We thought it would be fun to have a knit-along to make some of the patterns from the Priscilla War Work Book: Comforts for Soldiers and Sailors. During World War I, women, men, and children knit garments from this book for soldiers and refugees. Women formed knitting groups, hosted knitting teas and bees, and children knit in school. By the war’s end the Red Cross had received 6.5 million refugee and 24 million military garments made and donated by American knitters.
We’ve included some of the front matter and a few patterns you can choose from to knit. As you can see, the official colors were olive drab, dark blue, and dark gray, however since we’re not knitting for the army or navy, feel free to choose any colors you like.
We’ve selected a couple patterns for you to choose from or you can knit both!
This Knitted Scarf and Chest Protector (photo is below the pattern, not the one to the left) is a great project for beginners, the gauge and yarn used don’t really matter as you can size this as you like. The scarf was actually made for the Boy Scouts so it is a child’s size, but you can just add more stitches and rows to make it wider and longer if you’d like to make an adult version.
The second pattern is for Thumbless Mittens. These are great because there are two patterns, one to knit flat and one to knit in the round.
A word to those who have not knit vintage patterns: the yarn sizes and needle sizes varied (as you can see in the chart above) and they are not always equivalent to modern sizes so you may need to play with the yarn size and needle size to get the right gauge. Also, to complicate matters, the patterns in this booklet do have a gauge to work off. The thumbless gloves are most likely 6-7 stitches per inch (6 stitches per inch for larger men’s size and closer to 7 stitches per inch for smaller women’s size) knit in sport weight on size 3-5 needles or whatever yarn and needle size needed to get this gauge.
We hope you join us in this Archives Month Knitalong. We’ll have progress posts on Instagram and Twitter where we can all share our project updates and any tips to others working on these.
(All patterns are from Priscilla War Work Book, 2006.0.4.40)
Kathy Makas is a Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center.
Sidney Houghton is one of the most interesting and yet-to-be-documented figures in the group surrounding Henry and Clara Ford. Many in the Fords’ entourage are colorful and well-researched, including Harry Bennett, Henry’s security chief, known as the notorious head of the Ford Motor Company “Service” Department; Henry’s business manager, Ernest Liebold, who handled all financial transactions; and even their son, Edsel Ford, whose life and important cultural contributions are thoroughly documented. The great Ford historian Ford R. Bryan tells the story of these figures in his book, Henry’s Lieutenants (1993). Bryan frequently mentions Sidney Houghton, most notably in his book Friends, Family, and Forays (2002).
Perhaps Houghton remains undocumented because he was British, and in the decades before Internet resources became widely available, American researchers like Bryan had limited access to British sources. Today, we are fortunate to not only have the profound resources of the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford at our disposal, but also digital access to repositories around the world. As Curator of Decorative Arts, I have spent considerable time trying to fully grasp the enigmatic Mr. Houghton—his biography, his business, and, most importantly, his relationship with Henry and Clara Ford. This blog is the first in a series that will delve into this mostly hidden story.
Now, you may ask, why should we care about the Fords’ interior designer? Seeing and understanding the interior environments that the Fords created to live and work provides us with great insight into their characters, creating a well-rounded picture of their lives. We can understand their motivations and desires and see how these changed over time. We can peel back the larger-than-life personas of the Fords that come with such public lives and see them as individuals.
What Do We Know About Sidney Houghton’s Early Life?
Researching Houghton was not easy. The first place I looked was Ancestry.com, but Houghton is a very common name in Britain. After a lot of digging and working with colleagues at The Henry Ford, I located Sidney Charles Houghton, who was born in 1872 and died in 1950. He was the son of cabinetmaker Charles Houghton, which likely led to his interest in furniture-making and interior design.
One of the questions still in my mind is: Where was Houghton educated? To date, I have not been able to find out which art school he attended—these records do not appear to be available online. What I do know is that he married in 1895, and had a family consisting of two sons by 1898. By 1910, according to the British census, his business, Houghton Studio, was established in London.
