On View Now: “At the Front: World War I Series Books for Girls”

We are so pleased to announce our newest mini-exhibition, curated by Susan Swicegood, Wolfe Docent in the Harrison Institute. Susan is a fourth year student in the Master of Teaching program at the Curry School of Education. Her joint undergraduate major is in English. So, it was no surprise when, upon beginning to learn about the collections here with curator and supervisor Molly Schwartzburg, she gravitated towards a project involving the marvelous Arthur P. and Christopher P. Young Collection of World War I Juvenile Series Books. We’ll give you a sneak peek at the show below, with selections from the exhibition’s text.

“At the Front: World War I Series Books for Girls”

Detail of cover art from Martha Trent, “Alice Blythe Somewhere in England: A War Time Story,” illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn (New York: Barse & Hopkins Publishers, 1918)(PZ9 .Y67 no. 474)

After the Great War began in 1914, and even more so after the United States became involved in 1917, many children experienced the war through characters in series books. While some girl protagonists “do their bit” on the home front through food drives and benefit concerts, many leave for the front themselves.

From ***

Detail of cover art from Aline Harvard, “Captain Lucy in France” (Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Company, 1919). (PZ9 .Y67 no. 246)

These teenage characters—ranging in age from twelve to seventeen—dutifully serve as nurses in the Red Cross, drive ambulances, rescue lost soldiers, and uncover German spies.

Detail of frontispiece from Martha Trent, “Alice Blythe Somewhere in England: A War Time Story,” illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn (New York: Barse & Hopkins Publishers, 1918)(PZ9 .Y67 no 474)

The popularity of these books with American youth is undeniable, and with such far-fetched and fantastical adventures, girls could imagine the part they could play in gaining victory. In an almost propagandistic way, these books sold the war to young women as a chance to leave their homes and fight alongside the boys. Yet though the characters show an amazing degree of agency at the front, they return after the war’s end to the docile, domestic spaces they had left behind. Invariably, the heroine manages to find—or rescue—a fiancé along the way.

This exhibition will remain on view until the end of February, 2015.

A sneak preview of some of the items on display.

A sneak preview of some of the items on display.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*