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Marketing the War on the Home Front

When Wilson appointed Creel as head of the CPI, he only had one message for him: to sell the war to the American people. Selling not only meant recruitment but also effective mobilization of those left at home. The war was not just about battles; various shortages of consumer goods and restrictions on materials resulted from the need to keep the armies supplied. Formal rationing schemes were limited during the FirstScreen Shot 2019 03 13 at 5.45.29 AM World War, but there were efforts to persuade civilians to conserve where they could, and music helped serve this purpose as well. “Keep Cool! The Country’s Saving Fuel (And I Had to Come Home in the Dark)” (1918) emphasized the patriotism of walking rather than driving, despite the weather or personal inconvenience. In this section, the discussion will be expanded to music sung by both third-party domestic organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America and the parodies of existing songs they created as well as government-backed Liberty/Victory Loan Drives. Since many women and children stayed at home, this section will also discuss their domestic roles on the home front and how Tin Pan Alley songs, written by male adult songwriters, imposed an idealized vision of proper action and sympathy for children and women through the lyrics of sheet music.

In 1917, the Food and Supply rationing policy was established and paper was no exception. Sheet music could not exceed two pages due to rationing and by 1918, publishers were forced to cut back. They began printing on half-size sheets.1 Similarly, the U.S. Food Administration urged the American public to consume less wheat, meat, and sugar to provide food for the military as well as humanitarian aid for the Belgians. The Food Administration, along with the CPI immediately created posters to send out this message.

So far, the discussion has been focused on adults but since many children were left at home, it is interesting to investigate how they were represented in song and what was expected of them during wartime. It is important to note that while American children experienced the effects of war in their own way, they were indirectly affected. Unlike children across the Atlantic in Belgium who directly experienced the war, American children only had an idealized version of what the war was about.2 Tin Pan Alley songwriters portrayed children in two ways: there are songs that use soldiers’ children as subjects and the idealized way on raising children during wartime. Both boys and girls assume mature roles with boys either wanting to join their deployed fathers in war or playing their father’s role at home as the new “man of the house” and girls, just like older women, play the role as the prayerful sweetheart waiting patiently at home for daddy to come back from war.3

As early as 1915, boys were depicted as little soldiers wanting to serve in war. The song “Daddy, I Want to Go” (1915) portrays a boy wearing aScreen Shot 2019 03 13 at 5.50.31 AM sailor uniform asking an older sailor to let him go to war. While this song may have only meant to show a dutiful boy to his family and country, militarism is clearly an underlying theme in this song. Similarly, an article from the Washington Post dated July 1916 openly called for boys to actively serve in war. This feature story was taken from the Toledo News-Bee. The article argued that “Boys Are Best Soldiers” because they are young and reckless.4 Boys depicted at the home front assumed the temporary role of their father’s position as the “man of the house” while their father was away at war but that was not always the case. In many unfortunate cases, losing a father in war forced the boy to assume his father’s role permanently. This is seen in the song “You’re Your Mamma’s Little Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 5.53.47 AMDaddy Now” published in 1918. The picture of the sheet music cover shows a young boy dressed in a soldier’s uniform perhaps to embody his father’s role when he left home and being embraced by his mother. The lyrics, a dialogue between mother and son, tell the slow transformation of the the boy into an adult. While the mother does not respond directly to her son’s question about his father, the mother asks for her son’s support telling him to “Put your loving, little arms around me…Today you take a hero’s place, you’re your Mamma’s little Daddy now.” The newly widowed mother instills in her son to take his father’s patriarchal role in the family and transforms him into an adult by giving him responsibilities and bidding him to “Never mind your playthings on the floor. Listen little man, Mamma’s little man, Maybe you won’t need them anymore.”

The Boy Scouts of America, established in 1910 for boys 12 to 17-years old, modeled their uniforms, insignias,Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 5.57.21 AMBoy Scouts 1918 and discipline on the military. Truly the little soldiers at home, Boy Scouts were trained to master the American wilderness, serve as messengers and coast watchers, and sell war bonds at home.5 In 1915, the Boy Scouts got their song “The Boy Scouts’ Dream,” subtitled Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.04.52 AM2nd ed. used in 1917“March Galop.” There are no lyrics for this march-like popular tune but expressive markings for the piano including “Thunder of Cannons,” “Hiss of Bullets,” “Heavier Artillery Fire,” and “Approaching the Trenches” create an atmosphere of war. Accompanied by a rumbling bass in the piano, these indications create a picture of a battle scene complete with artillery, cavalry, and bugle calls. Although it can be argued that this song had nothing to do with World War I since it was published before 1917, it is clearly militaristic and interesting to consider if this “dream” was considered a fun escape from the pacifist reality of 1915.

