Women and War Bonds, 1917

When women are depicted in political posters, they are most often young and appealing or heavily idealized, like Liberty herself.  I’ve looked at a lot of war posters in my day—they are a convenient teaching tool—and the older woman in this one is a rarity. 

Why use an older woman to make the government’s appeal? She is drawn as a kind of older everywoman, with white hair, lace trim, and a cameo as essential parts of the stereotype.  Her outfit is as ordinary as possible—a white shirtwaist and dark shirt, the basic outfit of American women for decades.  The reference to “sons” in the poster must have been part of the reason to choose this image. She looks like someone who might have a lot of sons, and even grandsons, in peril.

The woman’s expression is as unusual as her age. In contrast to the conflicts behind her–sinking ships and attacking troops–she looks calm and welcoming. While many posters attempt to scold or shame viewers, this one does not.  However, Americans had only been at war for a little over six months. Perhaps the experts believed that they would try carrots first, and save the sticks for later.

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1 Response to Women and War Bonds, 1917

  1. Katrina B says:

    This is VERY interesting! I don’t know much about the history of advertising, but it looks to me like someone was perceptive and innovative to choose this image. While most advertisements for most of history were directed toward men (thus the young and pretty women depicted), this one is explicitly directed toward women only. Along with the colorful appeal to patriotism and the heart-tugging mention of sons, the image of the older, plain-dressed everywoman would resonate with almost all American women of an age to have the money for buying bonds.

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