Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man, I’d Join the Navy

Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man, I’d Join the Navy, 1917

Howard Chandler Christy (American, 1872-1952)

Lithograph on paper

Miami University Art Museum purchase

Bernice Smith was twenty years old when she arrived at her local California naval recruiting office. Disappointed that she could not enlist in a conventional naval role, she exclaimed, “Gee, I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy!” Overhearing her disappointment was famed artist Howard Chandler Christy, who instantly saw the scene as worthy of a WWI poster. Christy had her model for him that day, centering the poster around her and her message. Christy used Smith’s sex appeal in the hopes of driving men to the recruiting office. Three days after modeling for Christy, Smith again tried to enlist in the Navy. This time she was accepted as a yeoman, eventually rising to the rank of Chief Yeoman. Yeomen were enlisted members of the military who served as clerical or administrative assistants either aboard vessels or in offices on shore.

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