Houghton in World War I
From Ford R. Bryan’s publications and resources in the Benson Ford Research Center, I knew that Houghton was in the British Navy during World War I. I searched the British National Archives and found his fascinating military service record. Houghton, I discovered, was an experienced yachtsman, and was commissioned as a commander. He helped to create patrol boats, called P-boats, that swiftly located enemy submarines. In 1917, he was sent to the United States to work with Reginald Fessenden (1866–1932), a Canadian-American inventor who worked in early radio. Together, they developed an early sonar system to locate enemy ships, submarines, and mines. For his contributions to the war effort, Houghton was awarded the Order of the British Empire, or O.B.E., in 1919.
Through the reminiscences of Ernest Liebold, held in the Benson Ford Research Center, I discovered that Houghton was brought into the Ford Motor Company’s war effort to create what Liebold called the Eagle boats. These were similar to the British P-boats. Unlike the relatively simple P-boats, though, the Eagle boats would be like a “young battleship,” according to Liebold. He went on to state that the boats would “have the eye of an eagle and would flit over the seas.”
Eagle Boat #1 on Launching Trestle at the Ford Rouge Plant, July 11, 1918. / THF270275
Eagle Boat #60 Lowered to Water, August 1919. / THF270277
Houghton came along, and he said, “We ought to have a listening device put on those ships to detect submarines.” That is where [Thomas] Edison came in to develop this listening device, and I think Houghton is the man who contacted him. I remember him coming out with a long rod and stuff, and it was so darned secret that nobody knew a thing about it.
They had a special room provided for it in the Eagle boats. It was to be this listening chamber in which the apparatus was placed. They could detect a submarine by the beat of its propellers. A magnetic signal could determine just exactly in what direction it was, [sic] and approximately, from the intensity of the sound of the beating of the propeller, they could tell just what distance and in what direction it was.
They would radio that information to the nearest battleship in a cordon of battleships, or destroyers or whatever they had. They would be able to attack the submarine, you see. That was the object of it.
As an integral member of the Eagle boat team, it is highly likely that Houghton travelled to Dearborn and met Henry Ford. We know from later correspondence that Henry and Clara developed an abiding personal friendship with Houghton which continued through the 1920s. They commissioned a series of projects, beginning with the Fords’ yacht, the Sialia—but I am getting ahead of myself. At this point, I would like to discuss Houghton’s work in interior design, specifically his role as an interior architect.
Sidney Houghton’s Studio
Cover of Houghton’s Studio Catalogue, circa 1928. / THF121214
Back Cover of Houghton’s Studio Catalogue, circa 1928. / THF121230
This brochure or trade catalogue gives us great insight into the Houghton Studio. We date it to the late 1920s, when the projects Houghton worked on for the Fords were complete. From the text, we can see just what the firm’s capabilities were. The back cover reads: “Designs and estimates for decoration and furnishing of every kind / from the simplest to the most exotic / always in good style / always at exceptional values.” What this tells us is that Houghton Studio was a rarity in the interior design world.
Houghton was an interior architect, meaning that he designed both interiors and furnishings—the woodwork, wall treatments, lighting, furniture, textiles, and accessories—to create a unified interior environment. In new construction, an interior architect would collaborate with the architect to create an interior in harmony with the architecture. This contrasts with our present-day conception of an interior designer as a person who simply selects existing furnishings that harmonize to create a unified interior aesthetic. Obviously, Houghton Studio’s clients were wealthy and able to afford the best.
Chateau Laurier National Hotel, Ottawa Canada. / THF121219a
Like most of his contemporaries, Houghton worked in a variety of styles, as demonstrated in the images above—from period revivals as seen in the Chateau Laurier National Hotel, in Ottawa, Canada, to his renderings for “Modern” furniture, done in what we would describe as the Art Deco style, which was synonymous with high-end 1920s taste.
List of Commissions in the Houghton Catalogue. / THF121229b
One of the most interesting pages in the catalogue notes several commissions to design interiors for yachts, which was a specialty of the Houghton Studio. The most important of these was a commission for the Sialia, Henry Ford’s yacht. The Fords purchased the yacht just before World War I, and it was requisitioned for use by the U.S. Navy in 1917. The ship was returned to Henry Ford in 1920. At this point, Sidney Houghton was asked to redesign the interiors.
