The poetry of World War I is one of those rare topics that bridges the divide between public and scholarly interest. Although poetry is no longer a popular form of entertainment, today's public remembrances of the Great War almost always feature readings of poetry from the war, with the poems of British trench poets holding a place of prominence in such commemorations. In the realm of scholarship, Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory remains the seminal text, though not surprisingly subsequent scholars in a variety of academic fields have productively criticized its arguments and significantly expanded its focus. One particularly salient criticism of Fussell's book was his reliance on soldier-poets. As critics noted, this choice necessarily left out the voices of women and civilian poets, and subsequent scholars have stepped in to fill the void. The efforts of these scholars have increased the number of authors identified as war poets, while also widening the field of study to poetry not just written about the battlefield. Their integration of female authors and civilian poetry are both welcome additions to the study of the literature of the First World War. This paper proposes that another branch of war literature should be added to the growing list: home front poetry.
Home front poetry touches on both women's and civilians' poetry, but it is distinct from them. Civilian poetry need not be about the home front, and both men and women wrote poems about the home front experience. Home front poetry addressed the activities of the home front, such as food conservation, knitting socks for soldiers, and buying liberty bonds. More generally, home front poetry includes those poems that highlight the contributions of the home front to the war effort and exhorts those left behind to keep those efforts going. This paper focuses on the poems of American authors that highlight average citizens participating in home front activities.
Home front poetry can be found in printed anthologies — both from the war years and in more recent publications — American newspapers and magazines from the war era, and in war ephemera, often conserved in archival collections. Both established poets and amateurs composed home front poetry; some of it is government propaganda while other poems were sincere expressions of patriotism (or, as will be seen, protest) by average American citizens. The poems utilized a wide variety of poetic forms, and they are notable for their diversity of tones. Poems could be patriotic, sentimental, mournful, angry, humorous, or sarcastic.
Home front poetry was not just diverse, it was also voluminous. Since much of it appeared in wartime ephemera, an exact count may be impossible. But Mark Van Wienen, who has supplied probably the best anthology of American war poetry in recent years, found in the New York Times alone 600 poems about the war from the period of the U.S. declaration of war through 1918 (4). Admittedly, Van Wienen's did not limit himself to poems about home front activities, but his count does provide a sense of the scope of poetry production during the Great War. Given the diversity and quantity of home front poetry, there is no single thread that brings all the poems together. Nonetheless, placing the poems within their social, cultural, and political context reveals a great deal about the influence of the poems on home front efforts. This paper contextualizes home front poetry within the framework of the American home economics movement, which gained prominence in the final decades of the nineteenth century. In particular, the movement's message of scientific management of the home and moral obligation featured prominently in much of the home front poetry. Although some poets leveraged this rhetoric in the hopes of affecting behavior and mobilizing the home front, other poets rejected it, calling into question both the role of the home front in the war effort and the discipline of home economics itself.
One of the defining characteristic of home economics in the late nineteenth century was its emphasis on a scientific approach to housework. In fact, its most prominent practitioner, Ellen Swallow Richards, was so insistent on this scientific approach that she preferred the term domestic science to home economics. The idea of bringing science into the home was a significant departure from the understanding of housework in the first half of the nineteenth century. The assumption during that period was that housework was a divine calling for women, one implanted by God. As such, there was a corollary assumption that women had a natural propensity for housework (Shapiro 12-13). The home economists of the last half of the nineteenth century rejected these twin assumptions. Instead, they argued that housekeeping had to be learned, and the best lessons came not from God, but rather from science. This new scientific approach was facilitated by two significant shifts in American society. One was the emergence of new knowledge that touched on matters of the home, such as germ theory and a better understanding of nutrition (Elias 20-23). The second factor was the rapid expansion of education, particularly at the college level. The Morrill Acts and the opening of land-grant colleges played a pivotal role in this expansion. For women like Richards — who was also the first woman to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — the establishment of home economics as a professional, scientifically-based discipline was key to opening the doors of America's growing colleges to women (Stage, "Introduction," 6-9).
In addition to the idea of the scientific management of the home, a second prominent feature of home economics was its particular brand of moralism. The United States had a long tradition of idealizing women as the bearers of morality in their households. But home economists pushed this idea beyond the confines of the individual home. To Richards and others, America's strength began with the health and well-being of its citizens, which raised scientific housekeeping to the level of national imperative. Home economics understood the strength of the nation as both physical and moral. Home economists argued that reckless overconsumption had threatened the health of the nation in the final decades of the nineteenth century. To right the course of the country, healthy and safe homes had to be paired with a meticulous attention to thrift on the part of homemakers (Goldstein 38-47). For home economists, self-discipline that began in the home radiated outward to the benefit of the whole nation and ultimately allowed America's moral superiority to shine out to the rest of the world (Elias 28-29; Stage, "Ellen Richards," 27-31).
