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5 examples of rebellious women's workwear throughout history, inspired by objects from our collection

National Museum of American History

Go to college, get a job, lose your style. Is that how this works? I am grateful for my college education and internship at the National Museum of American History, but the world of professional wear in Washington, D.C., poses some unprecedented challenges for me, a 23-year-old with holes in her stockings and a closet full of short skirts and pink.

I turn to history to navigate this dilemma. In the American Enterprise exhibition located in the Mars Hall of American Business, I came across a section featuring The Woman's Dress for Success Book written by a man named John T. Molloy in 1977. Molloy, whose previous work Dress for Success was tailored to white masculine notions of "successful" appearances, researched businesswomen's clothing and respective levels of "success" in their fields. Throughout the guide, he advises women to dress as simply, modestly, and sophisticatedly as possible, and encourages women to "adopt a business uniform" with "a skirted suit and blouse," much like the one above.

Photo of gray woman's suit. Consists of a skirt, a jacket, and a blouse. Skirt has a slight flare.

Molloy harks that in the workplace women must avoid low necklines, midi-length dresses and skirts, bright colors and patterns, boots, handbags, and long hair.

And he insists that African American women must dress most conservatively (blandly) of all.

Black and white portrait of an African American woman looking at camera, sitting at desk with pen and papers in front of her. Her expression is somewhat serious but friendly. She wears a ring, bracelet, and necklace. Probably an office setting.

Oh, okay.

Interestingly, Molloy emphasizes that his study is rooted in scientific data. In his mind, Molloy is only the messenger, claiming that he hopes to help women elevate themselves in the workplace. ("Women, pick yourselves up by your bra straps!" I imagine him barking into a megaphone.)

To be fair, Molloy's book was successful. Published during a time of recession, it hit the market as more women went to work. At the same time, mainstream second-wave feminism was focusing on equal rights at work. So many women must have willingly traded their favorite polka-dot sweaters for professional gains that would propel their careers.

Nevertheless, Molloy's book highlights very real expectations of women to appear and behave simultaneously professional, sexually attractive, and submissive in male-dominated workplaces. His guidelines also bring up questions of popular imaginings of what a "successful woman" looks like.

It seems that not all female-identifying people who excelled at their jobs adhered to these codes, however, as some of our museum objects appear to indicate. Of course, we don't know how these outfits were worn, whether in workplaces or other spaces, and we can't get inside the wearers' heads to understand what messages they intended to send with their attire. But I love exploring clothing of the past and its possible messages.

1. Men's suits

Gray suit with tie

Molloy cautions women away from what he calls the "imitation man look." Women throughout history from actress Sarah Bernhardt to artist Frida Kahlo have worn menswear, thus unsettling mainstream ideas of femininity, masculinity, and acceptable appearance.

2. Creative colors

Orange dress with many white and orange ruffles on sleeves and at lower skirt.

Molloy outlines in excruciating detail the dangers of bright colors and bold patterns in the ensemble of a woman striving for success. While he's not talking about performers here, he might think differently after meeting people working in creative fields, such as Celia Cruz in her Cuban rumba dress.

3. Announcing a protest

Black and white photo of two women looking at camera. Large hats. They wear sashes/signs that says "Picket ladies tailors strikes." Street scene.

Under the umbrella of "working women" exist the women who work in factories, often withstanding (and protesting) countless violations of their rights, to produce clothes for middle and upper-class women. The garment worker women pictured below dared to wrap themselves in materials announcing to the world their opposition to inhumane working conditions.

4. Identity expression

Photo of woman's headwrap on a mannequin. Headwrap has green flowers and neutral background.

Dominant notions of professional appearances assume all workers not only have equal access to certain types of clothing, but also have similar body types and ways of expressing themselves and their intersecting identities. This object is only an example of the infinite ways people have expressed their complicated identities through the clothes they wear to work. Workplaces that acknowledge various modes of expression make work a safer and more comfortable space for all.

Photo of four buttons supporting Harvey Milk, three of which include a portrait of him.

5. Choosing comfort

Photo of white overalls splattered with paint

Stiff suits and pantyhose can constrict bodies and stifle comfort, focus, and creativity at work. Renowned painter and muralist Judith Baca chose comfort and flexibility over conformity.

Kathryn Anastasi is a graduate of Macalester College and a Hagan Broadening Access intern for the National Museum of American History. She is focusing on improving the accessibility of diverse and intersectional women's history resources to the public.

Author(s): 
Intern Kathryn Anastasi
Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00

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A pair of dueling rifles reveal their story

National Museum of American History

Recently, CBS Sunday Morning went behind the scenes in our firearms collection to learn about the history of firearms in the United States. Intern Casey Inks shares two intriguing objects that you may not have seen on the show.

When I learned that I was selected for an internship working with the National Firearms Collection at the National Museum of American History, I was ecstatic. My family taught me gun safety at a young age and I enjoyed participating in clay target sports as part of the Hillsdale College Shotgun Team. Throughout my years as a competitive shooter I had seen many beautiful guns, but I knew that working with the National Firearms Collection would bring many more before my eyes.

While working with the collection in the secured storage area known internally as the "Gun Vault," I came across two rifles that grabbed my attention. When I learned that the two guns had been used in a duel between two Congressmen—Representative Jonathan Cilley of Maine and Representative William Graves of Kentucky—I was shocked. I immediately wanted to learn more.

Photo of rifle

Photo of rifle

The rifle used by Cilley is a percussion rifle, made by Tryon of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The rifle is .38 caliber and features a 35.5-inch-long, octagonal barrel. My favorite part of the rifle is the tiger-striped maple stock. The stock's glossy look makes the different tones of the wood pop. In the stock is a patch box, which is a small vessel that holds a piece of cloth used to load the rifle. The silver patch box cover of Cilley's rifle displays intricate, floral etchings. Similar designs decorate the rifle's lock assembly. The overall look is one of elegance.

Photo of part of gun

Photo of part of rifle

The rifle used by Graves, which he had borrowed, is also a stunning percussion rifle made in Pennsylvania; however, this one was made by Henry Deringer. Although better known for his pistols, Deringer also built fine rifles. This .44 caliber rifle features a full stock, reaching to the end of the 45-inch-long octagonal barrel. Much like Cilley's rifle, the Deringer's stock is rich maple. Though the wood is slightly lighter in color than Cilley's, the tiger stripes are just as visually attractive. The copper patch box features ornate etchings. A small, oval silver plate on the other side of the stock shows an etching of a running deer. I enjoyed admiring the rifles' elegance but imagine they'd be a bit unwieldy to use in a duel!

Photo of part of rifle

Photo of part of rifle

Black and white illustration of man


Black and white illustration of man

Cilley and Graves had no known prior grievances, but in February 1838 the two congressmen's courses collided. Their dispute began with an article in the New York Courier and Enquirer, which accused an unnamed senator of corruption. When James Watson Webb, the editor of the newspaper, faced questions regarding the article, he supported the authenticity of the claims and suggested Congress investigate. Cilley became involved by openly denouncing the credibility of the claim; his remarks were published on February 12, 1838. On February 21, Webb publicly took offense to Cilley's remarks.

