This last Thursday, the library hosted an orientation visit for just under a dozen graduate students enrolled in a European history class co-taught by Florida International University Professor Aurora Morcillo and Professor Marta Zarzycka from Utrecht University. The course, entitled Images at War is focused on gender aspects of propaganda starting with the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 on through contemporary conflicts. The class will be
investigating propaganda materials from the Wolfsonian museum and library collections in relation to theories of representation and gender, and will be comparing and contrasting these historical visual tropes with that produced in more contemporaneous conflicts in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

First, the students were provided with instructions on how to access the library collection (both physically and virtually). Afterwards, Dr. Harsanyi and I introduced the students to a display of propaganda materials in which images of women were deployed to “inform” certain audiences about the protagonists of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Since Dr. Harsanyi led the discussion of the WWII materials, I will leave it to him to discuss those materials in a later blog, while my own will focus on a few items culled from our large Spanish Civil War collection.

In justifying their “rebellion” against the Republic, Francisco Franco’s fascist forces attempted to depict the government as having fallen into the clutches of Godless Marxists, bent on destroying Spanish Catholicism and promoting the “nationalization” of women at the expense of traditional family values. In contrast, their own propaganda picturing women in fascist controlled areas of Spain reinforced their traditional roles as housewives and mothers raising their children in the service of God and nation.

The “popular front” regime’s inability (or unwillingness) to stop attacks on Church properties added fuel to the fire.

Fascists printed thousands of leaflets to be dropped from planes with photographic “evidence” of the atrocities being perpetrated against the religious.

For its part, the propaganda ministries of the various provinces of Spain held by the loyalists produced propaganda posters and postcards in defense of the Republic. Some postcards in our collection glorify the ideas of anarchists and revolutionaries, while at least one celebrated the example set by Dolores Ibarruri (or “Pasionaria”), the fiery “Red” parliamentary representative of Asturias.

Others occasionally pictured women as combatants, or at least in the role of female “recruiters” who shaming men into shouldering rifles and joining the militias.


Once the Soviet Union came to the aid of the loyalists, they and their “fellow travelers” also produced propaganda designed to highlight the non-traditional roles played by women as combatants in the struggle.

Such images were seized upon by the fascists as proof of the radical nature of the “red revolution” in Spain, and consequently, the Republican government and its allies later shied away from depicting women in nontraditional roles. Instead, they began to argue in their visual rhetoric that they were the ones with God on their side. Some of their leaflets  damned the fascists for employing Islamic colonial troops to kill God-fearing Christian civilian families.

Other loyalist postcards and propaganda pieces emphasized family values and depicted loyalist women engaged in traditional domestic roles in support of their men at the front.


Some images subtly reinforced this rhetorical trope by depicting bereft loyalist mothers looking very much like Michelangelo’s Pietà.

~ by "The Chief" on August 27, 2011.


  1. Dear Sir.
    I was quite pleased to find a drawing by French artist Chas Laborde in your very interesting display. Under the comment “The “popular front” regime’s inability (or unwillingness) to stop attacks on Church properties added fuel to the fire”, you show a picture from “”Juillet en Espagne””, which shows catholic nuns in Bilbao being escorted by militiamen out of their convent. Chas Laborde, who was an eyewitness of these events, wrote that a woman tells her neighbours that some fascists hidden behind the chapel walls have shot at the volunteers who retaliated by puttinga torch to the building.
    By chance Chas Laborde was in Madrid when Franco started his coup and he went at once to Santander then Bilbao to see by himself what was happening. His testimony is of great value (but almost forgotten) because he was here and only drew what he saw.
    Disliking every kind of dictature and being Basque, Chas Laborde was very much against Franco. He went back in Spain once, after the end of the Civil War but found the mood so oppressive that he left almost immediately without aving been able to make one drawing.
    Best regards.
    Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian
    author of “Chas Laborde, un homme dans la foule”.

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