Monday, May 25, 2009

So Your Husband's Gone to War!

This is another great book I picked up at a Memorial Day yard sale (how appropriate). It was only fifty cents, but what makes it special, besides the interesting content, is it still has the cover. That's unusual for a book going on 70 years old. When I checked on e-Bay I didn't see any that still had the cover. The book was given to someone named Emily on Christmas 1944--and I'm guessing she was entering this new experience of being the woman left behind. Oddly, the handwriting looks exactly like my mother's, who in March 1944 had to learn all the tips and tricks the author Ethel Gorham writes so well about as a war-time wife.

This was a very interesting book to research on a number of levels. I found a great review at "Library Thing" where people share reviews of books in their own collection. I particularly liked this one by a retired librarian, Mary Lou Miller, living in Nebraska:
    There are chapters on loneliness, on budgets, on dealing with furloughs. She writes about coping with rationing, occupying lonely hours, and what to tell the children. She is honest about worries and fears, without being depressing. There is one whole chapter on learning to recognize uniforms and insignia (so you don't look like an idiot in front of your husband), and another excellent chapter on how to write the essential "letters from home."

    Since 1942 was relatively early in the U.S. involvement, rationing hadn't progressed much beyond sugar and leather. The reality of Hitler's treatment of the Jews wasn't yet known (although she does protest the beating and humiliation of Jews on the streets of Europe, she did not know about the extermination camps). She speculates about what further changes are coming, and is often quite accurate in her predictions.

    What I found most touching was the final chapter, where the author discusses the woes left over from the First War, and what lies in store after this war. She wants - as we all do - a better world after the suffering and sorrow of this global conflict. But the title of the chapter is "What Are You Waiting For?" Gorham's premise is that we must start now to make things better. She specifically mentions improving racial relations (How can we gain the trust of the Asian populations if we still think whites are superior?), an idea that seems quite a bit ahead of her time.
I found the many references to WWI very interesting--because that was the "big" war of Gorham's memory, even though she was a young child then. She thought Americans wouldn't make the same mistakes--like men returning from war to find their jobs taken by women. She was obviously a career woman and she really walks a tight rope on this advice.
    So many women got their start financially in the last war. For years the success magazines have been full of the tales of their skyrocket rise. Now, in this war, women are really leaping ahead to fame. Where they took over a white-collar executive post before, or flowered into advertising, or headed a store, they're now running factories, publishing newspapers, poaching on purely male preserves.

    And don't think the men don't know it. They remember the postwar employment horror tales. They remember the stories of boys who came back from France to find that the little girl who had taken the job over for the duration was now firmly entrenched in an important career. Taking herself seriously, to boot, so it wasn't fair to dislodge her, was it? They remember the uncles and fathers and older brothers who walked the streets looking for jobs, who found no jobs because there were women in them. . .

    She believes in a woman's right to work, in war or peace, if she wants to. The fact that employers discriminated against the men who returned after the last war, that they didn't keep their fanfare promises, and that many women didn't get out of jobs that were given them on a temporary basis don't alter that right."
What a wonderful read for Memorial Day, a day when we honor the war dead, beginning with the Civil War in 1868.

Notes on the author: GORHAM--Ethel. Of Westport, CT., died Wednesday, November 17, 2004, after a short illness, age 94. In her long career, Mrs. Gorham was the author of several novels & non-fiction books, a noted peace activist, an advertising executive and a loving wife and mother. She is survived by her children Deborah and John, by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband Charles O. Gorham and by her daughter Abigail Gorham. Donations in her memory may be made to the NAACP, the Friends of the Westport Connecticut Library, or the charity of your choice

Author of “So your husband’s gone to war!” Recommended by Eleanor Roosevelt in her column "My Day," May 3, 1943

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HI, I've had a copy of this for years, bought for 25c somewhere. The cover is a bit ripped off at the lower spine area (swings away from the front cover, but it's there.

So interesting to get a first-hand account of the times...