Teaching Our Journal – Glamour-izing Military Service: Army Recruitment for Women in Vietnam-Era Advertisements

Teaching Our Journal

Glamour-izing Military Service: Army Recruitment for Women in Vietnam-Era Advertisements

By Jessica Ghilani, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

The magazine advertisements examined in this article offer insight into military recruiting strategies used during the Vietnam War. This time period is significant to military history and recruitment for a few reasons. The Vietnam War era marks the most recent historical time in which the United States relied on a military draft to fill the ranks. This draft only applied to men and to this day, the Selective Service System only requires registration from men. However, changes were made to military policy in 1967 regarding women’s military service opportunities. War created a real need for nurses to be deployed to Vietnam to serve in medic units. Because of this, military advertising of the period placed an increased focus onto the recruitment of women to serve in the Army Nurse Corps and the Women’s Army Corps.

In many ways, women were America’s first “all-volunteer force.” As the article shows, women were recruited via advertising with very different strategies when compared to their male counterparts. Even with a draft in place, the Department of Defense advertised military service to men and women with the help of the same advertising agencies that were hired by commercial clients. Ad messages aimed not only to argue in favor of military enlistment among target audiences, but also to represent military service to the broader public with positivity and control.

Carol served as the model “everygal” on whom female readers could project their own fantasies of travel, career, and courtship through military service. This ad appeared in a February 1968 issue of Time Magazine. N.W. Ayer Advertising Records, “Intelligence Analyst,” 1968, print ad, NMAH.

Carol served as the model “everygal” on whom female readers could project their own fantasies of travel, career, and courtship through military service. This ad appeared in a February 1968 issue of Time Magazine.
N.W. Ayer Advertising Records, “Intelligence Analyst,” 1968, print ad, NMAH.

Magazines were an ideal venue for the transmission of these messages. During this time period, magazines struggled to compete with the massive popularity of television. But a broad array of titles and specialty publications enabled advertisers to use magazines as a method to reach more specialized audiences than that of broadcast television networks. The process of advertising for the military branches was unlike most commercial advertising. Ad firms worked in close consultation with military communications personnel. Recruiting during a time of war presented its own significant challenges, with or without a draft mechanism in place to fill the ranks.

In 1973, the draft was overturned to usher in a volunteer concept of service that continues to this day. To facilitate the volunteer era, the Department of Defense allocated more money than ever before to advertising. Since then, women’s military service roles have expanded considerably and there are now no gender requirements for service across the full range of military jobs. And contemporary military ads depict the armed forces as a robust space for diversity, inclusion, and merit-driven opportunity. Many military historians credit advertising with the volunteer concept’s enduring success. As this article argues, advertising has played a central role in military recruiting and military public relations.

The decorated general and smiling WAC cadet girl work together. It ran in Co-Ed magazine and Ingénue magazine in December 1969. N.W. Ayer Advertising Records, “The Army Needs Girls,” 1968, print ad, NMAH.

The decorated general and smiling WAC cadet girl work together. It ran in Co-Ed magazine and Ingénue magazine in December 1969.
N.W. Ayer Advertising Records, “The Army Needs Girls,” 1968, print ad, NMAH.

General Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe the gender roles depicted in the advertisements included in the article.
  • How do these gendered examples of military service differ from their present-day counterparts?
  • What are the differences between military recruiting ads aimed at women and men from this time period?
  • Do you think these gender differences would be found in advertisements for commercial products from the period? Why or why not?
  • How does advertising military service differ from advertising a commercial product (such as a soda or a soap)?
  • Describe the uses of military advertising apart from recruiting to fill the ranks.

Exercise 1: Language, symbols, and military advertising.

Consult one of the resources listed in the “Advertising and Propaganda Resources” bibliography below. Bring in an example of military propaganda or advertising from the 20th century and be prepared to discuss the following.

