PRIDE of the WACs: Sex and Sexuality during WWII

Posted on
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

Biscuits Off the Beaten Path

Posted on
A menu from the centennial celebration of The Baltimore Steam Packet Company on May 23, 1940. Collection Number: Ms0015—01365

Easy to Overlook

Well, well, well. I’ve definitely done it this time. You’ll hear from museum professionals over and over about the idea of falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Something captures our attention, and away we go, sometimes spending hours upon hours digging into the topic du jour. It can be anything that causes this condition. It might be a shipwreck, a painting, a moment in time, an exciting person, etc. Sometimes it’s a side dish on a menu. Yeah, you read that right. Come to think of it, though, a side dish might even be too grand a description.

I recently had cause to photograph some of our ephemera (a fancy word for printed memorabilia) from The Baltimore Steam Packet Company. You may be more familiar with their moniker “Old Bay Line.” One of the items I digitized was the menu for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company’s centennial celebration dinner on May 23, 1940. From the menu, it’s safe to assume that it was a grand affair featuring such sophisticated dishes as seafood cocktail, terrapin a la Chesapeake, golden roast pheasant, Maryland Beaten Biscuits, Cen–   Read more

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

Posted on
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

Hidden Histories: The Quest to Put Names to Our Past

Posted on
Construction on the arcade of the Library wing, February 1935.

It began a few years ago with a handful of old, unlabeled photos. Images of workers who placed the bricks and the cinder blocks for the Museum’s walls and also installed the statues on Lions Bridge and in the Park. They were literally part of the very foundation of our Museum. Then the questions began. What were their names and their stories? Why were they so important to our Museum, but we didn’t know who they were? What we found, and are still finding, has evolved into one of the most interesting, impactful, heartbreaking, joyous, and eye opening projects we have ever worked on. A project we named “Hidden Histories.”

The earliest beginnings of the project actually started from several other initiatives. A quest to gather as much information about our Park and grounds as possible, and a look forward to our 100th Anniversary coming up in 2030. The emphasis on our Park is part of a long term project focused on issues like conservation, sustainability, ecology, preservation and the history of the area. This work has helped with the formation of our new Park Department which was announced earlier this month. The 100th Anniversary project is taking a look back at our history and also a look forward to see where we are headed in the future.

Both projects led to the discovery of photos showing the men who did the construction on our Museum and Park. As well as a number of images showing members of our Museum team dating from the 1930s and beyond. The photos are part of our Institutional Collection that documents what happens here. They include famous visitors, parties, exhibitions, large artifacts arriving, personnel photos, and just about anything else related to our day to day activities. While we knew what types of photos we would find in the collection, we didn’t anticipate finding out what we didn’t have. The men’s identities and a realization that despite our Museum’s focus on inclusion and connections within our community, we hadn’t made a connection with ourselves. In the 91 years since the first of those photos were taken, we hadn’t made a connection with the men who were the very foundation of our success. And the hard truth is that because of who they were, no one in the 1930s thought it important enough to label these images and ensure they would be known by their names and faces. The time was way overdue to correct this.   Read more

Carta Marina, 1567 Edition

Posted on

Carta Marina, from DL45 .O43 1567 Rare, Museum Library

In my previous post, I mentioned that the Library has a 1567 Latin edition of Olaus Magnus’ Historia Olai Magni Gothi archiepi scopi vpsalensis, de gentium septentrionalium (History of the Northern Peoples).  It contains a simplified woodcut of his famous Carta Marina map.  Unfortunately, I was not able to show a photograph of it due to its condition and the difficulty of photographing it.

Thanks to the efforts of Brock Switzer, cultural heritage photographer, and Emilie Duncan, paper conservator, I can now share an image of the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina.

The technical challenges

In order to understand the challenges of photographing the map, it is necessary to describe how it is inserted in the book. According to Emilie, “the map is glued along the central vertical fold to a paper strip called a “stub” or “guard.” The other side of the stub is sewn into the book structure as if it were just another page.”  In the case of our edition, she goes on to explain, the stub is too short, which hides the center portion of the map in the gutter area.

If you look closely at the map, you will note that there is a void vertically along the center.  It is particularly noticeable at the top edge of the map.  To the left of the void are the letters “SEPT” and to the right are the letters “TRIO”.  If you were able to see the entire map, those letter strings would spell out the word SEPTENTRIO.

The fact that the map is folded both vertically and horizontally into the book presents another challenge to the photographer.  Unfolding the map without damaging it and getting in plane (i.e. flat) was no small feat.  Hats off to Brock and Emilie for the care with which they unfolded the map.   Staff and patrons alike can now access the map without having to handle the original.

Wrapping up

While the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina does not have the number and variety of sea monsters as the earlier editions, it does show several sea monsters off the west coast of Scandinavia and in the waters around Iceland.

Adam Henricpetri published the museum’s 1567 Latin edition of the History of The Northern Peoples in Basel, Switzerland.  Scholars initially attributed the woodcut of the Carta Marina to Fickler Weylensis, who translated Magnus’s work into German, basing the attribution on a misreading of the initials in the lower right corner.  More recently, map historians have determined that the initials “TFW” are associated with the woodcut artist Thomas Weber.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a deeper look at the Carta Marina. I’ve certainly enjoyed researching it.