The Stars and Stripes was published in France by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) of the United States Army from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919. General John J. Pershing wanted a newspaper written by servicemen for the soldiers on the battlefront. On the front page of the first issue, Pershing endorsed the newspaper and characterized its purpose and content: "In this initial number of The Stars and Stripes, published by the men of the Overseas Command, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces extends his greetings through the editing staff to the readers from the first line trenches to the base ports. These readers are mainly the men who have been honored by being the first contingent of Americans to fight on European soil for the honor of their country. . . . The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it."
The newspaper's mission was to strengthen the morale of the troops and to promote unity within the American forces, then widely scattered and fulfilling many apparently unrelated functions. The venture was immediately popular with the soldiers, quickly selling out its first issue of one thousand copies. Although designated as the "official newspaper of the AEF," its independent editorial voice earned the confidence and affection of common soldiers.
The Stars and Stripes, published exclusively in France during its seventeen-month run, used a layout typical of American newspapers of the day, with wide columns, "all-cap" headlines, and lots of illustrations. The editorial staff assigned to the newspaper was composed mostly of enlisted men, including several career journalists. Second Lieutenant Guy T. Viskniskki from the Wheeler Newspaper Syndicate, New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, bibliophile John Winterich, and cartoonist Abian "Wally" Wallgren of the Washington Post were among those who contributed their experience and skill.
Beginning with an initial printing of one thousand copies, The Stars and Stripes grew to a high-circulation newspaper, reaching well over half a million readers by its one-year anniversary. The newspaper's content contributed to its success, as did its distribution system. By a feat of ingenuity and perseverance, agents delivered the paper to the majority of the subscribers on the date of publication. Captain Richard H. Waldo, who had worked at the New York Times and Good Housekeeping before his enlistment, devised a system by which soldier distributors, or "field agents," at each Army Post Office coordinated distribution by rail, truck, and automobile (including three Cadillacs). French news dealers also delivered copies of the weekly to field agents and to hospitality centers staffed by the YMCA known as "YMCA huts." In addition, distributors mailed more than two hundred thousand copies to military bases and individual subscribers back home in the United States.
Appearing during a pivotal period in world and American history, The Stars and Stripes is a unique type of newspaper: a military newspaper published by the United States government. Documenting the experience of American soldiers during wartime, The Stars and Stripes represents a remarkable achievement in twentieth-century journalism.
Advertising in The Stars and Stripes
In every issue of The Stars and Stripes American companies and organizations, as well as French eateries and shops, competed for the attention of the servicemen with advertisements aimed at enticing the doughboys (as American soldiers were called). Although the advertisements exhibited considerable reserve and decorum by today's standards, their content was intended to appeal to the almost exclusively male audience.
Companies as diverse as American Express, American Safety Razor, Gillette, Credit Lyonnais Bank, and Brentano's Books, along with organizations such as the YMCA, Christian Science Reading Rooms, the Harvard Club of Paris, and the Jewish Welfare Board, courted the soldiers' business. Wrigley's Chewing Gum was a regular advertiser, boasting that "even before American soldiers and sailors landed, the British, Canadian and French forces had adopted Wrigley's as their wartime sweetmeat"
Absent today's truth-in-advertising regulations and product liability lawsuits, tobacco ads, such as those claiming that Fatima cigarettes were the brand smoked by the most important people in Washington, appeared in almost every issue. Other products made excessive claims, as well. Adams Chewing Gum, for example, was said not only to relieve thirst, but also to prevent fatigue among weary soldiers on the march. In advertisements such as these, appearing throughout the pages of The Stars and Stripes, American and French companies reveal what they imagined might allure the doughboys, thereby offering insight into the popular culture of American soldiers of the time.
Illustrations in The Stars and Stripes
The Stars and Stripes used illustrations to communicate ideas, especially those aimed at justifying military goals and encouraging the troops' adherence to the war effort. In the early issues, editors reprinted cartoons from some of the most prominent U.S. newspapers and magazines, such as Life, New York World, and Philadelphia Press. The very first issue contained an editorial cartoon by one of the most famous illustrators of the day, Charles Dana Gibson. The cartoon, meant to inspire the troops, was entitled "On Their Way" and depicted an American soldier marching in step with a winged "Lady Victory," their arms firmly locked.
In many cases, the images selected by the editors would be considered propaganda by today's standards. Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge's cartoon "Then We Will Have Peace" showed the empty throne of the Kaiser with a corpse in front of it, his drawing "The Girl We're All Fighting For" depicted a soldier gesturing respectfully toward an image of the Statue of Liberty on the horizon.
