Deb Carson

Semester 2, 2009 - Contemporary Graphics and Illustration Essay


Propaganda Illustrated - Introduction


Research into Propaganda as a perspective and Illustration as graphic factor, has culminated in a multimedia introduction to an electronic journal/website. This culminated animated collage entitled Propaganda Illustrated embodies the examination of perceived roles and images of women from 1942 to 1960 in a theme of “empowerment to depression” and invites further exploration through an electronic “magazine style” journal/website.


1942 to 1960 exposed pivotal and profound times of change, beginning with a world at war, full of loss, separation, shortages and uncertainty and immediately followed by mass-society theory in a period of unprecedented prosperity, near third world birth rate, multiple fads and fashion of popular culture and mass consumption and production. (Peters p 265, Nickles p 583) Illustration was the predominant technique in advertising and government propaganda campaigns, billboards, posters and mass circulated women’s magazines as well as adding visual personality to popular escapist fiction. There was population density in new urbanised environments enabling maximum impact for images and messages, (Timmers p 103) all in a time before television thoroughly penetrated households.


Due to labour shortages during the war, propaganda campaigns sought to recruit women, particularly married women, into the workforce and war effort. After the war, similar campaigns urged women to leave their work and resume the “proper role” of homemaker. (Honey) The mass media in turn targeted the housewife (and her image) as the primary consumer for mass consumption in the evolving suburban environment. (Naughton) The marriage of illustration to propaganda was successful in achieving these campaigns targets, but had significant and far-reaching social and cultural consequences.


Theses campaigns required women’s image to change dramatically, from the confident and empowered heavy machine operator, factory worker or glorified in war uniform, to the disempowered childlike and naive glamorous housewife, constrained and stereotyped in uniform of high heels, pearls and apron. This profound transformation took less than 15 years, or less than a generation!


Propaganda Illustrated mimics this layered and whirlpool period of change. Animated to reflect the timeline and applying music to help convey and hold the animation together. The music tracks chosen are: (introduction to) Glen Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a big band number and The Andrew sisters “Hold Tight”.


Please Note that due to the abundance of resources and imagery, American culture prevails in this exegesis, most western middle-class white cultures were similarly affected.




In general can be described as techniques designed to persuade an intended audience to think and behave in a certain or biased manner. One of the key features of propaganda information, or disinformation is that it is calculated to appeal to the emotions and circumvent rational judgment. Complex issues are generally simplified and glorious solutions promised using short or easily remembered messages. Advertising and propaganda united can be a powerful and persuasive force.



Illustration can be described as artwork that helps interpret and make something clear or attractive and that can more easily communicate text. Susan Griffin, author of Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature has expressed this eloquently,


“...Images work a powerful effect on the mind. If we question in our hearts who we are, our minds throw up to our vision an image of ourselves. We seek a picture, a word, a name. We feel we do not know our own feelings unless they are named. And we inherit through culture the very names we give to feelings.”
(Honey p 12)


Barbara Stern in “Medieval Allegory: Roots of Advertising Strategy for the Mass Market" defines the power of illustration (or the illustrator) to portray any given message.

“It is the very nature of thought and language to represent what is immaterial in picturable can start with an immaterial fact, such as passion which you actually experience, and invent visibilia to express them.”(Stern p84)


Rosie the Riveter1, is the first image to appear in Propaganda Illustrated, illustrated by Norman Rockwell in May 29,1943 for the Saturday Evening Post in conjunction with America’s Office of War Information’s “Basic Plan for Womanpower” encouraging women into the workforce, the plan read...


 “These jobs will have to be glorified as a patriotic war service if American women are to be persuaded to take them and stick to them,”


Rosie’s image embodies the womanpower campaign: She is portrayed with large and masculine forearms imitating strength but retaining feminine characteristics. She wears lipstick and rouge to accent her upturned nose, nail polish to feminise working hands and has a lace handkerchief visible from her pocket, her visor could be interpreted as a halo. She has a very large riveting gun resting in her lap which visually links beneath her boots to Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf. Illustrated in the same tone as the American flag waving in the background compounds the patriotic message. The message is clear, through her defence job she will help to defeat Hitler. Working women portrayed on posters, known collectively as “Rosie the Riveter,” dressed in overalls and bandanna were conveyed as strong and competent creating a new, vigorous image of feminine beauty.


Barbara Stern articulates how “Rosie the Riveter” embodies the womanpower message...

