Defense Knitting: Women's Volunteerism During the First and Second World Wars

This dissertation examines American women’s knitting for servicemen during the First and Second World Wars and its relationship with labor, patriotism, and the cultural moment of the home front. It defines the organized campaign to knit for servicemen as “defense knitting,” and explores its popularity to understand the ways that institutions encouraged women to participate in the knitting effort while also organizing and systematizing their efforts. It uses a variety of print sources, including the institutional archives of relief agencies, trade publications, women’s periodicals, and knitting patterns to create a picture of knitting on the American homefront. It also documents the author’s use of object reconstruction as an experiential research technique, and her process of knitting fourteen objects based on historical knitting patterns. It suggests that defense knitting’s popularity during both World Wars resulted from a combination of physical and emotional need, tradition, and institutional and cultural pressures. It argues that there was a dichotomy between the public image of defense knitting as a necessary and important way to support the war effort and the private opinion of institutions like the military, and that these tensions were only mediated because of the work of the American Red Cross.

Knitted objects created for "Defense Knitting."

Knit between 2015 and 2017 from First and Second World War patterns issued by the American Red Cross.