President Wilson's United War Work Campaign

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Building morale

Building morale: United War Work Campaign scrapbook.
Special Collections Library, Duke University

On September 9, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson wrote to Raymond Fosdick, coordinator of the War Department’s Commission on Training Camp Activities. The end of the war was in sight, and it was estimated that the demobilization of nearly four million U.S. troops would require at least two years and a staggering sum for programs to maintain morale. Wilson requested that aid organizations pool their resources on a massive single campaign to raise funds for soldier-morale programs “in order that the spirit of the country in this matter may be expressed without distinction of race or religious opinion in support of what is in reality a common service.”

Seven organizations—the YMCA, YWCA, American Library Association, War Camp Community Service, National Catholic War Council (Knights of Columbus), Jewish Welfare Board, and Salvation Army—set out to raise $170 million during a one-week fundraising drive in November 1918. With a nearly $1 million operating budget, a National Publicity Committee was formed and chaired by Bruce Barton, a magazine editor who was an official with the YMCA. All media would be employed: print, outdoor advertising, leaflets, stickers, lapel pins, radio spots, motion-picture shorts.

The resulting United War Work Campaign was a resounding success, raising more than $203 million for soldier-aid programs. It was hailed in the press at the time as the largest fundraising event in history.

The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History—part of Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library—holds a copy of the Work Campaign scrapbook, containing a collection of fundraising and morale-boosting materials produced for the multi-institutional drive. The scrapbook includes more than twenty color posters, along with handbills, brochures, stickers, song lyrics, newspaper ads, and cartoons. Among the topics addressed are women’s wartime work (“The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun”) and the promotion of various aid services. Common slogans included “Back Up the Boys” and “Morale Is Winning the War.”

The campaign also may have been the launching platform for one of America’s most successful advertising agencies. Ad men Roy Durstine and Alexander Osborn worked on the campaign alongside Bruce Barton. In early 1919, the three men founded Barton Durstine & Osborn, which merged in 1928 to become Batten Barton Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) and rapidly grew to be one of the largest and most respected advertising agencies in the U.S.

—Richard Collier Jr.

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