My Mask Protects You Button


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic. On April 3rd, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued recommendations that Americans wear face masks. Throughout the pandemic, when discussing the benefits of wearing a mask, the CDC and local health departments emphasized that “when you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself.” In fact, this statement was deemed so important that it was listed as the first bullet point on the CDC’s website page, Guidance for Wearing Masks as of at least the spring of 2021.

Despite this attempt to encourage mask wearing as a form of neighborliness, tensions over mask wearing became widespread almost immediately after the CDC’s announcement. Between March of 2020 and August of 2021, these tensions sometimes erupted into violence, with the first death over a request to wear a mask occurring in Flint, Michigan in May 2020 when Calvin Munerly, a security guard at a Dollar General store, was shot and killed after denying entry to a woman whose daughter was not wearing a face mask. Violence such as this, as well as the widespread politicization over mask wearing, made many Americans wary about directly requesting others to wear a mask.

When the pandemic began, Jennifer Robertson, a resident of Norman, Oklahoma, was a graphic artist working in web design as well as social media and marketing communications. Like many others, Robertson lost her job as a result of the pandemic. Because she had, as she put it, “empty pockets and time on my hands,” she started a small marketing campaign to encourage mask-wearing. As Robertson noted, “masks were being politicized and people in my town weren’t wearing them.”

Eager to change the narrative, Robertson created what she described as short, non-confrontational messages about mask wearing. She created seven designs and asked friends and neighbors to help her refine the message. The key aspect of Robertson’s ultimate message was “My Mask Protects You.” She originally created stickers with this message but because these items were not re-usable, she ultimately decided to share her message through pins/buttons.

Between June 2020 and July 2020, she used the fund-raising site, Kickstarter, to raise funds to buy and make 5,000 buttons. After she had received the funds needed and made the buttons, she used her Kickstarter sponsors as a distribution system; sponsors received and distributed her buttons to their customers. Wearing the button enabled people to promote mask-wearing while avoiding direct and potentially dangerous confrontations with those who opposed mask-wearing.

In designing and distributing these materials, Robertson was building on a long-standing tradition in public health, specifically the use of pins and posters to promote public health messages. Historically, most of these pins and posters were created by governments or non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross. But by 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, easy access to commercial-grade printers as well as the ability to design and manufacture items such as pins through sites such as Café Press and Zazzle allowed many Americans to design, manufacture, and distribute their own public health messages. Robertson’s pin is typical of this national trend in which Americans developed and shared their own public health messages.

Date Made: 2020-06-01 through 2020-07-312020-06 through 2020-07Associated Date: 2020-06

Maker: Robertson, Jennifer Ann Forbes

Location: Currently not on view

General Subject Association; Web Subject: HealthSubject: COVID-19 (Disease)General Subject Association; Used; Web Subject: CommunityRelated Event: COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-2023


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Medicine


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Jennifer Ann Forbes Robertson

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2021.0172.01Catalog Number: 2021.0172.01Accession Number: 2021.0172

Object Name: buttonObject Type: Promotional Button

Physical Description: plastic; metal; paper (overall material)Measurements: overall: 6.2 cm x 6.2 cm x 1 in; 2 7/16 in x 2 7/16 in x 2.54 cm


Record Id: nmah_2010850

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