Outbreak of the war
End of the war
The general mobilization of girls for ‘female war-work’

Mobilization of children for the war effort started as early as summer 1914. Boys and girls alike were expected to make a contribution to the ‘achievement of war aims’. In addition activities were also propagated that were specifically assigned to the female sex, such as the making of so-called Liebesgaben (lit.: gifts of love) and Kälteschutz (cold-weather protection) for soldiers at the front.


Liebesgaben were gift parcels that were usually sent shortly before Christmas to soldiers in the field and contained books, cigarettes, soap and chocolate as well as hand-knitted woollens. In numerous appeals the War Welfare Office in collaboration with the school authorities exhorted girls to make underwear, socks and other items of clothing. Participating in these drives, such as the Kälteschutz-Hilfsaktion (cold weather relief effort) alongside schoolgirls were teachers, women’s associations, the Red Cross and other charitable organisations. In Vienna associations of the middle-class women’s movement in collaboration with the military authorities set up knitting and sewing rooms in which women who had lost their jobs (due to the changes that had come about with the war economy and the many families who could no longer afford to employ servants) made cold-weather items for the troops.

Schools supported government authorities in the supra-regional coordination of these parcels and organized their teaching around war-related activities for long periods. Outside school, patriotic associations took on the organization of female war-work.

Besides its direct use for the planning of the wartime economy, this handiwork also had a clear educational function. Patriotic feelings of belonging were to be developed through this involvement in work that supported the war effort. According to propaganda their work was to give girls the opportunity of proving their patriotism and to learn their gender-specific role as self-sacrificing, succouring women.

The general mobilization of the female population was successful, particularly in the first half of the war when sufficient supplies of raw materials were still available. Newspapers ran emotive accounts of dozens of classes full of girls knitting away, all contributing out of patriotic conviction and with unending industry ‘to the success of the war’.

Many girls also participated in these relief efforts because the military and educational authorities appealed to their patriotic fervour and sense of duty. The image of the soldier shivering in the wintry cold spoke to the girls’ sense of responsibility and conveyed the impression that with their sewing and knitting they could bestow warmth and protection.

Moreover, contemporary discourse coupled the work done by the women and girls with love, stylizing their handiwork as ‘gifts of love’. By linking female war-work with love of the Fatherland and of their relatives and friends who had joined up, their manual labour was idealized. This was reinforced by the postcards that the children added to the parcels, thus taking up direct contact with the soldiers at the front. Here the anonymous soldier became a tangible individual, with whom the children felt an emotional link.

Translation: Sophie Kidd


Demm, Eberhard: Deutschlands Kinder im Ersten Weltkrieg. Zwischen Propaganda und Sozialfürsorge, in: Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift (2001), 60, 51-79

Hämmerle, Christa: Von „patriotischen“ Sammelaktionen, „Kälteschutz“ und „Liebesgabe“ – die „Schulfront“ der Kinder im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde (1994) 1, 21-29

Hämmerle, Christa: „Wir strickten und nähten Wäsche für Soldaten…“ Von der Militarisierung des Handarbeitens im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: L´Homme. Zeitschrift für Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft (1992) 1, 88-128

Heckmann, Gerhard: Das zweite Heer des Kaisers. Schule und Jugend im Krieg, in: Als der Krieg über uns gekommen war…“ Die Saarregion und der Erste Weltkrieg. Katalog zur Ausstellung des Regionalgeschichtlichen Museums im Saarbrücker Schloß. Saarbrücken 1993, 141-155


Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    War enthusiasm

    This brass kitchen mortar was exchanged as part of a metal collection for an iron mortar as an example of the possible ways of participating actively in the war and showing enthusiasm for it. When the First World War broke out, large sections of the Austro-Hungarian population were gripped by veritable euphoria. This enthusiasm was not shared by all sectors of society, however. It was strong in urban, bourgeois and intellectual circles, less so in the rural and working population.

  • Object

    Mobilisation of the civilian population

    During the "Gold for Iron” campaign, gold rings or jewellery donated to finance the war were exchanged for iron rings. The civilian population was called upon to play an active role in welfare and aid associations and to offer its services for the fatherland. Women and children collected clothes and blankets for the army and hospitals, and materials like wastepaper and iron for recycling. They knitted and sewed, and these "Liebesgaben” or charitable gifts were sent to the front to provide emotional encouragement to the troops.



  • Development

    Gender roles: change/no change?

    It is a widely held view that the First World War revolutionised the traditional roles of men and women in society. Photos of tram conductresses, female coach drivers and postwomen would appear to confirm this, as does the assumption by women of the traditional male role as providers for the family. But did things change that much, and what was left of the supposed changes after 1918?