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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revuecanadienned'etudesamericaines Volume 29, Number 2, 1999, pp.61-87 Onward Kitchen Soldiers: Mobilizing the Domestic During World War I Marsha Gordon Hear the bugle call, The Call to those who stay at home; You are soldiers all, Though you may never cross the foam .... 1 61 During World War I, social mobility was promised to American women through governmental propaganda campaigns that became the basis for a cultural re-imagining of women's social roles. On a national level, the American home and the women who purportedly ran the American home became crucial components in the mobilization of allied forces. The various propaganda materials that bombarded American women in the late teens of this century served to enlighten and direct. In retrospect, however, they also disclose the often-conservative motives that lurked behind such aggressive campaigning. Propagandistic efforts to negotiate "woman power" into the 62 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadtenne d' etudes amertcames American "war machine" operated simultaneously with efforts to contain this newly sought "woman power," creating an almost impossible paradox for the patriotic American woman. The Great War not only permanently altered the home but also caused dramatic shifts in women's roles both inside and outside of that space. Using women's magazines of the period, song lyrics, journal entries, historical accounts of the war by scholars as well as participants , and the publications of various governmental agencies of the time, this study will demonstrate that the home became an increasingly militarized and commercialized space, occupied by kitchen soldiers whose call to arms placed them and their labour in a newfound position of national importance. After intercepting the Zimmermann telegram 2 and in response to Germany 's "inauguration of unrestricted submarine warfare," the United States officially declared war against the German government on 6 April 1917 (Cornebise 1984, 3). This day marked the end of American isolation and the beginning of the United States' involvement in what would be termed World War I. After maintaining over two years of neutrality while the Great War happened "over there," the U.S. government was suddenly faced with the daunting task of mobilizing both military troops and civilians into wartime patriotism and, most importantly, action. Governmental agencies such as the Committee for Public Information (CPI) and the United States Food Administration were immediately created to inform and instruct the American people in the first massive-scale, organized, and successfully run governmental propaganda campaign in the nation's history. These organizations soon realized that much of the support they needed would come from within the American home; more specifically, from the women who were in charge of running that home. Organizations such as the Division of Women's War Work and the Division of Home Conservation were formed, and women became the target audience for much of the nationwide propaganda effort. Appearing in advertisements, articles, government posters, films, and official publications, this propaganda suggested that women's work, especially in the home, would ultimately do no less than allow the Allies to win the war. In an era during which women still fought to participate in the electoral process among other things, the recognition of women's ability to change national behaviour and to directly influence the outcome of the war had both Marsha Gordon / 63 positive and negative effects upon women's cultural roles. Though many women moved outside of the home to participate in public war work, the home became the primary and, some would argue, most important theatre for women's participation in the war. It would be impossible not to comment upon the culturally conservative nature of propaganda that sought to give housework the illusion of becoming a public activity. This article, however, is most concerned with understanding how the home became a site of national anxiety and national hope during this period of international crisis, and how the need to regulate this space became mediated through commodity culture. As President Wilson said, "we must keep the wolf from the nation's door." The discourse of the period suggested that women's work was responsible for keeping this door safely shut; however much this work was envisioned as transpiring...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 61-87
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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