Neysa McMein and Y.M.C.A. Girls
Full text on poster reads, “YMCA, one of the thousand YMCA girls in France. United War work campaign Nov.11th to 18th.”
28 x 42 in (71 x 107 cm)
Set against the red, white and blue logo of the Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association), a young woman wearing a standard female service uniform holds a stack of books in her left hand. Her expression is sympathetic and comforting, further emphasised by her holding out a steaming tin mug of coffee in her right hand. The uniform is described specifically in the Fourth Volume of Touchstone Magasine, issued in 1918 as, “. . .of greyish green whipcord and the cape is dark green: the insignia is the red triangle on a Copenhagen blue found.”
Neysa McMein was a painter active from 1911 when she attended the Art Institute of Chicago. While painting famous posters such as the one above, she was also an active suffragette who earned a begrudging respect from her male contemporaries for her uncompromising eccentricity and talent. She was part of a circle of influential contemporary writers, artists, actors and the like, who became known as the Algonquin Round Table, where they would meet in the Algonquin Hotel for hours and have animated discussions over food and drink.
Women abroad on behalf of the Y.M.C.A were initially met with opposition, as many thought they would be unable to perform strenuous work and would be a distraction. This was quickly proven wrong as the women adapted and thrived in the fast paced and exciting environment. They served a variety of roles, including nurses, cooks, cleaners, and were vitally important to maintaining both the health and the sanity of the fighters. More importantly, they were seen as comrades in a foreign and beautiful, yet dangerous land. Many women were even awarded decorations for their service and the organisation was praised by war hero General Pershing.
McMein’s Y.M.C.A. girl was typical of her portrait style, a lovely yet approachable young woman: someone you could pass on the street, admire, and perhaps even emulate. This type of woman is exceptionally important for a propagandistic image as it encourages viewers to not only emulate the model in her style but also in her noble actions.
“Neysa McMein,” http://spartacus-educational.com/Aneysa_mcMein.htm; Fitzpatrick, Kevin, The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide, Rowman & Littlefield (2015) 2, 8, 48-51; Zeinert, Katherine, Those Extraordinary Women of World War I, Brookfield, CT (2001) 46-8, 64.