Henry Ford’s Sialia
Henry Ford’s Yacht, Sialia, Docked at Ford Rouge Plant, Dearborn, Michigan, 1927. /THF140396
According to Ford R. Bryan, the cost of the interiors was approximately $150,000. As seen here, the interiors are comfortable, but relatively simple. During the 1920s, the Fords occasionally used the Sialia, but Henry and Clara Ford preferred other means of travel, usually by large Ford corporate ore carriers, when they traveled to their summer home in Michigan’s upper peninsula. According to the ship’s captain, Perry Stakes, Henry Ford never really liked the Sialia, and he sold it in July of 1927.
Parlor on Sialia, Henry Ford’s Yacht, circa 1925. / THF92100
Bedroom on Sialia, Henry Ford’s Yacht, circa 1925. / THF92098
Following the Sialia commission, the Fords found a kindred spirit in Houghton. The archives contain ample correspondence from the early 1920s, with the Fords asking Houghton to return to Dearborn. Houghton subsequently received a commission to design the interior of the Fords’ Fair Lane railroad car in 1920. Between 1920 and 1926, Houghton was deluged with projects from the Fords, including the redesign of the Fair Lane Estate interiors, design of Henry and Edsel’s offices in the new Ford Engineering Laboratory, interiors for the Dearborn Country Club, as well as interiors for the Henry Ford Hospital addition.
In the next post in this series, we will look closer at several of these projects and present surviving renderings from the Fair Lane remodeling, as well as furniture from the Engineering Laboratory offices.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
The Curtiss JN-4 always turns heads in “Heroes of the Sky.” / THF39670
Walk into the barnstormers section of our Heroes of the Sky exhibit and odds are the first airplane to catch your eye will be our 1917 Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” biplane. Whether it’s the airplane’s inverted attitude, its dangling wing-walker, or its fishy-looking fuselage, there’s a lot to draw your attention. And well there should be. The Curtiss Jenny was among the most significant early American airplanes.
Conceived by British designer Benjamin D. Thomas and built by American aviation entrepreneur Glenn Curtiss, the JN airplanes combined the best elements of Thomas’s earlier Model J and Curtiss’s earlier Model N trainer planes. New variants of the JN were increasingly refined. The fourth in the series, introduced in 1915, was logically designated JN-4. Pilots affectionately nicknamed it the “Jenny.” The inspiration is obvious enough, but even more so if you imagine the formal model name (JN-4) written as many flyers first saw it—with an open-top “4” resembling a “Y.”
This Curtiss JN, circa 1915, left no doubt about its manufacturer’s identity. / THF265971
Despite not being a combat aircraft, the Curtiss Jenny became the iconic American airplane of the First World War. Some 6,000 units were built, and nine of every ten U.S. military pilots learned to fly on a Jenny. The model’s low top speed (about 75 mph) and basic but durable construction were ideal for flight instruction. Dual controls in the front and back seats allowed teacher or student to take charge of the craft at any time.
Our JN-4 is one of approximately 1,200 units built under license by Canadian Aeroplanes, Ltd., of Toronto. In a nod to their Canadian origins, these airplanes were nicknamed “Canucks.” While generally resembling American-built Jennys, the Canadian planes have a different shape to the tailfin and rudder, a refined tail skid, and a control stick rather than the wheel used stateside. (The stick became standard on later American-built Jennys.)
Barnstormer “Jersey” Ringel posed while (sort of) aboard his Jenny about 1921. / THF135786
Following the war, many American pilots were equally desperate to keep flying and to earn a living. “Barnstorming”—performing death-defying aerial stunts for paying crowds—offered a way to do both. Surplus military Jennys could be bought for as little as $300. The same qualities that suited the planes to training—durability and reliability—were just as well-suited to stunt flying. The JN-4 became the quintessential barnstormer’s plane, which explains why our Canuck is featured so prominently in the Heroes of the Sky barnstorming zone. As for the inspiration behind our plane’s paint job… that’s another kettle of fish.
Fishing lures, similar to this one, inspired the unusual paint scheme on our Curtiss JN-4. / THF150858
Founded in 1902, James Heddon and Sons produced fishing lures and rods at its factory in Dowagiac, Michigan. Heddon’s innovative, influential products helped it grow into one of the world’s largest tackle manufacturers. That inventive streak spilled over into Heddon’s advertising efforts. In the early 1920s, the company acquired two surplus JN-4 Canucks and painted them to resemble Heddon lures. These “flying fish” toured the airshow circuit to promote Heddon and its products. While our Canuck isn’t an original Heddon plane, it’s painted as a tribute to those colorful aircraft. (Incidentally, the Heddon Museum is well worth a visit when you’re in southwest Michigan.)