There is a heavier emphasis on domesticity when depicting girls in sheet music. Just as boys were depicted in the same category as their older male counterparts, girls were depicted in the same construct as their older female counterparts. A girl’s space was inside the home where they accompanied their waiting mother and prayed for the return of their father or brother from war. This wasScreen Shot 2019 02 15 at 2.06.45 AM away from the action. Many of the sheet music illustrations depicted girls within the domestic sphere helping out mother with household chores such as the cover for “Keep the Home Together Mother,” praying in bed before going to sleep such as “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight,” and being cradled by mother such as the cover for “Will the Angels Guard My Daddy Over There.” While these are only few examples, it is clear that there is an underlying theme of domesticity in these songs and a counterpoint to the roles of boys and men. However, it is important to note that this counterpoint and a woman’s relation to the war were dependent on the men’s role as soldiers.6

Many of the songs describing girls are sentimental and expressive in character. The lyrics oftentimes refers back to the home or to nature. In “Will the Angels Guard My Daddy Over There,” the song expresses the passing of time through the changing seasons. In one verse there are “flowers in bloom” and in another, “the flowers bloom no more.” Similarly, time is expressed in the maturity of the young girl. No longer is she asking questions expected from a toddler but rather is transformed quickly into maturity. The end of the song shows “faith that makes her say, Her daddy will come back again someday.” The songwriter also cleverly inserts patriotism into the picture by referencing a “quiet little cottage where the flowers are in bloom.” Perhaps this is a reminder to the listener to guard America the homeland against the disasters that had befallen Europe. Both “Will the Angels Guard My Daddy Over There” and “Daddy, I want to Go” depict children maturing quickly. The boy song, “Daddy, I Want to Go” expresses the passing of time as a soldier’s baton being passed down through generations. The girl’s mature role is to be hopeful and patriotic. The theme of maturity is also present for the cover of “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight” subtitled Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.13.41 AM“for Her Daddy Over There.” The cover shows a young girl with her eyes closed, kneeling in bed, and her hands clasped in prayer. Beside her is a doll that seems so artificial that it contrasts to the young girl’s pious facial expression. Perhaps this contrast in character is similar to the idea of “Daddy, I want to go” where the songwriter urges children to forget their toys and instead recognize that they are called to actively serve their country and family.

Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.17.27 AMTheodore Roosevelt with a group of Girl Scouts during a war fundraising event in 1918.Much like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts of the USA responded to President Wilson’s call for domestic mobilization. In 1917, the Girl Scouts began producing a monthly magazine, the Rally. The topics covered in these articles encompass how to help the Red Cross by making surgical dressings, knitting clothing for soldiers, and making scrapbooks for wounded veterans. However, the most interesting topic the magazine covered was the Girl Scout parody songs that were adopted from popular tunes with rewritten lyrics to fit their needs.7 As a girl-centered organization, Girl Scouts rewriting songs would have sent a strong message to the male songwriters who dominated the music making field. Not only were these girls proudly connecting themselves with their domestic feminine roles, they also positioned their roles front and center that competed with their male counterparts, the Boy Scouts, and the regular doughboy.8 Comparing George Cohan’s original “Over There” from the Girl Scouts parody by Anna Nelson published in the Rally, one can hardly ignore the competitive spirit of the Girl Scouts.

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On April 24, 1917, only a few weeks after Congress declared war, Congress passed the Emergency Loan Act that authorized the issue of $1.9Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.21.11 AMWilliam Gibbs McAdoo billion in bonds at 3.5% at the suggestion of Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. The CPI was quick to mobilize its forces. They began producing posters urging people to buy war bonds. It was met with no enthusiasm from the public and a second Liberty Loan Drive was scheduled for October 1, 1917. This time, it was Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.23.56 AMaccompanied with John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Loan March” played by Sousa and his band. The composer Charles Ives campaigned to sell war bonds to support the American war effort at this time.9 However, both Liberty Loan campaigns were not as strong as expected.10 The unsuccessful first and second campaigns prompted the government to enlist the help of celebrities and movie stars including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin for the Third Liberty Loan campaign on April 5,Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.26.30 AMThis Liberty Loan poster depicting a Boy Scout was produced specifically for the Third Liberty Loan Drive. 1918. Treasury Secretary McAdoo called for a massive effort to sell war bonds and capitalize patriotism as he wrote in his autobiography, “We went direct to the people and that means everybody...We capitalized on the profound impulse called patriotism.”11 Working with the CPI, McAdoo went on speaking tours, called for an increase in war propaganda posters, urged the Four-Minute Men to not only speak but also actively sell war bonds, and employ shaming techniques.12 The results turned out successfully. As discussed in the previous section, singing was always present wherever the Four-Minute Men went. The Fourth Liberty Loan on September 28, 1918 was also met with enthusiasm. A large parade was held in Chicago led by D.V. Steger, head of the Steger & Sons Screen Shot 2019 03 13 at 6.32.58 AMMusic meets the Fourth Liberty Loan DrivePiano Manufacturing Co. Behind him was a banner with the words “One Hundred Percent, Music Industries” and accompanying Steger was the Liberty Loan Committee. Slogans such as “Music Maintains Morale” and “Music Is Helping to Win the War” flew on banners above the parade as the parade marched. Piano manufacturers and musicians alike showed their enthusiasm for war bonds this time. The largest Liberty Loan sign in the country was painted on the side of the Wurlitzer Building in New York beneath a sign “Wurlitzer Player Piano.” Many piano manufacturers in Pittsburgh showed their support for the Liberty Bonds by subscribing and proudly declaring “every employee a subscriber” and that they were the “100 Per Cent Piano Men in Pittsburgh”13

