Founding Fragments – WWI Woman’s Uniform

Founding Fragments – WWI Woman’s Uniform

You’ll no doubt recognize our dear friend Rosie. She is probably the most recognizable icon of the long history of women’s participation in American military
efforts. During World War II, tens of thousands of
American women took to factories across the United States to
support the war effort by filling jobs vacated by men who were fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Today, women serve in the military with
great distinction. The image of a female soldier is just as familiar as the image of Rosie. But what about the women who came before
her? What images come to mind if I ask about women during World War I? There were, in fact, many American women in
uniform during the Great War, and today we’re gonna see what that looked like. [music] [music] [music] Today we’re here with curator Margaret Vining.
She’s a curator in our Division of Armed Forces history and her particular specialty is women’s history. So here
we’re gonna talk about this really amazing uniform that we’ve got here. Can you tell us a
bit about what this uniform is, where it comes from? This is a uniform of women in World War I who worked with the American Fund for French Wounded. They were volunteers, middle upper-class women who in this
instance went to France and worked with the French wounded. You
notice the Insignia on here, the Red Cross was an affiliate of the
military actually, hiring women to work. The insignias were very much like those of men, even though they weren’t officially military. This slick signifies
that she had been overseas for a year: six months, six months. There were dozens organizations in which
women in World War I wore uniforms. Women
were pretty well organized by the end of the 19th century.
So they’re really gaining more, kind of, political and social power through these
organizations, they’re really coming to the forefront. Exactly. They had some agency. Can you tell me a little bit about the AFFW? This organization was started by Anne
Morgan in New York. She was the daughter of J.P. Morgan. So she had some resources to bring to bear.
She did indeed. She set up an enterprise. They had ambulances, they had a day-school and nursery, and they had libraries. People were living in quarries, they had been totally displaced by
the war. So they helped. They brought in people,
organized people, to plow and plant. She got tons of seeds from the U.S. Also, the women in these places did handwork, needlework. And in Belgium
they did lacework that was sewed to finance some of their work. These are things that are little known. Yeah
But they’re really importantbecause they do show that wars do affect everyone. Is this really the first war where you see this many women in uniform?
It marked a turning point for women getting out of corsets and bustles and long skirts, into free and easy clothes. So it was giving
them the franchise physically as well as getting the vote because during the war the women’s
suffrage associations made a contract with the government that they would support the war, this war, if they could get the vote. And they did, at the end of the war. So what else do we have on the cart here? We have the little boots with the shoe buttons.
The shoe buttons! My gosh! Boy am I happy for zippers. There must be a dozen buttons on there. At least.
And the hat I think is really smart and chic. And the pictures of
the women wearing them show that they’re extremely proud of
their uniforms and it means they were patriotic and also citizens, and that’s the whole thing
about voting and citizenship: you are a real citizen when you can participate in government; and that’s so obvious with the way these women took to uniforms. Well this has really been an extraordinary look at this fascinating time. World War I just does not get as much play, for lack of a better word, than so many other conflict that we’ve been apart of. I really appreciate you taking the time
talk us through this and show us how everything’s connected, thank you.
You’re welcome, it’s been my pleasure. And thank you all for joining us today,
I hope you learned as much as I did and stay tuned for our next episode. [music]

One Reply to “Founding Fragments – WWI Woman’s Uniform”

  1. 100 years ago today: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, are assassinated, setting off World War I. 

    American women later served in a variety of roles in the war. Take a closer look at one woman's WWI uniform in our latest Founding Fragments video. 


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