Elizabeth Foxwell has spent much of her career immersed in mystery and crime fiction. She’s a scholar of the genre, has won an Agatha Award for her stories, reviews mysteries for Publisher’s Weekly, and is managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection.
She took a very different turn in her latest project: an anthology of writings by American women who served in World War I. Titled In Their Own Words , it uses letters, journal entries, and articles to present a cross-section of women’s experiences in the war.
Eliza Scidmore appears in the book, among half a dozen female war correspondents.
Eliza was in Japan in the summer of 1914 when Japan declared war on Germany. She published an article in The Outlook magazine describing Japan’s entry into the war as an ally of France and Russia. Foxwell read an excerpt from it during an author’s talk last night at One More Page Bookstore in Arlington, Va.
Foxwell also discussed her book in a recent radio interview by WAMU’s “Metro Connection.”
At the bookstore, Foxwell said her interest in WWI narratives by American women grew from her study many years ago of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. (Last month I watched the engaging film of the same title during a trans-Atlantic flight.) Foxwell said she found few accounts of wartime service by American women as told from their own perspective.
Most people, she said, associate women’s service in WWI mostly with nursing. She scoured records from public sources and private collections for writings that would illustrate the diversity of the women who served and their widely varied roles. Among those featured in the book are canteen workers, librarians, clerks, switchboard operators, Red Cross volunteers, U.S. Navy “yeomanettes,” and a female barnstormer.
Thousands of women served overseas even before America entered the war in 1917, Foxwell noted. They worked under Allied nations and nongovernmental groups providing medical care and other services.
Eliza spent part of the war in Europe, covering Red Cross relief efforts, among other things.
By the time the war broke out, she had been reporting on and off from the Far East for 30 years. Her 1914 article in The Outlook described developments leading up to the declaration of war by Japan and the weeks that followed.
“Japan joined very slowly and deliberately, evidently reluctantly,” Eliza wrote, “bound by her alliance to do whatever requested.” Japanese troops were part of a coalition dispatched to destroy a German railway supply line at Tsingtau and protect British merchant ships in the South Seas.
Eliza wrote admirably of Japan’s restraint in setting off for war:
“Throughout the whole affair Japan has been calm, quiet, and self-contained — a splendid object-lesson of how to go to war and not lose your head. There was no boasting, no hurrahing, no noisy ‘On to Tsingtau.’ ”
Germany “bitterly resented” Japan’s entry into the war because of “all that Japan owed to Germany in military and medical training, modern science, and art and philosophy,” Eliza wrote. Under a sweeping program of modernization, Japan had drawn heavily on German culture and institutions as models.
Eliza wrote that she visited some of the first German prisoners who were taken to Japan. They were quartered at military hospitals and makeshift prisons set up in old castle towns and Buddhist temples. “Officers, men, and invalids were allowed to speak to me freely, and one and all they acknowledged the courtesy, consideration, and unfailing kindness of the Japanese officers in charge,” Eliza wrote.
A few years earlier, in her book As the Hague Ordains, Eliza had reported similarly on Japan’s humane treatment of war captives during the country’s 1904-05 war with Russia.