John Philip Sousa

It is impossible to rank composers by their nationalistic fervor when it comes to who can produce the best patriotic song, but it is easy to single out John Philip Sousa as theSousa leading a marching band during WWILt. Sousa leads a marching band during WWI composer with the best potential to take the nation by force and market America’s war message. By the time Wilson declared war, Sousa was already sixty-two and too old to serve actively in the military. His friend, John Alden Carpenter, recruited him to train bandsmen at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Sousa also led rallies for the Liberty Loan drives and the Red Cross until January 1919. While many Americans would have predicted Sousa as the composer with the best potential of selling America through patriotic songs, Sousa failed to take American society by storm. Sousa composed several war-themed songs including a setting of “In Flanders Fields,” “Sabre and Spurs,” and “Solid Men to the Front.” His notable contribution during the war was an arrangement of the “U.S. Field Artillery March” but that too did not make a lasting mark with people when compared to George Cohan’s “Over there.”

Building up civilian morale was crucial in carrying on a war that would have devastating results. Whether it was visual, verbal, or music, the government called upon all mediums to be used in order to mobilize all Americans into action. Long gone were the days of Pacifism. The country was now at war.




1. Gier, “Masculinity, war and song in America” p. 123
2. In her thesis, “Little soldiers and orphans” Lawson even argues that this idealized and tamer version of the war that American children were aware was a far cry from reality suggesting that children viewed the work for the war effort intertwined with play, thus giving them the incentive to actively take part in the war effort. Lawson, p. 12
3. Lawson, p. 67
4. The article says that “[boys] make the best soldiers. They have the resiliency, the recuperative power of youth. War to them is a romance. They do not think of consequences as older men do. It is youth that makes the reckless charges, the daring forays. Youth leads the forlorn hopes…No, they are not too young for war. We are learning here and abroad that nothing is too young or too sacred for war.” Washington Post, “Boys are Best Soldiers,” July 22, 1916:4
5. Even before the war, the government already recognized the potential of the Boy Scouts. On June 15, 1916 Wilson signed the Boy Scouts charter as a patriotic and national organization declaring “That the purpose of this corporation shall be to promote, through organization and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods which are now in common use by Boy Scouts.” 36 U.S.C. Ch. 309; It is reported that the Boy Scouts were able to raise over $352 million of war bonds and $101 million War Saving Stamps. They were also charged to process charcoal for gas masks and inventoried black walnut trees for use as propellers and gun stocks. Their War Garden program was supposed to raise food at home, but was not as successful as their other tasks. A Brief History of the Boy Scouts of America, Three Fires Council website accessed March 10, 2019.
6. In Lawson’s thesis, she argues that female stock characters can be categorized in three different ways. Toddlers and very young girls fall into the “prayerful girl” construct. Young adult girls that are depicted as girlfriends or lovers are portrayed as “sweethearts” and older women often portrayed as mothers or faithful wives are categorized as “mother songs.” Lawson, p. 83; Following her argument suggests that the role of women depicted in sheet music depended on men who are away or in some cases will fail to return.
7. This discussion of Girl Scout songs is largely based on Katheryn Lawson’s research on this topic published in the American Music journal.; In 1916, the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, introduced a music badge that could be earned by the scouts by knowing how to play a musical instrument, sight reading, naming “ two master composers and two of their greatest works,” “ [naming] all of the musical instruments in the orchestra in their proper order,” and knowing to “never play ragtime music, except for dancing.” A “knowledge of singing” was required. They were supposed to know “two Scout songs,” and sight singing. From Juliette Gordon Low, How Girls Can Help Their Country (Savannah, GA: M.S. & D.A. Byck Co., 1916), 43-44.
8. Celia Malone Kingsbury notes that some print media such as college textbooks published at the time tried to merge the domesticity of the kitchen to the battlefield often referring to women as “culinary soldiers.” Kingsbury, p.38; Both Boy and Girl Scouts also worked “war gardens” and canned vegetables to help with the war effort.
9. Although Ives was strongly against the idea of America joining the war, he shifted his position to pro-war and felt that anyone who could not fight actively ought to work as hard as possible to help the fighting men. Perlis, p. 59
10. Due to the unsuccessful war bonds campaign of 1917, bond traders were attacked as “unpatriotic” and the Board of Governors of the New York Stock Exchange accused brokerage firms who sold below the expected amount as “pro-German influences” and even forced a broker to buy bonds back and make a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross. The Financier, June 23, 1917, p. 1741
11. McAdoo, pp. 374-379
12. In one of his speeches in California, McAdoo declared “Every person who refuses to subscribe or who takes the attitude of let the other fellow do it, is a friend of Germany…A man who can’t lend his government of $1.25 per week at the rate of 4% interest is not entitled to be an American citizen.” From Jane Dailey Building the American Republic, Volume 2: A Narrative History from 1877, p.85
13. Music Trades, Vol. 56 October 19, 1918