WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II
Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi. Here is his report:
The fall semester started at Florida International University on Monday last week, and already, on Thursday, a first group of students visited The Wolfsonian-FIU library. The graduate students taking the course “Images at War” were presented with a display of library materials illustrating women’s participation in, and life during, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. As my colleague, Dr. Luca dealt in an earlier blog posting with those materials regarding the Spanish Civil War, I thought that I would concentrate on those dealing with World War II.
As it was the case in the major wars fought during the twentieth century, images of women frequently appeared in propagandistic visual messages. In the Axis countries, where the dictators were identified with the nation, official propaganda publications often included images of crowds of enthusiastic women greeting their leaders, signifying the unity of the nation around the commander-in-chief.
Women’s support was considered essential to the war effort and images of women were integrated into militaristic messages. The Wolfsonian library holds a set of printed images intended to be displayed on paper fans (a compulsive component of the traditional Japanese woman’s image). As a reflection of the importance with which they were regarded by official propagandists, Japanese women (often depicted as mothers of future soldiers or as patriotic flag-wavers) were positioned in front of militarized landscapes.
The library also holds hundreds of World War II era postcards. Some of those produced in Fascist Italy equated women’s strict adherence to rationing with the sacrifices and heroism of men fighting on the front, thus bestowing on women the status of virtual combatants.
In a very sentimentally worded sentence, the caption on the back of another postcard exhorts an Italian mother whose son is leaving for the front to lay to rest her moments of anguish by thinking of Mussolini (Mamma, se ti fa male il cuore, pensa al Duce)
Since men were fighting in the armed forces, governments employed women in the industrial sectors involved in supporting the war, thus drawing them away from their traditional role as housewives and nurturers.
POSTER GIFTED BY LEONARD A. LAUDER
Allied propaganda materials often presented images of women enrolled in auxiliary military services. An album of sketches from Britain presents the great variety of assistance women provided on the home front.
The Wolfsonian–FIU library also holds a collection of satirical postcards promoting the pride of women enrolled in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAC)
POSTCARDS GIFTED BY JEFFREY G. FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH
AND FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA
Women wearing the uniform of the US Army and the US Navy were also featured on the cover of a monthly periodical, The Red Barrel, published by The Coca Cola Company “to develop and promote a higher coordination of the forces which make ‘Coca Cola’ an institution.”
GIFT OF PEDRO ANGEL FIGUEREDO
Of course, women were also exhorted to continue their traditional roles as mothers educating their children to get involved and “do their bit” to support the war effort.
LONG-TERM LOAN OF MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.
Wartime publications, such as these American children’s books donated to our collection by Pamela K. Harer, emphasized these maternal, nurturing roles.
GIFTS OF PAMELA K. HARER