March 26, 2014

American Women POWs Inspire Commitment and Courage

We welcome guest blogger Mary Cronk Farrell and look forward to reading her fascinating new book for teen readers!

Decoupage Inspirational Soaps

When I decided to write about American women captured prisoners-of-war during World War II, I knew photos would be an important part of the book. These army and navy nurses exhibited amazing courage and resilience in the face of combat, disease, hunger and hardship. But if teenagers could see their faces, they would realize that in many ways these woman were not so different than themselves. They weren’t born with extraordinary grit, they developed it day by day amid the demands of their duties.

U.S. Navy Nurse Margaret Nash weighed 
only 68 pounds when liberated 
after three years in prison camp.
PURE GRIT: HOW AMERICAN WWII NURSES SURVIVED BATTLE AND PRISON CAMP IN THE PACIFIC features pictures of the nurses enjoying life in the Philippine islands before the Japanese invasion. Photos show them caring for combat casualties in jungle field hospitals and in an underground tunnel hospital. With pictures on nearly every page of the book, young people will follow the women into prison camp, watch as their fellow prisoners grow thinner and thinner, and wait with them for liberation. Finally we see the nurses arriving home, smiling and decked-out in their new uniforms.

The nurses’ commitment to their vocation as medical caregivers and their sense of identity as U.S. military women helped them endure the brutal conditions of captivity. Although starving and sick, they continued to care for their patients in the internment camp. “We couldn’t give up,” said one. “We have to keep going to take care of the others.”

This lesson transcends time and place. Knowing who you are and what you are about gives you strength when the world as you know it falls apart.

U.S. Army Nurse Rita Palmer
was awarded the
Purple Heart for wounds
received while on duty at
an Army field hospital bombed
by the Japanese.
I used three strategies to find the photographs I needed for PURE GRIT. I did my first sleuthing by simply putting relevant terms into internet image search engines and following link upon link upon link. Over the five years I worked on PURE GRIT, new images were continually being uploaded onto the web by people and institutions. My internet searches turned up images in the Getty/TIME LIFE editorial archives which became a rich source of high quality and highly relevant photos.

In addition, I played detective to locate living family members of the POW nurses to inquire about photos. The families’ generosity in sharing unique, never-before-published photographs added a wonderfully personal quality to my book. Many other important images came from museums and archives, such as the National Archives, the Women in Military History Memorial Foundation, and the U.S. military archives.

We often keep pictures around us that remind us of people we love and admire, as well as people who remind us of how we want to live.  A fun way to remember heroines of the past is to create a set of soaps featuring their likenesses. You may use the photos of the POW nurses in this article, or search out photos of other people you admire, such as friends, family members, historical people or even characters in your favorite books.

What you will need:

·       One or more unused bars of soap (a rectangular bar works best. I used a curved oval bar and ended up with a few wrinkles in the photo.)
·       Corresponding number of paper images or photos
·       sandpaper
·       Scissors
·       Bar of wax, either paraffin or pale colored beeswax
·       Method & container to melt wax*
·       Optional: waterproof mod podge & paint brush – about ½ to I inch wide

 Steps to follow:

1-If your bar of soap has a brand imprinted on it, use sandpaper to smooth it away.
2-If possible print your photo with waterproof ink. Trim photo a bit smaller than the bar of soap, so that about one-quarter inch of soap will show around the edges of the photo.
3-Melt the wax until it is all liquid. You will need to have the wax about one-half inch deep.
3-Dampen the smooth face of the bar of soap.
4-Press the photo onto the wet face of the bar of soap, smoothing from the middle out to the sides, so there are no wrinkles.
5-Now you will dip the photo side of the bar into the wax. Grasp the sides of the bar with your thumb and fingers near the top so that your fingers will not touch the hot wax. You need only dip the bar deep enough to cover the photo and about a eighth to quarter inch up the sides of the bar. You need only dip it for two or three seconds. Allow the wax to cool about five minutes and dip a second and third time allowing it to cool in-between. Allow the wax to harden for at least 24 hours before using the soap.

The photo will remain on the bar of soap through dozens of washings. It may last longer if you use waterproof mod podge.

Mod Podge method:

1-same as above, trim photo to fit bar of soap.
2-before melting the wax, dampen your paint brush and brush a layer of mod podge over the face of the soap bar. Press the photo onto the layer of mod podge and smooth it. Now brush another layer of Mod Podge over the photograph, covering out to the edges of the bar of soap. Allow to dry according to Mod Podge directions.
3-Now melt the wax and dip the bar.
4-With mod podge you may want to let the soap cure for 72 hours before using.

*There are several methods for melting the wax. If you have a flameless fragrance warmer of sufficient size to allow for dipping the bar of soap, this is an easy and kid safe way to prepare the wax. You can also use a pan on the stove, heating on low until the wax is liquid. The wax can also be melted in the microwave, if you watch it closely so that it doesn’t overheat.

Mary Cronk Farrell is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction for young people and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Learn more about her writing at


  1. If you are trying to post a comment and cannot, please email and I'll see what I can do. And thanks for your interest!
    -- Kerrie

  2. Thanks for the wonderful blog, Mary! Photo research is truly a journey. This is a great way to celebrate Women's History Month.

  3. Mary Cronk Farrell3/27/14, 5:07 PM

    Thanks Brandon. And thanks for hosting me on Hands on Books. I have a fond memory of making a decoupage soap for my sixth grade teacher. Now I'm thinking I might make a set of soaps showing inspiring women for my niece. Maybe astronauts, as that is what she is studying to be.

    1. I made these with my mom for our church women's bazaar back about 1960 using Sweetheart soap. Remember the curlicues on the edge?

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