Book Review: Women Heroes of World War II – by Kathryn J Atwood

book cover Women-Heroes-of-WWIIWomen Heroes of World War II; 26 stories of espionage, sabotage, resistance & rescue – by Kathryn J Atwood

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Kathryn J Atwood, author of several books about the extraordinary lives of women during the First & Second World Wars. Kathyrn had come across the Sheroes of History blog, and rightly guessed that I might be interested in reading her books.

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Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi began her ascent to rule when she was only 16, during a time where female names were too insignificant to be recorded; she was known as ‘the woman of the Nala family’. She was taken in as a concubine by the Xianfeng Emperor in 1852, during a routine selection.

Cixi went down in history to some as a ruthless killer; a woman who was selfish, strict and cunning. Traits which, had they been describing a man, would not be given a second thought. Cixi was, however, a clever woman with an array of talents and who ruled the Qing Dynasty when her husband died.

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Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) was a 17th-century writer who challenged expectations of women at the time by writing plays, poetry and novels for profit.  Her most famous texts include The Rover, Oroonoko, and The Fair Jilt.   Some of her writing was notorious for its sexual themes, but she also got into trouble for writing about politics, a risk for any writer during this period but particularly for a woman.  Behn’s prose writing is seen as playing an important part in the development of the novel.

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Juana Inés de la Cruz – Scholarly Sister

Juana Inés de la Cruz was a nun with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a firm belief in womens’ right to education. She is regarded by many as the first published feminist in the New World.

Born near Mexico City in 1651 to unmarried parents, Juana, like most girls of her time, had very little access to education as a child. But this didn’t stop her; she developed a desire to learn from an early age and could be found hiding in the chapel of the hacienda where she lived, devouring her grandfather’s books.

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Katherine Harley

Katherine Harley sits at the desk
Katherine Harley sits at the desk

Katherine Mary Harley nee French, sister of Sir John French, (leader of the British army at the outbreak of World War 1,) and Charlotte Despard, was born on May 3rd 1855, less than three months after the death of her father. Her childhood was blighted by her mother’s ill health and by the age of ten she was an orphan. Katherine was sent to boarding school and then travelled to India to stay with her sister Maggie. There she met and married George Ernest Harley, a soldier. A little over a year later still in India she gave birth to her first child Florence.[i]

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