Every airplane in Heroes of the Sky has a story to tell. Some of them are even fish stories!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
In the early years of World War I hundreds of thousands of Belgian refugees fled to England to escape their war torn country. Lord Perry, of Ford of England, worked with Henry Ford to establish a home for these refugees to help get them on their feet while they found work and homes of their own in England. For this purpose, Perry leased Oughtrington Hall in Cheshire, England with money donated from Henry and Clara Ford to house up to 100 refugees at a time.
The idea of helping the refugees appears to have been discussed in person between Perry and the Fords in October 1914 while Perry was visiting the states. On returning to England, Perry wrote Clara Ford in December of 1914, saying he’d secured Oughtrington Hall for $35.00 per month, with the landlord giving the rent money to the Belgian Refugee Fund. By December 29, 1914 the first group of refugees had arrived consisting of “six better class adults, 14 better class children and 3 nurses for the children; one wounded Belgian Officer and his wife; 7 discharged Belgian soldiers (these men have been wounded and are sufficiently recovered from their wounds to be discharged from Hospital, but not well enough to rejoin the Army; they cannot go back to their homes in Belgium because they have been destroyed); 4 working class married couples with 5 young children, 3 elderly single men.” The first group of refugees was picked by Perry and included those he considered “the better class” and those of the “working class.” Perry envisioned the wealthy refugees overseeing the children and the working class, and the working class performing the housekeeping, and cooking. The “servant class,” however, rebelled at this notion and Perry was soon writing to Clara noting the working class, “imagine themselves guests and see no reason why they should not be treated as guests with a consequence that they expect to be waited on etc.” Perry compromised by proposing they be paid a servants wage for their labor which would be payable after they left the house to return to Belgium or other employment. The number of refugees in the house continued to grow quickly, by February 1915 there were 93 refugees in the house and in March, 110.
To oversee the group’s needs, Perry appointed a former Ford Motor Company agent in Brussels, Vandermissen as he was the only one in the original group who could speak English. The initial group of refugees battled outbreaks of many contagious diseases, including a scarlet fever and small pox scare. Perry was unable to find a Belgian doctor for some time, so he had to hire local doctors and even use the Manchester plant doctor to see to the refugees needs, however the language gap proved a problem. Eventually, a Belgian doctor was hired, and a surgery and doctor’s office were set up on the grounds. A chapel was built, and a Belgian priest was brought in to see to the refugees’ spiritual needs. Oughtrington Hall was one of the few refugee homes that could house large families and there were always many children in the hall. A nursery and school were established, and the indoor tennis court was heated with a stove to provide a play area for the children. The refugees also raised and sold pigs and cows on the 30 acres attached to the hall.
Perry and his wife, Katie, spent countless hours arranging for the lease, administrating the house, and seeing to the needs of the refugees. They donated much of their own furniture and clothing, “Katie and I have both taken all of our clothes, excepting those that we are actually wearing – both suits and under-clothes – and used them for fitting out some of these poor people.” Perry also requested the Fords send their second-hand clothing to the refugees as well “if it is not too much trouble, it would be nice to receive from you any old clothes of Edsel’s or Mr. Ford’s which could be spared…Such clothes would be of much better quality than we can think of buying, and would further more save money,” a request the Fords followed through with (although only one woman in the hall could fit into Clara’s shoes). However, not all the refugees’ needs were met immediately. When the boiler went out in 1915, Perry refused to pay for a new one as they were only renting, demanding the landlord replace the unit, but it took the landlord sometime to make up his mind and “meanwhile the poor Belgians are very cold.” The money the Fords provided not only furnished the house, and provided food, but also bought clothing, toiletries, and basic items for the refugees (many of whom had left the country with no extra clothes or personal possessions) as well as provided the refugees with pocket money from $0.50 - $1.00 each per week. Perry also purchased subscriptions for magazines and rented a piano and gramophone (asking Edsel Ford to send along any old records). Because the first refugees moved in around Christmas the Perry’s purchased a Christmas tree, decorations, and small gifts for the children.