So how did Graves get involved? He was acting as Webb's correspondent.

Black and white comic-style illustration of a man in a hat with two long sticks in his hands and a turkey behind him.

During the next few days, Graves tried to deliver a note from Webb to Cilley, but Cilley did not accept. That's where the dispute between the two congressmen began. Although Cilley confirmed that he meant no disrespect to Graves, he neither confirmed nor denied anything in regard to Webb's character. Graves interpreted Cilley's actions as an attack on his own honor and on Webb's character. Although dueling served as a common method of settling disputes in the early 19th century, the institution had recently come under scrutiny, presumably due to the number of worthy men lost in duels. Despite the recent aversion, many men still believed in physically defending their honor. Graves, being one of these men, proceeded to challenge Cilley to a duel.

Each congressman named his dueling seconds, those who would act as mediators in making arrangements and during the coming duel. George W. Jones of Wisconsin was Cilley's second. Henry A. Wise of Virginia was Graves's second. Together, Jones and Wise hashed out the details. Cilley, Jones indicated, wished to use rifles rather than the more common choice of pistols. Graves, supposedly inexperienced with rifles, did not even own one, and he had to borrow one from John Rives—the grandfather of the man who donated the gun to the museum!

Black and white photo, outdoors. Grassy field and short tree/bushes.

On February 24, 1838, the two congressmen and their entourages arrived at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds. As recollected by one spectator, Cilley and Graves took their places, and on the count of three fired their first shots. Both missed their targets. Despite the hopes of the two men's friends that the duel would end there, they proceeded to the next round. After the second round, a spectator noted that Graves moved like he had been shot. But when asked why, Graves simply said that the rifle had gone off before he was even ready. The duelers were once again urged to end the confrontation there, but both wished to continue into a third round. Both shots rang out, and Cilley's hand reached for his thigh—Graves had hit his mark. Cilley staggered and sunk to the ground. On the field, surrounded by his friends, Cilley took his last breath.

Learning the story of Cilley and Graves gave me a new appreciation for the history of the rifles. We often admire the appearance of objects before knowing their stories, when it is the awareness of both that often makes them so fascinating. That is what is great about museums, though. They encourage you to look beyond the physical objects and learn the stories they tell. 

Casey Inks was a Division of Armed Forces History intern at the National Museum of American History. She studies History at Hillsdale College in Michigan and is participated in her school's Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program.

Author(s): 
Intern Casey Inks
Posted Date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016 - 11:15
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Filmmaking and our National Parks: Q&A with writer and director David Vassar

National Museum of American History

To commemorate the centennial of the National Park Service, the museum will join with the Environmental Film Festival to present a film retrospective of award-winning writer and director David Vassar. The museum's curator for environmental history, Jeffrey K. Stine, recently asked Vassar about his filmmaking career and his work in the National Parks.

Color photo of waterfalls cascading down rocky mountains with greenery around.

Stine: What first interested you in becoming a filmmaker?

Vassar: I was born into a "Hollywood" family, raised by my single mom who worked in the Music Department at 20th Century Fox. My grade school was about a mile from the studio, and I rode my bike onto the lot from the time I was 10 years old. I visited sets and sound stages and was able to observe film production from a very young age. For a short time I worked as an extra and bit player in movies and television—long enough to realize that filmmaking was what I wanted to do and that working behind the camera was a lot more fun than acting.

Photo of man (mostly silhouette) leaping into the air, arms raised, with a mountain peak in background. Snow visible on peak.

Did any of your early work prove influential?

When I was 19, I made a documentary in Yosemite National Park that won a student film festival. The Park Service caught wind of the film, and I ended up working in Yosemite for three summers presenting evening programs (1971–73). With the help of a dozen volunteers we created the "Yosemite Light Brigade," running evening programs seven nights a week. Our target audience was the young urban visitor who knew little about nature or national parks. With a dozen film and slide projectors, acoustic music, spoken word, stand-up comedy, full-moon walks, and campfire talks on transcendentalism, we introduced Yosemite's wonders to as many as 600 young people on a busy weekend night.

Color photo of an outdoor scene. A man in hat, backpack, and long sleeves holds a notebook while observing the trees, mountains, and colorful brush.

Why did you continue making films about America's national parks?

After my experience as an interpretive ranger in Yosemite, I was truly hooked. National parks protect the country's most superlative natural areas. The opportunity to couple that with my passion for filmmaking became my life's work.

In my park films I try to tell stories that go beyond majestic scenery, but the landscape is always the central character and the place from which the story emerges. The scenery is the "hook," for sure, but the stories that parks hold are equally dramatic. The founding and establishment of nearly every park is almost always a dramatic conflict of greed versus altruism.

Historic sites mark the turning points of American and global history. Name a story that holds more drama than John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry or creating a new nation at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. So, national parks protect the most superlative landscapes and preserve the greatest historic moments.

Photo of two people in a small yellow raft, wearing life preservers. They are on the water among very high-walled rock cannons.

What do you hope people will learn from your films?

For many, it may seem that the idea of making a film about Yosemite that will play in Yosemite is something of an oxymoron. If you went to the Cairo Museum to see the life mask of King Tut, arguably the most recognizable human icon on earth, it might seem a waste of time to duck into the gallery theater to see a movie about the life mask, when the actual object is a few feet away.

When we were envisioning the park film for Yosemite—Spirit of Yosemite—we joked that after the houselights went down a single line of white text should appear on the dark screen and simply declare: "It's outside, stupid!"

The fact is that if you can expand the imagination of visitors and provide them with a window into the complexity of natural processes and human history, as well as illuminate the fact that many of these places hold a spiritual and emotional dimension, then they will begin to appreciate the place on a deeper level.

My ultimate goal is to spark a heartfelt relationship between the visitor and the park. Ideally, you want them to walk out of the theater with a fuller understanding of how natural forces coalesced to create an extraordinary place. And an appreciation of how a group of visionary individuals experienced the same wonder and were inspired to set them aside as national parks to be left "unimpaired" for future generations.

Photo of a person skiing, back to camera, wearing blue jacket. Surrounding her are snowy mountains and trees.

What are you working on now?

My current project is a documentary feature about the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona entitled Conspiracy of Extremes.

The film is a love song for one of the most forlorn and misunderstood regions in the world. It is a scientific and cultural exploration of the deserts of the American Southwest. Rather than a worthless wasteland, the desert will be portrayed as a wonderland teeming with remarkable life. This grand desert is among the last and largest places where one can still experience unbroken vistas, wildness, silence, and solitude. It is a place we risk losing, a place worthy of preserving, a place we must care for and fight to protect.

Vassar's wide-ranging films have featured several National Parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Grand Canyon, as well as California's state parks and many other environmental topics. Since becoming a charter participant in the Environmental Film Festival in 1993, the museum has explored the environmental dimensions of the American experience through the screening of nearly 100 films. Join us on Saturday, March 19, 2016, to see Environmental Film Festival films at the museum. Jeffrey K. Stine is curator in the Division of Medicine and Science.