In the early years of the movement, home economists identified the often overlapping immigrant and working class populations as the groups most in need of their help. Home economists believed that workers and recent arrivals to the United States created a great deal of their own misery by poor nutrition, unsanitary practices, and improvident spending. Scientific housekeeping was intended as a corrective. According to home economists, even on modest budgets, America's working poor could learn the basics of food nutrition and sanitary cooking to improve the health of everyone in their households. With the perceived moral interests of the nation at stake, the home economists set out to educate and train the poor in the scientific management of the home. Much to their surprise, workers and immigrants proved unreceptive to the lessons of the scientific household. For poor women, messages about proper nutrition and self-sacrifice were insensitive to the day-to-day struggle they faced to keep their households afloat. By the beginning of the twentieth century, home economists accepted that they had failed to reach the working class and instead shifted their focus to the middle class. This change in audience, however, did not signify a change in mission. Instead, reformers hoped that by convincing the middle class to adopt the scientific approach to housekeeping, they would endow it with a veneer of respectability that the poor would ultimately aspire to. In this way, scientific housekeeping would spread to every household to the benefit of the nation (Shapiro 121-130, 162-166).
The arrival of the First World War gave a significant boost to the messages and practices of home economics. Although home economics had begun to establish itself as a profession with a series of conferences in Lake Placed starting in 1899 and the founding of the American Home Economics Association in 1908, its claim to legitimacy was still contested. To receive respect, particularly in the academic community, home economists needed to show that their study of the home was serious, important work. The war, as it turned out, helped their cause. Total war brought the war to the home front as government authorities wanted to mobilize every possible resource at home. Organizations like the U.S. Food Administration, which managed food conservation efforts, reached out to home economists for help with this mobilization. The home economists responded enthusiastically, hoping not only to help with the war effort but also to raise the status of their discipline. Its practitioners relished the opportunity to show Americans that the movement's core principles of scientific housekeeping and the moral benefits of self-discipline were key to mobilizing the home front and, ultimately, winning the war (Goldstein 46-52).
The discipline's expertise in nutrition proved critical to food conservation efforts. Under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, the U.S. Food Administration encouraged Americans to use substitutes for certain food items, such as meat, wheat, and sugar, so that the United States could ship these foods to U.S. troops and their military and civilian allies in Europe. The success of food substitutions hinged on educating the public that different foods contained similar nutritional values. In other words, there were good, healthy options for replacing the foods being sent overseas. Hoover brought in home economists at the federal level to develop educational materials, such as bulletins and recipes, to be distributed across the nation, and each state had its own home economics director in charge of educational efforts. In addition to offering advice on food substitutions, home economists shared their expertise in sanitary food storage and minimizing food waste (Goldstein 46-60; Elias 63-73).
Another feature of home front mobilization that suited the mission of the home economists was its emphasis on volunteerism. The Food Administration, for example, was staffed largely by volunteers, including Herbert Hoover. Rather than depending on government rationing, Hoover deliberately chose the path of voluntary conservation and food substitutions by average Americans. Such voluntary changes in eating habits required self-sacrifice, a virtue that home economists had been preaching to homemakers for decades. Hoover and the Food Administration took the idea of conservation and sacrifice even further, positioning it as a humanitarian mission that benefited both soldiers and the starving women and children of the nation's European allies. To the Food Administration, the voluntary and philanthropic practice of food conservation was evidence of the moral superiority of the United States, particularly in comparison to the authoritarian nations of Germany and Austria (Veit 59-66). This message of the Food Administration dovetailed nicely with the moralism of the home economics movement.
Home economics’ ideas of scientific housekeeping and its attendant understanding of American morality, then, played a critical role in the mobilization of the home front. As such, it is not surprising that poetry of the home front often drew on these ideas. Home economics’ scientific housekeeping was particularly prominent in poetry about food conservation because the practice depended on educating the public on the latest science regarding nutrition and food substitutions. For example, the below untitled, anonymous poem, which also played on pride in American foods, highlighted that corn and wheat were interchangeable in the kitchen:
Old King Corn is American Born;
A Mighty Fine Food is He.