By 1918, because of war rationing, Perry was forced to reduce the number of refugees in the home and stop taking in new refugees; he proposed to the Fords to gradually start winding up the project and close down Oughtrington Hall. The chapel, priest, and doctor had all left by this time and Perry stated only families with children were left. Perry wrote Clara, “I feel that the conditions under which you have, for so long, rendered help to Belgian Refugees in this country, have materially changed; so much so, that it is probably true to say that there are no Belgian refugees in the same sense that there were three years ago.” He went on to add most of the refugees had found work and had become part of community, the others he believed should be taken care of by the government. Over the three years of operation a constant flow of hundreds of refugees came and went through Oughtrington Hall, the number of refugees fluctuated but appears to have stayed around 100 for the most part. Many found jobs, some at the Ford Manchester plant, and moved into homes of their own, or a relative in Belgium sent them money so they could establish their own residence. In July 1918, Perry transferred administration of the hall to the Manchester Belgian Refugees Committee along with the furniture and all equipment in the house. Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.
When the 29 millionth Ford came off the assembly line in 1941 there was no doubt who the owner would be - a group of American Red Cross volunteers were waiting for the keys as the car rolled into sight. The donation of the vehicle was just a small part of the role Ford Motor Company undertook with the American Red Cross during World War II. Both Henry and Edsel Ford not only made large monetary donations and sponsored blood drives and fundraisers at Ford plants, but they also gave space, teachers, supplies, and vehicles to the Detroit Chapter of the American Red Cross Motor Corp.
Edsel Ford Presents the 29-Millionth Ford to the Red Cross, April 29, 1941. THF270135
The Motor Corp., which was started during WWI in 1918, was a segment of the American Red Cross made up of women civilian volunteers. They were responsible for transporting wounded and sick soldiers to various hospitals; conveying donated blood, supplies, and food to airstrips for over overseas transport, and also driving hospital volunteers, Red Cross personnel, and visiting military family members to hospitals, recovery centers, and funeral homes. The Motor Corp. served the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Blood Blank, various social agencies, and the USO. These women provided their own vehicles, gas, time, and tools and also had to purchase their uniform, and insignias for their cars.
Not only were volunteers in the Motor Corp. required to provide their own vehicles but they had to perform their own maintenance as well. Many of the volunteers had never been called on to service a car, and with wartime restrictions on materials, auto repair was even more difficult. Ford Motor Company stepped in to offer mechanics training courses to Detroit Chapter Motor Corp. volunteers. The Company provided trained mechanics, free of charge, to teach groups of volunteers the basics of car maintenance. According to the National Red Cross Motor Corp. Volunteer Special Services Manual, the mechanics course should cover how to “change a tire, apply chains, replace light bulbs, check gas flow at carburetor back through fuel pump to tank, check battery, check loose electrical connections, check spark plugs, and check electrical current at generator and distributor.” Volunteers didn’t have it easy, instructor were encouraged to “disconnect various electrical wires and parts of the gas pipe system” so members could analyze what was wrong and fix it. Ford opened up rooms in Highland Park for many of the training classes in 1941, and dealerships all over Detroit were made available for evening classes. The classwork included both informational lecture instruction and hands-on training on automobiles. The company also provided trucks for driving tests, and other equipment needed by the local Corp.
Red Cross Women's Motor Corps Workers Learn about Auto Maintenance, March 1941. THF269991
The first vehicle Ford donated to the Red Cross during WWII was an important vehicle to the company. The car was a Super Deluxe Ford Station Wagon, but this was no ordinary car, it was the 29 millionth Ford car produced in their 38 year history. The car sported the Motor Corp. insignia on the front door and carried a ceremonial license plate of "29,000,000." The morning of April 29, 1941, found Edsel Ford with a group of volunteers from the Motor Corp. of the Detroit chapter of the American Red Cross. A dozen or so representatives of the Motor Corp gathered with Ford as the car rolled to the end of the line. Edsel handed off the keys to the Captain of the Detroit Motor Corp, Barbara Rumney, who took the wheel as Edsel joined her for a ride in the new car.
Edsel Ford Presents the 29-Millionth Ford to the Red Cross Women's Motor Corps, April 29, 1941. THF270143
By 1942, the Detroit Chapter of the Motor Corp. had over 1,300 trained volunteers, and after Ford’s donation of the 29 millionth car, had added 22 other pieces of equipment to broaden their reach and impact. Barbara Rumney wrote Ford stating “We realize that if it had not been for your generous response, we could not have attempted many of the things that we are doing to serve our country in its crisis.” Over the course of World War II 45,000 women volunteered for the American Red Cross Motor Corp. driving 41 million miles to support the war effort.
