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Page:  of 34

SHE DIDN'T RAISE HER BOY
TO BE A SLACKER:
MOTHERHOOD, CONSCRIPTION,
AND THE CULTURE OF THE
FIRST WORLD WAR

SUSAN ZEIGER

In the midst of congressional debate over the military appro­
priations bill in the summer of 1918, representative Augustine
Lonergan of Connecticut had entered into the Congressional
Record
this tribute to America's fighting men: "These men . . .
have carried with them not a little of the idealism that makes
this Nation an honored one among the peoples of the world.
Nothing could have typified it more than did the actions of
Pershing's troops in deciding to observe Mother's Day . . . by
writing home to their mothers."1 The congressman's remark re­
flects a significant national preoccupation with mothers and
their relationship to their soldier-sons during the First World
War. Just as an eroticized and youthful "pinup girl" was the
paradigmatic construction of wartime femininity in the 1940s,2
the white, middle-aged American "Mom" was the predominant
image of womanhood in the war culture of the First World
War.3

Recent feminist scholarship points out, however, that the
symbol or concept of motherhood has been invested with an al­
most dizzying array of meanings across time and culture, from
the Mothers of the German Fatherland to the madres of the
Plaza de Mayo.4 In this case study as in others, careful analysis
of the specific content of maternal representation yields vital
clues to its meaning and purpose on a political or policy level.
The construction of motherhood in the United States during
World War I was highly dichotomized. On the one hand, war
culture valorized proper, "patriotic" motherhood, defined by

-7-

Questia Media America, Inc. www.questia.com

Publication Information: Article Title: She Didn't Raise Her Boy to Be a Slacker: Motherhood, Conscription, and the Culture of the First World War. Contributors: Susan Zeiger - author. Journal Title: Feminist Studies. Volume: 22. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 1996. Page Number: 7.
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