  • What does the example represent about America, the American Dream, or patriotism?
  • What messages does your example convey regarding the United States military?
  • Is language used strategically in the military message? Describe. If the ad is older, would these terms, slogans, or phrases fit into current military advertisements? Why or why not?
  • Who is/are depicted in the ad? What groups are left out? Are the people being depicted as accurate or idealized representations of military personnel? Why or why not?
  • How does gender figure into the military message and visuals contained in your example?

Exercise 2: Understanding advertising from cultural and historical perspectives.

Look for the late-1960s era editions of popular magazine titles such as Life, Time, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Senior Scholastic, or Ebony. You can usually find these on microfilm or through an online database provided by your library. Leaf through the magazine articles and advertisements to get a sense for the time and answer the following questions.

  • What topics are examined in the magazine articles? Do any of the articles mention the Vietnam War? If so, describe how the articles frame the topic.
  • What kinds of products are advertised?
  • From the advertisements, what kinds of demographic groups are represented (and what demographic groups are left out)?
  • What are the roles for gender that you see depicted in the advertisements?
  • What do the demographic inclusions and exclusions as well as the gendered representations tell you about the culture of the time period?

Exercise 3: Using magazines to understand advertising, target audience, and ad placement.

Divide into groups of three or four. Each group should select from a stack of magazines (provided by the instructor, who can bring samples from any time period. Instructors, be sure to include variations in title, subject/focus, and target audience). Each group will choose a magazine issue to examine and answer the following questions.

  • Who is the target audience for this magazine? How can you tell?
  • What kinds of products are advertised in this magazine?
  • Are there any military ads? Public service ads? Government or nonprofit ads? If so, how do these ads differ from ads for commercial products?
  • If there are not any non-commercial ads, find an ad for a commercial product that is placed adjacent to a magazine article and consider its placement. Does the article content help or harm the commercial message being advertised? Explain. What are the roles for gender that you see depicted in the advertisements?

In this illustrated advertisement that ran in an April 1970 issue of Senior Scholastic, cartoons display counterarguments to WAC stereotypes regarding female military service and cadet femininity. N.W. Ayer Advertising Records, “Great Myths of the WAC,” 1969, print ad, NMAH.

Military Propaganda and Advertising Resources

Chenault, Libby. “American Posters of the Great War.” Documenting the American South.  Accessed on 31 Mar 2017. http://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/postersintro.html.

Crawford, Anthony R. ed. Posters of World War I and World War II in the George C. Marshall Research Foundation. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1979.

Cook, Jia-Rue. “The Posters that Sold World War I to the American Public.” Smithsonian.com. 28 July 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/posters-sold-world-war-i-american-public-180952179/.

Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis, and Paul Paret. Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1992.

Smithsonian Institution Collections Website. “Army Advertisement Search.” Smithsonian Institution Digital Collections. (n.d.). http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=army+advertisement&tag.cstype=all.

Smithsonian Institution Education Website. “World War II rationing propaganda.” Smithsonian Institution Education Website. (n.d.). http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/idealabs/wwii/.

US Army Heritage and Education Center. “WWI Army Heritage Museum Poster Collection.” Army Heritage Museum Digital Library. 2008. http://cdm16635.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16635coll2/id/432.

WWI Propaganda Posters: A Selection from the Bowman Gray Collection of Materials Related to WWI and WWII. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Ackland Art Center, 12 Jan- 23 Feb 1969.

“We Can… We Will… We Must!: Allied Propaganda Posters of WWII.” The National World War II Museum. 2014. http://ww2propagandaposters.org/home/.

Zeman, Zbynek. Selling the War: Art and Propaganda in World War II. London: Orbis Books, 1978.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bailey, Beth. America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Binkin, Martin, and Shirley J. Bach. Studies in Defense Policy: Women and the Military Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1977.

Douglas, Susan. Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995.

Kitch, Carolyn. The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

McDonough, John, and Karen Egolf. “History: 1960s.” In The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising. New York: Routledge, 2015. http://adage.com/ article/adage-encyclopedia/history-1960s/98702/.

Dixon Vuic, Kara. Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.