This post was originally published on the Wovember blog on the 6th Wovember, 2011. It was written by Kate Davies and we are thrilled to republish it here as one of our “from the Wovember archives” pieces.

Sheep Club poster - found in the Wiki Commons and marked as being in the Publiic Domain
Sheep Club poster – found in the Wiki Commons and marked as being in the Publiic Domain

We all probably know that knitting socks for “our boys” became a part of the war effort during World War II, but perhaps less familiar is this piece of sheepy propaganda from the First World War. In October 1918 – a few weeks before the conclusion of the war – the US board of agriculture issued 5000 copies of this poster to encourage the children of rural America to join the 4-H club movement, ostensibly in support of fighting troops. The poster clearly had a dramatic effect — by the following year, it was reported that 4-H club membership had doubled. But was the intention to ensure soldiers were wool-clad, or to support the development of a popular government program? A hearing before the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee in 1920 suggests that it was quite clearly the latter. At the committee, it was reported that the sheep club poster had become “quite an asset” in encouraging 4-H membership “particularly as it was a very attractive poster, and one that would appeal to boys.” The poster had been a massive success, the report concluded: “when it is realized that each club member is required to secure four or more bred ewes, it will give some idea as to the increase of sheep as a result of this work.” That same year, Lewis Hines photographed several boys who had recently joined 4-H clubs, including the young Forest Kellison, from West Virginia, who is depicted below, being taught how to treat his sheep for parasites. Perhaps he had been “recruited” to the woolly cause by the poster.

0 thoughts on “From the Wovember Archives: Sheep as Propaganda

  1. Fascinating! I’ve lived in NYC my whole life, so the 4H was a foreign concept to me growing up. It’s pretty amazing how times have changed; today I doubt that kids would/could ever be recruited to help a war cause.

  2. I lived outside NYC growing up and never heard of the 4H clubs either so this concept of “growing” sheep was also very foreign. I don’t think I was too aware of where my food or clothing came from when I was very young. When I was about 9 we visited a ranch and saw a steer slaughtered and that was pretty devastating. I don’t thing 20 sheep to clothe 1 soldier sounds accurate – more like clothe and feed 1 soldier would be more accurate.

  3. I think this is fascinating as well, especially because I WAS in 4-H growing up. So to me it’s interesting to see how the focus of 4-H marketing has changed, because soldiers & war were never mentioned to try to get us to join. Rather, it was “look at these neat activities you can do or learn to do” (for example, I did cake decorating one year), and a big thing they pushed was that if you’re a member for 10 years, they offer scholarships for universities. So it’s interesting to me not only to see the switch from war to education, but also from community benefit to personal, individual gains. Growing up I also remember that there were still plenty of agriculturally-related activities, but certainly the organization has changed to fit the times with things like cake decorating. The biggest benefit I got from 4-H was very economical dog training classes (and a very well-trained dog as a result), as well as an early lesson in discipline & dedication to something (I was the one who had asked for the dog).

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