Armed Hostilities

American Women in WWII-Related Film and Poster


The entry of the United States into World War II after the Japanese bombed their fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, influenced not only the economic and social life of the country but led to changes in American cultural aspects, as well. Regarding this phenomenon, the year 1942 can be considered a turning point in how the mass media formulated and promoted a specific message about the role of the United States in this conflict. Furthermore, it is important to concentrate on the unique images of women in the arts that were developed and disseminated to accentuate American women’s roles at a time when the men of the nation were fighting against Nazism and fascism overseas. Although the battles of World War II took place outside the borders of the United States, the realities imposed by the war influenced life in the nation, and these realities were reflected in movies and other visuals that accentuated the unique role of a woman while also emphasizing personal commitment and contribution during wartime. This paper will examine the film Casablanca (1942) and such posters as “It’s a Woman’s War Too!” (1942) in this context.

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Chronology of World War II: The United States in 1942

In the context of life in the United States, the year 1942 was critical as it became necessary to change the course of the country to enable the nation to realize its potential during this challenging period. As a result, wartime propaganda focused on emphasizing the importance of personal commitment and the individual’s contribution to supporting the nation.1 The United States demonstrated the ability to address attacks similar to the situation in Pearl Harbor through the production of thousands of airplanes and ships, along with other weapons.2 However, it was also vital to the war effort to attract more women to different types of industries in order to preserve stability in the country. The entire nation, including its women, required motivation and encouragement to feel stronger in the struggle against Nazism and fascism and in the fight to safeguard a peaceful life in the United States.3 These moods were also reflected in the arts, newspaper articles, and cinematography.

The Role of Women During Wartime as Presented in Visuals

The mobilization movement in the United States included an attempt to attract more women to work in industries traditionally associated with jobs for men. A 1942 poster displaying the caption “It’s a Woman’s War Too!” depicts a woman in uniform operating a radio for the US Navy. The poster presents other messages as well: “Join the Waves” and “Your country needs you now.”4 Thus, this poster, which appealed to women’s emotions in recruiting them to serve in the US Navy, shows how women were expected to demonstrate their commitment to the country and contribute to overcoming the nation’s opponents while encouraging the use of specific skills. This poster was one of a series of visuals and advertisements used in the United States during the war to recruit females and underscore their strength in a critical situation. Accentuating the need for women to take on responsibilities for the sake of their country, the authors of such advertisements and posters emphasized the subjects’ feminine features in these visuals, and the particular role of women in the wartime effort was depicted in art in the most attractive terms possible.

The mass media widely used the slogan “It’s a Woman’s War Too!” including a series of articles published in The New York Times describing women’s contributions to the US industry. For example, on December 27, 1942, the newspaper published information about the expanding number of nurses in the United States alongside announcements of new job positions for women in different areas and industries.5 This specific slogan came to be actively used by authorities in all spheres of American social life in an aim to emphasize the unique role of a woman in the United States, especially in a time characterized by a lack of workers and professional knowledge in almost all organizations and in many plants and factories in the country. As a result, advertisements, posters, and articles in newspapers and journals contributed to creating the image of a strong woman who would be able to cope with all possible challenges and barriers along her path without losing her femininity.

Even when focusing on visuals and texts in state and local newspaper articles published in 1942, it is possible to note the key messages regarding women’s roles, their personal commitment, and their contribution to the war effort. For example, the headline on page 10 in The Fitchburg Sentinel in December 1942 states, “Women of the United Nations Make History in 1942,” reflecting the general mood in US society during the period of time under consideration.6 The articles on this page are accompanied by images representing women who influenced the life of the country in 1942; together, the articles and images attract the audience’s attention to the role of women at the time, using pathos to provoke positive associations and emotions. One such newspaper article notes: “One year of war finds American women firmly entrenched in almost every branch of the industry doing their part—and doing it well—in the all-out drive to avenge Pearl Harbor.”7 From this perspective, the idea of female commitment and contribution is reflected in every message and image in the mass media related to women in 1942.

