Sisters in Arms
Female warriors from antiquity to the new millennium
by Julie Wheelwright
Pub Date 18 Feb 2020
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A history of female combatants, from those who joined the military disguised as men to the current role of women in the armed forces.
In October 2018, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that all roles in the military would now be open to women. Although this marks a historic shift, officially allowing British women into combat roles, the presence of women on the front lines dates back to antiquity. Beginning with the founding myth of the Amazons--in reality female warriors of a nomadic tribe to whom the Greeks attributed super-heroic powers--Julie Wheelwright explores the history of women in arms. She traces our fascination with these figures, many of whom successfully disguised themselves as men, using primary sources and their own words to bring their experiences vividly to light. Among these forgotten heroines are Christian Davies, Ireland's most famous 18th-century soldier, who received poems from adoring women claiming that she represented a resurgence of "the Amazonian race"; Sarah Edmonds, who left her native Canada and was among hundreds of women to enlist on both sides during the American Civil War; Maria Bochkareva, a private in the Tsar's army and leader of the Women's Battalion of Death in 1917; and Captain Flora Sandes, hero of the Serbian Army, who toured Australia, thrilling her audiences with tales of bravery and patriotism.
The book follows the evolution of women in combat, from the Scythian women who begat the Amazonian myth, to the passing women in the eighteenth century, and on to the re-emergence of women as proud members of the armed forces in various countries in the 20th and 21st centuries. The book also explores the formalization of women's military roles and questions the contemporary relationship between masculinity and combat.
A long overdue assertion on the role of women on the battlefield. This book is going straight on my daughter’s bookshelf. - Dan Snow, historian, TV presenter and broadcaster
Julie Wheelwright discovers and recounts the lives of extraordinary women with a historian’s craft and a storyteller’s flair. Sisters in Arms shows the many faces of women in combat – from the myths of the ancient world to the headline-grabbing conflicts of today – with a scrupulous attention to their different contexts, but a common compassion for their struggles and achievements. Her fascinating subjects cease to be freaks, marvels or outliers but become part of our shared history of war, peace and change. - Boyd Tonkin, journalist and author
Julie Wheelwright removes the shackles of gender in this powerful feminist history revealing an army of fearless unforgettable warrior women in an inspiring and passionate history of their lives. - Lisa O’Donnell, author of 'The Death of Bees' and winner of The Commonwealth book prize 2013
It is always a treat to read Julie Wheelwright. She not only uncovers neglected female warriors, but she brings their temperaments, talents, fancies, and foibles to life. While Wheelwright is sensitive to each of these women’s unique circumstances, she also shows that they shared hopes and dreams for less gender-constrained worlds. - Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck, University of London