Posted Date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016 - 10:45

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General Pershing's Mexican Expedition to capture Pancho Villa predates his World War I career

National Museum of American History

The small American town of Columbus, New Mexico, was the site of a major event 100 years ago today. On March 9, 1916, spurred by events in the Mexican Revolution, General Francisco "Pancho" Villa's forces attacked the camp of the 13th Cavalry Regiment. In reaction to this attack, President Woodrow Wilson appointed General John Pershing as commander of a U.S. Army expeditionary force that was to capture Villa and police the U.S.-Mexico border. Called the Punitive Expedition at the time, this was just the beginning of a lengthy search for Villa that never resulted in his capture, now known as the Mexican Expedition. It took place March 14, 1916, to February 7, 1917.

Why did Villa attack? It's complicated, but here's a quick summary. The Mexican Revolution was an uprising that impacted the social, economic, and political life of both Mexico and the United States. The United States had become heavily invested in Mexican mining, railroads, and oil operations and protected these investments through military and political interventions in Mexico. In support of their people, Mexican revolutionary leaders sought land reforms and the nationalization of these operations. At one time, President Wilson supported Villa and then later withdrew support. Angered by the reversal, Villa attacked.

Brochure for "Mexican National R.R." with symbol of lion and eagles, US and Mexican flags, and fancy scrolls and design elements. "Solid Trains."

According to an article in Prologue magazine, published by the U.S. National Archives, "Why Villa chose Columbus as a target for his most daring raid is unclear. The small town had only one hotel, a few stores, some adobe houses, and a population of 350 Americans and Mexicans." His Villistas had made other attacks, for example assassinating U.S. citizens aboard a Mexican train, but it was the Columbus attack that moved President Wilson to take military action.

For the anniversary of this event, we'd like to share some objects from the museum's collection that relate to the Mexican Expedition and the Mexican Revolution.

Cover of rectangular, black/grey album. Text in gold: "Troop A 1st Ohio Cavalry Mexican Border Service July 4, 1916-March 1st 1917"

Black and white photo of many white camp tents among mountain landscape with trees. Men stand among them in groups.

Dozens of soldiers on horseback stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder. Mountains visible in background. Desert sand.
 
Soldier in uniform on a horse. Black and white photo. In distance, a few more soldiers on horses. Desert sand.
General John Pershing is better known for his leadership during World War I, but the authors of this post find the part of Pershing's military career spent in Mexico very interesting. Pershing's command was closest to Columbus, New Mexico, when the attack happened. His forces were to include "two columns that included infantry, cavalry, field artillery, engineers, the First Aero Squadron with eight airplanes, field hospitals, wagon and ambulance companies, and signal detachments," according to the article in Prologue magazine. Photos in the collection of the Library of Congress include shots of American soldiers preparing to depart on "scouting expeditions" by plane, baking bread in "field kitchens," and posing on motorcycles.
 
Photo of brown, tall boots. Thin laces. White identification tag.
 
Photo of khaki colored coat. Closes down the center with five gold/brown buttons. Four pockets on front, each closed with a button. Collared.
Color photo of a circular medal. Ribbon is green, yellow, and blue. Medal shows a cactus-like plant and dates 1911-1917.

On February 5, 1917, the expedition officially ended. Though Villa was never captured, General Pershing's men were exposed to military training. The author of the Prologue magazine article points out that "Many of the same men who served with Pershing in Mexico accompanied him to France."

After General Pershing's forces left, the Mexican Revolution continued. Between 500,000 and one million Mexicans fled the violence and turmoil of the revolution and immigrated to the United States in search of work and safe living conditions. Decades later, in the 1960s, revolutionary leaders such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa became inspiring symbols in struggles for social equality and political rights for many Mexican Americans.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Magdalena Mieri is director of the Program in Latino History and Culture and Special Initiatives. Patri O’Gan and L. Stephen Velasquez contributed to this post. Patri O'Gan is project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. L. Stephen Velasquez is associate curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. Learn more about the Mexican Revolution from Edsitement and the Library of Congress
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:00
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They marched with torches: Getting out the vote, 1840–1900

National Museum of American History

During the 19th century, politics were central to social life, to the point where affiliation with a political party included actual parties—the kind with drinking and dancing. For many young people, politics was the best way to be seen and interact with people their own age, even if they were too young to vote. As we dive into election season, I spoke with Associate Curator and Jefferson Fellow Jon Grinspan about this phenomenon.

Grinspan's work deals with the primary sources that relate to young people during the 19th century. These sources range from slave narratives to letters between fiancés. They provide the modern reader with personal interactions involving politics, an answer to the "why?" of how 80% of the country came to the polls in the mid-19th century.

Chart showing turnout of eligible voters from 1800s-200s. Turnout was highest before 1900.

The voter numbers between 1832 and 1896 rarely dip below 70%, a number that modern voters barely scratch these days. There was evidence that voting mattered: around 1,000 voters decided the presidential election in 1884, for example. Even people who were just under the legal voting age were deeply involved in the political process, and that’s where Grinspan focuses his research. Generally, these political participants were young men.

Black and white illustration showing six young men wearing matching hats and uniforms (which include very draped capes and long sleeves and pants) and marching in the street with signs that say "Lincoln Hamilton" "Honest Old Abe" and "Wide Awake." One holds an american flag. One holds what appears to be a sword.

This photograph of a Republican club in Detroit contains the best markers of political engagement of the time: matching uniforms, lanterns, and a readiness to march for their party. The uniforms, stern expressions, and lanterns suggests a kind of militarism that can be found in the multitude of clubs springing up all around the United States during the time of the Civil War.

Black and white photo of seven men. Each carries a lander with a circular handle and wears a matching hat and cape-like uniform in shiny fabric. They face the camera.

The Wide Awakes were one of the most well-known clubs and their militarism is obvious. A pro-Lincoln club for young men numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they wore dark uniforms and proclaimed themselves to always be watching. The group was created by two men, a 22-year-old zealot for the cause and a uniform maker who sold 20,000 Wide Awake uniforms during the same period.

Today, wearing a uniform for a political party probably seems laughable. But imagine seeing hundreds of young men march down boulevards with lit torches on Election Day—it must have been a powerful sight.

Black and white illustration. Four men on a balcony peer down to watch a massive parade taking place on the street below. Tall buildings and fireworks in the background. Hundreds of people march in orderly formation holding signs and flags that are not clearly readable from this angle. Many more people watch the parade. They march past a park and what appears to be a tent or bandstand.

Color photo of illuminated torches, about eight of them. Variety of shapes: eagles, top hat, lantern, dinner pail.

So what drove upwards of 80% of American voters to the polls in the mid-19th century? In addition to caring about the issues, they probably also desired to be a part of a political party, an active part of the American republican machine. Marching, carrying torches, lighting bonfires, and making a show of political force was just as important, if not more important, than getting to the polls.

Illustration in red ink of man (from shoulders up) holding a torch with smoke billowing out of it.

