Swarthmore College Peace Collection
The Swarthmore College Peace Collection has over 150 propaganda posters from the early years of the Soviet Union (1920s-1930s). These posters have been digitized and the images placed in a database with information about each poster. The text included in some of the posters has been translated into English. For further information about the images in this database or to make an appointment to visit the Peace Collection, please contact staff at 610 328-8557 or contact the Curator, Wendy Chmielewski, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Department of History
The Bolsheviks seized the reigns of power in 1917 with the intention of transforming Russia into the world’s first socialist society. The successful building of socialism depended on the dissemination of the Bolshevik message to the country’s populace, but the high rate of illiteracy among the still overwhelmingly rural population undercut the ability of the regime to depend on the written word. So the communist government turned to the visual image, which promised to reach a broader spectrum of the population with a message that was easier to understand. The political poster best exemplifies the reliance of the regime on the visual image to spread the message of revolution and socialist transformation.
The posters presented in this database come from three sources. Some were collected by Frank W. Fetter (Swarthmore College class of 1920) during his visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. In 1932 Ellen Starr Brinton, the first Curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, led a study group of members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to the Soviet Union. In Moscow the authorities permitted her to select a number of posters from a repository. Brinton also acquired two hand painted posters from factory workers. Several years later E. Raymond Wilson, Quaker activist and Washington lobbyist, also visited the Soviet Union and later donated to the Peace Collection the posters he had gathered during his trip.
The posters fall into two categories. Nearly four dozen were produced in the early 1920s and deal with maternity matters. In a country where, at the turn of the twentieth century, some 25 percent of children died before age one and another 25 percent did not survive past age five, the Soviet authorities were concerned about improving the health and hygiene of the younger generation. These maternity and childcare posters offer a rare glimpse into the efforts of the regime to promote the proper care of infants and toddlers. The remaining posters date from the period of the first five-year plan (1928- 1932) and focus not only on the goals and accomplishments of collectivization and industrialization, but also on the class enemies of the Soviet Union, namely the Russian Orthodox church and the clergy, kulaks, capitalists, and foreign powers seeking to sabotage the communist effort to build socialism.
Please note that some of the posters, especially those from the latter group, contain text that requires close attention and strong reading skills, something that not all Russians possessed. Such explanatory posters stand in contrast to the more moralistic and exhortative posters that deliver their messages with little text and are not difficult to read (or to read to others). Clearly, the makers of the posters had two audiences in mind, one that was educated and sophisticated, and another that reacted to the resonance of the visual image.
The production of this web site is the result of the expertise, hard work and generosity of several people. The original indexing work on these posters was provided by staff of the Peace Collection. The Provost’s Office, under the direction of Jennie Keith and Connie Hungerford, provided the financial support so I could hire Ira Lindsay (Swarthmore College class of 2001), Anna Kolendo (Swarthmore College class of 2004), Suor Kim (Swarthmore College class of 2002), and Marc Richards (Swarthmore College class of 2002). They are responsible for digitizing two-thirds of the posters, and translating the full texts of the posters (Anna). I thank them for their dedication, creativity and incredible work. Finally, Wendy Chmielewski, Curator of the Peace Collection, worked closely with me and kept prodding me to get on with the work (September 2004).
A significant number of additional posters were digitized by Peace Collection staff and added to the database in January of 2005. Translations of the text for these posters were done by Bob Weinberg. The creation of the current database using Content DM software, was performed by Peace Collection staff and Tri-College library and IT staff of Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford Colleges.
Browse the collection.