The Birth of the New Woman

We tend to associate flappers, the embodiment of the New Woman, with the 1920s.  The New Woman, however,emerged during World War I, not only in the women who took on new roles to support the war but in the posters that encouraged both women and men to get involved.  The New Woman was emancipated from Victorian restraints, including their corsets and the sexuality.  World War I posters helped the New Woman to emerge while enticing men to serve.

When WWI began in 1914,  only men were allowed to serve in the U.S. military.   However, when the United States declared war against Germany in 1917, a monumental change for women also followed.  Just four days after the declaration of war against Germany, the U.S. government for the first time in history began to enlist women into both the Navy and Marine Corps.  This poster’s origins lie within a time in which only men could enlist, and thus places the woman within it in a position of idolization rather than mass representation. This poster’s target audience is men, and is especially defined by the motto “Be A Man And Do It” signed at the bottom.   This woman defines sexiness and beauty through her naval uniform composed of loose flowing fabric, an exposing neckline, a small white hat, and a pair of pants held with string.  This uniform does not represent  rigidity or discipline, instead it glorifies freedom, freewill, and self-representation. Her white hat could also be symbolic of innocence and mental clarity, so thus her wishes to join the navy are only impeded by her gender, not her morals, mental state, or ability.  To “Be a Man”, as this poster says, one must promote the values and dreams as this woman by filling the slot she would otherwise place herself in.

When World War I began, women were not allowed in the military. This poster shows a women in a male military uniform, but she is still wearing her own skirt. This shows that the creator of this poster used female promiscuity to entice men into enlisting in the U.S. Navy.  The creator also switched out Uncle Sam for his iconic “Christy Girl” which is easy to tell from the classic “I WANT YOU” slogan at the top of the poster.

Lady Liberty was a symbol of the United states that everyone was aware of. Here she is seen with a translucent white silk dress on pointing to a message; “Buy bonds”. Her clothing challenges the norms of women of the Victorian era, most women had many layers and were very covered, her arms and upper chest are showing, and her dress is cut low. She appears to be larger than life, with soldiers below her at war.



Thisposter shows a Red Cross nurse in sexy attire. She wears a standard, nun-like Red Cross head covering, but her dress is sheerand definitely not the typical Red Cross nurse’s uniform. Nursestended to wounded soldiers returning from the battlefield, so aspects of fashion, grace, or beauty were unrealistic.  More importantly, the Red Cross used nurses’ distinctive headgear and uniforms to mark them as unavailable to men.  Nurses wore long, thick, white cotton dresses that covered all skin outside of theirhands and faces;the dress pictured here is low cut, translucent, and exposes much of the torso and skin of the “nurse.”  This outfit would be dangerous for any battlefield nurse to wear and is instead a romantic view of nurses. This picture probably influenced some men to join the military because of what the artist advertised as a nurse.  The image also encouraged young women, eager to throw off the bonds of Victorian life, to serve in the Red Cross.  The artist made nursing look romantic and modern.

Team Members:
JimmyL Campbell, Cyrena Davies, Evan Toth, Sebastian Queen


Learn more about this whole suffrage centennial project, created by teams in Dr. Kim Little’s HIST2302:  America in the Modern Era First-Year Seminars.