"Americans, Do Your Bit" World War I in Posters

Happy Holidays from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library!

A Merry Christmas, Peace Your Gift to the Nation, 1918. Gordon Hope Grant (1875-1962), Washington, D. C. Gift of Mrs. G. Gardner Cook, A1997/028/0018.

In 1918 artist Gordon Hope Grant (1875-1962) designed and drew this cheerful poster of a young doughboy, an older man--likely meant to represent Uncle Sam--and Santa Claus wishing all a Merry Christmas. The smiling, rosy-cheeked figures are companionably grouped together in front of a shield bearing the colors and symbols of the American flag. Two holiday wreaths adorn the shield. In addition to the wish of “A Merry Christmas” at the top, text at the bottom of the poster thanks soldiers for their help. This text calls out solders’ contribution to a significant accomplishment with the phrase: “Peace, Your Gift to the Nation.”

World War I formally concluded in November, 1918. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers needed to come home from Europe to the United States or from locations within the United States. Many of these service members completed their duties in Europe and the United States and then waited for the Army to arrange transportation for their return home. Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross, sought to ease the waiting period by providing soldiers with laundry facilities, wholesome food and leisure activities, but it was still a challenge.  Repatriation of soldiers from Europe lasted well into the summer of 1919. 

Gordon Grant, who created this poster, achieved the rank of Captain working for the Army’s Morale Branch, a group that produced propaganda to support the war effort. After fighting ended in 1918, he produced a series of posters that encouraged soldiers to complete their periods of service. Some of his posters lauded the value of an Honorable Discharge. Others sought to inspire soldiers to take pride in their service and encouraged them to be patient through the demobilization process. Examples of these posters are on view at the Museum in the exhibition, “Americans, Do Your Bit:  World War I in Posters.”  Grants' posters  are just some of the millions American artists produced in support of the war effort.  These images delight and intrigue viewers today and serve as a reminder of Americans’ shared effort and sacrifice during World War I.






Now on view: Alice Hendee in “Americans, Do Your Bit: World War I in Posters”

This Is What God Gives Us, 1917-1918. Alice Julia Hendee (1889-1969), New York. Gift of Diana Korzenik and Andrew S. Dibner, A99/81/01. Photograph by David Bohl.

During World War I when the U. S. government sought to persuade citizens to help the war effort, it turned to a group of volunteer artists for help. These artists deployed their enthusiasm and skill to help sell the government’s messages in poster form. Before, during and after America’s twenty-month participation in World War I—from April 1917 through November 1918—the government and private organizations printed more than twenty million posters to encourage citizens to donate money, conserve food, and support war-related charitable efforts.  Some of these posters are now on view in “Americans, Do Your Bit:  World War I in Posters.”

In 1917 volunteer artists formed the Division of Pictorial Publicity, a group within the United States Committee on Public Information. At its height the Division numbered 312 artists in its ranks. Most were experienced illustrators who drew pictures for books, magazines, and all kinds of advertisers. These artists turned their talents to promoting war time initiatives. Their main audience was Americans on the home front. The Division created a host of advertisements, including window cards, subway car cards, and 700 poster designs. Their posters hung in libraries, railway stations, factories, clubs, and schools—citizens could not escape their pressing and persuasive messages.

Throughout the conflict, the United States Food Administration and the National War Garden Commission, encouraged citizens to use food wisely and to produce food at home. The USFA crafted the official policies and mechanisms that allowed America to feed its citizens and soldiers as well as assist the Allies—mainly in Belgium, England, France and Italy—by controlling the supply, distribution and conservation of food. The National War Garden Commission taught new gardeners how to grow vegetables and how to dry and can food for preservation. These and other efforts at home freed up commercially produced food, which could then be sent to soldiers or Allied civilians. To help achieve their aims, organizations produced leaflets, presented demonstrations, sent out speakers, and offered classes. They also printed thousands of eye-catching posters urging Americans to conserve, preserve, and produce.

One design, illustrated at left, was the work of the artist Alice Julia Hendee (1889-1969).  With this image of an attic stocked with colorful fruits and vegetables, she suggested a bountiful fall harvest. The text encouraged viewers to do without in order to help others. The USFA also practiced conservation of poster designs—it presented this same artwork with a different slogan: “Eat less and let us be thankful that we have enough to share with those who fight for freedom.” Signed A. Hendee at the lower right, a note in a list of food-related wartime publications credited the artist of this poster, No. 17. “Fruits and Vegetables,” as Alice Hendee.  A 1917 New York City directory listed Alice Hendee as an artist living on the upper West Side. 




“Publications of the U. S. Food Administration,” Food News Notes for Public Libraries, vol. 1, no. 9, June, 1918, p. 20.

Walton H. Rawls, Wake up, America!: World War I and the American Poster (New York : Abbeville Press, Inc., 1988)

New to the Collection: Centennial Odd Fellows Lodge No. 178 World War I Honor Roll

Honor Roll Centennial Lodge 2015_030_2DP1DB
Centennial Lodge No. 178 Honor Roll, ca. 1919. Massachusetts. Museum Purchase, 2015.030.2.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Along with lodge furniture and banners associated with a group of Massachusetts Odd Fellows, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently purchased this painted sign for the collection.  Centennial Odd Fellows Lodge No. 178 in West Boylston, Massachusetts, commissioned this decorative sign to honor eighteen lodge members who fought in World War I.

Museum volunteer researcher Bob Brown recently dug into the service histories of the men listed on the sign in preparation for the exhibition, “Americans Do Your Bit: World War I in Posters,” which opens on June 3, 2017.  To uncover information about the eighteen men listed on the sign, Bob consulted records housed at the National Guard Museum and Archives in Concord, Massachusetts, and resources available online.  His research into the occupations and wartime experiences of the lodge members listed on the honor roll hints at how many men experienced World War I. 

Before they left to join the Army or the Navy, members of Centennial Lodge No. 178 worked locally in different professions.  The largest number of men listed on the sign worked in area factories in different positions.  Two were supervisors, one was a plumber, one was a machinist and another was a tool maker. Four members of the lodge who served in World War I earned their livings as farmers.  The group on the honor roll also included clerks, a doctor, a college student and a college instructor.  Four of the men also belonged to Boylston Masonic Lodge before the war.  Three joined the Masonic lodge afterwards. 

Of the eighteen men in Centennial Lodge who served, the youngest was 21 and the oldest was 42.  Most were in their twenties, reflecting the age of the millions of men who registered for the draft in 1917 and 1918.  The Selective Service Act required that men from age 21 to 31 register. Though many volunteered, over 70% of the American men who served in World War I were drafted.  At least seven of the men listed on Centennial Lodge’s honor roll were drafted and inducted, illustrating the national trend.  The others listed on the honor roll volunteered, were appointed or the records about their service are unclear.  Two of the men listed on the honor roll were foreign born, one in England, the other in Canada. 

Seven of the Centennial Lodge members who served were sent overseas; the rest filled military roles in the United States.  Lodge member and dairy farmer Harold N. Keith (1890-1918), whose name is listed on the sign, was killed in action in France. His fellow member, Arthur I. Hunting (1876-1938) received an injury during his service.  Each surviving member of Centennial Lodge had to resume his life and occupation after his time in the Army or Navy concluded.  The painted sign reminded all who saw it of numerous Americans’ shared effort and, in many cases, sacrifice, during and after the war.