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Female War Correspondents of the First World War

 

Dr. Stephanie Seul

World War I saw the rise of women as war correspondents. Although the presence of female journalists in the combat zones was still unusual, women of the belligerent nations as well as of neutral countries managed to gain access to the frontlines in different war theatres and to publish their eyewitness accounts and photographs in well-known newspapers and magazines. To name just a few, Sofía Casanova from neutral Spain covered the Eastern Front for the Spanish paper ABC; the American journalists Nellie Bly, Peggy Hull, Louise Bryant, Bessie Beatty, Rheta Childe Dorr and Helen Johns Kirtland, among others, reported from Russia and the Western Front. On the Allied side, Louise Mack from Australia reported on the German invasion of Belgium for British papers, while in Italy Flavia Steno covered the Italian front for Il Secolo XIX. On the side of the Central Powers, Thea von Puttkamer was a German war correspondent based in Constantinople; and Margit Vészi, Maria Magda Rumbold and Alice Schalek were accredited as official war correspondents to the Austro-Hungarian War Press Office.

Still, studies of female war correspondents have been few and far between and are conspicuously absent from Knightley’s (2003) and Farrar’s (1998) accounts of war correspondents. Likewise, histories of women journalists largely ignore female war correspondents (Spreizer 2014; Marzolf 1977; Hämmerle, Überegger and Bader Zaar 2014). Hence, we still lack a systematic study of female war correspondents during WWI, as opposed to WWII, be it on a national scale or from a comparative point of view.

My current project aims to fill this gap and to shed new light on the history of women in journalism. It endeavours to identify hitherto neglected facets of female war reporting that could form the basis of a future research agenda with a multinational and comparative approach. Thus, future research should aim to

  • identify the names of female war correspondents from different nations and the newspapers/magazines they were writing for;
  • establish the social background of female war correspondents and their professional careers – were they already established journalists prior to their war activities (such as Nelly Bly, Alice Schalek);
  • illuminate the working conditions of female journalists in a traditional male preserve: Were women given equal access to the battle theatres? Were they accredited as official war correspondents with the military? How was their treatment by military authorities and by their male colleagues? Were they able to publish under their own names;
  • reconstruct the astonishingly wide-ranging activities of female war correspondents, who often not only published reports in newspapers and magazines, but acted at the same time as photographers, lecturers, or even nurses;
  • discuss how female war reporting differed from its male counterpart, specifically to test Milly Buonanno’s (2009) hypothesis that female war reporting is characterized by a greater responsiveness to ‘human interest stories’ i.e. reporting the human aspects of war such as suffering, loss, displacement, and upheaval;
  • and, finally, trace the similarities and differences in the lives and work of female war correspondents across the globe.

In a first step, my research has focussed on Alice Schalek, Austrian travel journalist, photographer and lecturer, and her assignments to the Italian front during 1915-1917 as official war correspondent accredited to the Austro-Hungarian military forces.

 

Publications

Seul, Stephanie: A female war correspondent on the Italian front, 1915-1917: The Austrian travel journalist and photographer Alice Schalek. In: Journal of Modern Italian Studies 21,2 (2016), pp. 220-51.

 

Conference Papers and Guest Lectures

“Female War Correspondents during the First World War: A thinly researched field in the history of journalism”, guest lecture, University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain, 10 November 2017 (translated into Catalan by Núria Lambea Llop).

“Transmedial entanglements in the wartime oeuvre of Alice Schalek: War journalism, photography, books and public lectures (1915-1917)”. EMHIS conference Tracing entanglements in media history, 17-19 May 2017, Lund University, Sweden.

“Female war correspondents of World War I: Mapping a thinly researched field in the history of journalism”. ECREA 6th European Communication Conference – Mediated (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures, 9-12 November 2016, Prague, Czech Republic.

“Women war correspondents of the First World War: Alice Schalek on the Italian front, 1915-1917”. 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association: Communicating with Power, 9-13 June 2016, Fukuoka, Japan.

“’To witness how nature is perishing is impossible to bear’: Landscape portrayals of the Austro-Italian front in the wartime reports of the Austrian war correspondent and photographer Alice Schalek”. Conference International Society for First World War Studies Conference 2015: Landscapes of the Great War – imagination, representation, experience, Trento and Padova, Italy, 10-12 September 2015.

“Women as war correspondents: The Austrian journalist and photographer Alice Schalek on the Italian front, 1915-1917”. Workshop Stampa in Guerra. Press at War, Università degli Studi di Trento, Italy, 21 November 2014.

 

 

 

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