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From Litho Stone to Pentium Chip: Interpreting Gender in U.S. World War I Posters


Anonymous (after H. Coffin)
Untitled (Third Red Cross Call), ca. 1917-1920
offset lithograph mounted on board
30 x 18 1/4  in. 

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Don't Miss the "Third Red Cross Roll Call"! by Meredith O'Neil '00
In this poster, the portrait of an angelic young women wearing a Red Cross uniform and her arms outstretched symbolizes the Virgin Mary.  She smiles at us, the viewers.  Her head is slightly tilted and she almost appears to be gazing into our eyes.  Her head is covered and none of her flesh is revealed, other than that of her face and hands.  Her white uniform contrasts with the sky blue backdrop, whose textures is reminiscent of the heavens.  In bold red letters at the bottom of the poster are the words "Third Red Cross Roll Call." 

The message this poster seems to be conveying is this:  Those of you who have sinfully chosen to deny your duty to you country and to God will be awarded a third chance.  When you die and are met by the Blessed Virgin at the end of the tunnel of light, will you be able to proudly tell her you served?  Will you sheepishly have to admit you did not?"  This image plays on people's emotions, particularly those of women.  It tries to make those who did not involve themselves in the war effort feel guilty for not volunteering any time to the war effort.  This message seems to be questioning whether women are loyal to their country. 

Not only is the woman on the poster a representative of what kind of volunteer the Red Cross is looking for, she is a young women.  Her face is heavily made up, suggesting they want someone who is youthful and aesthetically pleasing.  Her youth is reflective of the Red Cross age policy during the First World War which stated that female volunteers must be under forty. (1)   In addition to this, the woman on the poster is Caucasian, which is reflective of the racial polices of the Red Cross, which was "reluctant to use black nurses and originally did not welcome black volunteers." (2) 

This poster seems to send the message that all young, attractive, white women who have not volunteered their services to the war are unsaintly.  Although the morality of the women who have not yet included themselves in the war effort may be questionable, the Red Cross will generously provide them with a final opportunity with which to redeem themselves by announcing a "Third Roll Call."

1.  Gavin (1997), 180. 
2.  Barbeau and Henri (1976), 41. 

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