Posts by Catherine Swanson

Jean-Hyacinthe Astier and the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse

A2013_5_1DS1_Amis de la SagesseAs I was cataloging 18th and 19th century French Masonic rituals the other day, I found an interesting collection of documents from the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse of Paris (Sovereign Chapter of the Friends of Wisdom of the Orient of Paris) that are not ritual.  The collection of records includes minutes of the chapter, rules and regulations, several lists of members.  These records date from 1822-1830. This chapter was overseen by the Grand Orient of France.

Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse was a Rose Croix chapter.  Although the Grand Orient of France and the Grand Lodge of France confined themselves mostly to Craft degrees, in 1826-1827 the Grand Orient of France (which had merged with Grand Lodge of France in 1799) had 450 lodges, chapters, and councils. These chapters conferred higher degrees such as the Rose Croix degrees at Les Amis de la Sagesse.

According to the chapter minutes, Jean-Hyacinthe Astier (1784-1852) presided over the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse from 1826 through 1828, succeeding Melchior Kubly.  The list of members in this collection includes Astier's name and his signature appears throughout the collection. The membership lists Astier's occupation as a book seller in 1826. 

By the 1830s, Astier had become disenchanted by the Grand Orient of France and took a demit from this chapter.  He decided to put his energies and service toward the Supreme Conseil de France, which had been established in 1804. Astier beleived that Freemasonry was essentially a Christian endeavor and France's Supreme Council, at this time, enforced this belief.

Astier owned a very remarkable collection of books on Freemasonry and a catalogue of his works was published postumously in 1856, entitled,  Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie. Interestingly, catalogue no. 274 indicates that Astier's library included the archives of the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse. The description includes the records we now hold at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, including Séances du Comité, Status et Reglément, Registre des Délibérations, and Registre de présence des Amis de la Sagesse. This is evidence of theA2013_5_1bDS1_Astier original provenance for these records! 



Collection of Records from Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse, 1822-1830. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2013/5/1a-h. 


Bernheim, Alan. "The History of the Present Grand Lodge of France Revisited," Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, accessed 2/16/2013. 

Coil, Henry Wilson. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia.  Richmond, VA:  Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1995, p. 263-265.

Hocart, M. J. Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie, les Templiers et Sociétés qui en dépendent, provenant du Cabinet de Feu M. Astier.  Paris:  Chez D. Guillemot, 1856.

Revere Charter from St. Paul Lodge on Extended Loan

Revere charter scan for blog postRecently, St. Paul Lodge A. F. & A. M., of Gardner (previously Groton), Massachusetts, deposited their lodge's charter on extended loan with the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library for safe keeping (see detail of charter on the left). The museum has an extended loan program in which lodges, chapters, and other Masonic bodies from the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction can place their charters with us.  These charters are stored in a secure vault which is temperature and humidity controlled.  Charters are then documented in our database for tracking purposes.  There is no fee for this storage which is a service to the Masonic community.

The St. Paul Lodge charter, dated January 15, 1797, is signed by Paul Revere, Jr. (1734-1818), Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, and Samuel Dunn (b. 1757), Deputy Grand Master.  Other signatures include Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), Senior Grand Warden, Joseph Laughton (1746-1808), Junior Grand Warden, and Daniel Oliver (b. 1750), Grand Secretary.  The 24 charter members of St. Paul Lodge are listed on the document.

During Revere’s terms as Grand Master from 1795 through 1797, he chartered 23 lodges in Massachusetts.  This doubled the number of Masonic lodges in Massachusetts. Among these lodges were Union Lodge (Dorchester), Montgomery Lodge (Milford), and Jerusalem Lodge (South Hadley) whose charters the museum also holds on extended loan.          

The 216 year-old St. Paul Lodge charter is in very good condition.  Having been conserved at Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2010, this document has been de-acidified, flattened, and encapsulated.  This stabilization insures that it will be preserved for many years to come.   

We welcome other lodges and chapters to deposit their charters here at the museum on extended loan.  We will store, track, and record each document in our database.  If you are interested in this program or have questions about it, please contact either Catherine Swanson, Archivist, or Maureen Harper,  Collections Manager.   

