Elizabeth Manley is an associate professor of history at Xavier University of Louisiana. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been a member since 2001.
Margaret Lynch-Brennan is a current public scholar for Humanities New York (formerly the New York Council for the Humanities). She lives in Latham, New York, and has been a member since 2002.
Telisha Dionne Bailey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. Dionne lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has been a member since 2015.
Since launching in 2015, the AHA Today Summer Blog Contest has focused on one thing: to give graduate students an opportunity to hone their communication skills by giving them access to a public platform. This year, our winners, Bridget Keown (Northeastern Univ.) and Bernard C. Moore (SOAS, Univ. of London), in four posts each, shared their research with AHA Today readers, and in the process enlightened us about subjects as diverse as women and trauma during World War I and the relationships between animals and humans under colonialism in Namibia.
In 1920, Britain changed its pension laws to allow women to receive compensation for any injuries sustained during the First World War. However, because time had passed since their active service, many found themselves having to prove that their symptoms were directly related to their war experience (and not a result of prewar hereditary conditions or postwar events). They had to find a doctor, a superior from their service, or, at the very least, a family member who could attest that the cause of their suffering was from their service.
One of the most challenging aspects of studying the case notes of women treated for war trauma is that I encounter them at some of the worst moments of their lives. There are often few ways to find more information about them, or to learn what their lives were like after they were released. In many cases, the only story that I can craft about the women I study is about their incarceration in asylums and hospitals, or about their struggle for pensions and medical recognition through their postwar pension files.
The image of the “shell-shocked soldier” remains one of the most enduring of the First World War. His symptoms have become fundamental to understanding the war and the damage it inflicted on the human mind and spirit. Soldiers, however, were not the only war participants to suffer psychological trauma. Women—both on the battle front and the home front—exhibited symptoms of trauma directly related to their war experience, as evidenced by case notes, hospital records, pension files, and correspondence. It is their experiences that I wish to highlight in my AHA Today summer contest blog posts.
Usha Sanyal is an independent scholar and adjunct instructor at Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has been a member since 2010.