I am the Captain of my Soul

Place North & Central America: United States of America
Accession Number ARTV07526
Collection type Art
Measurement sheet: 20.4 x 26.8 cm [irregular]
Object type Poster
Physical description offset lithograph on paper
Maker Unknown
Social Hygiene Division
Place made United States of America
Date made 1918
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


First World War venereal disease prevention poster, presumably the sixteenth page of a book that has been torn out. This poster quotes a poem by nineteenth century British poet, William Ernest Henley. Titled 'Invictus', the poem traverses the bleak and difficult trials of life, and answers them with the stirring lines 'I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.' How this poem relates to venereal disease is unclear, but it certainly echoes the terror and fear that soldiers experienced on the front: 'In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced, nor cried aloud; Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.' Perhaps it is an acknowledgement that for many soldiers, visiting a prostitute in the midst of the war was a common response to the horror that surrounded them. The left side of the poster is dominated by a black and white illustration of a young soldier standing in front a scene of buildings that have been shelled. An American bald eagle, wings unfurled, hovers behind his shoulders. , In the midst of the helmets of German soldiers scattered at his feet, the young man is laughing and carefree. This poster was reproduced from 'Everybody's Magazine'. The posters produced by the Social Hygiene Division were a breakthrough in preventive medicine - previous to the war, venereal diseases were rarely discussed, and there were limited medical resources in the United States for the treatment of those suffering from them. At the beginning of the twentieth century venereal disease was a prevalent concern for social health organizations. The social stigma attached to these diseases prevented most people from discussing or addressing means of treatment. In 1913, at a conference in New York, several organizations dedicated to fighting prostitution and venereal disease joined together to form the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA). The association was established to stop the venereal disease epidemic by educating the public about sexually transmitted infections, working to break down the social stigma attached to VD, and encouraging high moral standards. ASHA's early worked focused on education and awareness efforts within the armed forces. ASHA worked with the US War Department during the First World War when VD occurrences surged among soldiers. Their efforts included educating soldiers about venereal diseases and their transmission and attempting to eliminate prostitution, which was believed to be the primary vehicle for VD transmission among the armed forces. Due to its contribution to the war effort, ASHA gained national attention and succeeded in creating public awareness of VD.

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