He Makes Good Bread or Cakes Instead;
So We Don’t Need Wheat, You See. (qtd. in Janik 18)
The modifier "good" did double duty in the poem. It implied in equal measure that corn offered proper nutrition and a pleasing taste.
The poem "The End of a Hoover Day" addressed both meat and wheat substitutions:
I have come to the end of a meatless day,
And peacefully lying in bed,
My thoughts revert in a musing way
To food which today I've been fed.
When I think of the cheese and the beans and fish
And oysters I've had to eat,
I've no regrets for the "good old days"
I really didn't miss the meat!
I have come to the end of a wheatless day,
I have eaten no cookies or pie,
I have had no bread that was made with wheat;
It was made out of corn or rye;
And I liked it so well that when war is past
And a glorious victory won,
I'll keep on observing "wheatless" days
And I'll eat "corn pone" for FUN! (Indiana Bulletin)
The first stanza of the poem was strictly practical. It provided readers with a list of nutritional equivalent foods to the protein-rich beef and pork that the Food Administration wanted to conserve. The second stanza offered the same type of information for alternatives to wheat. But it was also noteworthy for suggesting that testing out different wheat substitutions was interesting work. As with the previous poem, ambiguity was key. The "it" in the line "I liked it so well" has an unclear antecedent. It could refer equally to the foods that the cook was making and the experience of experimenting in the kitchen with wheat alternatives. This second possibility tapped directly into the rhetoric of home economics. Its advocates encouraged women to think of their kitchens as laboratories with some home economists going so far as to recommend that women conduct scientific experiments at home to understand how germs work (Tomes 43-44). For home economists, the scientific approach to housekeeping had two purposes. It not only made for more efficient and healthy households, but it also addressed the drudgery of housework (Shapiro 35). Women who engaged their minds while completing their housework found that work more rewarding and interesting. "The End of the Hoover Day" suggested that — with an appropriately scientific mindset — the seemingly dull task of conserving food was in reality intellectually challenging and fulfilling.
But was food conservation, as "The End of the Hoover Day" suggested, fun? Home economists would not have thought so. To them, keeping the house was serious work. The home economists working for the Food Administration went so far as to design and distribute patterns for a housewives' uniform. The hope of officials was that women would sew the uniforms and wear them while working in their homes in order to remind them of the seriousness of food conservation (Veit 86). In other words, to home economists, fun — an unserious and unscientific metric — was not how one judged women's labors in the kitchen. Neither was taste. The scientific approach to food meant that taste was beside the point; what mattered most was the nutritional content of food. The home economists cared about protein, carbohydrate, fat, and calorie counts, not appealing flavors (Shapiro 68-70). These first two poems, then, demonstrate an ambivalent reception for the idea of scientific cookery during the First World War. On one hand, the poems’ emphasis on nutritional equivalencies and the challenging work of food conservation was very much in line with home economics' support of the scientific approach to housework. But on another hand, the poems gently rebuked the home economists. The authors suggested that fun and taste mattered at least as much as science — a proposition that home economists found superfluous.
This same ambivalence toward the scientific approach to homemaking can also be seen in poetry about knitting socks for soldiers. Poems about knitting often invoked a scientific language, particularly an emphasis on precision, which required the knitter to count and measure carefully while following instructions to the letter. The best source for poems about knitting is Sock Songs. In 1918, The New York Sun held a weekly competition seeking poems about knitting socks for soldiers. Winners received skeins of wool. Sock Songs, a collection of all the knitting poems published by the Sun, appeared in 1919. Two of the untitled poems in Sock Songs can serve to illustrate the frequent emphasis on precision:
I knit a sock and then I knit its mate.
They’re meant to be alike, but unkind Fate
Has willed it otherwise.
And though I count and measure, when complete
One sock's for pedals slim and one for hammer feet. (18)
If I can purl and not make any errors,
If I can knit and keep the stitches true,
If I can turn the heel without a failure,
The way the Red Cross leaflet tells me to;
If I can knit again and lose no stitches
And narrow 'til the toe is almost done,
Then if I weave and carefully secure it, this the result:
You'll have a sock, my son! (156)
The authors of the poems, Enid M. Brand and L. H. Young, respectively, played on the simple reality that knitting socks is hard and requires precision. But the language in the poems — its emphasis on counting, measuring, and, in the case of the second poem, following the pamphlet from the Red Cross exactly — reflected the scientific mindset of home economics. Home economists believed that rationalizing and standardizing housework was more than the proper, scientific approach to housework. They argued that any housemaker that followed the specific and orderly instructions provided by experts could learn to be a good domestic scientist.
