Since You Went Away

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY offers important new evidence of how American women experienced World War II. Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, the coeditors of two other collections of letters, have included a significant selection from the 25,000-letter archive they have created in order to document the distinctive ways women experienced the war. The book contains letters from women in thirty-nine of the fifty states, but despite the editor’s efforts to include letters form a wide cross-section of women, most are from white, middle-class women, both urban and rural. There are a small number of letters from Afro-American and Mexican-American women; some of the most moving letters in the volume are from a woman of Japanese descent whose husband was placed in an internment camp. The editors provide a very brief introduction, a short introduction to each chapter, and biographical sketches of the women who wrote the letters.

The editors have arranged the letters according to themes relating to women’s lives rather than to the major political and military events of the war. The chapters thus focus on topics such as courtship by mail, the responses of war brides and war wives, the challenges faced by women war workers, and how women perceived the broader significance of the war. The letters speak eloquently of women’s efforts to cope with wartime rationing and shortages, their assumption of traditional male responsibilities, their increased self-confidence, and their wartime political activism as they solicited support for measures such as continued funding for federal day care centers.

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY also includes a pictorial essay, a chronology of World War II events, a bibliographical essay on homefront women during the war, and an index.