Wartime girls magazines
Jun 27, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
I have a confession dear readers: I am obsessed with the Pinterest app on my phone. While scanning images of beautiful vintage fashion last night I came across an old magazine cover featuring a dachshund. As a proud dog mom of two sassy sausages I had to investigate further. The publication featuring the adorable cover pup is named Calling All Girls and it served a vital role during WWII, explaining current events to a young female audience. The magazine was already in publication when America entered the war in 1941 and by the following year the editors were incorporating informative comic strips and articles, in addition to the normal fare of fashion and coming-of-age topics. If I try to put myself in the shoes of a young girl who suddenly had most of her male family members ripped from her life as they were called to serve and who was navigating the previously uncharted territory of a mom working long hours outside of the home, I would feel lonely and confused. This monthly periodical gave voice to their thoughts and had to feel like a friend in difficult times. We’ve talked before about the power of publication, but given that we live in a time when women and girls can still struggle to have their unique perspectives heard, I feel it’s only fitting we dig in to learn about wartime girls magazines.
Another example from WWII comes from across the pond – The Land Girl was a publication that sprung up for the express purpose of uniting an isolated female population. The government would go on to fund its distribution, working to get the magazines out to every UK gal tending to the home fires. Much like Calling All Girls, The Land Girl focused on the pressing topics these brave women had to face every day. Digital scans of some of the publications can be found here and I encourage you to take a peek!
Fun fact: Seventeen takes the prize for the first magazine geared toward teenage girls, in the 1940s
Some publications took a more light-hearted approach to wartime storytelling. Blitz Girl, another British magazine, gave some much needed glam to a beleaguered female population. The covers feel like a fashion magazine, oozing charm – while inside eager readers would find knitting patterns, recipes, and fun articles. What I love about the British examples we find, they were highly customized. In fact, nearly every division a woman could volunteer with had its own publication: Navy, Auxiliary Territory, Airforce, or Army. How cool that women were recognized for their special contributions!
Happily this appreciation for women’s different roles wasn’t unique to England, for we can find an equal number of examples in America. Girls that were forced to grow up fast and help with the all-consuming war effort had support during the transition. There were magazines focused on “hairstyles and beauty in uniform” (a gal can rock a fab look while saving the world after all!), there were publications that kept women up to date with all the innovations in fashion, and there were even special booklets that immortalized these heroines in paper doll form – inspiring a new generation of girls to be strong and amazing!
What can us modern gals learn from wartime girls magazines? One thing that struck me right away is the importance of having someone else appreciate your perspective. Regardless of the generation, there will always be something special about seeing an idea in print and having the words resonate with your personal experience. Diversity is key and I was encouraged to see the wide path these vintage editors carved for us. It would have been easy to say all wartime women faced the same challenges, but instead each group had their own venue for expression.
We see that legacy today in the form of blogs – the internet has opened up communications in a powerful way. And you know what they say – with great power comes great responsibility! As we lend our voices, it’s good to keep in mind that we are obliged to be stewards of the written word. As author Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Wartime girls magazines wielded their words for positive change, so let’s keep up this vintage tradition, shall we? Please share your thoughts on the importance of diversity in storytelling in the comments below…