Chris Dubbs broadly depicts thirty-eight American newswomen's actions and published World War I coverage to argue that they “put a feminine stamp on what had always been seen as the masculine pursuit of war correspondence” (xviii). Unladylike vividly recreates the women's war experiences in neutral nations, revolutionary Russia, and within the conflict's European and Middle Eastern fronts. Dubbs’ vignettes—including Mary Boyle O'Reilly's profile of war-afflicted Belgian civilians, Mary Brush's interview with a patronizing Russian finance minister, and Rheta Childe Dorr's reportage on female Russian soldiers and encounters with sexism in France—exhibit how American female reporters’ war itineraries diverged from those of their male peers. Dubbs’ extensive treatment of his subjects—a welcome departure from androcentric journalistic discussions—drafts a plausibly sound foundation for this claim.
Yet Unladylike’s sheer breadth blunts its thesis. Lavishly situating American female journalists’ war writings—some featured in a forthcoming Dubbs-curated anthology of women's reporting—supplants salient archival and scholarly engagement. Unladylike’s bibliography identifies no consulted document repositories, though its contents suggest some Saturday Evening Post-related passages are archivally-based. How, then, can we know that American newswomen, not their editors, put “a feminine stamp on [their] … war correspondence”? Indeed, Dubbs notes that Post editor George Lorimer refused to print one of Cora Harris’ war stories because she “editorialize[d] a good deal more than Lorimer preferred.” Dubbs analogously represents San Francisco Bulletin editor Fremont Older as thinking newswoman Sophie Treadwell's war anecdotes “‘rubbish,’” and exhorting her to “‘[b]e [her] old self’” in her writing. Dubbs even detects self-censorship in the war actions of Mabel Potter Daggett, who worked under Pictorial Review editor Arthur Vance. (54, 119, 127–28) Lorimer's, Older's, and Vance's actions suggest they played a role—perhaps a decisive one—in shaping the women's war writing. Before asserting that American women's war journalism imparted a “feminine stamp” on their field, one must define that stamp and show its existence predated and survived male editors’ influence. By sacrificing such archivally-rooted analysis for narration, Dubbs hinders his argument.
There are also concerns about the printed materials Unladylike includes and excludes to support its claims. Its bibliography lists just four-dozen secondary works on American women's war reporting. Some citations are perfectly comprehensible, like Jane Marcellus’ assessment of Sophie Treadwell and Jan Cohn's study of the Post. Other selections are puzzling. It references Kerri Hollihan's Reporting under Fire, a children's nonfiction book covering five American female Great War journalists but ignores Caitlin Birch's Simmons College MA thesis that appraised seven similar writers. It is similarly unclear how Dubbs’ treatment of American female war journalists compares to that of Dorothy and Carl Schneider's Into the Breach, a popular historical work that assessed nearly half the newswomen Unladylike covered. Even among published primary sources—the book's cornerstone—there are perplexing omissions. Dubbs frames Edith Wharton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Gertrude Atherton as “Novelist Journalists” whose prior fiction affected their war coverage. (79–107) Yet he does not examine their 1918–published novels to see if the converse proved true. Likewise, Dubbs repeatedly characterizes Wharton's and Treadwell's writings as emblematic of “wartime travelogue[’s firm presence] … in the journalism of the Great War.” (42, 86, 117) Why not then compare their narratives to prewar travelogues—particularly Wharton's A Motor-flight through France (1908)—to illustrate how war reporting and travel chronicles affected each other? Including these firsthand works would have complemented Unladylike’s methodology and supported its argument; their exclusion proves procedurally unwarranted. Unladylike’s approach to referenced and relevant material often obfuscates its thesis’s novelty, its intersection with pertinent prior topical assessments, and its justification for characterizing war-reporting trends.
An Unladylike Profession deservedly stimulates interest in American women's World War I journalism. It will undoubtedly serve as an effective companion to Dubbs’ anthology of such newswomen's writing. However, it needs to distinguish more fully its assessment from that of its predecessors, and to demonstrate the presence of a “feminine stamp” at more, if not all, levels of American female journalists’ World War I writings. For the near future, further academic analysis of these female reporters remains necessary.