Make a little birdhouse in your….tank farm?

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Photo of an Eastern Blue Bird in The Mariners’ Park. Photo courtesy of Rand Milam/The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

We’ve had our fair share of animal interactions in the Conservation Lab. With the Park surrounding the Museum, and the tank farm (outdoor tanks for storing large objects) so close to the woods, we expect to get the occasional turtle, goose, or squirrel coming to inspect our work. What we didn’t expect was to have a several-year-long battle with….bluebirds.

For anyone who doesn’t know, bluebirds are small, brightly colored birds that nest in tall trees, and have 2-4 broods (times they lay their eggs) each summer. My stepmom loves bluebirds and sets up a birdhouse for a bluebird family in the backyard every year, so I’m always keeping an eye out for these feathered friends.   Read more

Dahlgren Gun Tools: an In-Depth Look at Treatment, Part II

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Image of gun tool before treatment.

In this blog post we’ll continue the discussion about one of USS Monitor’s gun cleaning tools, and the conservation treatment it has undergone.


In Part I, I discussed the purpose of the gun tool. I also showed how the way the gun tool was constructed made it impossible for me to disassemble the tool and treat the metal and wooden parts separately. This meant I was going to have to think outside the normal conservation treatment box and treat the wood and metal parts together. I also mentioned that I found textile wrapped around the iron handle and that I’d have to take extra steps to ensure it was preserved through treatment.    Read more

Dahlgren Gun Tools: an In-Depth Look at Treatment, Part I

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Image of USS Monitor’s Port Dahlgren gun. Photo courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Cannon Tools

You’re probably familiar already with USS Monitor’s Dahlgren guns. They are a key part of the history of Monitor, and we have completed some significant conservation steps to finishing treatment on the Dahlgrens recently. What you are likely less familiar with are the tools that were used to maintain the Dahlgren guns while they were used on USS Monitor

In the image above you’ll see illustrations of several historic cannon cleaning and loading tools. 1) The sponge would be dipped in water, and run down the barrel of the cannon to extinguish sparks in the bore after firing. 2) The worm cleaned unburned fragments of cloth powder bags from the bore. 3) Ladles were originally used to load powder, but after cartridge bags came into use, they were used to extract loads from the muzzle. 4) The rammer sealed cartridge and ball in place in the barrel. 5) The scraper and searchers were used to clean the gun. 6) The handspike helped to move the gun carriage and to adjust the gun’s elevation.  (From Albert Manucy, Artillery Through the Ages (Government Printing Office, 1949). All of these tools would be used to maintain the Dahlgren guns on Monitor and generally used each time the cannon was fired.    Read more

PRIDE of the WACs: Sex and Sexuality during WWII

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Officers and enlisted women of 3rd WAC Co. are shown in front of company area. Accession Number P0003/01-#F-10899

Changing Perspectives during WWII

As mentioned in some previous blogs, World War II was the first time in US history that women were allowed to officially enter the military in any major capacity, outside of Nursing. This change brought many white, middle-class women into the labor force for the first time and opened up opportunities to women and people of color in jobs that would otherwise be denied to them. The Women’s Army Corps or WAC (originally the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) was the only one of these groups to integrate women into its corresponding military branch fully. However, in the 1940s, there were much stricter ideas of gender norms, gender expression, and heteronormativity. This meant there was significant pushback against the idea of women joining the military, as this was viewed as the epitome of masculine spaces. As a result, many suggested that women did not belong in the military, despite many women joining the WAC (and other groups) and excelling in their new roles.

The Slander Campaign

There was a lot of concern about what women joining the military might mean. A slander campaign arose between 1943-1944, about 1-2 years after the forming of WAC/WAAC, which claimed that women who joined the WAC were either promiscuous or lesbians. These rumors were sourced from several places. One is a prominent newspaper article on the WACs claiming that WACs would receive free prophylactic equipment, just as the male GIs did. However, this was inherently false, one of the many double standards that women in the military were held to.    Read more

WAVES Trailblazers: Lt. j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills, the first African-American WAVES officers

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Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills photographed after graduation from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, in December 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

With this blog post, I’ll be taking us back, once again, to World War II. You may already be familiar with the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, which functioned as the women’s reserve branch of the Navy during WWII. While we did have a previous blog post on the WAVES and what some of their members did when serving at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE), with this blog I’d like to delve a little deeper, and talk about two specific WAVES: Lt j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills, the first African American women to join the WAVES, and the first African American officers in the WAVES. 

We often think of WWII as being a general call to arms, an “all hands on deck” time in our history. Despite this sentiment and the genuine need for troops,  the military often barred or refused to enlist African Americans. While the Women’s Army Corps (or the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps until 1943) and Army Nurse Corps allowed African American to enlist in 1942, they were both segregated institutions. The Navy’s WAVES, the Coast Guard’s SPARS, and Navy Nurse Corps did not integrate for several more years. Despite the racist policies and practices put in place by the military, many African Americans (and BIPOC) continued to fight against these bigoted policies and attempted to enlist.    Read more