Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

History

First Advisor

Lauren Sklaroff

Abstract

This project examines the role of professional musicians, stage performers, civilian entertainment organizations, and the federal government in the formation of a nationalized, wartime cultural apparatus during the United States' involvement in the First World War (1917-1919). This process was contested, fragmented, and incomplete, but it laid the foundational groundwork for federal cultural initiatives and programs during the 1930s and 1940s. In many ways, the war forever altered the relationship between American citizens and the federal government. Specifically, this project examines two major cultural arenas – music and theater – by looking at the institutions and actors that transformed them. During the war, a set of ideas coalesced around a dynamic admixture of popular entertainers, industry functionaries, producers, distributors, and, perhaps most importantly, an energetic state bureaucracy.

Under the auspices of the Wilson administration, the Committee on Public Information (CPI) and the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) were organized in the spring of 1917 to direct federal, state, and municipal recruitment efforts. Entertainment was a crucial aspect of the government’s attempts to forge a united, homogeneous citizenry in the crucible of war. The federal government also produced, distributed, and exhibited propaganda plays and music, demanding unswerving patriotism from private citizens and cultural institutions utilizing a variety of coercive measures. In turn, these private entities recognized the government as a critical ally in their respective institutional developments.

Theatrical professionals capitalized on wartime publicity and demand by lending their star power and creative capital to Liberty Drives, camp revues, and pro-war propaganda films. Musicians – both amateur and professional – saw the war as an opportunity to grow markets, introduce new sounds, and inculcate a generation of American men and women in their values. The federal government, staffed with reform-minded Progressives, co-opted popular entertainers in its effort to fill the nation’s heart with wartime patriotism and to spread the values of white, middle-class America. Seemingly disparate figures like Raymond Fosdick, George Creel, Winthrop Ames, E.H. Sothern, Rachel Crothers, Elsie Janis, Irving Berlin, Will Rogers, James Reese Europe, Margaret Mayo, and many others utilized the federal platform to showcase their talents and build rapport with national audiences and powerful bureaucrats, or to enlist popular entertainers in the service of broader Progressive reforms.

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2023

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