Today, the issues surrounding elections captivate most more than the idea of marching in the street, as cities such as San Francisco as well as Takoma Park, Maryland, and Hyattsville, Maryland, lower their voting ages to 16. But the desire to be part of the democratic process—in some way, even if it doesn't involve flambeaus—still remains.

Thomas Plank is an intern in the Office of Education and Public Engagement and a senior at Stanford University studying American Studies. Jon Grinspan’s book The Virgin Vote will be available soon.

Author(s): 
Thomas Plank
Posted Date: 
Monday, February 29, 2016 - 11:45
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How our "We the People" film came into being

National Museum of American History

Entering a museum with three floors, three million artifacts, and three dozen displays and exhibitions can be intimidating. That's why we decided to create "We the People," a new introductory film that made its public debut in our Warner Bros. Theater on December 16. Produced in collaboration with Smithsonian Channel, the 20-minute video provides an overview of American history to illustrate the museum's mission and connect visitors with its collections.

Film poster with three faces

John Gray, director of the museum, brought his proposal for an introductory film to Smithsonian Channel in the summer of 2014, and the Channel agreed to make it as a gift. The first film of its kind at any Smithsonian site, "We the People" was an ambitious undertaking. It had to distill the essence of the museum, the nation's history, and its people into a succinct, streamlined narrative.

"The video can help American citizens and visitors from all over the world understand some key ideas and pivotal events in our nation's history," said Jaya Kaveeshwar, senior advisor to the director. "As our visitors explore our unparalleled collection of national treasures and engage with American history, the film helps to knit these experiences together and demonstrate that history matters."

An executive producer for Smithsonian Channel, Linda Goldman admits the project's sprawling scope was daunting, but she emphasizes that the team at the network was honored and excited to contribute.

"It was an opportunity to use our skills as filmmakers and storytellers and combine them with the museum's scholarship and deep knowledge," she said. "We thought it would be a very exciting thing to work together to create a film that was going to be a lasting part of the museum visitor experience."

The year-and-a-half-long process began with extensive research. This involved not only talking to curators and combing collections and archives but also watching introductory films featured in other museums and historical sites, such as Mount Vernon, to understand what makes them effective.

"One of the big questions that we wrestled with early on was, why was this film in this museum?" Goldman said. "What story could the National Museum of American History tell that's unique, that couldn't be a video someplace else?"

Some debate surfaced concerning the film's structure. While Smithsonian Channel filmmakers thought it should be organized chronologically, museum staff countered that it should be organized thematically to mirror the museum's design. As David Allison, associate director for Curatorial Affairs and lead content advisor on the project, pointed out, a thematic approach is appropriate for an institution about American history.

"The United States is a country that is, in fundamental ways, based on ideas," he said. "It's not based on a particular piece of land, not a particular racial or ethnic group. It's a country that was created deliberately based on a Declaration of Independence and on principles."

In the end, they compromised: the film would present a chronological summary of U.S. history as the framework through which to explore specific themes. Allison and scriptwriter Alicia Green worked to fine-tune the central message, perusing museum exhibitions for inspiration. The three recurring concepts that emerged—democracy, opportunity, and freedom—form the backbone of "We the People."

Blue button with text "Votes from Women" with stars

Another way "We the People" distinguishes itself from other orientation videos is by integrating museum objects into its narrative. For example, during the section on the woman suffrage movement, footage of a march is overlaid with the image of an authentic "Votes for Women" pin from the museum's collection.

"There's nothing like being in the presence of an iconic artifact, but there's also something really wonderful about using media and storytelling to help place the artifact in a more historical context," Goldman said. "We're combining images, music, and narration across time and space. They add dimension to the story and hopefully help take people back to the past."

Associate Producer Kiki Spinner and Art Director Catherine Eunice worked closely together to find relevant visuals and assemble them into a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing vision. Sometimes they had to be creative. It was especially difficult to track down quality images of early historical events, before photography had been invented.

"That was a challenge in terms of taking what we found, using the historical documents that we found and integrating them into a visually interesting composition," Eunice said. "If [the images] were low-resolution, we could integrate them into the presentation with many images on the screen at the same time, or we could integrate them into the background."

Flag with 15 stars, 15 stripes

The filmmakers also struggled with incorporating the Star-Spangled Banner. They knew it had to feature prominently, being an icon of both the country and the museum, but it didn't fit in the required time limit without losing its emotional impact. Instead of telling the full story of Francis Scott Key and the anthem, then, they decided to weave the flag throughout the film as a visual motif.

"It could become a 'fabric of America' analogy in the film that comes back again and again," Green said. "So, the viewer hopefully understands that we're not going to be able to point to one thing that pulls America together but many different things that work as one."

Illustration in black, gray, brown, and dark green. two soldiers in military helmets crouch on low ground as a tank approaches above. Two other soldiers are visible. Barbed wire and foliage frame the scene.

Hard choices surfaced at every turn. It is, after all, impossible to recount the entirety of American history in less than half an hour. A few criteria helped inform decisions about what to include. For starters, the film deviates from the traditional method of tracing history through wars. Some, including World War I, are noticeably missing. According to Allison, this stems less from a wish to be innovative than a desire to accurately represent the museum.

"I understand the importance of how wars are defining episodes in American history," he said. "But we didn't want that to dominate the film because it really doesn't dominate the museum."

Also, in keeping with the themes of democracy, opportunity, and freedom, it was essential for the film to feel relatable. That's why the overarching narrative of politics and conflict is interspersed with segments about inventions and advertising; why the opening consists of bird's-eye views of the American landscape; and why the various famous quotes recited during the video are read by regular people, reminding us that earlier events shape our lives today. The film takes advantage of art's singular power to make the distant past immediate.

Spinner said, "I was very impressed with the Civil War images, being able to find some of those portraits in the montage where you're seeing families after the war and some of the destruction as Reconstruction is happening . . . and being able to say, 'Wow, you know, even though that was such a long time ago, those emotions are very real. People connect to them.'"

All involved attribute the project's success to a strong partnership between the two teams. At each stage of the script and editing, the filmmakers requested feedback from the museum, talking to curators such as Allison and Barbara Clark Smith, the museum’s 18th-century expert, as well as to liaisons, including Kaveeshwar and Valeska Hilbig, deputy director in the Office of Communications and Marketing. Suggestions constantly traveled back and forth. A rough cut of the film was shown to the entire museum staff, who were invited to share comments.

"We wanted the video to be really representative of this museum, and in doing so, we wanted to reach out to the broadest spectrum of voices," Kaveeshwar said. "Just like in every collaborative project, there needs to be a lot of mutual respect and a lot of open thinking."

For now, the only thing left to do is wait and hope the public responds. "We the People" will be shown four times a day during its pilot phase, and museum staff and volunteers will monitor audience response.

Either way, those behind the film are proud of their work. They believe it will enrich visitors' understanding of the museum and American history.

