Linda Grant De Pauw

Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present by Linda Grant De Pauw is a sweeping overview of the multiple roles of women in war. De Pauw chronicles the various functions women performed in war: as spectators watching from the sidelines; as cheer leaders urging men into battle; as warrior queens leading the charge against the enemy; as laundresses; as nurses; as prostitutes; as camp followers; as baggage carriers; as spies; as wives; as mothers; and as soldiers sometimes disguised as men whose real identity was not revealed until they were wounded or their bodies were strewn on the battlefield.

A few recurring themes emerge from this survey. The first is that women are as capable as men of engaging in brutality, torture, bodily dismemberment, etc. on the battle field as are men. The second theme is that women are eager to pick up arms when it is a case of having to defend their homes and families. When the battle is about conquering land or colonizing a people, women are more likely to participate as nurses near the front lines than as battle-hardened warriors.

As De Pauw sketches women’s participation in war from one conflict to another, she includes inspiring stories of females who were brilliant war strategists, leaders, and many others who showed true bravery, heroism, courage, and compassion in the bloody carnage of the battlefield.

Because of the wide scope of the survey covering several thousand years, the book can offer only a cursory glance at women’s role in some of the numerous conflicts in history. The many gaps and paucity of recorded documentation of women’s role in warfare means De Pauw had to rely heavily on sketchy evidence, hearsay, second-hand reports, speculation, and anecdotes for much of the book. Documented evidence is more substantial beginning with the 19th Century. The 50 pages of footnotes and nearly 30 pages of bibliography make available sources for anyone interested in exploring the topic in greater depth.

As De Pauw concedes in her introduction, her work is a starting point, an invitation for further research. She is to be commended for attempting a broad survey of this nature, for highlighting gaps in our knowledge, and for her extensive compilation of available documentation on the subject.