Despite acts of female heroism, popular memory, as well as official memorialization in monuments and historic sites, has ignored French women's role in the First World War. This book explores stories that were never told and why they were not. These include the experiences of French women in the war, the stories they themselves told about these experiences and how French society interpreted them.The author examines the ways French women served their country - from charity work, nursing and munitions manufacture to volunteering for military service and espionage. In tracing stories about war heroines, but also about villainesses like Mata Hari, this fascinating study shows what these stories reveal about French understanding of the war, their hopes and fears for the future. While the masculine war story was unitary and unchanging, the feminine story was multiple and shifting. Initially praised for their voluntary mobilization, women's claims of patriotism were undercut by criticisms as the war bogged down in the trenches. Were nurses giving solace or seeking romance? Were munitions workers patriots or profiteers?
The prosecutions of Mata Hari for espionage and Helene Brion for subversion show how attitudes to women's claim of patriotism changed. French women's relationship to the war called into question ideas about gender, definitions of citizenship and national identity.This book is the first study of women at war to treat both their experiences and its representations, which shaped nationalism, war and gender for the rest of the twentieth century. It makes an important contribution to the burgeoning history of collective memory and of the First World War.