Week #8 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and the Vietnam War!

Knitting and the Vietnam War?! Really?! Yes! During the Vietnam War, 2 Canadian organizations Canadian Aid for Vietnamese Children (CAVC) and Voice of Women (VOW) used knitting as a way to help the Vietnamese people. Here are some of the links that I found so you can learn more about what happened.




I was puzzled, however, as knitting did experience extreme peaks in popularity during wars prior to 1950, however, with the Vietnam war, knitting for wartime efforts played a far smaller role in female participation in war efforts, leading up to the present day, in which knitted goods are virtually absent from discourse on military support efforts. How did knitting go from being such an integral part of the war effort to being a nonexistent one?




Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.

By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women’s Conference in September 1962- the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN, and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.




…Young initiated a knitting project to provide clothing for Vietnamese children as a means of communicating the harsh realities of war; she hoped thereby to influence citizens across North America to press for a speedy end to the war. By November 1966, just a few months after the establishment of CAVC’s children’s committee, the knitting project had gained momentum. In a letter to Kay MacPherson, Young asserted, “We have found that actual involvement in ‘making things’ has done more to arouse compassion and publicize the great need for acts of humanitarianism and the desperate need to halt the war, than any other project.




Women in North America have long been active in trying to put an end to conflicts around the world. In the early 1960s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed over many nations, our own Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) was formed. Since then, the organization has been promoting peace and disarmament, particularly in the context of nuclear war.

VOW has organized unique activities to draw attention to its cause. In 1963, it collected and tested thousands of baby teeth from children across North America to demonstrate the fallout from the atmospheric testing of Strontium 90, a harmful radioactive isotope. During the Vietnam War, the Ontario VOW organized the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children. Over a ten-year period, the group sent thousands of hand-knitted garments and other aid to the child victims of the war and their families.

Over time, VOW has expanded its focus to include human rights and civil liberties, preservation of the environment, as well as economic and political issues.




darkcolors



Presumably some of the young Canadian knitters and other youth volunteers found kinship with the unknown Vietnamese children they were assisting or when they imagined themselves in the same situation. Zoya Stevenson, a Toronto teen, participated in the CAVC knitting campaign because she could relate to the Vietnamese children affected by the war. “The napalm bombing of innocent women and children (like myself) shocked me,” she recalled, elaborating that “the fact that these acts of terror were sanctions by citizens of my own country, frightened me terribly.”


VOW





The efforts of women fighting for peace did not end with the World Wars, nor did the use of knitting as a form of peace activism stop. The Canadian group ‘Voice of Women’ (VOW), created in July 1960 as a reaction against the Cold War, garnered ten thousand members by 1961 – just twelve months after having been first established.[25] Barbara Roberts’ essay, Women’s Peace Activism in Canada, featured in Kealey and Sangster’s Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (1989), explains the way in which VOW became a prominent feminist and peace activist group during the years of the Cold War, despite being founded at a time when “feminists were cranks” and “socialists were commies”.[26] The group took on the initiative of knitting thousands of camouflage baby clothes to be shipped to Vietnam so as to protect children and their families from the US air strikes.[27] This bold action made a loud statement to the Canadian people, and despite not being well received by much of the public, VOW continued to protest the Cold War.

More reading:
*Purls for Peace:The Voice of Women, Maternal Feminism, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children
* Re-Imagining War: The Voice of Women, The Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children, 1966-1976

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2 Responses to Week #8 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and the Vietnam War!

  1. Ingrid April 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    I remember my mother and grandmother knitting garter stitch baby blankets and little sweaters in camouflage colours, and being told that they were for the babies and children suffering in the Vietnam War. I didn’t understand war, but I understood that my mother’s and grandmother’s knitting would keep any child warm and cared-for, because it did so for me and my sister.

    • Betsy April 17, 2014 at 5:51 am #

      What a sweet story, Ingrid, thanks so much for sharing it with me! I had never heard of this project before I started researching it, what an amazing endeavor.

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