To win the awful fight: The manhood of an American doughboy.
Every major American conflict includes studies examining the experience of the common soldier. Within those many experiences, notions of manhood often provided the impetus for a soldier to enlist, fight, and continue to endure the brutal realities of combat and war. Additionally, the primary documents left behind from the soldiers themselves in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs, and regimental histories offer historians and the general public glimpses into both the wartime experiences and the important but often nebulous centrality of manhood within those individual experiences. Using the incredible document-rich source-base of World War One soldier Corporal Francis Webster, housed in the Gold Star Museum in Johnston, Iowa, this thesis seeks to distill the dynamics of a soldier’s understanding of his own manhood and masculinity from the larger collective experiences of men in war. Since the Francis Webster papers are so extensive, and the man himself a candid documenter and highly introspective, Webster’s struggle to define his masculinity and manhood are fully apparent and seemingly resolved during his wartime service. More importantly, however, Webster also clearly recorded his manly struggles in the years before he put on the uniform. The results of such documentation allow this thesis to narratively explore Webster the man first, and the soldier second. Ultimately, the Webster story provides readers a stronger sense of how manhood and masculinity related to a soldier’s motivations during war, while also shedding light on the ubiquitous “testing”of mahood that war offered those soldiers who fought.