"We hope that people leave feeling energized and inspired and positive about our country," Goldman said. "We hope people will gain new insight that enriches their museum experience, and that they will see how they and their families are also a part of our nation's story. At its core, this country is just a remarkable experiment in many ways. We make history every single day—we all do—and that's the biggest message we hope people take with them."

Amy Woolsey is an intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Author(s): 
Intern Amy Woolsey
Posted Date: 
Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 08:00
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Textiles from samplers to baby bonnets reveal participation—and exclusion—in American democracy and culture

National Museum of American History

This week, we're exploring how participation—people joining together to accomplish shared goals—shapes American life by exploring our textile collections. Earlier this week, I shared with you the touching story of a quilt sewn by a Sunday school group for Civil War soldiers. Today, I want to share a few other objects that hint at stories of participation and its sometimes complicated flip side—exclusion.

1. Americans helped French women rebuild war-torn communities through needlework

Photo of embroidery with scene of airplanes flying over a cityscape

During World War I, French women embroidered detailed cross-stitched tableaux depicting soldier figures, flags, and coats of arms. While battles raged, these women fought to maintain their livelihoods and rebuild their war-torn communities. The embroidered items were sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France, and the money from their sale went back to the women and their families in France. Their contributions went beyond textiles, however. They also took to the fields during the summer and tended crops.

See cocktail napkins with coats of arms of Allied nations and learn more about these brave women.

2. Americans bought Belgian lace to provide war relief

Photo of white lace tablecloth on black background

When the German army invaded Belgium (a neutral country) in August 1914 in preparation to invade France, the British navy blockaded Belgium's harbors in order to cut off German supply lines. This presented a major problem as Belgium depended on imports for 80% of its food supply. Herbert Hoover set up the Commission for Relief in Belgium, negotiated food deliveries, then worked on an agreement allowing the importation of thread and the exportation of lace made with the thread. This effort helped thousands of Belgian lace makers earn money for food for their families. Throughout the Allied countries, people bought generously of these "war laces" to help support the Belgians.

Browse through our impressive collection of World War I laces in our online object group.

3. Young women created samplers to showcase their skills and record family history

Photo of sampler with text, floral decor, figure, building, two birds, and small mammals (sheep?)

Our objects often reveal interesting details about the lives of notable figures in American history; for instance, we know what was likely on George Washington's desk to help him write in the evenings. But the lives of regular folk are sometimes less easy to picture unless, for example, they left behind a purse stuffed with primary source documents that historians can use to better understand their biographies.

This is why I love samplers. Often made by girls as young as seven or eight whose names might have otherwise been forgotten or lost to history, samplers help us understand how girls were prepared for their roles in family and community life. For example, a sampler made by one M.A. Hofman provides a glimpse of what public school education was like for a young girl in Pennsylvania in the 1840s—and how education differed for male and female students.

Before woman suffrage passed in 1920, women were often barred from participating in many aspects of political life, but some samplers hint at other avenues of participation that women were able to take advantage of. Betsy Bucklin's 1781 sampler defies British rule to express faith in George Washington, a rare glimpse into the political thinking of a young woman during the Revolutionary War. Of course, it's hard to know how much choice a student had in selecting the message and design of her own sampler, but even if this message was part of an assignment, I still find it interesting for the time period. Some women used their needlework and skilled handling of sewing machines to support their families, using tools like these. Though they may seem small and quaint on the surface, samplers did leave a little mark on history. At least two of our samplers (one by Elizabeth Holland, the other by Esther Tincom) include the following rhyme: "When I am dead and gone and all my bones are rotten, I leave this sampler behind, I may not be forgotten."

Photo of sampler

Explore the samplers in our collection and see what you can learn about how some girls and young women participated in their families, schools, churches, and communities.

4. Exclusion, business success, and cultural identity were woven into the Lee family textiles

White top and trousers with patterned hems and no sleeves

After immigrating from Guangdong Province, China, to San Francisco in 1881, Lee B. Lok (1869–1942) moved to Chinatown in New York City. He found work at the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. general store. By 1894, he became head of the store and upgraded his identity papers from "coolie" to "merchant," a change that allowed him to avoid restrictions imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which barred the entry of Chinese laborers who had not already been in the United States. He was able to return to China to marry Ng Shee around 1900 and then return to New York. Living above the store at 32 Mott Street, the couple raised seven children.

Lee went on to found the Chinese Merchants Association and become a prominent member of the Chinese community in New York—a great example of community participation—but U.S. laws barred him from citizenship.

Photo of bonnet with colorful floral designs. It covers the child's neck and has two ears on top, like a dog or other mammal. Tied with a red ribbon under chin.

From the trunk Ng Shee brought with her from China to New York to the baby bonnet she made for her only son, the Chinese American textiles in the Virginia Lee Mead Collection tell powerful stories of cultural identity.

5. Quilts raised funds for community causes

Photo of quilt

Complete with an American flag and an appliquéd and embroidered fire engine marked "Yale 1," this quilt is marked "Ladies' Donation / to the Fireman's Fair / Yale Engine Co. No. 1 / South Reading / July 1853." This quilt, so carefully worked, is an example of efforts by women of South Reading, then a small rural New England town, to work together to provide for their community. A new engine house was erected in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1853.

From how they were made to how they were interpreted by those who wore or saw them, textiles offer much to explore when we think about participation in American life. Are there treasured textiles in your family history—perhaps a wedding gown made from unusual fabric, a military uniform, or quilt that raised funds for a special cause? Do these perhaps have tales to tell of participation or exclusion in American democracy and culture? Share your stories in the comments below or on social media. To follow the conversation, check out our #AmericaParticipates website and our posts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Patri O'Gan, Leah Tams, Jordan Grant, Madelyn Shaw, Doris Bowman, Virginia Eisemon, Karen Thompson, Timothy Winkle, and Nancy Davis contributed to this blog post.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - 08:00
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A tip of the cap to memorable film and TV headwear

National Museum of American History

When people think of costumes, they tend to think of elaborate, old-fashioned gowns, like the ones in Victorian novel adaptations. Sometimes, however, a fictional character's most significant piece of clothing is something simple—a hat, perhaps. Take Walter White. The chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer played by Bryan Cranston in AMC's acclaimed series Breaking Bad dons a porkpie hat at the end of season one and adopts the alias "Heisenberg." This marks a turning point for Walt, the precise moment when his soul is corrupted.

Photo of black bowler hat

Given how crucial the hat is to Walt and the show as a whole, I was pleased to find it among the Breaking Bad artifacts that the museum acquired from Sony Pictures Television, along with a bag of (fake) blue meth, Tyvek lab suits, and other props and costumes. Several cast members and producers attended the November 10 donation ceremony, including show creator Vince Gilligan and Cranston himself.

Porkpie hats have been prominent in American culture since Charlie Chaplin sported one in his silent films, according to Dwight Blocker Bowers, the museum's emeritus entertainment curator. Walt's is more than just a fashion choice. Not only does it enhance his connection to Werner Heisenberg, the German scientist who established the uncertainty principle and inspired White's alter ego, but the hat also ties him to a past era. It transforms him, granting him a kind of mythic status.

