DOMESTICATING THE WAR: SOME NEW WOLFSONIAN ACQUISITIONS FROM WWI

The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library has recently acquired a couple of items from the World War One era. The first of the new acquisitions is a book published by LeRoy Phillips in Boston describing the American Army serving in France between 1917 and 1919. Written by U.S. Army Captain David Gray, the work is lavishly illustrated with mounted color reproductions of paintings by Joseph-Félix Boucher (1853-1937), the official painter to the French Armies.

As one might expect from a commemorative book published in the immediate aftermath of the war, the volume is replete with the artist’s fine portraits of the renowned American General Pershing, other U.S. Army commanders and officers, and images of the triumphant American soldiers parading down flag-draped Parisian streets.

Happily, the publisher also elected to include some of the artist’s paintings of the less celebrated participants and heroes of the war: the “colored troops” of the 370th Infantry, and the nurses of the American Red Cross.

While looking for rare World War One materials dealing with the home front, I happened across (and had to acquire) a rare copy of the March 1918 issue of The Delineator: A Magazine for Women. I had been immediately struck by the similarity of the cover image to another item in our collection. The Delineator cover designed by S. J. Woolf presents an idyllic domestic scene of a patriotic American family. Wearing a blue dress with white trim cuffs and collar, a mother stands in front of a window displaying a flag with a service star, indicating that her husband is serving abroad. Her young son seated beneath her protective embrace, wears a khaki (Boy Scout?) jacket with soldier’s stripes over his white shirt and blue cravat. The woman has put down her knitting and her son his toy soldiers, and the pair stare down intently at a map of the European war theater spread out across the table, the woman pointing to a spot on the map where their absent head of household or the American forces are fighting at the front. The colors of the Stars and Stripes dominate the picture entitled The Home of the Brave.

The illustration has a very wholesome Norman Rockwell-esque sensibility about it, and an advertisement on the verso of the cover uses an image of an African-American cook standing behind Uncle Sam to sell cream of wheat and patriotism simultaneously.

But what impelled me to purchase the periodical in the first place was its striking similarity to another item in our collection produced twenty years later for a calendar backboard designed by Duilio Cambellotti (1876-1960) celebrating Mussolini and the Fascist regime’s colonial adventures in Northeast Africa.

Just as in the First World War American piece, the Italian woman in the picture captures a sense of her reproductive and domestic duties; even as she cradles an infant in one arm, with the other she points to a place on a map of Ethiopia where presumably her own absent husband is serving. Her young son, dressed in the uniform of a Balilla youth, is literally stepping up to get a closer look at the map, while overhead a futurist image of colonial soldiers wield pickaxes and mann machineguns before a giant backdrop of the Italian flag. The colors of the woman’s dress and the wall map reinforce the patriotic theme by mirroring those of the Italian flag.

While one might expect that commercial interests operating in liberal democratic governments and totalitarian fascist regimes would produce very different messages, it would that in times of war even such diverse societies tend to adopt similar propaganda strategies. In both cases, publishing interests voluntarily infused their messages with patriotic propaganda for the home front even as they reinforced traditional gender roles.

~ by "The Chief" on April 7, 2012.

One Response to “DOMESTICATING THE WAR: SOME NEW WOLFSONIAN ACQUISITIONS FROM WWI”

  1. The home front depiction of the woman waiting for her husband to come back is endearing. Very interesting blog. Thanks!

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