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PLAYING ON UNCLE SAM'S TEAM: AMERICAN CHILDHOODS DURING WORLD WAR I

  • Mischa Honeck (a1)
Abstract

If World War I has interested historians of the United States considerably less than other major wars, it is also true that children rank among the most neglected actors in the literature that exists on the topic. This essay challenges this limited understanding of the roles children and adolescents played in this transformative period by highlighting their importance in three different realms. It shows how childhood emerged as a contested resource in prewar debates over militarist versus pacifist education; examines the affective power of images of children—American as well as foreign—in U.S. wartime propaganda; and maps various social arenas in which the young engaged with the war on their own account. While constructions of childhood and youth as universally valid physical and developmental categories gained greater currency in the early twentieth century, investigations of young people in wartime reveal how much the realities of childhood and youth differed according to gender, class, race, region, and age.

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1 “Kills His Sister in Playing War,” Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1917. For similar incidents, see “Girl Playing War Shot in Eye with Air Gun,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 19, 1917; “Vermont Boy and New York Girl Killed Playing War,” Boston Daily Globe, Oct. 1917; “Brockton Boy Shot While Playing War with Chum,” ibid., Dec. 29, 1917; “Youth Kills Baby Brother,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 27, 1918.

2 Examples of the emerging field of research on the history of childhood and war are Marten, James, ed., Children and War: An Anthology (New York: New York University Press, 2002); Goodenough, Elizabeth and Immel, Andrea, eds., Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008); and Honeck, Mischa and Marten, James, eds., War and Childhood in the Era of the Two World Wars (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). For works focused on the United States, see Tuttle, William M., Daddy's Gone To War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Marten, James, ed., Children and Youth during the Civil War Era (New York: New York University Press, 2012).

3 Gleason, Mona, “Avoiding the Agency Trap: Caveats for Historians of Children, Youth, and Education,” Journal of the History of Education 45:4 (2016): 446–59.

4 Miller, Susan A., “Assent as Agency in the Early Years of the Children of the American Revolution,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 9:1 (Winter 2016): 49.

5 For works on children in World War I dealing with other national contexts, see Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane, La guerre des enfants (1914–1918). Essai d'histoire culturelle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1993); Hämmerle, Christa, ed., Kindheit im Ersten Weltkrieg (Vienna: Böhlau, 1993); Donson, Andrew, Youth in the Fatherless Land: Pedagogy, Authority, and Nationalism in Germany, 1914–1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); and Kennedy, Rosie, The Children's War, Britain 1914–1918 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

6 Peacock, Margaret E., Innocent Weapons: The American and Soviet Politics of Childhood in the Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

7 Zahra, Tara, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 9.

8 Andrews, Fannie Fern, The War: What Should be Said About it in the Schools? (Boston: American School Peace League, 1914), 4, 6.

9 Dewey, John, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916), 94.

10 Zeiger, Susan, “The Schoolhouse vs. the Armory: U.S. Teachers and the Campaign against Militarism in the Schools, 1914–1918,” Journal of Women's History 15:2 (Summer 2003): 150–79.

11 Cabot, Ella Lyman, Andrews, Fanny Fern et al. , eds., A Course in Citizenship and Patriotism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, revised version), iii.

12 On “war pedgogy” in World War I Germany, see Donson, Andrew, Youth in the Fatherless Land: War Pedagogy, Nationalism, and Authority in Germany, 1914–1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

13 See MacLeod, David I., “Socializing American Youth to Be Citizen-Soldiers” in Anticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences, 1871–1914, eds. Boerneke, Manfred F., Chickering, Roger, and Förster, Stig (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 143–46.

14 See Thompson, John A., Reformers and War: American Progressive Publicists and the First World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 139.

15 MacLeod, “Socializing American Youth,” 147–56.

16 On the Anglo-American origins of the Boy Scouts, see Jordan, Benjamin R., Modern Manhood and the Boy Scouts of America: Citizenship, Race, and the Environment, 1910–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 1743; and Honeck, Mischa, Our Frontier is the World: The Boy Scouts in the Age of American Ascendancy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).

17 Capozzola, Christopher, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1.

18 George Creel quoted in Van Schaak, Eric, “The Division of Pictorial Publicity in World War I,” Design Issues 22:1 (Winter 2006): 33.

