WWI comes alive in RIT’s University Gallery historical poster and photo exhibition

‘Mobilizing America’ shows how Rochester fought on the homefront and battlefront

Follow Marcia Morphy on Twitter
Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the Committee on Public Information called Americans to take active roles—to enlist, conserve and/or invest—through a series of campaign messages that included newsreels, magazine ads, movies and posters.

University Gallery at Rochester Institute of Technology proudly presents “Mobilizing America: Fighting World War I on the Homefront and Battlefront,” an exhibition featuring posters and photographs during the Great War from the Rochester Historical Society’s archival collection. An opening reception is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, and the show runs through March 21.

In 1917, the population of Rochester was 241,500. George Eastman was president of the Rochester Chapter of the Red Cross. Rochester sent 18,119 men to war and 512 died. RIT, formerly known as the Mechanics Institute, opened the Department of (Home) Economics for the conservation of food and household management.

“‘Mobilizing America’ is an exhibition that shows the power of mass persuasion, and many of these posters from the Rochester Historical Society were originals—displayed in public spaces throughout our city during the war nearly 100 years ago,” explained University Gallery manager Jessica Erickson.

“At the end of the World War I, no one wanted any memories of the hardships they endured, but someone from Rochester took all the posters down and had the wherewithal to leave them with the Rochester Historical Society. Some of the finest artists of the day created the posters, and many will recognize the ‘I Want You for U.S. Army Nearest Recruiting Station,’ by James Montgomery Flagg.”

The exhibition was developed through the efforts of University Gallery; Dan Cody, registrar and collections manager at Rochester Historical Society; Rebecca Edwards, department chair of American history in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts; and Tina Lent, Department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture, RIT’s College of Liberal Arts.

In conjunction with the exhibition, RIT’s College of Liberal Arts is sponsoring several free lectures open to the public. All begin at 7 p.m. and will be held at University Gallery.

  • Feb. 10—Dan Cody will speak on the War’s impact on Rochester and present WWI artifacts and objects from the Society’s collection.
  • Feb. 17—Pearl James, University of Kentucky, editor of Picture This! World War I Posters and Visual Culture. She will speak on “Images of Femininity in American World War I Posters,” and the lecture includes a booksigning.
  • Feb. 24—Christopher Capozzola, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. Capazzola will speak on the theme of citizenry and war, and the lecture includes a book signing.

University Gallery is located in James E. Booth Hall adjacent to RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies—home to the entire archive of graphic and product designs by renowned international designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For information, contact University Gallery Manager Jessica Erickson at 585-475-2404 or jleugs@rit.edu.