But as the authors of the two poems pointed out, it was not as simple as the home economists made it out to be. No matter how carefully they counted and followed the instructions, they struggled to knit the perfect sock. The theme of the difficulty of knitting socks appeared frequently in Sock Songs. Some authors, like Lilla Burns in her poem "With Apologies from the Knitter," noted their own lack of skill: "'Fraid they're not just quite as nice as I would have them be, / Shape is kind of bulky, least it seems that way to me" (28). Katherine Ferris hinted at the boredom of knitting: "Knit six, knit two and turn — What? / I've forgotten to narrow, you say? / Quite true! But I don't understand — / My thoughts must have wandered away!" (48). Several authors drew attention to the hard work of knitting, including the physical toll. In the poem "Telepathy," Helen Backus elaborated, "Four needles, two hands, and a hank of wool— / That's but the least of their making, / The minutes, the hours, and the days count, too, / So do the work and the aching" (9). Just as with the poems about food conservation, those found in Sock Songs demonstrate that the language of scientific homemaking certainly found its way into home front poetry. But even as authors deployed that language, they subtly questioned and even outright rejected the home economics perspective, refusing to acknowledge that the standardized and scientific approach to their work was sufficient to make it both efficient and appealing.
The moralism of the home economics movement appeared in the poetry of the home front as often as the movement's emphasis on scientific management. As previously noted, self-discipline and thrift had a significant place in the moral universe of the home economists. Sacrifice not only led to better kept homes, but also a stronger nation. Home economists, in other words, endowed self-discipline in the home with a larger moral purpose. This message of sacrifice at home served the war effort well. World War I demanded more than the sacrifices of soldiers; those on the home front were expected to "do their bit" too. It proved easy to marry the message of discipline in the home with the patriotic duty of fighting a war. The poem "A Child's No Waste Pledge," which was written by a Mrs. Root, who headed the Children's Department of the Providence Library, demonstrated the linking of conservation at home with the larger war effort:
I pledge allegiance to my flag,
In service true I'll never lag.
I’ll not despise the crusts of bread
Nor make complaint whatever fed.
On wheatless days I'll eat no wheat,
On other days, eat less of sweet.
I'll waste no pennies, spoil no clothes.
And so I'll battle 'gainst our foes.
No slacker I, but a soldier keen
To do my best in the year 'eighteen. (qtd. in Guerrier 65)
The author exhorted the child to practice discipline and sacrifice by not wasting money or food as well as banishing wheat and sugar from meals. These seemingly small sacrifices taken at home, the poem made clear, were just as important to America's success at war as the soldier on the battlefield. Perhaps not surprisingly, the claim that sacrifices made at home were equivalent to those made by soldiers was one of the most popular tropes in home front poetry. But this claim resonated in part because in the years leading up to the war, home economists had already linked together the activities of the home to the strength of the nation.
Before the war, home economists asserted that the self-disciplined homemaker was morally superior to the thriftless one. In the context of the war, the implications of the self-discipline of the homemaker expanded significantly. The sacrifices of American civilians communicated to the world America's moral superiority. To highlight the moral quality of American sacrifices at home, several poems used religious imagery essentially to sanctify the conservation efforts. These types of poems typically focused not just on soldiers who received conserved food, but also on the civilian populations of neutral nations and allies, both of which received food aid from the United States during the war. In the poem "In a Starving World," the author, C.D. Wilson, imagined the hungry population of Europe saved by the God-ordained food conservation efforts of Americans:
My plenty shames me when I think this bread,
This meat, of which I have too much, would be
As manna sent from God to famished ones
Across the sea — pale woman, fainting child,
Old men, or soldier maimed for our own sakes.
Here, take the half, and more, and daily take...
Here, take! 'Tis consecrate, as is the Bread
And wine of Holy Sacrament! 'Tis God's
Not mine!... (Plan for a "Conservation and Loyalty Day")
Evoking the Holy Supper, the author suggested that just as taking the sacraments of food and wine save souls, donating excess food to Europe saves lives. Conservation, then, was a holy task, and American civilians — who willingly offer "half, and more" of their food — were communicating to the world that they were indeed God's servants.
The last stanza of "In a Starving World" moved from the first person to addressing the reader directly:
Thou has within thy walls, at thy command,
More than thy needs. Bring forth — divide — disgorge —
And then, with better hearts and appetite,
Partake, in joy, thy meat. But not before!