”Personification in any form is never merely ornamental. It has a more serious purpose, for is in its ‘dress’- its words, shapes colours, or notes. Only the ‘dress’ can incarnate an imaginative reality in a physical mode”
(Strern p 286)


Having no legal means to draft women to serve in WW2, government instead employed emotive propaganda techniques of patriotism, glamour, pride and fear to convince. Magazines were made aware of government campaigns (Honey p14) and posters appeared in places where women frequented such as the grocery store or beauty salons. (Propaganda Illustrated women in Navy Uniform2) “Vogue magazine wrote,”


“The uniform stands for our new spine of purpose, our initiative in getting women working, splayed out into hundreds of different jobs, to find talents which have been massed over. It means that we know that it is time to stop all the useless little gestures, to stop being the Little Woman and be women.”


The male dominated patriarchal system was already in a process of being redefined by a combination of women’s suffragette efforts, economic necessity during the depression, labour relations and new practices brought about during World War 1. (Buckley p 288) Women’s roles during the World War 2 took on the task of  ‘Men’s work’, enabling the blur of gender roles. Women also controlled the family spending and were the primary receivers of income, giving them the role of head of house while husbands were away. Many joined unions and found substantial new benefits from labor representation. There was significant recognition that middle-class married women could work and run a home, (although poorer women had always done so). Women discovered a new sense of pride and dignity in their work and for the first time in history masses of women had real options.


Propaganda Illustrated image of Rosie the Riveter3, illustrated by J. Howard Miller emerges larger than life, fist clenched “We can do it” representing this period of women’s confidence and vitality.


After the war there was a period of celebration in which white middle class enjoyed prosperity not felt through the depression and war years. It was a time of unprecedented economic growth, incomes trebled and mass education saw the breaking down of class barriers. Rapidly expanding mass consumerism was now becoming the way in which western society operated. (Hamilton p 1). Peace brought an end to agonising anxieties, to shortages, to the separations, and the long hours of work and all of this coincided with a boom in babies and marriages.


World War 2 saw a period that threatened traditional values and an urgency of returning to "normal" was quickly adopted. Strict gender roles and the importance of the nuclear family and suburbia where propagated. Women were returned to their “proper place” as full-time housewives through the emphasis that husbands and children needed them there. Motherhood was seen as the acceptable goal for women.  McCall’s a popular magazine at the time, launched an issue on family “Togetherness” promoting women to leave behind “Rosie the Riveter” type jobs and pursue their proper role as a homemaker. (Honey)


Government and employers still held on to the patriarchal sexual division of labour i.e. jobs on the basis of gender and although the needs of capitalism for cheaper labour, it was common belief that women should be kept in a separate domain. (Buckley p 288) Fulltime childcare centres were deemed unnecessary after the war and federal funding was withdrawn. There was the assumption that married women working for wages was secondary to their proper role as fulltime housewife. (Honey p27) This proved untrue as an excerpt from a Boeing tools aircraft worker explains,


"My mother warned me when I took the job that I would never be the same. She said, 'You will never want to go back to being a housewife.' At that time I didn't think it would change a thing. But she was right, it definitely did Boeing I found a freedom and an independence that I had never known. After the war I could never go back to playing bridge again, being a club woman...when I knew there were things you could use your mind for. The war changed my life completely. I guess you could say, at thirty-one, I finally grew up." Inez Sauer, Boeing tool clerk.


In spite of pressure on women to give up their jobs after the war, the seeds of permanent change had been planted.


Magazine articles began to stress family issues such as, children needing a full-time mother, exploiting the dangers of working mothers to the extent to which they might be blamed for social problems of teenagers. This cultural and popular pressure, reflected in the pages of the women's magazines, was sharply visible in 1949 and progressed through the fifties in the promotion of articles telling women to “Have babies While Young”, asking women “Are you training Your Daughter to be a Wife? and informing readers that “Really a Man’s World is Politics” (Metzl p 247)


Advertisers also aimed women toward the finer perks of life – appliances, attempting to have women believe they either needed or wanted these new and exciting domestic devices to make their lives more simple. Consumer products promised liberation in the home in return for increasing dependence on corporate production. (Spigel p 21) The image of the glamorous hostess housewife, who marries younger than ever, bears more babies and looks and acts far more feminine than the emancipated girls of the 1920’s, and 30’s (Look magazine 1956) was promoted rather than the servant substitutes women had become.


A relatively constant feature of the sexual division of labor, however, is the delineation of women's role as housewives and as carers for the family...As a result of this sexual division of labor, designers assume that women are the sole users of home appliances. Product advertising presents women as housewives who use domestic appliances and family-oriented products. (Buckley p8)



Advertising exploited the image of women's bodies, and helped endorse the powerful male attitude that women were passive bodies to be endlessly looked at, waiting to have their sexual attractiveness matched. (Buckley)  Illustrators, of theses images, placed emphasis on face, expression and body language. A new Look presented by fashion illustrator’s exaggerated small waists with big skirts reminiscent of Victorian times.