19 Markham, Edwin, Lindsey, Benjamin Barr, Creel, George et al. , Children in Bondage: A Complete and Careful Presentation of the Anxious Problem of Child Labor (New York: Hearst's International Library, 1914).

20 My distinction of the victimized and patriotic child is loosely based on Donson, “Children and Youth” in International Encyclopedia of the First World War, 1914–1918, http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/children_and_youth (accessed June 1, 2017).

21 “Motherless, Fatherless, Starving—How Much to Save These Little Lives” (May 1917), http://www.loc. gov/pictures/collection/wwipos/item/2002708932/ (accessed June 6, 2017).

22 Briggs, Laura, “Mother, Child, Race, Nation: The Visual Iconography of Rescue and the Politics of Transnational and Transracial Adoption,” Gender & History 15:2 (Aug. 2003): 179-200.

23 This image was first printed in the July 25, 1915, edition of Life.

24 U.S. Treasury Department, “Save Your Child from Autocracy and Poverty: Buy War Saving Stamps” (probably early 1918), http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/wwipos/item/94513692/ (accessed June 6, 2017).

25 U.S. Food Administration, “Little Americans, Do Your Bit: Eat Oatmeal” (May 1917), http://www.loc. gov/pictures/collection/wwipos/item/2002712335/ (accessed June 6, 2017).

26 On the importance of race in the evolution of modern concepts of childhood innocence, see Bernstein, Robin, Racial Innocence: Performing Childhood and Race from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

27 See, for example, U.S. Committee on Public Information, “Lest We Perish: Campaign for $30,000,000, American Committee for Relief in the Near East” (undated, probably 1918), http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ collection/wwipos/item/98503175/ (accessed June 6, 2017).

28 See Cabanes, Bruno, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918–1924 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 249–51; and Sarah Miglio, “America's Sacred Duty: Near East Relief and the Armenian Crisis, 1915–1930” in Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports Online (2009), eds. Ken Rose and Erwin Levold, http://rockarch.org/publications/resrep/miglio.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017).

29 Macleod, , Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870–1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 253, 376.

30 For the BSA in World War I, see Jordan, Modern Manhood, 105–7. On the growth of Girl Scouting in the same period, see Proctor, Tammy M., Scouting for Girls: A Century of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Praeger, 2009), 2832.

31 See Kent, Kathryn R., Making Girls into Women: American Women's Writing and the Rise of Lesbian Identity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 111–13.

32 On burning newspapers, see the photograph “Anti-German Feeling in US: Boy Scouts Burning the German Newspaper, Wächter&Anzeiger, in Brooklyn, Cleveland, Ohio,” 165-WW-68D-3, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, Record Group 165, National Archives, College Park, Maryland. On adults asking children to expose disloyal teachers, see Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You, 99. On the BSA's war garden program, see MacLeod, “Socializing American Youth,” 163.

33 Florence Woolston, “Billy and the World War,” New Republic 17 (Jan. 1919): 369–70.

34 “By the President of the United States: A Proclamation,” Boys’ Life (June 1919): 3.

35 U.S. Department of Labor, Reports of the Department of Labor, 1918 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 189–90.

36 Winthrop D. Lane, “Making the War Safe for Childhood: Delinquency in Wartime,” The Survey 41, Mar. 29, 1919, 452.

37 Brill quoted in Engelbrecht, H.C., Revolt Against War (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1937), 190.

38 “Controversy of Boy Scouts Is Explained,” The Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 20, 1917.

39 Scout quoted in Peterson, Robert W., The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure (New York: American Heritage, 1984), 85.

40 See Oberdorfer, Don, Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2003), 26.

41 See Lewis, David Levering, W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 352.

42 See Wittke, Carl, German-Americans and the World War: With Special Emphasis on Ohio's German-Language Press (Columbus, OH: J. S. Ozer, 1936), 145.

43 See Wüstenbecker, Katja, Deutsch-Amerikaner im Ersten Weltkrieg: US-Politik und nationale Identitäten im Mittleren Westen (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007), 207.

44 Hawes quoted in Dale Russakoff, “On Campus, It's the Children's Hour,” Washington Post, Nov. 13, 1998.

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The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
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  • EISSN: 1943-3557
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