Last week, Addie and I went to one of the museums downtown to look at the war exhibit. The man working there was REALLY sweet and helpful, and talked to us one-on-one for the majority of our time at the museum, answering all of our questions. What I found really interesting right away, was the fact that one of the female mannequins was wearing pants. When I asking the man about this, he told that it was because rules had become more relaxed due to the war. Before that the war, women were not allowed to have certain jobs, however, the war trumped everything. While some women served as nurses, others took up the tools their husbands had traded for weapons and worked on their family farms and with the women’s land army. Traditional activities like sewing and knitting also took on a new importance as items were needed to be shipped overseas. Women also took over the factory jobs left open by men when they went off to war. At the beginning of 1915, Dupont chemical company directed all its manufacturing and production towards the war effort. Since social crisis tends to trump political issues, one of DuPont‘s plants started the Women’s Munition Reserve Seven Pines Bag Loading Plant, which was located on the York River near Williamsburg, Virginia. Despite the potential danger, hundreds of men and even women went to the plant in search of employment. It turned out that female workers made up most of the workforce at Seven Pines. Women of every status worked there, and it was not unusual for middle and lower-class women to work side-by-side, sewing and filling powder bags with Virginia’s first lady, Margaret Davis. Fashion norms were also way more relaxed because of the war effort, and long skirts were decided to be impractical in factories, especially in factories with flammable materials. DuPont issued trousers to the women munition workers of seven Pines, however, to maintain propriety and keep the clothing feminine, they were referred to as “womanalls” and “trousettes.”
The man (I hate just referring to this guy as “the man,” but I never got his name) working at the museum also showed me this propaganda poster of a woman and asked me what I noticed about it. It was a poster which showed a woman in armor, which reminded me of when Professor Scanlon told our class about the War Angels that came down and helped the soldiers. The on this poster was Joan of Arc. The poster read: “Joan of Arc Saved France, WOMEN OF AMERICA SAVE YOUR COUNTRY BUY WAR SAVING STAMPS.” I told him that most of the propaganda we saw in class had to do with buying war bonds and not stamps, and he said this was was a poster directed towards women, so it said stamps and not bonds because women can only afford to buy stamps since they don’t have their own money, they have what is left over from their family’s estate and allowances. Although it is a very sexist poster, it was very relevant back then and not considered a sexist propaganda poster to the women of that time.