This tendency is also typical of other newspapers printed nationwide in 1942. For example, in the article “Madison Women Busy with War,” published in The Wisconsin State Journal on December 31, 1942, the author explains that “the Hawaiian attack served as a stimulus for a unanimous reaction on the part of housewives, clubwomen, teachers, stenographers, professional women, clerks, society leaders, and school girls.”8 In terms of the contributions of women to the national good, it is possible to state that such contributions are mentioned in almost every article or visual that appeared in newspapers and journals.

When referring to the idea that World War II influenced every facet of American life, especially with a focus on women’s life, it is also necessary to accentuate the impact of the war on American culture. The next article on the analyzed page of The Wisconsin State Journal covers the topic of the arts. The author of “War Calls Artists, Entertainers in City, but the Shows Go On” discusses the issue of pursuing the arts and entertainment in the context of wartime. Having analyzed art objects, performances, music, and movies that were produced in 1942, the article states, “Only the future can decide what is good and what is bad in this twelvemonth, as has always been true.”9 It is important to pay attention to these words in the context of the analysis of the images of women in the art produced during wartime and the ideas of commitment and contribution; these can be considered to be directly related to Casablanca (1942), a movie that achieved recognition as a masterpiece after its release.

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The War and Personal Commitment as Illustrated in Casablanca

Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine along with Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, can be viewed as a movie that affected the perspective of American citizens and their attitude to the war effort in terms of how the characters demonstrated commitment, power, and persistence. The behavior of both the male and female characters in the movie accentuates the idea that they can neither remain neutral to the war nor ignore its realities; at the same time, these portrayals provoke compassion and support in the audience.10 It is also important to note that the effect of Casablanca on the public was tied to the fact that the movie debuted 18 days after the Allied forces entered Casablanca. This situation contributed to the image of Americans in World War II and strengthened American citizens’ personal commitment. Thus, the movie became an effective propaganda tool during the war.

In order to understand the film’s effect on the public, it is necessary to analyze the main female and male characters of Casablanca. Rick Blaine is portrayed as an American who has become aware of the war only after Pearl Harbor, but now he understands that the United States and its citizens can no longer ignore Nazism and fascism. In this context, focusing on the situation in December 1941, Rick says his famous line: “I bet they’re asleep in New York. I’ll bet they’re asleep all over America.”11 Thus, Rick accentuates that Americans need to be awakened, and now the main character is concentrating on his personal contribution to fighting against fascism at a time when the country can no longer stand aside. It is possible to assert that this rebel hero influenced the audience’s attitude, not only in terms of the character and the movie but also regarding the discussion of the role of an American man in World War II.

It is also important to analyze the female character in Casablanca in the context of the film’s impact on the American psyche. Ilsa Lund can be viewed as a woman who suffers from the realities of war when her husband is declared dead as well as when she must abscond with her husband after he reappears and reveals himself to be the leader of the European underground movement. In spite of her love for Rick, Ilsa seems to come to her decision due to both her feeling toward her husband and her sense of responsibility. Thus, it is possible to state that she demonstrates personal commitment and makes rational choices in the face of encroaching war.

The 1942 release of Casablanca had an enormous impact on the American audience in the context of depicting the problems of World War II and US wartime participation onscreen. The movie seemed to make Americans evaluate their role in wartime in the analysis of the main characters’ behaviors and actions. In considering this point, the first review of the movie published in the arts-focused magazine Variety sheds some light on the matter. The author of the movie review describes Casablanca as “splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way.”12 Thus, it is possible to assume that the movie could exert an expected effect on the audience as the actions of the main characters effectively demonstrate the perspective of their moral choices and contributions in the fight against Nazism and fascism. As a result, Casablanca depicts characters who exhibit a strong personal commitment in terms of opposing the war and focusing on the public’s needs instead of their individual desires.

World War II and the American Culture

It is important to emphasize that World War II had a significant influence on American citizens, and the realities of the war were reflected in the mass media and the arts not only in detail but also with a focus on an ideological component. The authors of artworks, visuals, and movies tried to demonstrate the importance of an individual’s contribution to overcoming the struggles imposed by the war. As a result, the idea of personal commitment, effort, and contribution significantly influenced American culture during the period of World War II. The authors of messages designed to promote propaganda, as well as the creators of movies, seemed to accentuate the necessity of every individual’s involvement in the fight. In light of this emphasis, expressing a neutral position regarding the war became associated with cowardice in the context of overcoming the consequences of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It is also possible to note that, in US advertisements and posters, the focus reasonably shifted from men as soldiers to women as heroes who contributed to defending peace within the borders of the homeland of these soldiers. Therefore, the role of women in building and supporting American society during the war was illustrated with the help of posters as tools of propaganda, and their specific achievements were described in the mass media in order to form a positive image of women and their contribution to the public good. This paper has discussed this phenomenon using the example of a series of posters supported by the slogan “It’s a Woman’s War Too!”13 Furthermore, in the movies of the time, it was important to demonstrate how Americans could oppose the horrors of the war overseas, an aspect requiring detailed discussion.

