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Colorado Women in World War II, by Gail M. Beaton (Timberline Books, August 2020)


More than seventy-five years ago, the war AFTER the war to end all wars (WW I), AKA World War II ended. While the war itself was no cause for celebration, it did bring massive changes to American society. We geared up for an uber-national effort, factories turned to making war implements and support for the troops, people raised their own veggies, millions made-do and did-without.

Another major kick in the seat of the pants was to the American labor force, which had its locked gates slowly pried open by females. With little support for the concept of equal rights, women moved into the job market and filled all the pink collar and service positions in the nation that it always had, but also broke limits in new occupations. Colorado was no different, as women soldered, sawed, hammered, flew hither and yon, studied medicine and aeronautics, doctored and nursed, gave tea parties yes, but also marched with men in the service, except for combat.

Colorado Women in World War II could be a handbook for how to move ahead, shove your way into the mainstream. Author Gail Beaton chronicles numerous individuals as they learned (and sometimes loved) to fill critical, vital roles, earning the respect and accolades of their male peers along the way. We always like to imagine that our generation is responsible for major developments, and, we hope, improvements in our society. Beaton clearly credits our foremothers for their courage and fortitude. Shame on our country that some of the most impressive were the insuperable odds against which women of color, all colors, and of differing sexuality struggled simply to claim their right to contribute to the war effort.

Among the fascinating glimpses into life for women during the war—bathing from a helmet, cowering in the depths of a ship under fire, working 12-hour shifts, caring for dying soldiers—the book provides a treasure trove for vets, women, historians, and military buffs. Despite avoiding front line combat, danger and privation still lurked everywhere. Beaton braids nearly eighty oral histories—including interviews, historical studies, newspaper accounts, and organizational records—and historical photographs to reveal women’s participation in the war, exploring the dangers and triumphs they felt, the nature of their work, and the lasting ways in which the war influenced their lives.

The fortitude and creativity with which they shattered limits to create new opportunities for women sets the bar high for following generations. And they did so while saving the entire nation from disaster and despair.

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