Brief History: This isn’t really a story, just a character. Before Uncle Sam, the United States (and originally the Americas) was personified by a goddess-like woman called Columbia. The first time she appeared was in a poem by Phillis Wheatley in which Columbia is guiding George Washington into victory. Washington loved the poem so much he bought multiple copies. In the 19th century, paintings and political cartoons depicted Columbia in her flowing gown and stars in her hair leading pioneers across the plains or protecting Southern African Americans from Confederates. In the 20th century, Columbia stood with Uncle Sam in favor of imperialism and World War I. By World War II, Uncle Sam had taken center stage and Rosie the Riveter was the representation of women doing their part. Now, the only place you really see Columbia is the Columbia Pictures Logo and Uncle Sam rules as champion of the U.S. personification.
Analysis: Phillis Wheatley’s use of Columbia as a woman/goddess instead of just another name for America shouldn’t really be a surprise. Wheatley was an enslaved woman who had been taught Greek and Roman classics before the owners set her free (that’s right, they highly educated her then set her free which was illegal in some colonies). Wheatley used her intelligence to be a best selling writer. So why not represent the new country as a strong woman?
Blame it on the Imperialists: When the U.S. started to join European countries in the controlling of smaller countries, Columbia and Uncle Sam were the mom and dad who had adopted countries like Puerto Rico and Samoa. These children countries were usually drawn in the most racist ways possible with crooked teeth and wild stares. Meanwhile, Columbia is the loving mother. That was her primary role. She was the guardian and care giver. If you did was America wanted of you then America would take care of you. WWI used her as a symbol of what you were protecting if you went to war, but by WWII they needed everyone to be as active as they could be. It was decided that a motherly goddess could not accomplish that.
Final Thoughts: Anyone else think the Columbia Pictures logo look like Annette Benning?