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Women in Combat: The Soviet Example exhibit

Women in Combat: The Soviet Example exhibit

B&W photo of women soldiers

Graduating Class, Central Women’s Sniper Training School, circa 1943

Greetings, I’m Hayley Noble, a graduate student with the History Department. I’m working on finishing my Master of Applied Historical Research degree (Public History), which entails writing a thesis and completing a project. Within the field of Public History, I hope to work in museums and exhibit research, so for my project that is precisely what I did. My research interests lie within military history, specifically World War II, and the relationship between violence and gender. That led me to my topic of Soviet women in combat during World War II. I hope you can stop by Albertsons Library to see my exhibit “Women in Combat: The Soviet Example,” on display from March 23 through May 20th.

The Soviet Union mobilized approximately a million women into the war effort, on the front, in the rear, in home defense, not including factory workers and partisans. In the Red Army, they occupied noncombatant roles such as drivers, clerks, medical personnel, and communications. Lesser-known is the fact that women fought alongside men in the trenches in combat jobs as well. They trained as members of aircrews to be pilots, navigators, and mechanics, and with ground forces as tank drivers and mechanics, medics, machine gunners, snipers, sappers, and communications operators. Their service was comparable to their male comrades, earning them many medals and official awards. Unfortunately, once the war was over, the female veterans were expected to return to their primary jobs as mothers, and their actions during the war were seen as shameful, and often ignored. Not until the 1980s was there interest in hearing their stories. Even now, Americans are often unaware of these women, and left out of the World War II narrative.

The subject of women on the front lines seemed very timely given the current U.S. military’s efforts to integrate women into combat jobs. With these new policies, some have opposed women in combat, stating that women cannot handle the rigors of the battlefield. This added angle gave the exhibit context within American perspectives.

In light of all this information, an exhibit educating the public about Soviet women during World War II seemed necessary. Additionally, these women provided a perfect historical example advocating for the capabilities of female soldiers under fire, demonstrating that women can and do play significant, deadly roles on the battlefield. When women are held to the same standards and receive the same training as men, they perform as well as their male counterparts, holding the same motivations: wanting to defend their country from an invading force. I found all of this out through my research, looking at oral history accounts, memoirs, translated scholarly works from researchers in Soviet archives, and many books surrounding the progression of gender in the military, spanning WWII to the present. Using those sources, the Soviet women prove female military capabilities through general text summaries, oral history quotes, photographs, individual biographies, and artifacts, all on display for the exhibit viewer. So in conclusion, the goal of my project is that people leave the exhibit more informed than before viewing.

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