World War I Propaganda Posters, ca. 1918

A collection of American World War I propaganda posters, discovered by Bob and Liz Ford in the attic of their home on North Main Street, has been carefully restored and loaned to the museum to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War to End All Wars.”

War posters were an important tool to mobilize the Home Front, and were displayed in the windows of businesses in Wake Forest’s downtown to engage citizens, students, and visitors as they picked up mail or shopped for supplies.

The posters were displayed mainly to promote Liberty Loan Bonds. A fundraising drive on April 6, 1918, called “Liberty Day,” was a big success. Wake Forest citizens purchased more than $15,000 in bonds, an amount slightly more than $250,000 in today’s dollars.

Wake Forest College student Pinky Prevette mounted a large goods box in the middle of the street and delivered a patriotic, impromptu speech to an audience of local farmers, urging them to support the fight against Germany’s swaggering Kaiser Wilhelm II with the exhortation, “God has prospered you. Are you not willing to loan some of your prosperity to help defeat a man who claims to be even greater than God himself?”

Earl “Pinkey” Prevette was famous for his oratorical skills. He served as Commencement Speaker at the graduation ceremony for the Wake Forest College Class of 1915.

When Prevette spoke, he stood before a background of propaganda posters specifically designed to wring dedication and sacrifice from everyone who valued freedom, liberty, and the safety and security of the Home Front.

The posters displayed along South White Street in 1918 focused on symbols of patriotism, public duty, and war. They were published by the American Red Cross, the U.S. Food Administration, and Liberty Loans and Bonds.

During this time, life at Wake Forest College went through some dramatic changes.

While World War I raged overseas, President Woodrow Wilson introduced a plan to install military training programs on college campuses suffering from a drop in enrollment. It was the the only way many schools could hope to stay open–Wake Forest among them.

The program, known as the Student Army Training Corps (or S.A.T.C.), allowed students to prepare for service without departing for training camp. As a participant in the program, Wake Forest College was turned into home base for an Army unit. The dormitories were transformed into barracks and the Gymnasium became a kitchen and mess hall.

Apart from the ministerial students, nearly every young man on campus chose to enlist. As they trained, all were well aware that other young men from across North Carolina were shipping off to Europe to fight the war.

This photograph of the Student Army Training Corps was taken on the former athletic field of Wake Forest College, where the museum is today. In the background is E. Juniper Street.

In all, twenty Wake Forest College students and alumni lost their lives in the war. A complete list is displayed along with the thirteen posters and a number of World War I artifacts included in the temporary exhibit now on display at the Wake Forest Historical Museum at 414 N. Main Street.

The exhibit will remain on display through Thanksgiving, as we mark the centennial of the end of the war, which concluded on the Western Front “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

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