Women and War

A United Order True Sisters Anniversary Medal

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United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1

The face of this round medal bears an embossed wreath which curves around the black enamel letters U, O, T, and S. These initials represent Unabhängiger Orden Treue Schwestern or United Order True Sisters, a German Jewish fraternal group which was the first independent national women’s organization in the United States. The group – sometimes known as the United Order of True Sisters - was founded in New York City in 1846 and became known for their charitable fundraising for cancer patients and children’s hospitals after World War II. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library cares for a small collection of UOTS items, including this medal, which is connected to a fascinating Massachusetts woman.

The items in this collection were donated by Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre (1920 - 2005) on behalf of her UOTS chapter, Noemi No. 11. This chapter was founded in 1878 in Boston, Massachusetts – the eleventh UOTS lodge in the country - and like its sister chapters in other states, sought to provide Jewish women with a sense of identity, purpose, and community. Due to anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II and American antisemitism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women who joined UOTS may not have felt welcome in other fraternal orders. As past museum Assistant Director Barbara Franco has written of Jewish fraternal orders, “The rites, regalia, and mottoes of these organizations, based on Freemasonry and Odd Fellowship, offered an American aura that might be denied Jews elsewhere.”

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United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1.

The reverse of the medal reads “PRESENTED AT THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY 1846-1946”. To commemorate their one-hundredth anniversary, UOTS chapters produced souvenir medals like these, as well as centennial calendars and other ephemera. A February 1946 article from the Daily Argus (Westchester, New York) shows the kind of activities UOTS chapters were involved in that year. Activities included mahjong games, luncheons, educational lectures, and Red Cross sewing drives. The United States Treasury Department awarded a citation to Westchester No. 34 for raising nearly a quarter of a million dollars in war loan drives. After the war, in 1947, the UOTS formed a National Cancer Service initiative. This program funneled members’ fundraising skills and largesse towards medical charities.

Clara Wagner – later Clara Gnerre - was a member of Noemi No. 11 for forty years. She graduated from Girl’s Latin School in 1937 and attended Radcliffe College, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1941. If she was a member of Noemi in 1946, she may have received this souvenir UOTS medal when it was first issued, when she was 26 years old.

She worked first for Carbon Black Co. as a rubber chemist and was employed there in 1950 when she married her husband C. Gerald “Jerry” Gnerre. A January 1954 Boston Globe article described her as a “research chemist and rubber technologist” at Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. Research Laboratories on Cambridge’s “Research Row.” Gnerre was, at the time, one of few women working in industrial materials research and development, a growing field post-World War II in Cambridge.

In the 1980s, Gnerre became more active in Noemi No. 11, serving as its Recording Secretary in 1986 and President from 1987 to 1988. At this time, the chapter focused on fundraising for cancer services and children’s care at Boston’s Children’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals. At Noemi’s 110th Annual Luncheon, Gnerre was praised for her “warmth, encouragement, and good humor.”

After 111 years as a United Order True Sisters chapter, Noemi No. 11 dissolved in 1989. Perhaps inspired by a 1983 chapter visit to the then-eight-year-old Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gnerre first donated a collection of material from the chapter to the museum in 1991. This medal was the first item that she donated. Over the next five years, Gnerre and other women from Noemi No. 11 donated UOTS material to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, as well as to other historic repositories (see link below).

Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre died in August 2005. Her Boston Globe obituary reads: “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The United Order of True Sisters, Inc. . . . where she was a member for 40 years and past President of a local chapter (Noemi Chapter 11) or to a cancer organization of your choice.” Gnerre ably represented the United Order True Sisters and their philanthropic goals to the last.

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Further Reading:


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. 

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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.     

Captions

"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.