A century of women at war

March 2023

Andrew and I are on a road trip, with a long stop in Colorado for skiing. We’ve driven through some states for the first time (Indiana, Missouri, Kansas) and visited historic sites and museums. One stop was at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. It was an intense experience, with simulated trench warfare and extensive background on the shifting alliances and splits among countries that seem, with hindsight, to have laid the foundation for World War II and much of today’s global feuding.

The exhibit included posters designed to rally support for the war, often with female imagery. Women, of course, were not in combat. In the United States, women weren’t even allowed to vote, except in a handful of states. Yet their images were used to sell the war, and war bonds, to the public. Here is some of what I saw at the museum.

It’s hardly surprising that Joan of Arc was featured. Her credentials — military leader and martyred saint — gave her a status beyond what most women could attain, or even wanted. But her heroism played well with a public inclined to buy bonds. Even Britain, which had a hand in her prosecution and execution, felt free to use her image.

This one isn’t quite a saint, but her grandiose qualities seem designed to inspire worship.

Here, housework is patriotic.

In this graphic rendering of boat and rower, you can see the hand of Edward Penfield, a famous illustrator.

Some women did serve at the front, often as drivers and telephone operators in the Signal Corps, and their contributions are recognized here.

The museum also showed this contemporary image of Saint Javelin, an internet meme created by Chris Shaw. Styled as an Orthodox Virgin Mary, she cradles a Javelin rocket launcher instead of the baby Jesus. Decidedly more militaristic than her World War I forerunners, she is a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. She also reflects the reality that many Ukrainian women have taken up arms to defend their country. For this Women’s History Month, she is a potent reminder that the history of women is dynamic and ever evolving.

Related Posts