The story of the intrepid young women who volunteered to help and entertain American servicemen fighting overseas, from World War I through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The emotional toll of war can be as debilitating to soldiers as hunger, disease, and injury. Beginning in World War I, in an effort to boost soldiers’ morale and remind them of the stakes of victory, the American military formalized a recreation program that sent respectable young women and famous entertainers overseas.
Kara Dixon Vuic builds her narrative around the young women from across the United States, many of whom had never traveled far from home, who volunteered to serve in one of the nation’s most brutal work environments. From the “Lassies” in France and mini-skirted coeds in Vietnam to Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, Vuic provides a fascinating glimpse into wartime gender roles and the tensions that continue to complicate American women’s involvement in the military arena. The recreation-program volunteers heightened the passions of troops but also domesticated everyday life on the bases. Their presence mobilized support for the war back home, while exporting American culture abroad. Carefully recruited and selected as symbols of conventional femininity, these adventurous young women saw in the theater of war a bridge between public service and private ambition.
This story of the women who talked and listened, danced and sang, adds an intimate chapter to the history of war and its ties to life in peacetime.
[A] fascinating history.
[Vuic] expertly illustrates contradictions inherent in the military’s reliance, since WWI, on U.S. women to provide respectable recreational programs and at the same time alluring entertainment for soldiers.
Besides illuminating women’s significance in military life, [Vuic] chronicles changes in assumptions about gender, sexuality, and race in American culture for the last 100 years…A fresh contribution to women’s history.
This well-researched and well-written work delves into an aspect of women’s service in wartime that is not often portrayed.
An important and timely book by a first-rate historian who is also a superb storyteller. Vuic richly captures the often contradictory demands made on women who volunteered for overseas troop support programs: to embody home-front domesticity but provide sensual entertainment; to be attractive but not too beautiful; to be friendly but not too close. Yet her book also underscores the women’s deep belief in the work as a genuine contribution to the war effort.
Women were recruited to entertain, distract, and support male soldiers overseas during America’s twentieth-century wars, but their time in the spotlight was fleeting. Vuic returns them to center stage and reveals how utilizing feminine charms to advance military goals inadvertently gave these women opportunities to shape military culture and alter the trajectories of their own lives. A pleasure to read, bold and provocative, The Girls Next Door is a brilliant reinterpretation of the American experience of war.
The fascinating story of the women who, accompanying soldiers to war, volunteered for a different sort of service to the nation. YMCA Girls, Salvation Army Lassies, Red Cross Donut Dollies, and USO performers were meant to serve as symbols of home, entertaining ‘our boys,’ boosting morale, and channeling men’s sexuality. Vuic’s insightful analysis of military entertainment is also a tale of the changing shape of the U.S. military over course of the twentieth century.
The Girls Next Door represents a major advancement in our understanding of gender and war. In fluid, vivid prose, Vuic shows the many complex ways in which home fronts and fighting fronts were interconnected through a complicated web of gendered interactions. A must read for anyone interested in war and society.
Filled with real people and real emotion, The Girls Next Door traces the provision of entertainment for American troops from WWI to the 1990s, showing that despite dramatic changes in context, a durable sexualization of women followed them into war zones across the twentieth century. The research, knowledge, and storytelling on display here are all outstanding. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Vuic also examines the changing perceptions about gender roles in America’s social and military institutions, making this a useful read for anyone with an interest in American society over the past century.
An outstanding example of the intersections of gender history, the history of sexuality, and military history as well the connections between the home front and the battlefront. Its lucid and engaging style, careful analysis, and thorough documentation will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike.
A wonderful example of how scholars of war and society can interrogate the intersections of gender history, the history of sexuality, and military history…[Vuic’s] premise and treatment of the evolution of women military entertainers over time provides invaluable consideration and methodological approaches that can be employed by all scholars of the First World War.
- , Winner of the The Tonous and Warda Johns Family Book Award
- 2020, Winner of the Captain Richard Lukaszewicz Memorial Book Award
- 392 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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