Red Cross Women's Motor Corps Worker Learning about Auto Maintenance, November 1941. THF270091
Kathy Makas is a Reference Archivist for the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. There’s plenty more in our collections on Ford Motor Company and the war effort. Visit the Benson Ford Research Center Monday-Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Set up an appointment in the reading room or AskUs a question.
Ford Motor Company devoted its employees and manufacturing facilities to military production during both of the 20th century’s world wars. Ford’s efforts in World War I were slow to start, given Henry Ford’s outspoken opposition to the conflict, but once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the automaker rose to the challenge. Over the next two years, Ford built passenger cars, supply trucks, aircraft engines, gun caissons, tanks, helmets and body armor. Ironically, one of Ford’s best-known wartime products, the Eagle anti-submarine boats, never saw action before the Armistice. However, the factory that built the Eagle boats subsequently became the core of Ford’s River Rouge plant.
Ford’s efforts for World War II were greater still. Like other American automakers, the company suspended all civilian production in February 1942. Ford famously turned out B-24 bombers at its Willow Run facility, but it also produced a variety of wheeled vehicles including jeeps, amphibious cars, armored cars, trucks and tanks. Ford’s non-vehicle production included military gear of every type, from aircraft engines to guns to helmets to tents.
Red Cross Workers with a Ford Military Ambulance at the Highland Park Plant, 1918. THF 263442
Needless to say, ambulances were among the most crucial vehicles used in both wars. During World War I, Ford personal collaborated with the United States Surgeon General’s Office and frontline drivers to design a Model T-based ambulance ideal for battlefield conditions. The company donated $500,000 to the Red Cross, enabling the humanitarian organization to purchase nearly 1,000 vehicles for wartime use – including 107 ambulances. Beyond those Red Cross units, another 5,745 ambulances were built for the Allied armies.
Red Cross Motor Corps members took classes in auto maintenance. These women are checking under a Ford ambulance’s hood in 1942. THF 265816
Dodge produced most of the frontline ambulances used by American forces in World War II, but Ford units were active on the homefront. The Red Cross’s Motor Corps, established in World War I, rendered important service during the Second World War as well. Corps drivers working in the United States ferried Red Cross staff and supplies, couriered packages and messages, and occasionally stepped in to assist with Army and Navy transportation needs. An estimated 45,000 women were active in the Motor Corps during World War II. Corps members generally drove their personnel vehicles in this service, but Ford-built ambulances were also used in the transport of the sick and wounded.
We’ve all read about Rosie the Riveter, but what about her mother? Over a million women worked in factories in WWI building Liberty engines, airplanes, working in munitions factories, and warehouses. Others volunteered for the American Red Cross driving ambulances, working in canteens, transporting people and supplies in the Motor Corp., and as nurses. Still others set up daycares for working mothers, knitted clothing and medical supplies, and rationed food so that soldiers would have more. With 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of American involvement in WWI, we took a look at how these women contributed to the war effort in the U.S.
Part of the reason little has been said about women factory workers in WWI is that, unlike in WWII, most of the women who worked in wartime industries had already been working in factories prior to the war. It was only in the last few weeks before armistice was signed that middle-class homemakers were being mobilized to work in factories. But the women who did work in the factories manufacturing munitions, airplanes, trucks, and Liberty Engines, were not in these industries prior to the war. Women, during WWI, made a huge shift from traditionally women’s industries such as food processing and textiles to traditionally male industries, such as heavy manufacturing and vehicle production. This came with pushback from their male coworkers, and after the war, many of these women were forced back into traditionally female occupations, but during the war women proved they could perform jobs in these industries in support of the war effort (and also to earn a much better living).
In Detroit, most of the automotive factories were manufacturing items for the war. In addition to providing vehicles, planes, and components, Packard, Lincoln, Ford, and GM all produced the Liberty Engine for airplanes. The factories, short on men during war, employed women to work on the engines. It was said manufacturers preferred women in some of the work as they were more detail oriented and better suited to delicate work requiring a fine touch. Ford Motor Company, who at the time employed almost no women at all, began hiring women in August of 1918, by the time armistice was signed in November they had employed 500 women from one time to another in the factories. From the extant photos, Lincoln Motor Company appeared to have hired even more women, putting them to work at everything from gauging pistons and valves to welding.