The Rowlands Family: Freemasonry as a Tradition

A2012_64_1DS_rrowlands family_cropped versionFor the Rowlands family, Freemasonry was a family tradition.  Richard Allison Rowlands (1890-1955) was Grand Master of Masons of the State of New York from 1950 through 1952.  He often shared Masonic events with his family, particularly his wife, Gertrude, and his daughter, Patricia.  They are all seen at a visitation to the Westchester-Putnam District in New York, on April 29, 1950 in the photograph (on the left).  R. A. Rowlands is fifth from the left, Gertrude is on his left and Patricia is on his right.

Gertrude and her three daughters were also members of the Order of the Eastern Star.  Gertrude and Patricia took their turns as Worthy Matron.  Gertrude was Worthy Matron of Schnectady's Corlaer Chapter 528 during 1950 and Patricia was Worthy Matron of the same chapter during 1952.

The Rowlands family lived at 1361 Regent Street in Schnectady, New York with their three daughters:  Shirley, Virginia, and Patricia.  R. A. Rowlands' grandfathers were members of the craft.  Richard Rowlands, Sr. was a member of Stella Lodge No. 485 in Brooklyn, New York, and Gerritt Vervoort was a member of Munn Lodge No. 190 in New York City.   R. A. Rowlands' father, John S. Rowlands, was a member of Lebanon Lodge, No. 191, New York City and served as its Master in 1906.  R. A. Rowlands' mother was a member of Flatbush Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. 

The photograph (on the right) shows Richard A. Rowlands at another Masonic event--throwing out the First Pitch at the 14th Annual Baseball Game and Circus Show, Dexter Park, on June 10, 1950.  The event was sponsored by the Brooklyn Masonic Association for Charity, Inc.  R. A. Rowlands participated in many family Masonic events as well as lodge meetings.                                                                A2012_64_1DS_rrowlands throwing out a pitch_cropped version

R. A. Rowlands' grandson, Richard V. Travis (son of Virginia Rowlands and L. Earl Travis), is the donor of this collection of materials including a photograph album, three scrapbooks, over 20 Masonic, military, and civic certificates, ephemera and museum objects.  Richard V. Travis is also Executive Director of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, here in Lexington, Massachusetts.   He is a Scottish Rite Mason, on the Board of Directors for the museum, and is a member of many Masonic organizations.

This collection is a wonderful example of how Freemasonry flowed from great-great-grandfather to great-grandfather to grandfather to grandson-- through five generations!


For Further Reading: 

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1950, p. 197-200.

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1955,  p.146-149.

Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America, 1955, p. 372-373.



Photograph Album of Richard A. Rowlands.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Libray, Gift of Richard V. Travis, A2012/64/1.



Independent Order of Good Templars in Oswego County, New York

A2012_44_1c_DS_web versionThe year 2012 has brought many new acquistions to the Archives and one notable collection was a group of seven ledgers from Bowens Corners Lodge, No. 67, Oswego County, New York of the Independent Order of Good Templars. These ledgers date from 1902-1908.

The ledger minutes from Bowens Corners were written during one peak of the Temperance Movement within the United States and the height of membership in the Independent Order of Good Templars. In 1907, the Independent Order of Good Templars had 350,000 members nationwide. It was an organization that had split off from the International Order of Good Templars. However, the factions came together in 1852 and formed the Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Good Templars of the State of New York. It was a fraternal order that accepted both men and women as well as African Americans (in northern states), had ritual degrees, and promoted the total abstinence from alcohol.  For further information about early temperance groups see these previous posts.

One of the ledgers contains a printed copy of the Good Templars' Constitution. Article II, Section I, of this Constitution is the pledge which reads: "No member shall make, buy, sell, use, furnish, or cause to be furnished to others as a beverage, any Spirituous or Malt Liquors, Wine or Cider; and every member shall discountenance, in all proper ways, the manufacture, sale and use thereof." Each man or woman had a membership certificate that gave them clearance into the order. Nellie Dumars had been an officer of the Bowens Corners Lodge and signed her name to this certificate (below) in 1904.