"America certainly deals with the self-made man," Bowers said. "Part of the drive is that this was a new country at one time. You could come here and leave everything that you had in your previous place of living and start a new you. I think that goes with the turf. You can go to any environment here and just literally built your own identity. . . . The hat allows [Walt] to make that transition."

Inspired by the acquisition of the Heisenberg hat, I sat down with Bowers to discuss other famous hats in the museum's entertainment collections.

Made of real raccoon skin and complete with the face and tail at the back, this coonskin cap features a leather hatband and fabric lining. It was worn by actor Fess Parker.

In the mid-1950s, ABC aired a five-part miniseries that featured Davy Crockett wearing a coonskin cap. It elevated the real-life frontiersman from folk hero to genuine icon and launched a nationwide fashion craze, its lighthearted depiction of an untamed West no doubt resonating with audiences mired in suburbia. Man and hat have been inseparable ever since.

Appropriated from traditional American Indian clothing, the coonskin cap served as hunting apparel for 18th and 19th century European settlers in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, Crockett’s home state. Most likely, it was worn for warmth as well as ornamentation, making use of a whole raccoon’s fur, including its head and tail. These hardy origins make the coonskin cap an apt symbol for the American West, evoking the sense of rugged self-reliance romanticized by stories such as Davy Crockett.

Bright red silk top hat, decorated with a silver band and blue stars

Ann Miller, a dancer, singer, and actress renowned for her 1940s and '50s Hollywood musicals, starred in a 1971 commercial for Heinz's Great American Soup, where she demonstrated her tap-dancing skills on an eight-foot soup can. Her outfit consisted of a red satin leotard decorated with sequins and rhinestones and this silk, star-studded top hat. If such an ostentatious, flagrantly patriotic ensemble seems out of place in the cynical Vietnam War period, it perfectly matches the jaunty tone of director Stan Freberg's commercial, intended as a parody of the musical spectacles that Miller specialized in during her film career.

Bowers observed that Miller's hat recalls the iconic Uncle Sam hat. "It immediately tells the audience that this is an American dancer," he said.

Light brown felt cowboy hat with feathered hatband

J. R. Ewing, the ambitious oil tycoon at the center of CBS's 1978–1991 prime time soap opera Dallas, wore this feathered cowboy hat as a statement. Besides associating him with the loner heroes of Western lore, it emphasizes his status as a citizen of Texas and a patriarch, helping set him apart from other people.

"The hat is like his crown because it's a stoop with a brow of feathers around the crown and makes him look sort of like a king," Bowers said. "The character who wears that is someone who blazes trails."

Leather jacket and fedora

No image of Indiana Jones is complete without two accessories: the bullwhip and the hat. Who could forget the moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Harrison Ford's daredevil archaeologist reaches under a closing door at the last minute to grab his dropped felt fedora? Like Davy Crockett, Indiana Jones is an explorer, venturing into uncharted territory, and his well-worn hat reflects that adventure-seeking spirit.

"It certainly allows him to have the sweep of a hero," Bowers said. Probable influences include the headgear of safari leaders and comic strip detectives, both indicative of Indiana Jones's pulpy origins.

Man's suit with jacket and hat

Not long ago, the museum acquired a fedora worn by Don Draper in AMC's other critically acclaimed series, Mad Men. In stark contrast to Jones's, which complements his rough-and-tumble lifestyle, Draper's conveys an air of professionalism, especially accompanied by a trench coat. It would've been part of everyday attire for a middle-class man in the 1960s, when the show takes place.

The Mad Men era also heralded the decline of hats in American fashion, the moment they went from necessities to embellishments.

"The 1960s advocated a casual approach to life, less structure," Bowers explained. "Now [hats are] just one extra thing to carry. There is a degree of formality that's gone from society. Just like women always wore white gloves in the late 1950s/early 1960s, that's gone with the loosening of American culture, taking away the sense of pomp and circumstance and ceremony."

Even as relics, though, hats reveal a great deal about American culture: what our values are, who we regard as heroes, and how we see ourselves. They are symbols of our identities, both individual and collective.

Amy Woolsey is an intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Author(s): 
Amy Woolsey
Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 08:00
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The "new vogue for black and white" during World War I dye shortages

National Museum of American History


Painting of woman in white holding red flowers

On December 18, 1915, Edith Bolling Galt married President Woodrow Wilson in a ceremony at her home in Washington, D.C. This very private event was celebrated in a very public way by the Sussex Print Works, of Newton, New Jersey. The firm created four printed dress silks, in black and white, titled "Bolling Crest," based on the design of swallows and ants (yes, ants) featured on the coat of arms of the Bolling family in England. The manufacturer noted in its publicity that "the original black on white shield may yet be seen in Bolling Hall, Bradford, England, which has now been turned into a national museum."

Black and white design with birds and ants and stripes

The color black may seem like an odd addition to fabric celebrating a wedding, but there was a reason for the color choice. German firms were the most important manufacturers of synthetic textile dyes and colorants in the early 20th century. In March 1915, several months after the beginning of World War I, the British navy began to blockade German ports, preventing any exports of goods overseas. As a result, the textile and paper industries in the still-neutral United States suffered a serious shortage of good quality synthetic (chemically based) dyes. "Sulfur black" was the one dye that firms outside Germany produced in quantity and of consistent quality. Some firms reverted to old technology, and tried to adapt old formulas for natural dyes to modern industrial needs, but the quantities were small and the color range limited, and not always fast to light or washing.

Brochure with text and bucolic landscape illustration. Text begins: "Domestic back is obtainable and permits the various textile manufacturers to combine all energies in inaugurating a great and overwhelming vogue for Black on White."

Patter with wide white strips, thin black stripes, and stylized bird and anti illustrations

Fashion magazines from the period illustrate the efforts by many leading American textile and fashion manufacturers to create a fad for black and white clothing and accessories. French and English fashion firms, suffering under the same dye shortage, were also promoting black and white. In those countries, however, already at war, black and white clothing carried overtones of loss and mourning that were not yet relevant to most Americans.

Color advertisement with text "Pussy Willow" "The Inspiration Silk" and illustration of a woman in a white dress with black patterns, holding umbrella

 

When the U.S. entered the war on the Allied side in April 1917, anti-German feeling was rampant. Many companies owned or managed by men with German-sounding names abruptly changed their names or merged with other firms under new names. Among these was National Aniline & Chemical Co., of Buffalo, New York, which was formed in 1917 from the merger of Schoellkopf Aniline and Chemical of Buffalo, Beckers Aniline and Chemical of Brooklyn, and the Benzol Products Company. National Aniline, and other American dye companies—all of which produced pharmaceuticals and other chemicals as well as dyestuffs—received a gift from the U.S. government in November 1917, when Congress passed the Trading with the Enemy Act. This allowed American companies producing goods that contributed to the war effort to confiscate enemy-owned patents and use the technology in their own manufacturing. Through what has been called "compulsory licensing," the dye shortage ceased.

