As the Allies faced off against the Axis powers in World War II, the United States eventually put its full might into the fight. If victory was to be assured, it was clear that both men and women had to play their parts. Many occupations were open to women who wished to take part in the war effort, and few roles were more important than those played by nurses as they cared for those injured by the brutality of war. In light of this, we’ve taken the temperature of 10 vintage nursing recruitment posters and can conclude that they offer a perfect glimpse into the attitudes and artwork of the time.
10. More Nurses Are Needed
This powerful image shows the toll that working as a nurse can take, with the subject of the photograph holding her hand to her forehead in exhaustion. Dressed in army fatigues, she holds out her other hand as if barely able to lift it. The message is clear, backed up by the bold, italicized text that tells us that more nurses are needed. For those left at home, the message that ‘all women can help’ could have inspired them to volunteer and do their bit. All in all, the Army Nurse Corp benefited from the service of just under 60,000 nurses during the course of WWII.
9. Cadet Nurse – The Girl With a Future
The Cadet Nurse Corps was first set up in 1943 to guarantee that the US had an adequate supply of nurses. The military’s needs led to nurses being siphoned away from the home front, and it was clear that more nurse training was required. A Cadet Nurse would receive free training, uniforms and even an allowance. The Corps did not discriminate on racial grounds, with good health, a high-school diploma and an age of between 17 and 35 the only conditions required for eligibility. The poster shows cadets in both military and civilian uniform, indicating that work in both arenas might be required, while the text pushes the obvious advantages of free nursing training.
8. You Are Needed Now
Another of the images that brought tens of thousands of women into the Army Nurse Corps, this poster is simple and uncluttered. The message is delivered at the top, speaking directly to the reader, while at the bottom of the image the solution is made clear: ‘Join the Army Nurse Corps’. The image itself is inspiring, showing an Army Nurse in full uniform, with her makeup and red lipstick giving her – and the profession – a touch of glamor as she gazes into the distance. During the course of the war, Army Nurses like those recruited by this poster received more than 1,600 medals and other awards recognizing their valor and commitment.
7. Enlist in a Proud Profession
When enrolling as a cadet nurse, eligible candidates pledged their service for the duration of the war, agreeing to serve where they were needed – whether that be in a military or civilian capacity. As an added incentive, nursing schools that could deliver training in just two and a half years received additions funds. When the program was closed in 1948, 150,000 nursing graduates praised its effective delivery of training and knowledge. This poster shows a young woman, elegantly coiffed and proud in her appearance and her role. The poster portrays nursing as the important and valuable profession that it is, no doubt drawing in recruits with the glamor of the model, the potential for patriotism and the practical benefits of the training.
6. We Feel Good
Published in Life magazine in 1944, just a year after the establishment of the Cadet Nurse Corps, this poster seems to be aimed more at parents than the potential Cadet Nurses themselves. This proud mom and dad are delighted with their daughter’s choice. Indeed, a full third of the text is given over to their positive feelings about her decision! The rest of the text goes into detail about what a Cadet Nurse can expect, from a monthly allowance of up to $30 to swish free uniforms. There is even the opportunity for dates! How could any parent have misgivings?
5. A Lifetime Education Free
As the Cadet Nurse Corps was open to high school graduates aged 17 and up, attracting young school leavers was an important area of recruitment. This poster shows a significant contrast between the confident Cadet Nurse of the foreground and the girls behind her. As the civilian girls are carrying their schoolbooks, we see that the Cadet Nurse has certainly grabbed their attention. Could they serve as Cadet Nurses too when they finished their studies? Only if they keep their grades up!
4. Join the Navy Nurse Corps
The Army wasn’t the only military arena where nurses served during WW2. The Navy Nurse Corps was first established in 1908. In 1941 it boasted a complement of around 800 nurses, but by the time the war ended there were almost 1,800 nurses serving in active duty with the Navy, as well as over 9,000 reserve members. This recruitment poster, one of many that played a part in boosting those numbers, takes a rather more fancy-free attitude than the others, with a smiling blonde in uniform jauntily marching towards the viewer, arms swinging.
3. Wanted: More Navy Nurses
Taking the opposite tack, this Navy recruiting poster is far more somber. The nurse’s eyes are steely – almost sad – as she stares off into the middle distance against the backdrop of a hospital ship. Rather than directing potential nurses to a recruiting station, this poster advises that they write to the Surgeon General for information about becoming a commissioned officer. That signature 1940s red lipstick and perfectly arranged hair makes yet another appearance.
2. Fighting Men Need Nurses
One of the most chilling entries in this collection, this poster doesn’t shy away from the reality of nursing duties during wartime. Holding up an injured soldier’s head, this nurse, clad in white, has an almost angelic quality, spotless against the battlefield and barbed wire. The Red Cross recruited tens of thousands of nurses for the US military during World War II, and this poster makes no distinction between Navy and Army nurses. Towards the end of 1943, the Army command told the Red Cross to stop recruiting, but in the spring of 1944 they realized that their complement of nurses was 10,000 short of what was required. The word went back to the Red Cross – ‘Fighting Men Need Nurses’, and recruitment was very much back in force. Indeed, a bill was almost passed that would have simply drafted nurses as needed.
1. Serve your Country in the War Job With a Future
This entry almost seems more like a fashion advertisement than a recruiting poster – it would likely have fit in rather well with the other ads in Life magazine when it was printed there in 1944. The Cadet Nurse Corps was just one year old at this point, and this advertisement seems to once again push the future opportunities that enlistment could bring. The vast majority of Cadet Nurses were assigned to non-federal hospitals, with just 1% working in Naval hospitals and 5.4% working in Army hospitals. This should not lead you to underestimate the importance of the Cadet Nurse Corps – with over 100,000 Cadet Nurses assigned to the home front, experienced nurses could be sent where they were most needed. By October 1945, enrollment in the Cadet Nurse Corps was closed, and the last Cadets graduated in 1948 to move on with their careers in, as the posters make clear, ‘a job with a future’.