Academic journal article Journalism History

Military Life: Coordinating WWII Magazine Publicity by the U.S. Naval Women's Reserve

Academic journal article Journalism History

Military Life: Coordinating WWII Magazine Publicity by the U.S. Naval Women's Reserve

Article excerpt

"At first it would come out, I would say in the movies. And you could see the women marching at Hunter College. And / thought, 'Gee, that's really something.

-Dorothy Riley (Dempsey), World War II SPAR1

The Navy developed a complex relationship with media outlets during World War II. It effectively used public relations to craft an image of the women who would serve in the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, the women's Naval Reserve force established during the war. Ihe image came from both Navy-produced photographs as well as images produced by mass market magazines and newspapers. This study traces the evolution of the photographic image of the WAVES over the course of the war, in both Navy publicity photos as well as magazine photo-essays, and explores how that image conformed to the Navy's own desires.

Numerous historians have noted how the government attempted to shape stories in the news and other media during World War II, beginning with the targeted messages to outlets from the Office of War Information (OWI).2 According to Michael Griffin, photojournalism was seen as a way "to symbolize the unifying themes of American patriotism, strength and spirit . . .World War II photographers and curators alike understood that it was the symbolic aspects of photographs more than their descriptive potential that gave them power."' 'Ihe role of photographs in creating the Navy's World War II image, how the use of color can impact photographic interpretation of FSA (Farm Security Administration) and OWI images, and the symbolic meaning of Lee Miller's war photographs in Vogue have all come into focus under a cultural studies lens.1 This study demonstrates this same sort of effort was evident in the Navy's approach to women in the WAVES. By mid-1943, less than a year after the establishment of the WAVES, the Navy would cement both a desired image for the women and a carefully planned media strategy.

This begs the question: did the media accept the Navy's attempt to frame, or shape the ideological approach and agenda within individual stories? To answer this question, the study looked to specific photo essays found within mass market magazines {Life, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar) to see if the stories followed the Navy's stated publicity goals. Ihe magazines were selected because each had photo essays collected by numerous WAVE leaders and saved in archives. The study will show that the Navy tightly controlled the image of the WAVES, and that image was accepted by media outlets (general interest and fashion journalism), which then tailored the image to fit their audiences. The publicity fulfilled two goals. It kept the WAVES in the public eye, improving recruitment efforts. It also helped those women already a part of the service, by reminding the public of the good character of the women who served and the important work they were doing.

While discussions about the potential use of women in military service beyond nurses began well before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941,5 it would take several months to work out the details. The Army was the first to fill the void, getting congressional approval to have an external women's auxiliary corps in April 1942 (the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC). The Navy lagged behind, not because of any lack of interest, but because the Navy leaders wanted women to be integrated with the service and not an external auxiliary. Congress initially balked at this idea, but the Navy was eventually able to make its case. The WAVES were formally established in August 1942, with women a full part of the service, at equal rank and pay with men. The first class of officers was sworn in shortly thereafter and began training at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, the alma mater of many members of the initial officer class.6

The entire process-from congressional negotiations to the first class of WAVE officers at Smith College-was certainly a news story, and not simply war-era military publicity. …

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