Bess Furman and the Office of War Information: Agency, Power, and Gender in the Production of Propaganda

Sunday, January 5, 2020
3rd Floor West Promenade (New York Hilton)
Kylie Gower, University of Wyoming
Scholars have drawn on resources such as military involvement, photographs, and employment rates to document women’s participation in the military during World War II. This research has described how women functioned as subjects of propaganda and contributed as factory workers building equipment for the war effort. However, historians’ investigations of women’s experience of WWII have failed to look at women as producers of propaganda. Drawing on archival material at the National Archives and Library of Congress, my project presents a close examination of Bess Furman, who was one of only a few women who participated in wartime propaganda efforts under the auspices of the Office of War Information (OWI). Building on Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, along with material relating to the power-sex dynamic, and normative concepts of gender discourse, my research moves beyond stereotypical gender approaches that view women as subjects of propaganda and instead seeks to understand how women, in this case, Bess Furman, acted as agents and producers of propaganda. This project will, in turn, contribute to the historiography on women and WWII by analyzing how women functioned as active agents in the production of wartime messaging and, in turn, shaped not only the overall trajectory of propaganda but also created new professional opportunities in advertising as well as the government sphere.
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