Wartime Posters Drew Men, Women to Patriotic Duty
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 1999 Long before the advent of television advertising, colorful posters were the most effective means of advertising for wartime manpower and galvanizing Americans' patriotic emotions.
Now famous World War I and World War II posters touched every aspect of American wartime life, from enlistment in the armed forces to women filling in for men on the home front to recycling and conservation of resources.
Images of women on World War I recruiting posters were designed to recruit men, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc. "World War II posters had women on them to recruit women," she said.
But, she said, sometimes the recruiting message intended for men attracted women. Vaught tells the story of World War I "poster girl" Bernice Smith Tongate.
"Bernice Smith was a young girl of 20 when she announced to Navy recruiters, 'Gee! I wish I were a man, I'd join the Navy,'" Vaught said. Artist Howard Chandler Christy overheard Smith, modeled her in sailor blues and used her exclamation as his poster tag line, Vaught said. Ten days after posing, Smith enlisted as a Navy yeoman for three years and made the rank of chief yeoman.
"She was the first woman in California to enlist," Vaught said. "When the Navy said she was too old to enlist in World War II, she joined the Army."
Another World War I poster girl turned sailor was Helen O'Neill, who posed for "I Want You for the Navy." At that time, O'Neill was a civilian employee in the secretary of the Navy's office. When the Navy started accepting women, she joined as a yeoman and worked as an aide to the assistant secretary in charge of procuring ships, Vaught said.
When Congress passed legislation authorizing women reservists in the Marine Corps, O'Neill accepted a commission with the title of deputy director of the Women Marines, Vaught said. She remained in the Marine Corps Reserve and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Vaught said the most famous recruiting poster featured "Uncle Sam" and the words "I Want You for the U.S. Army. Enlist Now." Not only did it attract men, but women, too, caught the patriotic bug and signed up to do their patriotic duty.
"Many women in World War II saw that poster and thought it was talking to them and they had to join," Vaught said. "Army and Navy Nurse Corps posters were also very effective in recruiting nurses."