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“Make This World Safe for the Babies”: The Liberty Loan Committee’s Appeal to American Women

Exactly a century ago this summer, the United States began borrowing money from its own citizens. World War I brought with it the need for dramatic increases in government spending, and appealing to patriotism was one way to find the funding. The Liberty Loan Committee, one of the largest committees in American history, organized highly successful advertising campaigns to convince average Americans to buy Liberty Bonds.

Though today’s Americans consider the purchase of government bonds as routine for investors, it was a major innovation. Borrowing and lending moved to the social mainstream. The Liberty Loan Committee innovated in another way, too, however. Among their many different campaigns was one targeted at women as investors. The Report of National Woman’s Liberty Loan Committee for the First and Second Liberty Loan Campaigns gave the text of an ad they ran in newspapers nationwide, including the line, “For the first time in our remembrance women are asked to come into BIG BUSINESS as partners.”

Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 14, Folder 29.

American women were making inroads into other areas men had dominated in 1917, including Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to a national office, who was sworn into the U. S. House of Representatives on April 2 that year. They farmed, operated trolley cars, and drove ambulances, among other traditionally male occupations. Part of this reflected the needs of a nation at war, but it also reflected a trend toward expanding women’s roles. Suffragettes were often involved in the war effort, as they pointed out, despite not yet having the right to vote. Taking jobs men could not because of war meant they also had income available to buy bonds. As one ad put it, “Women are the conservers of the Nation, and now, for the first time, men look to us for financial aid in the world’s crisis, transferring to our shoulders part of the Country’s burden.”

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Alongside this appeal to the early 20th-century feminist, ads pushed women in traditional roles to find money to invest as well, inviting them to think of their German counterparts investing their energies on behalf of the enemy. Ads directed at homemakers were ubiquitous, appearing in the grocery bag or in packaged foods like bread—a not-too-subtle reminder that saving food would help free up household money for bonds in addition to addressing war-related food shortages.

Right click to open and enlarge in a new tab. Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 5, Folder 4.

Echoing President Woodrow Wilson’s assertion that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” ads urged women “to make this world safe for the babies.” They also appealed to their role as the caretaker of the home, insisting that they protect their husbands and sons. “It has always been women’s part to bring comfort and alleviate suffering,” one ad read. “It has always been the women’s part—it has always been the blessed duty of womanhood—to alleviate this.” Ads further pushed women to protect their daughters and themselves against the dangers faced by young women in France, implicitly playing on fears of sexual assault.

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Most of the campaigns featured or addressed white women, but women of color appeared in them as well. In the ad below, an African American woman is buying bonds from a white woman in honor of her “three gentlemen friends in the service.” A photograph in our collections shows a Native American woman holding a clipboard and standing alongside a white sailor at an event publicizing investment opportunities presented by Liberty Bonds.

Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 10, Folder 30. The caption reads, “Mattie the cook, with three gentlemen friends in the service, and anxious to do her bit by the boys over there, thinks it would be an ‘awful sweet idea’ if her thirty dollars worth of Liberty Loan could be divided into three small bonds ‘so as not to show no favoritism.’”
Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 14, Folder 34.

After selling well in the summer of 1917, more Liberty Loans followed. In total, they raised over 21 billion dollars for America’s effort in World War I. All these ads and other records of the four Liberty Loan and Victory Loan campaigns can be found in the Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089).

Women buying Liberty Bonds on Broadway, New York City, New York, Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 8, Folder 31.

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