Besides expressing editorial opinion, cartoons entertained the troops, offering them humorous stories and images that satirized everyday life in the military. Many of these spoofs, written in 1918 and 1919, remain relevant today. The most popular among the soldiers were Private Abian A."Wally" Wallgren's cartoons and irreverent "Helpful Hints," which poked fun at army conventions from food to uniforms to rank. When a new issue of The Stars and Stripes arrived, the soldiers scanned it first for the cartoons by "Wally" Wallgren.
Private Cyrus Baldridge was also prolific, contributing many cartoons and illustrations such as "The Owner of the Stars and Stripes," a front page "portrait" of an American soldier. After the war ended, Wallgren, Baldridge, and others published compilations of The Stars and Stripes cartoons and illustrations that had lightened the hearts of the doughboys.
Soldier Authored Material in The Stars and Stripes
Throughout the seventeen months of its publication, The Stars and Stripes dedicated a significant amount of space to soldier-authored material. In the first issue an advertisement asking soldiers for their contributions read: "If You Are a Writer: Send Us Copy. If You Are an Artist: Send Us Pictures".
The newspaper's editors appreciated the poetry and sentimental ballads typical of the period. Poetry appeared in every issue of The Stars and Stripes. Although the newspaper occasionally published reprints of the poetry of famous poets, the soldiers themselves wrote most of the poems. "The Army's Poets" column was inaugurated May 3, 1918 and swiftly became the most widely read column in the newspaper. Soldiers submitted more than seventy-five thousand poems for possible printing in The Stars and Stripes. Many of those poems not selected for publication by the newspaper were published after the war.
Through their poetry, soldiers commented on life in the trenches, homesickness, patriotism, and the comradery essential for wartime success. The humor of the AEF doughboys tended to be a product of everyday experience, and their poetry reflects the hardships the men endured, so far from home. For example, Franklin P. Adams's "A Cootie's Garden of Verses" relates a soldier's battle with lice:
In winter I get up at night,
and have to scratch by candle-light;
In summer, quite the other way;
I have to scratch the livelong day.
A soldier boy should never swear
When coots are in his underwear,
Or underneath his helmet label--
At least, as far he is able.
The trench is so full of a number of coots,
I'm actually growing quite fond of the brutes.
Women and the War Effort in The Stars and Stripes
World War I was the first war in which American women were recruited to serve in the military. Women were already present in France as members of the American Red Cross and as canteen workers, but for the most part, French and Belgian women staffed American military offices. In October 1917 the new American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) telephone system was put in place, but the American soldiers and the French women working as telephone operators were unable to communicate. The need for bilingual telephone operators precipitated the recruitment of American women.
When General Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, mounted an advertising campaign for bilingual telephone operators for the Army Signal Corps, more than seven thousand women responded and more than two hundred were recruited. These Bell Telephone System operators, known as "Hello Girls," worked in France from March 1918 to the end of the war. The Stars and Stripes reported their activities in several articles, announcing their arrival with the headline "Uncle Sam Presents 'Hello, Girls!'" and describing their work in the article "Six Hello Girls Help First Army".
Women also served a symbolic function for the fighting men. Women were the subjects of sentimental poetry; poems to sweethearts at home or to French mademoiselles appeared in several issues. The protection of women was held up as an honorable justification for the war. An article entitled "German Brands Young Mother with an Iron" that appeared in the first issue of The Stars and Stripes typifies the manner in which sentimental and protective feelings towards "womanhood" were aroused to encourage the soldiers to fight: "It is in accordance with other stories of the prostitution of womanhood which the Kaiser is forcing in order to repopulate the German Empire. The rapid British advance at Cambria, in November, when towns which the Germans had occupied for three years were captured before the latter could deport the civilian population into Germany as is their custom, disclosed the latest effort of the German army. French women and girls had been made the victims."
The article then quoted an American officer: "Among the refugees who passed along the roads making their way southward farther into France after we made our first big advance were scores of women and girls, each marked on her breast by a cross in red paint. . . . the cross indicated that German soldiers were the fathers. The crosses had been painted on them, the women explained, to show that their children would belong to the German Government. . . . Thank God, America, by coming into the war, will help to stamp out this beastly 'kultur' from the world and make it a safe, clean place to live in for your womenfolk and mine?-our mothers, our sweethearts, our wives, and our daughters".
In keeping with the concept of honoring womanhood, The Stars and Stripes encouraged the doughboys to write letters home to "Mom." In support of their intensive Mother's Day campaigns, the newspaper published heart-wrenching cartoons depicting a forlorn mother waiting for the postman or tearfully reading her son's letter. Editorials and headlines touted the millions of letters sent back home by dutiful soldiers. The newspaper also promoted the War Orphans Project, in which companies and officers "adopted" French war orphans by pledging to provide them with financial support. Articles promoting the effort were often accompanied by images of little girls and descriptions of the orphans' plight.
And much more in this fascinating 71 week publication run of Stars & Stripes.
This is a must have collection for any World War I history buff!