Recruiting Posters for Women from World War II


This exhibit contains the works in the Navy Art Collection that relate to the recruitment of women during World War II. This includes not only finished posters, but also original artwork for the posters.

Two of the most prolific and well-recognized artists to contribute to the Navy's campaign for the recruitment of WAVES were John Philip Falter (1910-1982) and McClelland Barclay (1891-1943). Both men had successful careers in magazine illustration before the Second World War and were well suited for this particular type of persuasive and dramatic illustration, geared largely towards female readers.

John Philip Falter developed his artistic skills at an early age, even designing a mural for his local soda shop when still a teenager. He expanded his talents at the Kansas City Art Institute and then the Art Students League of New York and the Grand Central School of Art where he was exposed to the techniques of some the most prestigious illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration (1880s-1920s).

Throughout the nation, recruiting posters were placed in countless prominent public locations. One might see Falter's and Barclay's designs several times throughout the day during 1943. The Navy often reused the same designs for multiple formats with differing text. Posters hung in post offices, libraries, grocery and department stores, on billboards and even in public restrooms. Car cards, or smaller rectangular posters, were mounted in subway cars by transit authorities in major metropolitan areas. Window cards were displayed in the storefronts of businesses.

The Navy was looking for educated, capable, virtuous, and feminine women. Accordingly, Falter's and Barclay's WAVES are simultaneously glamorous and serious. They possess a conventional feminine appearance, wearing blush, lipstick and nail polish. Yet the artists depicted them doing important, manicure-marring work: rigging parachutes and operating radios. In truth, WAVES also did much more labor-intensive work as well, such as machine assembly, repair work and kitchen patrol, but artists did not depict those jobs in recruitment posters. Obviously, many WAVES did not resemble the young, Caucasian, perfectly-proportioned poster gals. The Navy recruited women of color and differing ethnic origins, as well as older married and widowed women, on the condition that they did not have dependent children nor become pregnant. The tactics employed by the Navy's recruiting bureau in the posters mirrored those of national advertisements and mass media at the time. It was no coincidence that Falter and Barclay, successful illustrators of popular magazines would become the Navy's preferred recruitment artists.

Click the image for a larger view.

WAVE Airtraffic Controller
John Falter
Oil on canvas, 1943

The Navy used this painting to print 40,000 posters and 60,000 window cards in August 1943.

Share the Deeds of Victory
John Falter


This woman is a control tower operator. Operators received their special training at Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia. The preferred candidate for this job was twenty to thirty years old, had 20/20 vision, normal visual, auditory, and speaking capabilities, short reaction times and the ability to perform in stressful situations. She also scored well in mathematics and had good teaching skills.

In 1942, the Bureau of Aeronautics restricted operator positions to WAVES after recognizing that women performed as well or better than males. Such integration of women into Navy aviation was largely made possible by Lt. Joy Bright Hancock, who worked tirelessly as the WAVES representative in the Bureau of Aeronautics.


WAVE Parachute Rigger
John Falter
Oil on canvas, 1944

Falter used an official Navy photograph as the source for this painting. The photograph appears in a recruiting pamphlet printed in February 1944, the same month the Navy printed 40,000 posters and 45,000 window cards of Falter's painting.



Enlist in the WAVES
John Falter
Poster, 1944

After boot camp, formally known as Indoctrination, WAVES who would become parachute riggers attended Parachute School at Navel Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Parachute riggers packed, inspected and repaired parachutes. WAVES also manufactured other objects associated with flight, such as tarpaulins, airplane wheel covers and flags. The Navy required male parachute riggers to test parachutes they packed by skydiving with them, but did not initially allow women to do the same.

Kathleen Robertson, however, influenced Navy policy after she successfully and happily skydived. Thereafter, a WAVES parachute rigger could skydive but was not required to do so.

WAVE Radio Operator
John Falter
Oil on canvas

This woman operates a telegraph key. The Navy ran a school for radio personnel beginning in 1942. Research suggests that John Falter used a Naval photograph taken during March 1943 of Virginia L. Scott as the basis for this image. She is sending a message from the code room of the Radio School at Madison, Wisconsin. The Navy used this painting to print 40,000 posters, 71,000 window cards and 57,000 car cards in June of 1943.


It's a Woman's War Too
John Falter

Falter infused the subjects of his recruiting posters with striking expression. In the 1940s, a poster such as this one with its dramatic lighting, serious tone and portrayal of a woman performing a job formerly reserved for men would have caught and held a passerby's attention.


WAVE and Telegram
John Falter
Oil on canvas

Falter infused the subjects of his recruiting posters with striking expression. In the 1940s, a poster such as this one with its dramatic lighting, serious tone and portrayal of a woman performing a job formerly reserved for men would have caught and held a passerby's attention.


That Was the Day I Joined the WAVES
John Falter
Poster, 1945

This poster, depicting a telegraph from a wounded sweetheart at the battlefront, suggests that women enlisted in the Navy to support their male loved ones, as an act of patriotic duty. Undoubtedly, this motivated many women to join, but women joined for other reasons, too. Some women had never left their hometowns and yearned for the excitement of travel, jobs and new friends. Others joined to escape unfulfilling, low-paying jobs, the isolation of an "empty nest" or the routine of full-time housework.

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