Dueling Mothers of World War I

Dr. Lisa Mastrangelo, professor of English at Centenary University, began her presentation Women of Peace and Preparedness: The Use of Motherhood and Maternalism in World War I, stating that “we don’t know much about the women of World War I because there were fewer than in World War II.” Quite a bit fewer as it turns out: 33,000 mostly nurses and clerks in World War I; 350,000 women in World War II. In spite of that, and her statement, she was able to share a considerable amount of information about the activism of women, not directly involved in the war, during that period.

Her presentation made clear the meaning of its title: that there were two factions of women, women of peace and women of preparedness. The former defined motherhood as essentialism (to protect the country and its sons from war); the latter defined motherhood as patriotic (supporters of the country and its troops). Both groups were very active in giving speeches, parades, writing songs and editorials, hosting parties. Oddly, many of the women involved in the Peace Movement didn’t have children to protect from war. However, they were avid supporters of President Woodrow Wilson, whose campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war,” helped him defeat Charles Evan Hughes in 1916.

Once that slogan had to be cast aside, many individuals and organizations in the peace movement faded, with the Preparedness Movement growing. The 4 Minute Men/4 Minute Women group rose in support of Wilson’s changed stance and the war effort. They gave four minute speeches encouraging the buying of war bonds, war stamps and conservation, especially in movie theaters. It was sort of like today’s Twitter. The speeches were constrained to four minutes to coincide with the amount of time it took to change a movie reel at intermission.

The final installment of the State Library’s series on the 100th Anniversary of World War I will be on Nov. 15 at noon with author James Hockenberry discussing New Jersey’s Role in World War I.