Many women worked for the American Red Cross during the war. Detroit had its own chapter of the Red Cross and Ford Motor Company provided ambulances, trucks and cars in a $500,000 contribution. Women of the Red Cross conducted training sessions with their Ford ambulances outside the Highland Park factory. Women also transported sick patients, medical supplies, and doctors and nurses to and from hospitals during the Influenza Epidemic. In addition, volunteers in the Motor Corp used Ford vehicles, and others, to transport supplies to canteens, deliver surgical supplies, knitted garments, and other materials and personnel.
Women also worked from their homes to aid the war effort. Posters of the time encouraged women to volunteer for the Red Cross, asking them if they had a Red Cross service flag in the window of their home, support the YWCA helping women factory workers, join the Women’s Land Army, and to buy war bonds. Women at home were also encouraged to conserve food by using less wheat and meat, growing home gardens, and show children the importance of rationing. Cookbooks giving recipes avoiding wheat included recipes for corn and bran muffins, and potato doughnuts, while other pamphlets instructed housewives in gardening, and home canning and drying. Posters often compared U.S. women to the hard working, hard suffering, women of France, encouraging women to do their part to help out.
While the U.S. was only directly engaged in the war for 19 months, the U.S. industry had long before been manufacturing for the war, and women were engaged in the public and home sectors working in factories, volunteering, and rationing. The shortage of men during the war allowed women to enter jobs they were previously barred from, at the same time the importance of cooking, making, and volunteering took on new proportions for women as well. Though many of the women working in factories had to give up their jobs, and opportunities for women diminished as the men returned from war, women of WWI played a key role in the war effort both in industry and at home.
If you’re looking for more World War I resources, the Benson Ford Research Center can help you find them. We’re open Monday-Friday 9-5, AskUs a question or make an appointment today.
Kathy Makas is a Benson Ford Research Center Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.
As cars became more widespread during the early 20th century, mechanized vehicles began to replace horses and wagons in wartime. While tanks were tested on the battlefield during World War I, there was also a need to remove wounded soldiers from the front quickly, safely, and efficiently. Ford Motor Company’s Model Ts were light, economical, and easy to operate, which made them perfect for this need.
We’ve just digitized dozens of photographs and drawings showing these innovative World War I–era Ford Model T ambulances, including this October 1918 demo picture, with the wartime message “On to Berlin” visible on the shoe soles of the “patient.”
Visit our Digital Collections to browse more photographs and technical drawings of Model T ambulances. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I.
World War II Poster, "Free a Man to Fight," 1943. Made by the artist Leslie Darrell Ragan (1897-1972) and published by the Brett Lithographing Co. for the New York Central Railroad. (ID THF154861 / 2013.49.1 )
Women have always worked and worked hard. But how and where has changed over time. During the 19th century, the growing middle class in America promoted the ideal of a woman's primary work being in the home. This viewpoint promoted a woman's primary role at home to make it a haven for her husband from the evils of the outside industrial world and a place to rear civilized children. This ideal of women's place continued throughout much of the 20th century – except when the U.S. faced global wars. I think that looking at posters in our collection from World Wars I and II provides a fascinating view of women's changing roles during these all-out national defense efforts.
A colleague's insightful blog post from March 19, 2012, focuses on the famous "Rosie the Riveter" poster and many photographs of women factory workers at Ford Motor Company during the 1940s.
The first poster (above), "Free a Man to Fight," shows a woman worker not in a factory but in a railroad's maintenance roundhouse. She is lubricating a locomotive wheel, previously a man's occupation. It is part of the early 1940s home front effort encouraging women to join the work force to replace men serving in the armed forces. New York Central Railroad hired the artist Leslie D. Ragan to make the poster artwork. He is the same artist the railroad company used for their well-known posters in the 1920s and 1930s featuring locomotives and travel destinations.
World War I Poster, "For Every Fighter, a Woman Worker," circa 1918. Made by the artist Adolph Treidler (1886-1981) and printed by the American Lithographic Company for the United War Work Campaign and the Young Women's Christian Association. (ID THF81764 / 53.5.406.1).
