On this page are two World War I government photographs, showing the contributions of the Camouflage Reserve Corps of the National League for Women's Service. In the photo above they are applying a disruptive camouflage scheme to a War Savings Stamp booth at Broadway and 43rd Street in New York. August 1918. NARA 165-WW-599G-041. At the bottom of this page, they are painting a War Savings Stamp theatre in Times Square, New York, in the same month. NARA 165-WW-599G-016. It had been decided that painting disruptive camouflage schemes on buildings and vehicles was an effective means of attracting a crowd for fundraising and recruiting events.
The first event was described in considerable detail in a news article, reproduced in full below.
Anon, LADY CAMOUFLEURS WORK IN TIMES SQ.: But Their Overalls Give Nary a Thrill to That Blasé Region; PROTECT WSS STAND: Twelve of 'Em Climb Ladders and Paint Right Into the Dusk in the New York Sun, August 21, 1918, p. 2—
Twelve lady artists from Greenwich Village, who are serving their country as captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals and privates of the Camouflage Reserve Corps of the National League for Women’s Service [NLWS], passed yesterday afternoon painting a futuristic, or cubistic, mince pie nightmare on the little Thrft Stamp stand in Times Square, so that if a German submarine sails up Broadway or one of Fritz’s Zeppelins comes along dropping bombs on the revellers of the Great White Way the camouflaged stand will just melt away into the surrounding landscape of subway holes and theatrical billboards and the Thrift Stamp cashbox won’t be disturbed.
The twelve ladies were assisted by two Beaux Arts men, members of the shipping board, A[lon] Bement of Columbia University and Artist [Henry] Davenport, who came over from Boston to help boss the job.
Worked to Beat the Moon
The fourteen toiled manfully to finish the chef d’oeuvre before nightfall, because as Captain Myra Hanford of the Camouflage Corps [CC] remarked in a pause of her task of holding the chalk with which the design was marked, the moon was at the full and moonlight nights were just the time the Huns took to make their raid. And with Eddie Cantor of the Follies and Frances Victory of the “Eyes of Youth” and a lot of other talent coming to open the drive for $25,000,000 the CC of the NLWS would never forgive itself if it left that stand unprotected, a target for the Huns.
They toiled manfully, as before stated; lithely the overalled limbs of the ladies skipped up and down the ladders; merrily the paint brushes flirted with the rough boards of the stand. And just as the excitement was at its height along came a painter, just the common garden variety of painter, with a red nose and a pipe and a pail of beer in his hand, and cocked an eye at his lady competitors and spake thus to his mate, an electrician with a coil of wire over his grimy shoulder:
“Them wimmin don’t know how to handle a brush. They pecks at the boards like a canary bird. You wanna hold the brush wit’ a free sort of grasp and make broad strokes.”
“They’re probably workin’ by the piece,” mused the electrician. “Say, ain’t war what Sherman said it was? Wimmin has to put on overalls and climb ladders in Times Square to make the world safe for democracy. Pretty tough.”
On the whole, though, Times Square didn’t pay much attention to the busy band of lady painters. So blase has a suffrage campaign and a year of war students made the Great White Way that a woman in overalls, who would have been mobbed ten years ago, was worth scarcely a passing glance.
A few men stopped and gazed with expressions which said: Good Lord! what is this world coming to? or, If my wife ever does such a thing she’ll hear from me; or, Bully for the nervy dames; or, What’s it all about, anyway, according to their natures; and a few women examined their emancipated sisters with eyes that expressed amusement, admiration, disdain or inanity, all according to their natures; but that was all.
The WSS press agent who prophesied that the police reserves would have to be called out to handle the crowds was sadly disappointed. The crowd at no time was more than one hundred, even counting the two stray dogs that hung around tasting the paint brushes.
The stand is a dinky little affair which some of those zephyrs that whiz around Times Square will probably lift right off of its legs some day, but there’s one thing about it, it represents subway folk without paying for it. For half a dozen husky workmen from the subway excavations around there put it up, in Mr. [Theodore] Shonts’s time, too, and what is more they brought some of Mr. Shonts’s lumber to do it with.
The lumber was covered with posters and bills and things—no, there wasn’t any of Mr. Shonts’s poetry on it—but three nice young soldiers and a sailor and a fat WSS press agent worked hours scraping those posters off. One of Marjorie Rambeau’s eyes and several of the nether limbs of the Dolly Sisters still remained when, early in the afternoon, the twelve members of the Camouflage Corps, in natty khaki suits and caps, arrived with their paint pots and brushes.
There was still time for a lot of scraping, for the CC had to dress. Camouflaged by a rickety screen they performed this operation in a corner of the stand, with the populace gazing hungrily at the screen and waiting for what might come forth.
McMillan, Hand Me a Brush
Various visions came forth and crawled down the ladder. As a matter of fact, not all wore overalls. Private [Helen] Harrison was extremely efficient in a real pair, the kind with straps going over the shoulders and pockets for tools, neat fitting to the legs; but Corporal [Ellen] McMillan, who is youthful and curly haired, was brazenly feminine in a pale blue smock with pink embroidery. But her knickers were sufficiently mannish. Lieut. [Louise] Larned, who was the first to mount the ladder and paint, stuck to her brief khaki skirt. One or two wore artists’ smocks of gray, and one donned a kitchen apron.
Still there was a general effect of overalled feminine limbs clambering up and down. Also the camouflagers called each other by their last names without any handles—“Harrison, are you doing the blue or shall I?” “McMillan, hand me a brush”—and so forth. It had a businesslike sound.
The shades of night had fallen when the stand finally bloomed forth in its startling dress of blue and yellow and white and black, done in highly futuristic patches according to the design drawn by the Shipping Board representatives. And the twelve camouflagers took off their overalls and aprons and picked up their paint pails and marched off to their well earned dinners, musing proudly on the part their work will have in the salesmen’s drive which opens tomorrow, when every membersof the national salesmen’s organization now in New York will start in on a week’s voluntary service service for Uncle Sam and the War Savings Stamps.
Captain. Charles H. McKinney of the Twenty-sixth police precinct is extremely pround of the camouflaged stand. He, it will be remembered, is the knight of the Women Police Reserves, and a champion of the cause of women. He said it was a source of gratification to him that his district, which produced the first women police reserves, also had the distinction of possessing one of the first works of art of the lady camouflagers done in Uncle Sam’s name.