To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Brandeis’ time machine: Goldfarb World War I poster art exhibit

If you had the chance to go back in time, wouldn’t you go? Brandeis may not have a time machine, but the Goldfarb Library’s current display of World War I poster art delivers a similar effect. If you find yourself looking for a study break as finals approach, take a trip down to Goldfarb 2 and check out “Patriotism & Propaganda: Poster Art in WWI America,” which  features several posters from the World War I American home front as well as a few pieces from World War II. The posters take you back in time to the war effort in the early 20th century. Each poster features a unique slogan calling for support of the war effort back home or abroad.

The main poster features four faces: a soldier, a sailor, a grieving woman and Lady Liberty donned in the American flag. These four faces give a complete summary of what the home front experienced as World War I was being fought in Europe. The sailor and soldier represent none other than the men who were drafted to serve America and leave their families and lives behind to fight. The most striking thing about these two characters is their facial expressions. They appear to be proud and happy to serve their country. The grieving woman represents all of the women back in America who have a husband, fiance, brother, significant other or anyone else they know serving overseas. Her facial expression is a powerful statement that really makes you take a step back and reflect on what it means to be in a war. The pain behind her eyes serves as a moving reminder that war can literally tear families apart and that people go and do not return. Lady Liberty makes a forceful statement about supporting the war effort.

One of my favorite posters from the exhibit is a white poster of a woman in a work uniform with the slogans “For every fighter, a woman worker,” and “Care for her through the YWCA.” This poster stood out to me because most of the posters in the exhibit document life abroad from the soldiers’ perspectives. In addition, I like that this poster called specifically on women to join in the war effort. For the time period, women were not supposed to have jobs outside of domestic work, so this poster was very radical. Additionally, rather than your typical early-20th-century “pin-up girl,” a working woman in effeminate clothing is pictured. Like Rosie the Riveter, she serves to empower women and inspire them to find jobs in factories to join the war effort. She sends the message to the rest of American society that women are strong and can make a difference in the war effort too.

In addition to the poster encouraging women to join the workforce to help the war effort and to compensate for men being gone in the factories, another stand-out poster for me was the small poster on the back wall of a few ships and the slogan “INVEST IN THE VICTORY LIBERTY LOAN.” This stood out to me because I wasn’t actually sure what the slogan meant. However, in the top right there is a little bit of explanation offered with another slogan, “They keep the sea lanes open.” (After a little bit of researching, I found that victory liberty loans are funds that the public could purchase in order to fund the war effort). This propaganda poster serves to call on the public to purchase Victory Liberty Loans to help fund the war effort.

This exhibit offers a wide range of World War I propaganda posters that advertise for various war causes, from men to join the army to purchasing victory liberty loans. I love this exhibit because of the artwork and the subtle, underlying messages within some of the posters. So take a study break and go back in time to World War I America.


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