Heroine to Housewife—Reinventing a Woman’s Life After World War I

A guest post by Renny deGroot

GB1World War I: A time when the world changed forever. Among the advancements of technology, medical discoveries, and the loss of a generation of men, it was also a turning point for women. We are all familiar with those heroic women who worked in munitions factories, made tires, or were employed in all manner of other industries. Aside from those who stepped into the industrial shoes of their missing men, there were also the women who worked in a medical capacity  as volunteers and nurses, risking their lives for the cause at the Front.

These brave hard-working women were united in their shared experiences during the war, and after it had ended they were thanked for their service and told to go home. Were they, in fact, all in the same boat?

The women of the combatant countries were—British, French, or German; they were united in the taste for freedom that working outside the home brought. But what about the non-combatant countries? Most people know that the Netherlands was neutral during WWI, but what many don’t realize is that Dutch benevolent societies supported the Allied cause by providing medical teams. This meant that Dutch women put their life on the line, along with their British, Canadian and American counterparts.

GB2The difference is that once the war was over, these Dutch women went back to a pre-war society where women were quite satisfied to be stay-at-home wives and mothers. Holland had not gone through the same women-out-working experience. Imagine the isolation that these handfuls of women felt when their sisters and friends looked at them in bewilderment as they went home and expressed a desire for more. In England women were marching for freedom and equality. In the Netherlands they were cooking supper.

My grandmother and her sister were two such nurses. They left the safety of their home in the Netherlands and went to Paris to set up and work in a hospital situated in the beautiful Prè Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne (still there today as a fine dining restaurant). The photographs of their time there inspired my novel After Paris.

GB3What is the process by which we reinvent ourselves? What emotional maturity is required to do it well? An athlete suffers an injury. An executive retires from a decades-long career. Some people can do the reinvention, some can’t – especially when isolated in a society that has values so alien to who you have become.

How would you handle a reinvention?

RDCRenny deGroot is a first generation Canadian, daughter of Dutch parents. Her debut novel, Family Business, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.  Her second novel, After Paris, has also been well received, with the current interest in all things WW1.  Renny has a BA in English Literature from Trent University.

Renny lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her elderly Chocolate lab, Great Pyrenees and young Golden Retriever. You can visit her website at http://rennydegroot.com and her Amazon author page here.

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If you like historical fiction, check out The Greenest Branch, my novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. It is FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited, and available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and several other Amazon marketplaces.

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