Monday, October 11, 2010

War, Women and the News: How Female Journalists Won the Battle to Cover World War II by Catherine Gourley

When I went to college, I wanted to become a photo-journalist. I had this idea that I would travel around China and send back scintillating stories and pictures of life there. I have no idea why I picked China, except that it seemed to be much more of an unknown in the early 1980s then it is now. Well, life got in the way and I never made it to China, but I have continued my interest in photo-journalism.

I first used War, Women and the News in the library, when I was looking for some basic information about Dickey Chappelle, a woman who covered war from World War II to Vietnam. She died in 1965 in Vietnam, when a land mine exploded; she was the first woman journalist to die in battle. There was a nice section on her in Gourley’s book, and I found everything I needed.

This week I checked out War, Women and the News from the library to read for today. And I am sorry to say, disappointment set in. The book is a compilation of personal stories about the brave and daring women who reported the news during the war. Gourley begins it with an account of two women, Dorothea Lange, a photographer and Martha Gellhorn, a writer, who did field research for the government on the poor, the hungry, and the homeless during and after the depression. These two women, Gourley believes, were among the trailblazers who helped pave the way for future wartime women reporters. She also includes some information on columnists, Dorothy Thompson and Anne O’Hare McCormick, who wrote during the 1930s and on Franklin Roosevelt’s early years as president. Unlike reporters she explains, columnists do not gather the news, rather they interpret it.

Finally, on page 53, she introduces her first female war journalist, Therese Bonney. Bonney was a photo-essayist who referred to the pictures she took as “truth raids.” She was known for her book of photographs called Europe’s Children, pictures showing the hardships the Nazis had wrought on these young victims, a book that shocked Americans and Europeans, bringing the war home in a powerful way.

My disappointment in this book was surprising. I knew Gourley’s work from three American Girl books that are still around the house – Welcome to Felicity’s World, Welcome to Samantha’s World and Welcome to Molly’s World. These were so well done, providing a wealth of information about each time period. The problem I found with War, Women and the News is that it jumps around so much and feels too unfocused. I started reading about Bonney, and then came a section on “Resisters and Partisans,” then back to Bonney. And it continues like that. Gourley ends the book with Christiane Amanpour as an example of a beneficiary of the World War II correspondents because of her reporting in the various recent war zones for CNN.

If you sit and read War, Women and the News from cover to cover, this book might feel confused, but for very basic information about the individual journalists, it is a good book. There are lots of photographs to accompany each chapter and biographical insets about different correspondents. It is recommended for middle school readers.

War, Women and the News won the following awards:
Bank Street Best Books of the Year
Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best
Parents’ Choice Board

The Library of Congress also has an online exhibit called “Women come to the Front: Journalists, Photographers and Broadcasters during World War II.” It is also about other women correspondents during the war and might be appealing to anyone interested in journalism. It can be found at

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted today by


  1. Despite its flaws, this book seems like it'd be an interesting read for the personal stories. I've heard some of the well-known male WWII journalists speak but never even heard about their female counterparts, either on the edit or the photography side.


  2. They were some really awesome women and their stories are really great. Most people think of Edward R. Murrow when they think about war correspondents, but these women really did a wonderful job and deserve a lot of praise.