A Snapshot of Women in the Military as Seen in Posters

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Victory Liberty Loan

Howard Chandler Christy, 1919


The most popular depiction of women in the World War One  poster is as Columbia, the feminine symbol of America. (The name Columbia is derived from Christopher Columbus).

She is seen often draped in the American flag, personifying liberty, justice, virtue, and as a source of inspiration.  In the WWI Poster, women are rarely shown in uniform or  even at work. This is does not reflect the fact that 30,000 American women served in World War One.

Have you Answered the Red Cross Christmas Roll Call?

Harrison Fisher 1918

I summon You in Comradeship in the Red Cross

Harrison Fisher, 1918

For the duration of WWI, women served as nurses in Belgium, Italy and England and many were decorated for their service.  American women also worked overseas during the war in a volunteer capacity.  On the home front, women contributed their labor to greatly to the YWCA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other Service Organizations.

United Behind The Service Star

Ernest Hamlin Baker 1918


The scale of World War II led to a change in US women’s roles very quickly.  Almost 16 million soldiers left civilian jobs to join the military, leaving behind jobs unfilled, and creating new jobs in transport and maintenance of the vast armed force.

For our country's sake today, For your own sake tomorrow

Steele Savage 1944

Speed them back. Join the WAAC

Anon., 1943

In 1941, Congress created the Women’s Army Auxillary Corps to augment the armed forces.  The theory was that every woman who served would ‘free a man for combat’.  WAACS trained as radio and telephone operators, operated the army postal services, did clerical work and taught.


Di Valentin 1944

All in all, 150,000 women served in the WAACs during WWII. It is not surprising though, that women were treated as separate and not equal to men.  Although they received food, housing, uniforms and medical care (an improvement over WWI) their pay was less than men of the same rank.  When WAACS served overseas, they received no overseas pay, no veterans medical coverage, no  life insurance  or death benefits.

Gone are the images of women  draped in flags.   Women in the WWII poster are active participants, in uniform, ready for action.

Volunteer for Victory

Toni Frissell, c. 1943

Nurses in WWII

As in World War I, the role of women as nurses in WWII was critical.  In 1941 there were fewer than 1,000 women in the Army Nurse Corps.  By the end of the war a total of 59,000 women served as nurses in the military.  To achieve such staggering growth the government enlisted the help of the Red Cross and launched a widespread recruiting campaign.

Enlist in a Proud Profession

Anon., 1943

A shortage of nurses both abroad an on the home front led Congress to pass the Bolton act, which set up the Cadet Nurse Corps and subsidized the training of nurses.  This successful program trained 150,000 nurses between 1943 and 1948.

Relevance Today

Today, the nation debates whether women should participate in combat in the Middle East. Regardless of your position on this topic, you must admit we’ve come a long way since 1915.

To read more about women’s roles in US Miltary history, please visit http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/wac/wac.htm


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