Al Parker, prominent illustrator of the time concluded,


“It wants no message, other than girls are cute and men like cute girls. Prettiness prevailed, and warts and all were a no-no. The perfect woman demonstrated a new blend of sexuality, ignorance, and naivete. "


Propaganda Illustrated Marilyn Monroe4, the pin-up icon is perhaps the best known stereotype of this era. Articles downplayed her skills as an actress and instead focus on her naivete and sex appeal.

Propaganda Illustrated 5, 6 Attractive and glamorous women are typical illustrations in many popular escapist fictional stories in magazines before television pervades.


Betty Freiden author of The feminine mystique, points out of magazines in this time that...


The image of woman that emerges is young and frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man. (


Post war consumer and popular culture, so intimately linked to the housewife began to take its toll. Women felt trapped and pressured by unrealistic images and roles created for them. Magazines began to address the “emotional problem”(depression) through health columns in magazines advising the cure was to simply visit a doctor and obtain a prescription pill, setting a precedent connecting women and psycho-pharmaceuticals. The pills, commonly known as “mothers little helpers” were prescribed to help mothers “get through their day”. By the end of 1956 the demand for these drugs surpassed any medication marketed in America, in 1957 the rate was one prescription every second for a year! (Metzl p 241)


In 1956, Life magazine published interviews with five male psychiatrists who believed female ambition was the root of mental illness in wives, emotional upsets in husbands and homosexuality in boys and in the same year the first lobotomy in the U. S. was performed on a 63-year old woman. Some surgeons believing this controversial operation was a cure for "mad housewife" syndrome.


Propaganda Illustrated The black and white image of the housewife in a cup7 represents a prisoner in her own home and the ludicrous and hopeless situation she finds herself in.

Propaganda Illustrated The image of the housewife slowly sinking8 represents the loss of power and identity in her role as housewife. A young wife in a Long Island development interviewed by Betty Freiden said:


“I seem to sleep so much. I don't know why I should be so tired. This house isn't nearly so hard to clean as the cold-water Hat we had when I was working. The children are at school all day. It's not the work. I just don't feel alive.”


Betty Freiden also quoted


“The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive.”

“The problem that has no name — which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities — is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.”




Through propaganda and advertising campaigns between the years of 1942 to 1960 a collage of many and paradoxical illustrated images penetrated women’s culture. Propaganda Illustrated has sequenced them into a dizzying, spinning animation, strong and powerful to begin and fading appropriately towards the end.

Wini Breines articulates this period well when she says,


...femininity has always been characterized by such inconsistencies, or, double binds. When the possibilities for fuller participation in social, economic and political life have grown so has the punishment for taking advantage of those possibilities. The decade of the 1950’s is an extreme example of this phenomenon. As several writers of the period point out it was a time of profound paradoxes; inconsistencies and contradictions were heightened. (Breines p 602)


Depression has many guises, in the 1950’s women were seen as neurotic or had “mad housewife syndrome”, before that it was termed “hysteria”, today it manifests in anxiety, mood and eating disorders. (Gardner) Propaganda and illustration realised a profound result with “Rosie the Riveter” and “We can do it!”
Perhaps this style of campaign could be adopted to benefit many others with depression related disorders?


Illustration and Propaganda saw their last powerful relationship between 1942 and 1960. Their lasting legacy helped to establish a vibrant visual vocabulary for the new suburban life so apparently desired in the aftermath of the Depression and World War 2. Television and Photography, preferred for capturing the moment, catapulted illustration from centre stage to a more decorative and conceptual role.









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Web links

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Art, Icons,Women's Rights - Rosie the Riveter, 1941 - 1945

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Freiden, Betty “The feminist mystique” Chapter 2

Golden Age of Illustration

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Lines and Colours Propaganda Information

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Michael Gibbs Illustrator


Animation Image References

1               Rosie the Riveter, Oil on canvas, Rockwell, Norman,1943

2               Don't Miss Your Great Opportunity, Oil on canvas, John Falter, Poster, 1944

3               Rosie the Riveter, J Howard Millar, medium unknown 1942,
Produced by Westinghouse for the War Production Co-ordinating Committee

4               Gentlemen prefer Blondes, medium unknown, artist unknown, Movie Poster, 1953

5               Women in tight suit, De Mers, Joe, 1950’s

6               Man and Woman, medium unknown, Lovell, Tom, Cosmopolitan magazine, 1955

7               Women in cup, pen & ink wash, Allen, Charlie Billboard, Year unknown

8               Women sinking, pen & ink, Allen, Charlie, 1950's