Over Here! The Home Front during the Great War (Lawrence, MA)


Posters that graced the walls of the Old Library Building will grace the wall of the present library building.  Here is part of a collection of World War I posters.

There are many people that helped get this exhibit on the wall but I want to particularly thank the librarian who saved these posters.

Over Here!

Someone on staff in the old library building had saved a couple of hundred posters that I believe were hung in the library during both World Wars.  The colors, the artistry, and the information in them are remarkable.  At last we are now putting some of them up on the walls of the library though not the walls where they would have been displayed nearly a hundred years ago.  Some of the posters even have the gummed labels still on the corners which would have been used to hang them on the walls.  Please come in to enjoy this display.

1917-1919 the City of Lawrence was leading up to another strike, but during the war years the population was behind the war effort.  There were individuals and organizations that were not quite as positive about the war, but the newspapers did not give them space. The anti-war movement and discrimination against German-Americans in Lawrence was not discussed in Lawrence newspapers. The newspapers had a Woman’s page with columns called Milady’s Mirror, Jimmy Coon Stories, and Handling a Husband.  In 1918 The Red Sox were World Champions.  And straw hats were the height of fashion.  Cigarettes were 6c a pack and businesses had started using the war as a selling point in the ads.  The mills were active and the workers were employed.  We were only a few years away from Prohibition and women would be getting the right to vote.

Mobilization of draftees was effected without incident.  Two regular infantry companies as well as the 102nd Field Artillery (shown here at Fort Devens after their return in 1919), a sanitary detachment for the 101st Field Artillery and the Fifth Massachusetts Infantry Drum Corps were raised in Lawrence.  A number of other units were organized and sent overseas.  The Fort Devens Museum allowed us to display these images.  The local National Guard was replaced by 1,000 man emergency police force of the Massachusetts State Guard.  Various individuals coordinated mechanics for necessary war work, food conservation, and distribution of fuel. As the City mobilized the home front was organized by a local Committee of Public Safety.  One of their tasks was preparing land, free of cost, for the planting of crops.  720 garden plots were prepared on 98 acres throughout the City.  Citizens went right to work to grow food for the war effort.  Liberty Lunches were suggested for school children consisting of rye bread and lettuce sandwiches and a banana.  The newspapers encouraged meatless Mondays and articles in magazines and newspapers published recipes and menus.  The Foods that will End the War and how to cook them were also published and distributed.  Food Pledge Week ran from October 29 to November 5, 1917.  The Director of the US Food Administration, Herbert Hoover, equated wasted food with sin.  The food that “folks could use at home” were corn, oats, barley, rye, cooking oils, molasses, honey, sirups, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, fish nuts, peas, and beans.   Many of the posters on the walls were inducing Lawrencians to conserve food in a variety of ways.  The Red Cross, Boy Scouts, YMCA, YMHA, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army, and the Jewish Welfare Board worked as auxiliaries maintaining the moral and physical welfare of the men in service.  The War Camp Community Service, the YWCA, and the American Library Association helped care for other needs of the servicemen including reading material.  The City celebrated Red Cross Flag Day, Liberty Loan Day, a Knights of Columbus Ball for the War Fund,  a huge Liberty Loan Parade, the Jewish War relief Fund Bazaar and Dance, the Labonte Dancing Academy presentation, a Red Cross Medium presentation, and a mass meeting in July of 1918 to denounce the barbarism of the Hun.   The nation as a whole took up the morale building via art, music, and entertainment.

So here is where the posters come in to the story.  To fight the war successfully the government needed to pull the citizens together.   They called on a group of volunteer artists to help sell the war. More than 20 million posters urged the public to donate money, conserve food, and support various charitable groups.  Shortly after entering the fight George Creel, Head of the committee on Public Information, formed a committee of the artists (312 at one time) as the Division of Pictorial Publicity.  The audience of their product would be the Home Front.  The result would be over 700 posters which would land in libraries, railway stations, factories, clubs, and schools.  The US Food Administration and the National War Garden Commission encouraged both, to cultivate, conserve, and preserve food.  Another subject of the posters came from the US Treasury encouraging the public to buy Liberty Loans and later Victory Loans.  Ads created by the same artists appeared in local newspapers.   Noted artists were Joseph Christian Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Buckles Falls, Howard Chandler Christy, and J. Allen St. John.  Many of the posters you see in the exhibit concern the purchase of either Liberty Loans or War Bonds.  Every Liberty Loan quota was oversubscribed.  The banner hanging from the ceiling was a reward for one successful bond drive.

These posters were everywhere in the city.  The major source of information were the local newspapers.  There were no diaries, very few local pictures; the Library has one small scrapbook, a digital scrapbook, one postcard, and the American Woolen Company workers magazine.  I was able to get panoramas of three units from the Fort Devins Museum from Lawrence.  This is not the full picture of live in Lawrence during the Great War.  One ethnic group, the Italians, were able to do one thing that no other group did.  During one of the war bond drives it got the newspaper to print column after column of Italian Americans and their individual contributions to the drive.  There are hundreds of names.  There is now a volunteer indexing the names.  As the year progressed organizations, businesses, and neighborhoods began displaying service flags each star representing one of their boys in the military.  There is one picture of a home on Holton Street with a service flag showing three stars, meaning there were three service men coming from that household.  As a curiosity there is one ad from the Lawrence Trust Company using the ghost of Captain Francis M. Leahy to encourage citizens to give to the 4th Liberty Loan.  Captain Leahy lost his life July 21, 1918 leading a battalion of the 101st Infantry.  His last words were “Lieutenant Hansen, The order is forward! See the boys through!”.  The Leahy School is named after him.

When the boys came home there was a big parade – always a parade. Servicemen were welcomed home with dinners and other forms of celebration.  There were growing signs of the Spanish Flu epidemic; the early stages of it had already arrived in Lawrence.    As the century wore on many veterans were honored with memorials throughout the city.  Here is a slide show showing the signs and plaques still standing.



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