Forty-eight blocks down, and only one block remaining. This week’s block in Grandmother’s Choice: The Fight For Women’s Rights quilt project is in remembrance of the Canadian women who stepped forward during World War I to support the war effort both at home and abroad. They not only filled the labor force vacancies left by the men that went to war, but also as nurses at the battle lines. In fairness, Canada awarded women the right to vote in 1917 for the services they provided.
Our foremothers in the United States were no less patriotic, yet they were still denied the right to vote.
WWI ranks highly among the most deadly conflicts in U.S. history. We suffered a casualty list of 323,155 during the 19 months that constituted our involvement in WWI. The need for trained nurses was great.
Anticipating the possibility of war, the American Red Cross Nursing Service was organized in 1901 by Jane Arminda Delano, a professional nurse who also possessed outstanding administrative skills. Jane Delano created the service by uniting the American Nursing Association, the Army Nurse Corp, and the American Red Cross.
I nearly always get derailed by WWI posters, the propaganda and iconography are so compelling. My first experience with this art form was during a visit to the National WWI Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri; a recruiting poster by Fred Spear that shamelessly depicted innocent victims of the torpedoing of the R.M.S. Lusitania on 7 May, 1915. Simple, yet effective.
The American public did not want to become involved in a war in Europe, but propaganda posters, a popular method to attract attention and fire patriotism, were soon being seen across the nation. James Montgomery Flagg, one of the first great propaganda artists, was commissioned to wake America up with a bugle cry for Liberty.
And our government wasn’t kidding about every man, woman, and child. J.C. Leyendecker, known for his Arrow© collar and shirt illustrations, depicted a young Boy Scout arming a warrior-like Lady Liberty with sword and shield.
Don’t make the mistake that sex sells was an invention dreamed up by ad men of the television era, it’s been around a long, long, long time. Howard Chandler Christy, a combat artist during the Spanish-American War, figured if the lure of action, adventure, and heroism in the recruitment posters didn’t float the boats of red-blooded American men, there was a good chance that the pretty girl next door just might do the trick.
Christy devised a backup strategy as well… if sex didn’t sell, a pretty girl casting aspersions on American Manhood – Be A Man And Do It – was certain to compel the most craven of stragglers to the recruitment stations.
Women provided additional services to the war effort aside from being used as a reminder to the boys why they should fight. With approximately 17,000 casualties per month, female nurses, ambulance drivers, clerks, and switchboard operators freed their male counterparts to fight. Would you like some numbers?
America provided 21,480 U.S. Army nurses, all women, who served on the home front and abroad. More than 400 of these nurses died in the line of duty.
The U.S. Army Quartermaster’s Service employed 283 bilingual women as telephone operators and stenographers.
13,000 American women enlisted in the Navy and Marines. 305 women served as Marine Reservists in a clerical capacity, while the yeoman recruits served as couriers, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, masters-at-arms, mess attendants, paymasters, recruiters, switchboard operators, and translators. They received the identical pay, $28.75 per month, as their male counterparts and were treated as veterans after the Armistice.
Need more specific information? Loretta Perfectus Walsh became the first active-duty U.S. woman in a non-nurse occupation when she enlisted 17 March, 1917. Walsh became the first woman U.S. Navy Petty Officer when she was sworn in as Chief Yeoman, 21 March, 1917.
Charles Dana Gibson and Clarence F. Underwood were recruited to create posters that helped fuel the the drive for volunteers and funding.
On the home front, a women’s organization called The Woman’s Land Army of America employed over 15,000 women, many college educated, to replace farmers called up by the U.S. military. A number of well known illustrators and artists provided propaganda posters for the Woman’s Land Army of America, including the man who became known as the the father of the American poster, Edward Penfield.
Canada may have seen the logic of enfranchising women who, in peace and in war, did so much for their country. The United States, however, continued to ignore the lengths that American women were willing to go in service of their homeland. American women waited 22 months after the Armistice before the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress on 18 August, 1920.