Knitting for Victory: Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII

You Can Help

This American Red Cross poster features a woman in a madonna-esque knitting pose reminiscient of the Buxtehude, Vitale, or Lorenzetti portraits of the Virgin Mary.  This particular context evokes a domestic setting and idealized images of feminine virtue, motherhood, Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary, and a Protestant work ethic. This type of imagery was also used many of the Red Cross recruitment posters for nursing, including such posters as The Greatest Mother in the World, Still the Greatest Mother, Our Greatest Mother, and Your Red Cross Needs You!

This image conveys the message that women can help without leaving the comfort of their home.  Women can help by sitting at the hearth, like faithful Penelope did while Odyssius was away fighting the Trojan war.  The idea of fighting the war on the home front became popular, and Red Cross and Junior Red Cross knitting groups sprang up in communities across America, Canada, and Britain, among others. Knitting became a ubiquitous activity, and the size of a woman's knitting bag was often a measure of her patriotism.

According to Susan Strawn, author of Knitting America, there was such a surplus of knitted goods during the war that "reports surfaced that soldiers used handknit sweaters, helmets, and wristlets to rub down horses or swab gun barrels" (105).  So much for good intentions of the knitters.  They did their patriotic duty a bit too fervently.

'You can help' American Red Cross poster from WWI

Knit your bit. . .and maybe a bit more.

Knitting, and knitting bags, were a way to display support for troops fighting overseas.  Bags such as this one visibly announced that a knitter was engaging in war knitting, and not ordinary household projects.