Mothering in Wartime

Motherhood brings a series of rewards and challenges. And that’s under normal circumstances.

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There have been times when mothering has been made even more challenging because of uncontrollable external forces. In January 1942, weeks after the United States entered World War II, Japanese troops occupied Manila, the capital city of the Philippine Islands, an American colony.

Japanese head into Manila 1942

Within days, they rounded up and interned thousands of Americans living in and around Manila, including women and children. For the most part, the internees fended for themselves. This put an additional strain on the women who had children to mother: separated from their husbands, deprived of servants, forced into communal living arrangements, scrounging for food. Read more about their experiences here:

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This Mother’s Day, Give the Gift of History

If you’ve always given flowers and candy on Mother’s Day, why not start a new tradition this year? Books. Specifically books about women in the past who’ve done spectacular things. There’s so much to choose from. A recent release that’s already been made into a Hollywood blockbuster:

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Or to go along with the queen-for-a-day theme often associated with Mother’s Day:

Image result for rival queens nancy goldstone

How about a nun’s story?

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Or the story of the woman who founded the Girl Scouts?

Image result for juliette gordon low biography stacy cordery

Or an under-appreciated writer:

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And of course, there’s always the unusual war stories:

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Happy Mother’s Day 2017.


An Unsung Hero

Florence Finch has died. More than 75 years after her heroic actions in the Philippine Islands during World War II, she has received national recognition: The New York Times published her obituary two days ago.

I ran across Florence’s story when I was researching anti-Japanese activity in the Philippines. Her name came up in connection with Claire Phillips, one of the “angels” in my recent book. For a time, the two women were jailed together, having been arrested, questioned, and tortured by the Japanese occupation authorities in Manila.

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch was born in the Philippines to an American father and Filipina mother. In early 1942, she worked for the Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union, which was run by the Japanese. She used her position to divert fuel to the resistance, and in her spare time she helped smuggle desperately needed supplies to American military POWs. For these actions, the Japanese sentenced her to three years of hard labor.

Florence, along with Claire Phillips, was rescued by American troops in February 1945. After joining her father’s relatives stateside, Florence joined the Coast Guard. Later, she received the Medal of Freedom for her resistance work in the Philippines.

Why isn’t Florence Finch more widely known? As her daughter Betty Murphy put it, “Women don’t tell war stories like men do.”

Of course, you can read more about Florence in Angels of the Underground. Learn more about women’s war stories.


Are You a Fan of Narrative Nonfiction?

As a historian, I like stories about the past. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog (thank you) know about my fondness for historical fiction. But I’m also drawn to well-told tales of people and events from years gone by.

About a month ago I was invited by a small group of like-minded women to start a discussion group for fans of narrative nonfiction on Facebook. Illuminate: Bright Minds, Fabulous Nonfiction is now a thriving, yet still growing, community. Please consider joining me there, and you’ll get to know these wonderful authors:

Holly Tucker, a professor at Vanderbilt University, who just published a book about murder in Paris during the 1600s. It’s been generating quite the buzz.

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Pamela Toler, freelance writer and academic renegade, who recently published the companion book for the PBS series, Mercy Street. She’s currently working on a new book about strong women across time (details are still hush-hush).

Heroines of Mercy Street

Anne Boyd Rioux, professor at the University of New Orleans, whose most recent biography was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Her new project is about the American classic, Little Women.

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So come join us on Facebook and Illuminate your reading list!


World Book Day

There seems to be a day for everything–ice cream, pickles, beer–you name it and you can celebrate it.

Today is World Book Day. As an avid reader and a painstaking writer, this is my kind of day.

This special day for books has me thinking about an event I attended earlier this week. A local book club chose my recent Angels of the Underground as their April book, and invited me to the meeting to talk about the book. This club has been active since the 1930s, and its members are serious about their love of books. (Its business meetings are convened with the sharp rap of a gavel.) The members prefer to read nonfiction and especially like books that deal with women’s issues. We all had a wonderful conversation about Angels that stretched beyond my presentation into the cheesecake-and-coffee social time.

A couple of days later, the book club sent a lovely flower arrangement as a thank you. Seems like I should have been the one to send the flowers!

book club flowers