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Images of WWII

Lesson Overview:

The background information of the lesson examines issues and problems in the United States during WWII and describes the role of war posters in this time period. The discussion guide, “Total War Effort,” will provide students with the information they need to create a list of specific problems U.S. citizens faced during WWII. The activity, “Classification of War Images” provides a guideline for classifying war posters according to the specific problems they address.


· After viewing war posters, the student will list situations and challenges that United States citizens faced during World War II.
· The student will analyze a set of war posters, then classify each poster according to the wartime situation or issue that it addresses.


· Photocopies for each student, “Office of War Information: Poster Themes and Classification Chart
· Reproductions of various WWII posters obtained from books or websites.

Background Information

World War II called upon all citizens to become part of the total war effort. In order to promote this effort, the OWI (Office of War Information) was established in 1942 to coordinate the public poster program. This agency set guidelines for poster themes, which were identified as:
the nature of our Allies;
the nature of our enemy;
the need to work;
the need to sacrifice;
the need to fight;
the American, which may be interpreted as patriotism, heritage, and nationalism.

The OWI poster themes reflect the wartime problems that the posters were created to address. For example, “the need to work,” would encompass the labor shortage created by men called to active military duty. In order to fill these vacant positions, war posters encouraged women to enter the workforce out of patriotic duty. Departing from the traditional American idea of woman as housewife and mother, more than six million women entered the workforce in World War II. Many of these women took positions in the defense industry, welding, building aircraft, operating heavy machinery, and other tasks typically considered “men’s work.”

Women in the war. We can't win without them.

Women in the war, we can't win without them. GPO 1942
Image courtesy of Digital Projects Department, University of North Texas Libraries.

“Women in the war. We can’t win without them,” for example, portrays a woman working with heavy machinery. Women were typically depicted in war posters as competent and strong in their new positions, while maintaining the feminine ideal of beauty.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do!

Use it up--wear it out--make it do! GPO 1943
Image courtesy of Digital Projects Department, University of North Texas Libraries.

American society underwent dramatic change during World War II. Every city, county, and region in the state was involved in the war effort, and each citizen felt the effects of the war in dozens of ways. Posters exemplifying the theme, “the need to sacrifice,” reflect the lifestyle changes necessary for the total war effort. Civilian rationing was necessary in order to supply the military. Rationed items had to be used sparingly and included shoes, coffee, butter, gasoline, and nylon hosiery. Recycling was introduced and civilians were exhorted to save cooking grease (which was used in the manufacturing of explosives), rubber, scrap metal and even rags. Victory gardens began to replace commercial produce and provided 40% of the fresh produce consumed by civilians during the war. Women were encouraged to can vegetables to be used during the months when no produce could be harvested. Families even gave up pet dogs to the military to be used as sentries. War posters encouraged citizens to willingly bear these hardships through images of civic-minded individuals cheerfully adapting to this new way of life. The poster, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do!” provides a humorous image of a woman mending a pair of pants in order to save the labor and goods that would be required to replace them.


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