Bowens Corners Lodge minutes from another ledger reveal that certain members, Seth Johnson (b. 1879) of Granby and Earl Worden (b.1882) of Volney had "broken their pledge on April 12, 1902 and admitted their guilt." At a meeting in May 16, 1902 members decided to table this issue while they A2012_44_1_DS_IOGT certificate_web versionconsulted Article VII of their Constitution which deals with offenses and trials. If Johnson and Worden drank alcohol then they were to be expelled and restored to the order only with a restoration ceremony in open lodge within four weeks of the admission of guilt. Later that summer according to the minutes, on June 6, 1902, Johnson and Worden were in fact expelled from the Bowens Corners Lodge. One can speculate, perhaps, how difficult these two men found it to stop drinking.

Suggested Further Reading:

Bernard, Joel Charles.  From Theodicy to Ideology:  the Origins of the American Temperance Movement. Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Dissertation, 1983.

Fahey, David M. "How the Good Templars Began:  Fraternal Temperance in New York State", Social History of Alcohol Review, Nos. 38-39 (1999), p. 17-27.

Fahey, David M.  Temperance and Racisim:  John Bull, Johnny Reb, and the Good Templars. Lexington, KY:  University Press of Kentucky, 1996.


Collection of Independent Order of Good Templars Ledgers, Bowens Corners, Oswego County, New York, 1902-1908. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2012/44/1a-g.




Modern Woodmen of America Postcards: Then and Now

A2011_37_19_1DSIn 1883, Joseph Cullen Root (1844-1913) founded the Modern Woodmen of America.  Root held the opinion that Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations were crucial to the promotion of human welfare.  He belonged to the Masons, Scottish Rite, Knights Templar, Knights of Pythias, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

 Root wrote the ritual and served as the first “Head Consul” for the new order, which was established as a fraternal assessment society.  In 1888, the Royal Neighbors of America was established as the women's auxiliary to the Modern Woodmen of America.  By 1889, there were 42,694 members of the MWA organization.  This fraternal organization was prosperous and by 1913, the year of Root’s death, the membership had increased to 700,000.

In 2011, The Scottish Rite Museum and Library acquired several MWA postcards by donation.  These donations complement the growing collection of postcards with images from the Modern Woodmen of America.  Most of these postcards date from 1908-1912.  This was the height of membership for MWA A97_053_1modern_woodmen_of_the worldand also coincides with the “Golden Age” of postcards which ocurred from 1907 through 1915.

The newly acquired postcard above bears the insignia or emblem of MWA and several of their symbols including the axe, mallet, wedge, five stars, and branches of palm.  These are all displayed on a shield.  There are lumberjacks or “woodmen” cutting down trees in the background.  This was symbolic for MWA as the clearing of forests refer back to clearing away problems of financial security for member’s families. 

From our exisiting collection is a photographic postcard of a man in his MWA uniform and is dated   about 1910.  This man belonged to a MWA “camp”, No. 513, probabaly from Montana.  His jacket has the MWA symbols of the axe, mallet, and wedge.  The man is also posing with a parade axe. 

When the MWA was founded it excluded men with risky or dangerous occupations such as:  firemen, miners, wholesalers and manufacturers of liquor, sailors, plow grinders, and brass workers.  The organization also sought low-risk members and excluded men from the largest urban centers such as:  Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. 

Today, MWA is solely a fraternal financial company named Modern Woodmen.  It provides life insurance and disability insurance for its members.  Life insurance totaled over $34.2 billion in 2011.   It now has a modern office building, on the Mississippi River, in Rock Island, Illinois, which it has occupied since 1967. 


Modern Woodmen of America Postcard. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Gift of Michael T. Heitke, A2011/35/8. 

Modern Woodmen of America Postcard. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A97/053/1. 









Healing a Cerneau Mason: The Story of Nathan Hammett Gould

A98_038_01_Cerneau healing certificate_Web versionNathan Hammett Gould (1817-1895) was born in Newport, Rhode Island on April 23, 1817.  He resided in Newport most of his life and was a merchant by profession, having an office at 30 Touro St.  He was also manager of Gould and Bull's American Law and Claim Agency, which was located opposite City Hall.  He married Emily J. Rogers on September 29, 1845 in Boston, Massachusetts.  

He was made a Master Mason in St. John's Lodge No.1 of Newport in 1846 and served as its Master from 1857 until 1858.  

