city. After decades of listening to family stories and watching the History Channel, we knew that it was largely women who created the homefront culture. From mundane efforts like saving grease and fat to be used in ammunition production, to bold, "unfeminine" initiatives such as taking lessons in commando training at the YWCA, women “did their bit” while men went off to combat.

Our characters move well beyond Rosie and those other stereotypes, the Betty Grable type pin-ups and the plucky girls drawing stocking seams up their legs with eyebrow pencil. Louise and Cabby, our series protagonists, fight the War at Home in their professional roles as nurse and New York Times journalist. So do other women at their Brooklyn boarding house and the women they will encounter as the New York in Wartime series unfolds. With the exodus of young men from the city, women were thrown into professional, social and personal roles that transformed their previously gender-determined lives in unexpected ways.


Have you heard of the OSS? The Office of Strategic Services? This early espionage agency maintained an apartment on the Upper West Side where women as well as men were trained to be saboteurs and spies. Graduates of the Seven Sisters, such as Smith and Vassar, were particularly in demand as trainees for overseas postings because of their European travel experience and foreign-language skills. Also because many of them were young and pretty, a decided advantage for a spy! At the end of the war, OSS functions were split between the State Department and the War Department, and some of the women went right along.

How about the Manhattan Project? This top-secret program dedicated to splitting the atom was so named because it began at New York’s Columbia University. At least 300 military and civilian women eventually participated in the effort, most in clerical or support positions.  But a few highly trained female scientists were directly involved in the research effort. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese scientist, became known as “The First Lady of Physics” for her work on nuclear fission. She and others truly opened the door for women to pursue scientific careers after the war.

Plenty of women did take up work on factory assembly lines, many employed outside the home for the first time ever, and some leaving small towns to relocate near the production sites. It wasn’t just airplanes and ships. The entire economy was on a war footing—lingerie producers turned to putting out parachutes and piano factories made long-distance radios. One issue that stood out for us: what happened to the workers’ children? Day care was almost unheard of and not every woman had a willing mother or aunt to watch the children. We were shocked to learn that it was common for older boys and girls to be parked at the movies, which ran all day and evening, and infants were sometimes left in the back seats of cars to sleep while their mothers held down the third shift. Thankfully, social service agencies eventually got up to speed.

Face of the Enemy takes an intelligent, well-informed, lively, sometimes even tragic, look at the dilemmas facing ordinary and, believe us, not-so-ordinary women on the homefront during the second World War. People whose paths would never have crossed otherwise were thrown together, and the resulting political conspiracies, class/ethnic dramas, and star-crossed romances are the very stuff of suspenseful, high-end murder mystery. We hope you enjoy it!
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Joanne Dobson is the Agatha-nominated author of the Karen Pelletier series from Doubleday and Poisoned Pen Press. In 2001, the adult-readers division of the New York Library Association named her Noted Author of the Year, as the writer whose books they most enjoyed recommending. For many years, Joanne was an English professor at Fordham University. She now writes full-time and teaches writing at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Website: www.joannedobson.com

Beverle Graves Myers is the author of the Tito Amato Mysteries set in dazzling, decadent 18th-century Venice. Bev also writes short stories that have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous other publications. Her work has been nominated for the Macavity, Derringer, and Kentucky Literary awards. A former psychiatrist, Bev now writes full-time. She and her husband live in Louisville, Kentucky. Website: www.beverlegravesmyers.com

Joanne and Bev are collaborating on the New York in Wartime series, which debuted in September 2012 with Face of the Enemy


Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of Face of the Enemy!

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Women did more than their share during WWII, recently I've run into some who were nurses over seas....very interesting lives! Would love a chance to win a copy of the book! Thanks!

Sheila Connolly said...

In 1942 my grandmother left her husband and daughter in Maine and moved to New York, where she found work at Lipton Tea, making supplies for the military (like instant noodle soup). She lived at the Henry Hudson Hotel (which I think was women-only) in Manhattan. I will look forward to reading your series.

Anonymous said...

As a longtime member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, I have high praise for your endeavor with this book! Women have been a sturdy steel backbone of the espionage world for centuries - and need all the credit they can get! Would love to win a copy of your book! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Yves Fey said...

