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 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.) 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.
Nursing usually comes to mind when people think of women serving in WWI. But Foxwell wanted to show the broad diversity of women and their work in the war, as told from their own perspective, so she scoured a lot of public records and private collections for sample writings. The book spotlights canteen workers, librarians, clerks, switchboard operators, Red Cross volunteers, U.S. Navy “yeomanettes,” and a female barnstormer.
Eliza spent part of the war in Europe covering Red Cross relief efforts. 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.
Eliza wrote that she visited some of the first German prisoners who were taken to Japan and they reported being treated kindly. The issue of POWS was an ongoing interest of hers. Years earlier she had written a novel, As the Hague Ordains, based on Japanese treatment of Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05.