In January of 1849, Gould received the Scottish Rite degrees from the Grand Council of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret for the State of Rhode Island, obtaining all 32 degrees. This Scottish Rite body was organized by Joseph Cerneau in 1813.  Later in 1849, eleven members of the Newport Scottish Rite decided to petition the J. J. J. Gourgas-led Supreme Council and  pledge their allegience to this to this group.  While they had formerly been under the allegience of a Supreme Council formed by Joseph Cerneau, this group had lost influence by the 1840s (they would again gain more influence later in the nineteenth century). 

On August 10, Gould was Masonically "healed" through a process of receiving a certificate (shown at the left) signed by Killian Van Rensselaer and Giles F. Yates, becoming a "Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret", or 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States.  By September 16, 1849, a resolution was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in which they agreed to charter the four Scottish Rite bodies in Newport.  

Joseph Cerneau (ca. 1764-1840) was considered by Emanuel DeLaMotta(1761-1821) , John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), Giles Fonda Yates,(1796-1859), Killian Henry Van Rensselaer (1799-1881), and others, to be a Scottish Rite impostor and his Masonic work clandestine in every way.  Historians are still debating these claims. 

Van Rensselaer and Yates signed this "Certificate of Healing" (as shown below), which "healed", or "regularized" a Cerneau Scottish Rite Mason.  This certificate proclaimed that Nathan H. Gould and the other eleven Newport Scottish Rite Masons were made 32nd degree Masons, or "Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret."  In the eyes of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, they wereA98_038_01_Cerneau healing certificate_page 2_Web version now considered legitimate. 

Nathan H. Gould participated in Scottish Rite activities in both Newport and at the state level as Deputy for Rhode Island to the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction from 1861 through 1867.  Again he served as Deputy for Rhode Island to the Supreme Council from 1867 until 1876.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library holds the letters of credence giving him this authority.

In 1876, Gould moved to San Antonio, Texas where he retired.  He died in 1895 and was buried in Texas. 

It is interesting to note that in 1998, that the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library purchased the documents relating to Gould's Masonic "healing" and his rise through the ranks in Scottish Rite from Robert B. Morris, Jr. of Forth Worth, Texas.


Certificate of Healing of Cerneau Masons, signed by K. H. Van Rensselaer and G. F. Yates, 1849.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, MA, Museum purchase, A98/038/01 (recto and verso).


Baynard, Samuel Harrison.  History of The Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry and Its Antecedents, Boston, MA: The Supreme Council, 1938.

Massachusetts, Town Vital Collections, 1620-1988.  

Rugg, Henry W. History of Freemasonry in Rhode Island, Providence, RI:  E. L. Freeman & Son, 1895.





Prince Hall's Half Century Matrons Club in Los Angeles

A2012_9_1DS1_Web versionAmong the new acquisitions this spring 2012, was a manuscript Minute Book of a Prince Hall affiliated "Half Century Matrons Club" dated from 1950 through 1959.  This club was formed in 1950 by Past Matrons of the Order of Eastern Star, Prince Hall Affiliation from the state of California.  The club took its name, "Half Century Matrons Club", because it was formed in mid-20th century. 

Marjorie Herbert (President) of Guiding Star Chapter, ran the meetings beginning on December 6, 1950 in Los Angeles, California.  She offered her house as a venue for the first meeting, which was located at 2286 West 22nd Street in Los Angeles.  Other officers included:  Marguerite Norman (Vice-President)-Victory Chapter, Ella Dastey (Secretary)-Starlight Chapter, Gertrude Devers (Treasurer)-Affectionate Chapter, and Roberta Walkins (Chaplain).  Among the other members were:  Gertrude Allen (Electa Chapter), June Harvey (Deborah Chapter), Alberta Parker (Acacia Chapter). 

According to historian Josh Sides, the 1950s in Los Angeles was a postwar economic and industrial boom time. During World War II, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) put constant pressure on the federal government to abolish segregation in the armed forces as well as on the homefront workforce.  However, by the 1950s segregation still existed in Los Angeles in industry, in choosing a home, as well as in fraternal groups. 

On March 31, 1951, Parker reported to the club that she had consulted with Los Angeles Urban League about deciding on a charity project.  They recommended that because of "racial barriers" the club should focus their energy on assisting needy children at the local high school, as a project, rather than as foster mothers to a child in an orphanage. Unfortuantely, there are no more details in the minute book about the orphanage.