Really fascinating post! Made me want to read the book. Intriguing comments too.

StephTing said...

Thanks for posting these little-known stories. Just discovered this blog!

Audra said...

While I'm sucker for even the ambiance of WWII (and thus, those familiar stereotypes), I love seeing unusual facets of the war lifted up. (I had no idea about Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu -- fascinating!) Thanks for the wonderful giveaway!

Molly MacRae said...

I love stories that show the strength of women. After reading your post (and seeing you at Magna!) I'm especially looking forward to reading Face of the Enemy.

Joyce Tremel said...

I can't wait to read this book. I really have a thing for anything 1940s. Every September, there's a WWII weekend at the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg. My husband and I have gone for the past two years. They have a USO dance on Saturday night where everyone dresses up. You really feel like it's 1943.

We met "Wild Bill" Guarnere, one of the famous Band of Brothers while we were there. At 89 years old, he's just as feisty in real life as his character was in the movie.

My mother met my dad on a blind date in 1943. They married two weeks later, right before he was shipped overseas with the Third Armored Division.

skipperhammond said...

How about a book celebrating all that children did to win the war--saving tin cans and newspapers, buying War Bonds one 10 cent stamp at a time, packing Red Cross boxes, writing letters to soldiers. Some city kids in Charlotte, N.C. even picked cotton as special patriotic projects because so many farmers, while exempt from the draft, volunteered for service.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoy reading about the courageous women who did their bit here at home. Also enjoying the comments and hope more will comment about either their own experiences or those of their female relatives.

Carole Shmurak said...

Looking forward to reading the book! This post made me recall that when I was in college in the '60s, my college still offered a course in cryptography and cryptanalysis - writing and breaking codes - left over from the 1940s. Evidently those Seven Sisters women were really good at that during the War too.

Bev Myers said...

It's wonderful to see so much interest in the WWII homefront. So much of what happened is still resonating today. Skipper, we are planning a book that focuses on children, probably the 3rd in the planned series. and Joyce, we're going to look into the weekend you mentioned. Looks like fun!

Nan said...

This sounds really wonderful, and so interesting. I have heard of the OSS, but didn't realize that Julia Child was one of many from her school who worked for it. Even if I don't win, I shall be looking for this book. Great idea.

Joanne Dobson said...

For those of you who love the 40s ambiance, you might like to take a look at our Facebook NEW YORK IN WARTIME page. We've posted all sorts of Homefront material, from the serious to the quirky. My personal favorite is a 1943 GUIDE TO HIRING WOMEN
"Pick young married women ... They are less likely to be flirtatious."
"When you have to hire older women ... [they] are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy."
"Husky girls ... Are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera ...

Suzanne said...

Loved this post. Thanks! Lingerie producers making parachutes -- oh, my, what a visual!

Wartime often showcases the capable nature of women. Sometimes it gets forgotten after the men come home from fighting, as it did during the post-WW2 "baby boom." Other times it leads to reform, as it did post-American Revolution, when the mighty contributions of founding mothers inspired founding fathers to establish the first school for young ladies.

Sandra de Helen said...

I have a friend who wrote a fiction novel about women in WWII in LA. Would love to read yours about women in NYC. My own Mom worked in a factors during WWII until I was born in 1944. My dad had a bad heart but work in the munitions factory. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here!

Alan Cook said...

We have a WWII spy living in our neighborhood (Palos Verdes, CA), Marthe Cohn, whose book, "Behind Enemy Lines," tells how she went into Germany again and again from France, bring back valuable information. She's not even five feet tall.

Msmstry said...

I just finished FACE OF THE ENEMY this weekend. Could hardly put it down! Terrific story, well told. I'll talk about it at my "Molly on Mysteries" program on Thursday. Can't wait for more stories featuring Nurse Louise!

Teresa Judd said...

Those of you who are intersted in women in WWII might like "The American Woman & World War II" by Allan Selden. I bought the book while touring Pearl Harbor. It has wonderful pictures in it.

Kenny said...

As a longtime member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, I have high praise for your endeavor with this book! Women have been a sturdy steel backbone of the espionage world for centuries - and need all the credit they can get! Would love to win a copy of your book! Thelma Straw in Manhattan