The next poster, "For Every Fighter a Woman Worker," shows a young woman in a typical factory work outfit from the First World War. She symbolically holds a biplane and a bomb, standing in front of a large blue triangle. In 1914 the Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) was one of a group of organizations in the U.S. that formed the United War Work Campaign, Inc. This campaign recruited women to serve in industry, government and agriculture positions. The Y.W.C.A. supported the war work in diverse ways, including opening and maintaining many "Blue Triangle" houses, which provided safe and morally upright places for young working women to gather for rest and recreation.
World War I Poster, "Back Our Girls Over There," circa 1918. Artwork by Clarence F. Underwood and printed in the United States for the United War Work Campaign and the Young Women's Christian Association. (ID THF112607 / 188.8.131.52).
Another poster of the United War Work Campaign and the Young Women's Christian Association, this features a young woman in uniform working a telephone switchboard. The background includes marching soldiers through a window. The Y.W.C.A. helped to recruit and sustain women working for the government in military jobs in the U.S. and abroad during World War I.
World War II Poster, "Equipment Is Precious!" 1943. Made by the artist B. Rig and printed by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Washington, D.C. (ID THF111484 / 89.60.5).
During World War II many women served in offices. This U.S. government poster made in 1943 features a young woman cleaning her typewriter in front of an outline of a combat soldier. The text below, pointedly asked women office workers to "Remember his needs. Your care of office equipment will save vital materials and help him win."
World War II Poster, "You, Too, Are Needed in a War Job! Work in a Food Processing Plant," 1945. Artwork by Frank Bensing (1893-1983) and printed by the United States Government Printing Office for the United States War Manpower Commission, Washington, D.C. (ID THF108510 / 94.5.4).
While many posters focus on harnessing youthful energy for the war effort, the reality during World War II was a collaborative endeavor by all Americans. This poster shows one of the ways mature women could help by working the conveyor line in a food processing plant.
World War I Poster, "The Girl on the Land Serves the Nation's Need," circa 1917. Made by artist Edward Penfield (1866-1925) and printed by United States Printing & Lithograph Company, New York, New York. (ID THF112812 / 89.0.565.88).
Many young men left farms to serve in the military during World War I. An acute labor shortage soon ensued and to help farmers continue producing vital food, the Y.W.C.A. Land Service Committee recruited young women to work on the farms. This poster depicts "farmerettes" wearing uniforms walking next to a team of horses while one carries a rake and another a basket of vegetables. Often working with young women from the cities, the Y.W.C.A. and other groups like the Farm and Garden Association provided these young women with training in agricultural skills.
World War II Poster, "Call to Farms. Join in the U.S. Crop Corps," circa 1943. Artwork by John Vickery (1906-1983) for the United States Crop Corps, Washington, D.C. (ID THF108507 / 94.5.1).
During the Second World War, an agricultural labor shortage again developed. The government formed the U.S. Crop Corps to recruit and train young women from the cities to replace the men called to military service. This poster shows a young woman driving a tractor through a farm field, pausing to turn and give the "V for Victory" sign. The government printed thousands of posters and provided a space at the bottom for use by local groups. This poster has a handwritten note in red pencil following the printed "Enlist Today" by the "Junior Board of Commerce - Philadelphia."
World War I Poster, "Corn, the Food of the Nation," 1918. Made by the artist Lloyd Harrison and printed by Harrison Landauer for the United States Food Administration. (ID THF62409 / 184.108.40.206).
Even with the successful recruiting of young women to work on the farm, another challenge during wartime is inevitably food shortages. During the First World War "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays" became campaigns of the United States Food Administration seeking voluntary changes in the eating habits of Americans. The mainstay of many a woman's work continued to be as food shopper and cook for her family. This poster from 1918 shows a woman cooking muffins and pancakes made from corn products like corn meal, grits and hominy. It was a challenge substituting corn for wheat and the government used this poster to encourage women to do this by promoting corn as "appetizing, nourishing, economical."
Our collection of world war posters from the 1910s and 1940s features women contributing to the war effort in so many different ways. I think it is illuminating to see the variety of jobs that the poster artists chose to help rally women for the national effort during these wars.
By Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford, with much thanks to the catalogers of our hundreds of world war posters, especially Jan Hiatt, Marian Pickl and Carol Wright.