In 1951, Herbert and Parker sat in on an NAACP conference in Los Angeles.  The NAACP was and is the nation's oldest civil rights organization.  Herbert reported to the club that speaker Franklin P. Williams had stressed the point that African Americans and people of color must continue to move forward.  According to sociologist Theda Skocpol, Prince Hall Masons had a long history of collaborating with the NAACP.  As early as the 1920s Prince Hall members encouraged and gave financial support to the NAACP. 

According to the minute book, in discussions throughout November and December of 1952, the members of the Half Century Matrons Club decided not to admit Past Patrons from Prince Hall. Herbert reported that she "told P[ast] Patrons as tactfully as she could that the club at this time unless and until the club itself decided to amend its bylaws no past [patron] could be admitted to membership, and that the club hoped he [William Henry] would not feel unwanted or unwelcome."  These women wanted to make their own decisions and keep discussions private.  This was an unusual step at the time, as Past Patrons were admitted to chapters of affiliated OES. 

Prince Hall Masons and the affiliated Order of Eastern Star are alive and well in Los Angeles today.  They recently celebrated Prince Hall Day, in September of 2011. 

Do you have more information about any of the original Half Century Matrons Club members of Los Angeles?  Please leave a comment if you do.   


Minute Book for Half Century Matrons Club, Order of Eastern Star, Prince Hall, 1950-1959.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum  purchase, A2012/9/1.


Sides, Josh.  L.A. City Limits:  African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London:  University of California Press, 2003.

Skocpol, Theda et al.  What a Mighty Power We Can Be:  African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality.  Princeton and Oxford:  Princeton University Press, 2006



What were wheatless Wednesdays during World War I?

A99_81_19T_Web versionThis poster is typical of food conservation posters produced during World War I, many of which especially emphasized saving wheat and meat. Herbert Hoover (1876-1964) Administrator of the U.S. Food Administration (USFA), promoted wheatless days and meatless days for the American people. 

In April of 1917, the USFA began taking measures conceived to conserve food for the war effort. In particular, Americans were asked to "eat less wheat, meat, sugar, and fats" as shown in this World War I poster in the Museum's collection. These foods were to be saved for the United States Army and its allies. While there was no food rationing in the United States, as there was in Great Britain, Americans were still asked to change their food-buying and eating habits.

Americans were encouraged to eat more corn, oats, rye and fish. The USFA set up a nation-wide system that reached each state and county chairman to manage compliance at the local level. The system relied on the patriotic goodwill of the American people, but the USFA also set up some strict guidelines.

For example, restrictions on the use of wheat in baking were imposed by the government, which set the size of loaves of bread made by bakeries. And only bread baked with substitute ingredients as required by law could be called "victory bread."  As a result, corn, barley, rice, oat, rye, potato and other flours were widely used for making bread. Recipes for bread and other baked goods recommended no more than 50% white wheat flour. Most families observed what were called "Wheatless Wednesdays." In most states and counties, "Hoover cards and  pamphlets" were supplied to housewives for use in the kitchen. New menus were sent out that were geared toward using less wheat.

According to the USFA's Charles R. Van Hise, in his 1918 book,  Conservation and Regulation in the United States During the World War, wheat was very important to conserve.  In 1918, wheat was in short supply in Europe and Great Britain. Van Hise advocated voluntary conservation of wheat by American citizens. In his book, he also outlines procedures for price fixing of wheat crops in the United States to ensure that farmers were motivated to grow wheat. In 1918, a bushel of wheat was sold for a fixed price of $2.20 in Chicago. 

Other restrictions included the conservation of meat. During the war, most Americans ate more fish and poultry rather than meat - meaning beef and pork. "Meatless Mondays" were a routine for most families. They also used vegetable oils instead of lard.

In the Museum's exhibition "Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up!  World War I Posters" there are many posters with this same theme of food conservation.  This poster and others on view offer a window into life during World War I.



L. N Britton.  Eat More Corn, Oats and Rye, 1917, printed by Heywood, Strasser & Voight Litho Co., New York, Gift of Diana Korzenik and Andrew S. Dibner, A99/81/19, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

The Christy Girl in World War I Posters

A96_089_08T1JOHoward Chandler Christy (1873-1952) was a well-known American illustrator, famous for his popular depictions of idealized, beautiful women.  During World War I, these so-called "Christy Girls" appeared on various World War I posters.  The poster seen here entitled, "Fight or Buy Bonds," is currently on view in "Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up!:  World War I Posters" at the National Heritage Museum.