While hunger mourns and thou repliest not,
Let food be tasteless on thy lips. And gall
And wormwood be thy sated, selfish tongue. (Plan for a "Conservation and Loyalty Day")
The call to sacrifice was clear, as the reader was challenged not to indulge until all the hungry have been fed. But the final three lines have an aggressive tone, cursing those who did not sacrifice with tasteless or bitter food. Despite the expectation of sacrifice, the poet realized extra incentive may be necessary. Many of the home front poems implicitly acknowledged that civilians frequently had to be persuaded to make sacrifices. "In a Starving World" was not the only poem that cursed the selfish. A short, untitled poem from a Food Administration Bulletin did the same: "He who saves food, saves all things; / And saving it is blest. / He who wastes food wastes all things; / and wasting them is cursed!" Similarly, some poems gave the wider community the role of shaming the recalcitrant civilian:
Knit — knit — knit,
Everybody’s doing it.
Riding — driving — walking — flying,
Everywhere are needles flying.
Maids who used to gaily flit
All around now sit and knit,
Matron, maid and ingénue,
Everybody knits. Do you? (Women's Council)
The poem notes twice that everyone was knitting — even the young women had stopped their flitting and buckled down for the war effort. The final interrogative was meant to evoke feelings of guilt and shame in individuals who were not playing their part in the war effort.
Community policing, as it turned out, was critical to the home front effort. Although the Food Administration preached selflessness and volunteerism, it understood the limits of this strategy. As the historian Helen Zoe Veit has noted, the Food Administration also relied on social pressure. By dedicating certain days to consuming meatless or wheatless meals, the Food Administration encouraged neighbors to monitor each other on those days and call out those who broke the rules (19). Published in the Indiana Bulletin, the poem "Mr. Hoover'll Get You" pushed this idea of surveillance even further:
Mr. Hoover’s creed of saving's [sic] to our house to stay;
It makes us scrape our plates off clean and watch the crumbs that stray;
We're learning to eat every bite of beets and peas and beans
And using lots of veg'tables like cabbages and greens.
For we want to aid the allies and help our cause along,
And assist the little nations and do it good and strong.
So you better watch your eatin' and mind what you're about
Or Mr. Hoover'll get you
In this poem, it was not simply the neighbors who noticed a person's thriftlessness, but the head of the Food Administration himself. Each stanza in the three-stanza poem ended with this same refrain that Mr. Hoover was coming for those who refused to conserve.
Just as the home economists had learned with their earlier outreach to the working class, home front agencies like the Food Administration came to realize that they could not assume that every American was receptive to the message of wartime sacrifice and self-discipline at home. In particular, the working class often voiced their disapproval of home front activities. One example of such criticism was found in the poem "O, You Hoover!", which originally appeared in the socialist paper Detroit Labor News in February of 1918:
My Tuesdays are wheatless,
My Wednesdays are meatless,
I’m growing more eatless each day;
My house, it is heatless,
My bed, it is sheetless,
They all have been sent to the Y.M.C.A.
The bar, it is treatless,
My tea, it is sweetless,
Each day I grow sadder and wiser;
My stockings are feetless,
My trousers are seatless,
Oh Lord! How I do hate the Kaiser! (qtd. in Van Wienen 219)
The poem bore some similarities with the previously mentioned poem "End of the Hoover Day." Both poems highlighted daily sacrifices that the war demanded, and both authors used the poem to reflect on those sacrifices. The poet of "End of the Hoover Day" ultimately felt satisfaction in conserving food: "I have come to the end of a meatless day, / And peacefully lying in bed,... / I've no regrets for the 'good old days'" (Indiana Bulletin). But the author of "O, You Hoover" expressed anger at the end of the poem about the sacrifices. The phrasing chosen by the author is telling. In the earlier poem, the author used the first person to highlight the choice to conserve food, to take responsibility for food conservation. In "O, You Hoover," there was minimal use of the first person, and the author never took personal responsibility for sacrifices like meatless days and sockless feet. These things were simply happening to the author, which provoked the outbreak of anger at the end toward the Kaiser, an obvious misdirection. The author was not mad at or about the Kaiser; the author was instead pointing out the increasingly unreasonable sacrifices asked of (poor) Americans in the name of the war.
