Housework=War Work

During World War I, the United States called American women to help to provide food to the Allies, who were starving in Europe due to a food shortage. Women played a key role in rationing, conserving, producing, and preserving food, and the US equated their work with men’s jobs. Housewives had to ration food imported to the U.S. and conserve food that had to be sent to the Allies.  These three posters show how important food was to the war and how important housewives were in war food.

At the time of WW1, gardeners were in high demand. The severe food crisis in Europe made the United States responsible for the starving people.  Women began training in horticultural colleges to replace the shortage of farmers, but the War Garden Commission also encouraged families to raise their own vegetables.  The poster portrays Columbia as strong and independent in order to prove that women are capable of more than the social norms at the time. It also depicts a garden as big as an agricultural field and Columbia herself as towering over it, signifying the importance of a woman’s household work. Propaganda posters advocated women to “Sow the seeds of victory.” This poster encourages women to garden, something traditionally within housewives’s sphere but not at the scale in the poster. It expands women’s roles through equating this growth of produce to war factory production. The words on the poster state “Every Garden a Munition Plant.” The US called women to help with this food crisis. Without the work of  these women, many people would have starved. This poster promoted the progress of women by showing that women could be considered the backbone of the war effort because they were raising their families’ food.

This poster may have also inspired women to join the Women’s Land Service, which trained women for farm labor and housed them in tents at farms.  Since the women in the States were providing soldiers with food, they were driving the U.S. to victory.

After women grew their gardens, they needed to preserve whatever their families could not eat right away.  This poster was one of the many propaganda posters to encourage women’s work during this crucial time. “Preserve. Co-Operation” is encouraging “housewives” to preserve food that the farmer grows and the produce dealer sells. In this image we can see Uncle Sam, a farmer, a dealer, and a housewife who is wearing the uniform of the Hoover Food Administration.  The woman on the poster is in the “House Wife’s League,” which was an indication that she, like most American women, signed the Food Administration pledge to waste no food and conserve and preserve.  

In this poster, a woman is marching next to men in uniform. Her position symbolizes the equality of importance in her work and soldiers’ roles during the war. The poster was distributed by the Board of Food Administration, which sought to help with the food shortage in Europe. The woman’s skirt states “House Manager” on the bottom of it, which signifies how crucial women were to the war. The label on the skirt elevated a housewife to a business manager. It provides power to women in this view of equality. The woman’s fist in the air also represents that women were striving for victory. The poster pictured here among other similar posters contributed to the progression of women’s roles. Women embodied how they were depicted in propaganda posters, embracing the need for their work in the war. The opening of Americans’ eyes to the equality of women’s work to men’s during the war progressed women’s roles throughout the war and beyond.


Karen Rush, Taylor Zimmerman, Vincent Ferro, and Hayden Austin, Bailey Vo

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

Housework=War Work