"The Spirit of Woman Power": Representation of Women in World War I Posters

Title"The Spirit of Woman Power": Representation of Women in World War I Posters
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsPrelinger, Elizabeth, and Barton C. Hacker
EditorHacker, Barton C., and Margaret Vining
Book TitleA Companion to Women's Military History
CityLeiden; Boston

The most cursory glance at the visual culture of World War I reveals the abundance and omnipresence of images of women. Although all nations  conflated enlistment and combat with masculinity, identifying "virility with war", women's indispensable contribution to the war effort was nevertheless immediately and generally appreciated; every contemporary artistic medium recorded their involve­ment in an extensive range of war-related activities. The coteries of pre­dominantly male artists and illustrators in all combatant countries astutely grasped the propaganda value of female participation, and, as a comple­ment to their portrayals of men, highlighted women's essential role in promoting, sustaining, mourning, and commemorating the war. Poster artists in particular not only depicted actual tasks carried out by female participants, but embedded in their images commentary on such pro­vocative issues as society's deep-seated ambivalence toward women's pur­suit of greater social and political equality under the new conditions posed by the war. This essay explores a small representative selection of thou­sands of wartime propaganda posters featuring women from a variety of combatant nations, and examines some of the complex meanings con­cealed within their simple and direct designs.

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