 

Black checkered stripes on white background with ant and birds

The Sussex Print Works began operating as a department of the Thomas W. Bentley Silk Company in 1885. Thomas Bentley was born in England, but his family moved to the United States when he was 11. He learned the silk business as an employee of Doherty & Wadsworth, a silk manufacturing company that had opened in Paterson, New Jersey,—America's "Silk City"—in 1879, before opening his own silk mill in 1885.

Photo of brochure with text: "America's First Color Card"

Brochure with three panels. Each color has a name. "Blue is a color symbol of patriotism, loyalty and devotion to duty."

Brochure with colors and text

The company name changed twice, to the Sterling Silk Mill and then Valentine & Bentley, before the Sussex Print Works was spun off in 1911 as an entity on its own, under the leadership of Bentley, his son Herbert Bentley, and Harry T. Rounds. It specialized in dyeing, printing, and finishing all silk, silk and cotton, and silk and wool textiles, and was highly regarded within the industry for quality production. Valentine & Bentley became Bentley & Twohey in 1915, and continued in business as a manufacturer of silk fabrics until 1932.

Checkbox pattern with ants and birds

Black and white advertisement featuring an illustration of a woman wearing black and white patterned dress

Madelyn Shaw is a curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. She recommends checking out the Bolling Crest Silks online object group for more information. 

Author(s): 
Madelyn Shaw
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 08:00
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A memory of Chuck Williams, kitchenware store founder

National Museum of American History

Curator and FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 exhibition project director Paula Johnson recalls a memorable visit with Chuck Williams.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma—the kitchenware emporium that, beginning in 1956, introduced Americans to distinctive tools and cookware from different parts of the world—died on December 5. Upon hearing the news, we thought back to a sunny December day in 2011, when we took a field trip to Mr. Williams's San Francisco offices on behalf of the exhibition project, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

One man and two women standing in an office with wooden cabinets, desk, and white walls

Curator Rayna Green, Associate Director Maggie Webster, and I were visiting several California donors to the exhibition and our first stop was at Williams-Sonoma headquarters. At 96, Mr. Williams was still coming to work regularly, and, dapper in coat and tie, he welcomed us warmly into his office overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The room itself was rather like a Williams-Sonoma store—open wooden shelves held an array of objects, artfully placed, that subtly beckoned to us, urging us to come a bit closer: a brilliant red KitchenAid stand mixer, a white ceramic creamer shaped like a playful cow, a painted water pitcher in the form of a chicken, and ceramic tea pots and decorated bowls arranged just so. We realized that this was the same design aesthetic that set Mr. Williams's stores apart from other purveyors of kitchen equipment—at the time, mostly hardware stores, where stacks of pots, pans, and tools were the norm. When we settled in for a conversation, he remarked on how his sense of design informed the look and layout of his stores from the very start: "That was one of the things I did right at the beginning. . . Not just putting the pots on the shelf without thinking about it. Putting it so the handle was partly out in front of the shelf and it welcomed the customer to pick it up to look at it."

Much of the conversation that day had to do with Mr. Williams's role in what we were calling the "good food movement" in the exhibition.

With roots in northern California, the movement was largely a reaction against the fast, processed, and packaged foods that had become so popular in households across America in the 1950s and 1960s. The California devotees of fresh, local, and organic foods were also interested in trying new cuisines and learning to cook beyond just the basics. While Julia Child guided these intrepid home cooks through unfamiliar techniques and recipes, Chuck Williams supplied them with previously unavailable cookware from France and Italy to help them achieve results. When asked about particular items, he said, "I think the most popular one was the soufflé dish. Just a plain, white soufflé dish. There wasn’t anything like that available in this country." We decided then and there to include one of Julia Child's white soufflé dishes made by one of Mr. Williams's favorite sources, the French company Pillivuyt, in the exhibition.

White food processor with clear plastic bowl, feeder chute, and thick white base

During our visit, Mr. Williams also talked about the early 1970s and the debut of the Cuisinart food processor, and what a difference it made to home cooks. He recalled offering the Cuisinart for sale almost immediately in his stores and how he, too, began using one in his own kitchen. As we talked about Julia's early adoption of the food processor, Mr. Williams offered to donate his first Cuisinart for the museum's collections and for the exhibition.

Man with glasses seated at desk with chicken-shaped water pitcher in front of him

We note Chuck Williams's passing with sadness, but also with gratitude for his generosity to the museum. By sharing his memories of the "good food" movement, he helped us shape a section of the exhibition and provided insight into the types of objects that would most accurately represent that important story in American culinary history.

Paula Johnson is a curator in the Division of Work and Industry. She has also blogged about cooking with Julia Child in Washington, D.C.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 13:30
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100 years of Frank Sinatra and jazz

National Museum of American History

Do you think of Frank Sinatra as a jazz singer? As we celebrate his 100th birthday, guest author Eric Felten explores this question.

When Frank Sinatra took the stage at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, the "jazz purists" were unhappy (so said Variety). Unhappy not because of "his own brand of casual hipness" nor even because of his Vegas-honed "glamour showmanship"—an aesthetic that included leaving the festival by helicopter like some stadium rock star; no, the purists' problem was that Sinatra was "technically not a 'jazz singer.'"

Frank Sinatra in hat and tie stands at microphone with music stand in front of him, mouth slightly open

Not a jazz singer? Says who? It's a debate that has persisted, and still has some relevance. What, after all, was the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra doing presenting a Sinatra centennial concert if the man's music can't credibly be called "jazz"?

It depends, of course, on what one expects from a jazz singer. Sinatra rarely strayed far from a melody; he didn't sing the blues; he didn't scat (unless one counts "doo-be-doo-be-doo" at the end of "Strangers in the Night," the less said about which the better). But he did swing—was one of the great champions of swing—and without that jazz idiom underpinning everything he did, Sinatra never would have achieved his undeniable status as the greatest interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

Saxophonist Lester Young clearly thought Sinatra was up to snuff, jazz-wise: "If I could put together exactly the kind of band I wanted, Frank Sinatra would be the singer," he said. "Really, my main man is Frank Sinatra." (Sinatra would eagerly return the favor: "We had a mutual admiration society," he said of Lester Young. "I took from what he did, and he took from what I did.")

Black and white photograph of Frank Sinatra on stage under a spotlight, holding microphone in left hand

And after all, it was jazz that saved Sinatra's career, after it had become mired in Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller's dismal concept of what made a hit record—two parts treacle to one part novelty. Miller pressed Sinatra into notorious atrocities such as "Mama Will Bark," sung as a duet with a tone-deaf actress named Dagmar. But once Sinatra had escaped Miller, the question was how he would differentiate his new Capitol Records sound from his old Columbia Records output. Capitol's producers found the answer in the sophisticated swing arrangements being penned by a young house arranger, Nelson Riddle.

Riddle's arrangements remain the essential Sinatra sound. They start off with that distinctive two-beat that Riddle pilfered from the Jimmie Lunceford band (to hear where that Sinatra groove comes from, listen to Lunceford's 1935 recording of "My Blue Heaven"). Then, following the ease of that two-beat, comes a hard-swinging 4/4 with Frank's phrasing driving the rhythm every bit as much as the bass and drums.