One problem lay in the fact that the United States did not actively participate in the first two years of the war, and in 1942, the time had come to call the public’s attention to that tendency and change prevailing attitudes. Such movies as Casablanca worked to attract the audience’s attention to the menace presented by World War II, and Casablanca in particular emphasized the idea that both men and women could choose their duty and responsibility in terms of the nation’s interests instead of focusing on their personal feelings. As a result, such commitment and the idea of contribution became the leitmotifs of varied artworks produced during wartime. From this perspective, it is possible to state that American culture during World War II reflected the individual’s role in terms of attacking the enemy via each person’s contribution.

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This paper has sought to focus on two perspectives that represent appeals to personal commitment and contribution during World War II. One perspective involved the role of women as emphasized in the arts and in the mass media of the time. Consideration of the images of women in posters and discussion of their actions in the press reveals that women were depicted as feminine but sufficiently strong to replace men in the industry and even in military service as in the case of working for the US Navy. Newspaper advertisements and articles worked as tools of motivation in this situation and served to accentuate the power of women participating in the wartime effort. Even though the focus of this paper is only on American culture in 1942, it is important to note that this tendency of valuing personal commitment and contribution was also typical of the following years.

Additionally, cinematography as an important part of the culture contributed to developing the image of individual commitment during the war years. The characters portrayed by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman accentuated that, despite the fact that the main action of World War II occurred overseas, the war could and, indeed, had to exert an influence on American life. In this historical scenario, it was impossible to ignore global political events and remain neutral as had been attempted up to that time. In this context, it is also possible to assert that Casablanca played a critical role in forming the opinions of Americans regarding World War II and their role in the war effort in the years that followed.


Casablanca. Directed by Michael Curtiz, performances by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines, Conrad Veidt, Peter Laurie, and Sidney Greenstreet. Warner Brothers, 1942.

“Casablanca.” Variety, 1 Dec. 1942, p. 5.

Doudna, William L. “War Calls Artists, Entertainers in City, but the Shows Go On.” The Wisconsin State Journal, 31 Dec. 1942, p. 10.

Falter, John Philip. It’s a Woman’s War Too! Join the Waves. 1942. Artists Posters, Prints and Photographs Division. The Library of Congress, Web.

Herrick, Elinore M. “The Production Front.” The Fitchburg Sentinel, 31 Dec. 1942, p. 10.

“It’s a Woman’s War, Too.” The New York Times, 27 Dec. 1942, p. 2.

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Marston, Louise C. “Madison Women Busy with War.” The Wisconsin State Journal, 31 Dec. 1942, p. 10.

O’Neill, William L. A Democracy at War: America’s Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II. 4th ed., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.


  1. The New York Times, December 27, 1942, p. 2.
  2. The Fitchburg Sentinel, December 31, 1942, p. 10.
  3. William L. O’Neill, A Democracy at War: America’s Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 242-243.
  4. John Philip Falter, It’s a Woman’s War Too! Join the Waves, 1942.
  5. The New York Times, December 27, 1942, p. 2.
  6. The Fitchburg Sentinel, December 31, 1942, p. 10.
  7. The Fitchburg Sentinel, December 31, 1942, p. 10.
  8. The Wisconsin State Journal, December 31, 1942, p. 10.
  9. The Wisconsin State Journal, December 31, 1942, p. 10.
  10. Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, performances by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines, Conrad Veidt, Peter Laurie, and Sidney Greenstreet, Warner Brothers, 1942.
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Casablanca,” Variety (December 1, 1942), p. 5.
  13. John Philip Falter, It’s a Woman’s War Too! Join the Waves, 1942.

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