Women in World War I Anna Coleman Ladd

Anna Coleman Ladd, born in Philadelphia in 1878, was a well-known sculptor in the city of Boston by the outbreak of World War I. Like many other American women who dedicated much of their time to supporting the war effort, Ladd worked with the Red Cross. In her work with the Red Cross, Ladd put her artistic talents to great use—she founded the Studio for Portrait Masks in Paris, where she and a group of dedicated helpers created prosthetic masks for soldiers whose faces were disfigured in combat.

Reconstruction Masks

The new military technology of the war, particularly that of artillery and machine guns, unfortunately made facial disfigurement ever more commonplace. Ladd and her studio utilized their artistic talents to create realistic facial reconstruction masks for the soldiers. They first took casts of the soldiers' entire faces, from which they produced a mask of a thin sheet of galvanized copper. Ladd then painstakingly painted the metal likeness with hard enamel that had a flesh-colored tone. Ladd painted the mask while the soldier was wearing it and used real hair to create the eyebrows, eyelashes, and mustaches. Each mask took about one month to produce.  The completed masks were often held on by spectacles, as shown in the photos below.

The objects showcased in this section are held by the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. They highlight some of Ladd's work, with before and after images of soldiers and their facial reconstruction casts.

Further Resources

Anna Coleman Ladd papers, circa 1881-1950.

Caroline Alexander, "Faces of War," Smithsonian Magazine, February 2007.

David M. Lubin, "Masks, Mutilation, and Modernity: Anna Coleman Ladd and the First World War," Archives of American Art Journal 47, no. 3-4 (2008): 4-15.

Kelly Quinn, "Anna Coleman Ladd: an artist's contributions to World War I," Archives of American Art Blog, November 10, 2014

Image Source:

"WWI soldier facial reconstruction documentation photograph," ca. 1918, Anna Coleman Ladd Papers, circa 1881-1950, Archives of American Art, JPEG file, http://www.aaa.si.edu/assets/images/laddanna/reference/AAA_laddanna_21978.jpg (accessed April 30, 2015).