This full page photo essay shows one way that young women contributed to the war effort in America. With young men going off to war, young women stepped in to tackle some previously male jobs. (AmericanAgeFashion has also written about “Farmerettes.”)
The captions may seem patronizing, even though the Delineator was a woman’s magazine. However, I think they are intended to be light-hearted and morale-boosting. These patriotic college women are cheerfully sawing logs and harvesting crops as their contribution to the war effort. They are not wearing uniforms, as the following pictures show; these dark wool middy tops and bloomers are their normal gym suits or hiking clothes.
These gardeners show a variety of clothing. The standing woman in a skirt and jacket is presumably a teacher.Do you suppose the black arm band means the girl on the right is in mourning? The girl on the left (like the one below) is wearing a gardening smock.
It looks like a more substantial — and practical — version of the one illustrated here:
I used this illustration in my post about fabric shortages during World War I; the editorial that accompanied this drawing in 1917 emphasized how different America’s experience was from that of our European allies.
Some Grim Statistics
Girls and women in England did hard labor on farms and in factories for years. For them, the war began in August of 1914. In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” The U.S. did not officially enter the war until April of 1917. By the end of the war, on November 11, 1918, nine million soldiers and an estimated five million civilians were dead. 116, 516 American soldiers died, out of more than four million American mobilized forces. But the United Kingdom lost between 702,917 and 888,246 men in the prime of life, and another two million were injured. France, Russia, and Romania suffered military casualties of more than 70%. When the war ended, many women realized that they would never marry, and would have to be self-supporting for the rest of their lives. One such family of women founded the Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, Ireland. You can read about them in a lovely post by The Vintage Traveler.
The Study of Fashion Can’t be Separated from the Study of More Important Things
This is just one example of the way the thread of fashion runs through the fabric of history — and a pastime that seems trivial connects us with larger issues. I began by thinking about gym suits and garden smocks, and wound up learning more about the First World War. How appropriate that Memorial Day is being observed this weekend — a time for reflection on all the costs of war.