(Kansas City, Missouri) - The role of women during World War II is little known, obscured by attention to the men who fought and led. But females were essential to the outcome.
In the U.S. and Britain, they volunteered en masse, serving in non-combat roles. Soviet women joined front-line troops. French women helped replace men sent to Germany as forced laborers, joined the resistance, or became "horizontal collaborators" later subjected to punishment and humiliation after their country's liberation.
French military historian Dominique François examines these unknown soldiers, whose participation and support helped the Allies win the war, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. The presentation, Women During World War II: Substitutes, Soldiers, or Scapegoats?, begins at 6:30 p.m.
The event is part of the Eisenhower 125 series commemorating the 125th anniversary year of Dwight D. Eisenhower's birth in 1890.
If men were extolled, often justly, for their participation in World War II, Francois points out that women never asked for any honors, perhaps reflecting the era's popular image of "men defending the family while women tended the stove." But the unprecedented global scope of the conflict prompted the mobilization of entire populations, male and female.
The move of women into the U.S. workforce was symbolized by Rosie the Riveter, the fictional factory laborer performing what was previously considered man's work. Women also toiled in factories and on farms, drove trucks, and provided logistical support for soldiers in the field.
Thousands of women in America and other Allied countries enlisted as nurses and served on the front lines. Thousands more joined defensive militias at home, and there was a significant increase in the number of women serving in the military itself - particularly in the Soviet Union's Red Army.
Approximately 400,000 U.S. women served with the armed forces during World War II, and more than 460 lost their lives.
Francois also spotlights the French women found to have consorted with enemy, some in the course of their work in brothels, others striking up relationships with German officers as a means of survival. Their punishment after the war was deliberately demeaning, their heads shaved in public.
Francois, a resident of Basse-Normandie, France, has concentrated his study of World War II on D-Day and the subsequent Normandy military campaign. A pre-invasion bombing killed his grandfather, a Norman farmer, and barely missed his father, who was 10 at the time.
Francois has written 16 books and served as a consultant for the History Channel and Inertia Films.
The Eisenhower 125 series is co-presented by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home with support from the W.T. Kemper Foundation - Commerce Bank, Trustee.
A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. Admission is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.