It is surely not surprising that a poem found in a socialist newspaper was critical of the message of home front sacrifices. Socialist groups were generally critical of America's involvement in the First World War. But the call to scrimp at home likely seemed particularly galling to socialists who saw as their mission the alleviation of the poverty that plagued the working class. The socialist paper New York Call published thirteen poems in 1917 and 1918 under the title "Sayings of Patsy." These poems frequently addressed the absurdity of asking the poor to make wartime sacrifices at home. For example, one poem from September of 1917 read:
It flatters them
To be told
That they can
Feed the allies,
That they've never
Managed to feed
Their own children
And all the
How to utilize
It's perfectly obvious
That you can't have
Something you never had
To begin with... (qtd. in Van Weinen 183-186)
The socialist poet explicitly condemned housekeeping magazines for preaching food conservation to homemakers without regard to the financial realities of running a working class home.
But the socialists were not alone in pointing out the difficulties of the working poor to contribute to the home front effort. Several authors of sock songs mentioned in their verses that they were entering the contest to win the wool prize. Without the prize, they could not afford the wool to knit with. Mary C. Kellers claimed in her untitled poem that she was "only a poor little girl" and that "money is scarce and my poetry poor." But she nonetheless hoped her poem was good enough to win the wool prize, so she could keep knitting socks (Songs 75). Another poet, Frederica Lord, drew attention to all of the personal expenses associated with the home front efforts: "We've spent our spare dollars for Liberty bonds, / For war savings stamps every nickel and dime, / And nothing is left to secure any wool, / Unless we can spin out a rhyme" (Songs 90). These poems certainly lacked the indignation of the "Sayings of Patsy," but they nonetheless also challenged the assumptions of supporters of the home front effort. Taken together, these poems made it clear that there was not enough self-discipline or science that could erase the basic reality of already struggling to feed a family or not having enough money to buy wool.
While some poems, then, suggested the influence of the priorities of home economics, other poems revealed that the ideas of the movement were not adopted wholesale. Although the moral benefits of selflessness and self-control seemed obvious to the advocates of home economics, this moralism was criticized and even rejected by others. One of the most poignant examples is the poem "To the Patriotic Lady across the Way," which appeared in the socialist newspaper New York Call in November of 1917. The poet, simply identified as Zelda, rejected — in very powerful terms — the moral high ground that the United States wanted claim during the war:
She wore a Liberty loan button
And above it a silken American flag,
And her knitting needles clicked
Through some soldier's sweater.
A youth came on the subway
And sat beside her —
A comely youth, neat, intelligent,
Yes, even respectable;
But his skin was black
And his lips were thick
And his nose was broad and flat.
She gathered her knitting needles together
In unseemly panic,
And she fled, with disdainful nose, tip-tilted,
To the lower end of the car
I noted that she wore a Liberty loan button
And a silken American flag —
And I do believe she thinks she's helping
To make the world safe for democracy. (qtd. in Van Wienen 203)
Implicit in home economics was the idea that the disciplined housekeeper was a moral one who strengthened the nation with her housekeeping and served as a shining example of American moral exceptionalism. But Zelda's poem challenged these intertwined ideas. For the poet, dutifully knitting sweaters for soldiers or saving pennies to buy liberty loans did not make America a shining example for the rest of the world; it was a hypocrisy. The United States could not claim the moral high ground as long as its citizens refused to acknowledge racial inequities at home.
By the time the war ended, home economists had successfully established their field. Their scientific approach made them experts in sanitation, education, and nutrition, which enabled home economists to find jobs at a wide range of institutions, like hospitals, public health agencies, and processed food corporations. In other words, the war gave home economics its long coveted professional legitimacy. Yet, by the 1920s, home economics had lost much of the moral overtones that had characterized the earlier decades of the movement. During the war, poets who wrote from the perspective of African Americans and the working class pointed out the absurdities and hypocrisies of the home economists' moralism. Ultimately, the voice of these poets won out. Once the war was over, the particular moral claims of the home economics movement were quietly retired. Instead, home economics narrowed its mission to teaching efficient housekeeping, rather than building a stronger, better nation.
The poetry of the home front can help explain the eventual fate of home economics. Although some poets expressed boredom and frustration with the scientific approach to housekeeping, there was little debating the usefulness of this approach in helping with the war effort. Home economics offered homemakers practical skills — an idea that was easily transferable to the post-war years. But the moral ideals of home economics did not gain as much traction during the war. Calls for sacrifice frequently had to be paired with community surveillance and threats, making it clear that the home economists' claim of the morality of sacrifice was not sufficient to change behavior. Perhaps more importantly, racial and social cleavages in American society severely undermined the home economists' message that the efforts of Americans on the home front were definitive proof to the rest of the world of America's exceptional and enviable morality.
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