How did this image of the "Christy Girl" evolve?

According to one historian, the first image of a "Christy Girl" appeared in an 1895 issue of The Century magazine.  It was probably while Chirsty was a student at the National Academy of Design in New York that he got the commission. By then he had attended the Art Student League and studied under William Merritt Chase(1849-1916).  Another early image of a "Christy Girl" was published in Scribner's magazine in 1898, entitled, "The Soldier's Dream," and portrayed a beautiful girl.  Some critics claim that this was the first known "Christy Girl" image.

Like the "Gibson Girl," the image of the "Christy Girl" was an idealized vision of American femininity in the 1890s.  This ideal was comprised of high breeding aristocracy, and daintiness.  In addition to magazine illustrations, Christy also illustrated books.  In 1906, both The Christy Girl and The American Girl were published.  These two popular books helped solidify Christy's reputation and spread his idealized image of an American woman. 

By 1915, Christy was in New York working on magazine commissions.  When World War I began, he rallied his talents around the war effort painting posters for government war bonds, the Red Cross, Navy, marines, and civilian volunteer groups.  Among his most popular posters were the "Spirit of America" and "Gee! I Wish I Were a Man I'd Join the Navy."   These two posters feature images of the "Christy Girl" in very different garb.  The Red Cross nurse is - like the woman in the "Fight or Buy Bonds" poster at the top of this post - depicted as a sort of allegorical figure of America robed in Neo-Classical dress.  In contrast, the young woman in the Navy poster is shown wearing a Navy uniform. 


Fight or Buy Bonds, 1917, Howard Chandler Christy, Printed by the Forbes Company, Boston, National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, Gift of H. Brian Holland, A96/089/06.


For Every Fighter a Woman Worker: American Women during World War I

A2003_030_8CT1 When the U.S.A. entered World War One in April 1917, it lost no time in producing many more propaganda posters than any other single nation.  These encompassed recruitment to the various armed services, raising of war finance via the hugely successful liberty bond issues, and advertising for the support of women workers in munitions plants and building aircraft in large hangars.  Women had to work for paid employment for the sake of their families. 

Not only did women have to keep "the home fires burning," but they also took on voluntary and paid employment that was diverse in scope and showed that women were highly capable in diverse fields.  There is little doubt that this expanded view of the role of women in society changed the outlook of what women could do and their place in the workforce. Although women were still paid less than men, women's equality was starting to arise as women received two-thirds of the typical pay for men.

In this poster, graphic designer Adolph Triedler (1886-1981), encourages women to do war work. The poster was sponsored by the United War Work Campaign  which brought together seven organizations--the YMCA, the YWCA, the American Library Association, the War Camp Community Service, the Knights of Columbus, the Jewish Welfare Board, and the Salvation Army--into one large funding drive charged with raising over $170 million for the war in 1918.Ww1_munitions_workers[1] 

Treidler also encourages Americans to care for the women workers through the YWCA.  The Young Women Christian Association was also concerned with the needs of the war.  There was a great increase in the duties of employment agencies of the YWCA because of the war.  Training women to take the place of the men was necessary.  Further advancement in the development of women’s work was strengthened by the withdrawal of millions of men from the American industry.

By late 1918, so many men had gone to war that women had to take over their jobs. Labor unions fought hard against hiring women in factories. Women were paid less than men.  As well,  women worked in conditions that were sometimes dangerous and unhealthy.  In munitions plants, acid fumes from high explosives damaged workers’ lungs and  turned their skin bright yellow.  Thousands of women worked long hours filling shells with explosives. Accidental explosions were always a risk.  Little effort was made to ease the women's change from working in the home to the workplace.  Few employers provided childcare for working mothers or even set aside rest rooms for female workers.   

Despite the dangers and inconveniences, one historian of women, Gail Braybon, claims that for many women the war was "a genuinely liberating experience," that made them feel useful as citizens, and also gave them the freedom and the wages only men had enjoyed so far.     


"For Every Fighter a Woman Worker", 1918.  Adolph Treidler, New York. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2003/030/8.

"Munitions Workers", ca. 1918. National Archives Photo, courtesy of the Indiana War Memorial.