WWI Artifacts and Memories: Mother Goose in Wartime

9, November 2015

Perhaps one of the more unique World War I artifacts in the Museum’s collection is a small booklet in the Library and Research Center titled Mother Goose in Wartime. The collection of wartime-themed nursery rhymes was illustrated by Gladys M. Wheat (the first female faculty member of the University of Missouri’s art department) and other University of Missouri art students. The content was written by George F. Nardin, also of the University of Missouri.

another page from Mother Goose in WartimeOne of the wartime-themed nursery rhymes in Mother Goose in Wartime. Missouri Historical Society.

Commissioned and sold by the Department of Patriotic Education, Woman’s Committee, National Council of Defense, Missouri Division, the booklet took well-known nursery rhymes and gave them a wartime twist. For example, the nursery rhyme Rub-a-Dub-Dub was changed to:

Rub-a-dub-dub

Three men in a tub

And who do you think they be?

The slacker, the traitor

The willful food waster,

—Send them to Germany!

Other nursery rhymes, including Little Miss Muffet, Little Boy Blue, and There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, were also updated with patriotic themes. Some of the illustrations mirrored the wartime posters of Uncle Sam and Liberty with similar messages about food conservation and war savings stamps. War savings stamps were especially targeted at children because they were low-cost versions of war bonds that could be bought for 5, 10, and 25 cents. The publication was released in 1918 and sold in school trade catalogs for 15 cents with all proceeds going toward child welfare work.

A cartoon featuring a take on a wartime take on a nursery rhymeLittle Miss Muffet, reimagined for Mother Goose in Wartime. Missouri Historical Society.

The Council of National Defense, Missouri Division, was the primary war-work organizer in the state during World War I. The product of a call by Secretary of War Newton Baker for each state to organize a Council of National Defense, the Missouri Division had over 11,000 members from the township to the state level.

To discover more in the Museum’s library holdings search here. And you can see more pages from Mother Goose in Wartime at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

—Patrick Allie, World War I curator