HIGH POINT, N.C., April 12, 2013 – Dr. Kara Dixon Vuic, associate professor of history at High Point University, recently gave a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Virginia. The event, which coincided with Women’s History Month, was part of the library’s annual spring luncheon.
Vuic’s presentation, titled “A Small Part in this Great Conflict: An American Woman in World War I,” focused largely on the ways World War I brought about great changes to the lives of American women.
“While many people know about the ways that wartime service boosted public support for the suffrage movement and led to the passage of the 19th amendment, or about the thousands of women who served as nurses in the war, most of us know little about the many other ways women participated in the war,” Vuic explains. “My talk focused on the work of women in the YMCA and the Red Cross who went to France, Britain and Germany to provide recreation for American doughboys. These two organizations and the military intended recreation programs to keep young men out of trouble by providing wholesome, yet attractive, young women with whom they could associate.”
In particular, Vuic focused on Emma Young Dickson, the daughter of a steel magnate who grew up in Montclair, N.J. Dickson desperately wanted to serve when the United States entered the war. She eventually did that through her work with the YMCA, Vuic explains.
“She established canteens for soldiers, ran musical programs, wrote letters for wounded soldiers and comforted lonely men far from home. She served in France and occupied Germany for nearly a year,” Vuic says. “I’ve been working with her diary and letters from the war for several years, so I was able to tell her story largely through her own words and images.”
Presentations like this, she adds, helps deepen learning experiences in the classroom. In fact, she shared this research in her War, Gender, and the Military in U.S. History course. Vuic plans to share it again in future courses.
“The story of women recreation workers in World War I is one part of my research about the military’s use of women as entertainment for soldiers in the 20th century,” Vuic says. “This kind of program began in World War I, and my work involves many women like Dickson who provided recreation and entertainment for soldiers around the world.”
Vuic also hopes to write a biography of Dickson that would use her experiences to tell a broader story about women in the early 20th century, about World War I, and about the ways that gender and war together shaped women’s lives.