Saturday, March 16, 2019

Where do we go from here?

Women war workers, Lorraine Ohio (May 1917)

“What a good time the women are having in the war! And, in a way, they really are. For into that somewhat drab thing called every-day life has come the call of duty that makes every one, man, woman, and child, who has red blood, get up and do whatever duty bids.”
                        Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 28, 1917*

In 1919, the Souvenir Publishing Company printed two books within one binding: Nice Poems by Nice War Workers and Naughty Poems by Naughty War Workers, compiled by Jean of the A.G.O. Each half of the book had its own title page and thirty-two pages of poetry, with titles such as “Buy a Bond” (from Nice Poems) and “Me for the Cave-Man Stuff” (from Naughty Poems). The Nice Poems section of the book also included a poem that parodied a popular song of the day:

Where Do We Go from Here

Where do we go from here, girls?
Where do we go from here?
The war is won,
Our work is done,
And we’ve not shed a tear.
We’ll pack our trunks
And say good-bye
And leave by the first of the year,
But Oh, girls, Oh, girls,
Where do we go from here?
            —Composed Friday, December 13, 1918
                 by Ollie Parnell

The poem would have been immediately familiar to most as a variation on the popular tune “Where Do We Go from Here [Boys],” published in 1917.  That song follows the adventures of Paddy Mack, a cab driver from New York who joins the American Expeditionary Force (you can listen to it here):

First of all, at the call
When the war began
Pat enlisted in the army
As a fighting man
When the drills began,
They’d walk a hundred miles a day
Tho’ the rest got tired,
Paddy always used to say:
Where do we go from here, boys,
Where do we go from here?
Slip a pill to Kaiser Bill
And make him shed a tear;
And when we see the enemy
We’ll shoot them in the rear,
Oh joy, Oh boy,
Where do we go from here?**

Ollie Parnell’s variation on the tune reminds readers of women’s contributions to the war and the uncertainty they faced in the post-war world.  Historian Lynn Dumenil notes,
During World War I, observers routinely described women workers, especially those who were breaking down barriers that had limited their work opportunities, as the second line of defense," whose service in the nation’s interest paralleled that of male soldiers.***
During the war, women workers were needed to fill jobs that had previously been open only to men. They completed the work professionally and competently, whether working in munitions factories, on subways and tram cars, or at agricultural and forestry positions.  After the war, these women “presented themselves as competent individuals who contributed significantly to the winning of the war. They insisted that they had thus earned equal citizenship, a claim that became an important part of the final drive for woman suffrage and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.****
Women picket White House, 1917

* Cited in Lynn Dumenil’s The Second Line of Defense: American Woman and World War I, University of North Carolina Press, 2017, p. 1.
** Song by Howard Johnson and Percy Wenrich, Leo Feist, Inc., 1917.
*** Dumenil, The Second Line of Defense, pp. 1-2.
**** Dumenil, The Second Line of Defense, p. 2.