During World War I, from 1917-1919, the U.S. Treasury issued five bonds to help raise money for the war effort in Europe. The War Loan Organization oversaw the sale of these bonds, known as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Liberty Loans, as well as a fifth Victory Loan. Because the first two bonds didn’t sell well, the War Loan Organization undertook a massive drive to promote their sale. Through the campaign, the government printed materials like Liberty Loan posters and window stickers, sought the support of groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, and enlisted volunteers across the country to sell bonds. As a Digital Collections and Exhibitions intern, I’ve digitized materials for a joint HSP and Villanova exhibit for the centennial of WWI, such as the pamphlet below, and have had the opportunity to work with Liberty Loan collections unique to Philadelphia.
I’ve digitized several items from the South Philadelphia Women’s Liberty Loan Committee Collection, including pamphlets and photographs from the committee’s chair, Corinne Keen Freeman. The committee was a local branch of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee. HSP also has a Liberty Loan Poster collection, consisting of eight promotional posters published by the Liberty Loan Committee of the Third Federal Reserve District in Philadelphia.
Like other Liberty Loan drives across the country, many materials in these collections promote the purchase of Liberty Bonds as a patriotic duty and sound investment. While the nationwide effort to promote Liberty Bonds included support from celebrities and patriotic groups, well known historical figures were also called on to help sell bonds. Benjamin Franklin emerges in these collections as a figure known for his belief in national unity, community, and thrift. Corrinne Keen Freeman’s materials include a pamphlet modeled on Poor Richard’s Almanac, with Franklin illustrated on the pages. The pamphlet is "in the spirit of the original author", includes "a little book on thrift, investment and patriotism", and has quotes from a character name Poor Richard Jr.: "the most selfish, cautious, miserly man can find no more satisfactory investment than Government bonds. Therefore the man with a spark of patriotism in his soul should go the limit".
Another Philadelphia figure, likely William Penn, appears in a Liberty Loan poster, reaching into his pocket for money as a mother shows him a Liberty Bond pamphlet. The mother stands in for the sacrifices that women like Corrinne Keen Freeman made to make the war effort possible.
It was interesting working with these Liberty Loan collections in my internship, because it helped me understand the sacrifices that Liberty Loan volunteers and other Americans made on the home-front during World War I. The conscription of so many U.S. soldiers for the war was unprecedented, and the support of this force required billions of dollars. It was also interesting to see how the government and local communities evoked the past to convince Americans to buy Liberty Bonds.