Color painting of Frank Sinatra singing, eyes closed

Nowhere is the concept more perfectly executed than in Riddle's arrangement of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." It starts with an easy two-beat riff; Sinatra sings the song beautifully and (perhaps more important) knowingly; then the band builds and builds through layered riffs, exploding into Milt Bernhart's hard-swinging trombone solo; when Sinatra comes back in, he somehow manages to ratchet up the energy and excitement a notch or two more, wailing "Dooooon't you know, little fool…" And then after that cascade of climaxes the whole thing is neatly buttoned up with a tidy double-bass coda.

"Under My Skin" remains a high point of 20th-century American culture—and if it doesn't count as "jazz," more's the pity for jazz.

Through the '50s and '60s, Sinatra would work with many of the greatest arrangers in jazz and swing and orchestral pop—not only Riddle but Billy May, Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Don Costa, and Gordon Jenkins. The ace Los Angeles studio groups that usually backed him included such jazz masters as trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, bassist "Little Joe" Comfort (who happened to teach a young Charlie Mingus how to play), and drummer Alvin Stoller. Sinatra, whose apprenticeship was with the bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, would continue to perform with essential jazz big bands—Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, and most compellingly, Count Basie.

Album cover with color photo of Frank Sinatra winking and beckoning

All along the way, Sinatra operated at the intersection of pop and jazz, even as jazz began to move away from its popular roots as dance music. At a time when jazz was succumbing to a tendency to ramble—please, oh please, no more seven-minute bass solos!—Sinatra and his arrangers proved time and again what could be accomplished in three minutes and change. And though the Chairman's comic stage-show interludes were excruciating—please, oh please, no more Sinatra "monologues!"—when the singer was singing, he proved time and again that high art and entertainment can coexist.

Sinatra did not call himself a jazz singer, choosing to identify himself, instead, as a "saloon singer." That label captures a moment when jazz was the province of juke joints, and the music was about love, lost or found, when swing could bring both swagger and solace. Now, 100 years after Sinatra was born, jazz musicians still—or maybe more than ever—have much to learn from Frank.

Eric Felten is a writer and jazz musician in Washington, D.C.

Author(s): 
Eric Felten
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 08:00
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Engaging minds: American mathematics 100 years ago

National Museum of American History

In late December 1915, a century ago, 104 mathematicians and mathematics teachers assembled at The Ohio State University to form the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). By April of the following year, membership was over 1,000. Many enjoyed doing problems posed in The American Mathematical Monthly, an established journal taken over by the new organization. Both the MAA and the Monthly endure—the organization recently celebrated its centennial in Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of objects associated with charter members of the MAA survive in the collections of the National Museum of American History. As part of the MAA's centennial celebration, museum staff and volunteers selected a few of the objects, arranged to have them photographed, and prepared brief descriptions that will become part of the objects' official records at the museum. (Check out the Mathematical Objects Relating to Charter Members of the MAA object group.) These objects date from before or after that inaugural meeting. However, looking through the collections as part of routine photography, we recently found a few objects that can be dated to the very month of the MAA's founding. Massachusetts schoolteacher A. Harry Wheeler may have lacked the resources to attend the meeting in Ohio. Instead, he worked away over his winter holiday making mathematical models. The Smithsonian has four small paper models which he made in the same month as that meeting.

Man with glasses and young boy with many mathematical models at desk in front of them

The models Wheeler made in late 1915 show flat sections of surfaces. Models of this sort had been sold for European schools from at least the 1880s and are now discussed under the name of sliceforms. They are an inexpensive way to represent simple geometric forms.

Wheeler's simplest model has several circles, fit together around an equator to suggest a sphere. A second shows parts of ellipses of slightly different size, arranged around a central elliptical ring to form an ellipsoid. Wheeler called these figures "collapsible" and they do tend to lose shape with time. A third model (not yet photographed) not only has several discs whose edges form great circles of a sphere, but circles of smaller size perpendicular to the large ones. It does not collapse. If the sphere represented the earth, the large circles would represent meridians of longitude and the small ones latitude circles. Wheeler actually made this model December 18, 1915. The two others are dated for the following day.

Paper mathematical model on blue background, three dimensional

Three dimensional mathematical model

Wheeler was an active member of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England, and had attended their annual meeting in Boston earlier in the month. Instead of venturing out to Ohio for the first meeting of the MAA, he made another geometric model. (He would join the MAA in the spring.)

Three dimensional paper mathematical model on blue background

Like many good teachers, Wheeler inspired his students. For example, the Smithsonian has a model of two intersecting spheres made in early January 1916 by Wheeler's pupil Emile Jandron. It is quite similar in style to the models Wheeler had made the previous month. Jandron would graduate from the Worcester High School of Commerce in June 1916 and go on to a career as a tobacco salesman.

Three dimensional paper mathematical model on blue background

Peggy A. Kidwell is Curator of Mathematics at the National Museum of American History. Learn more about mathematical objects associated with charter members of the Mathematical Association of America. Object photography by Harold Dorwin.

Posted Date: 
Monday, December 14, 2015 - 08:00
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Textiles from samplers to baby bonnets reveal participation—and exclusion—in American democracy and culture

National Museum of American History

This week, we're exploring how participation—people joining together to accomplish shared goals—shapes American life by exploring our textile collections. Earlier this week, I shared with you the touching story of a quilt sewn by a Sunday school group for Civil War soldiers. Today, I want to share a few other objects that hint at stories of participation and its sometimes complicated flip side—exclusion.

1. Americans helped French women rebuild war-torn communities through needlework

Photo of embroidery with scene of airplanes flying over a cityscape

During World War I, French women embroidered detailed cross-stitched tableaux depicting soldier figures, flags, and coats of arms. While battles raged, these women fought to maintain their livelihoods and rebuild their war-torn communities. The embroidered items were sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France, and the money from their sale went back to the women and their families in France. Their contributions went beyond textiles, however. They also took to the fields during the summer and tended crops.

See cocktail napkins with coats of arms of Allied nations and learn more about these brave women.

2. Americans bought Belgian lace to provide war relief

Photo of white lace tablecloth on black background

When the German army invaded Belgium (a neutral country) in August 1914 in preparation to invade France, the British navy blockaded Belgium's harbors in order to cut off German supply lines. This presented a major problem as Belgium depended on imports for 80% of its food supply. Herbert Hoover set up the Commission for Relief in Belgium, negotiated food deliveries, then worked on an agreement allowing the importation of thread and the exportation of lace made with the thread. This effort helped thousands of Belgian lace makers earn money for food for their families. Throughout the Allied countries, people bought generously of these "war laces" to help support the Belgians.

Browse through our impressive collection of World War I laces in our online object group.

3. Young women created samplers to showcase their skills and record family history

Photo of sampler with text, floral decor, figure, building, two birds, and small mammals (sheep?)

Our objects often reveal interesting details about the lives of notable figures in American history; for instance, we know what was likely on George Washington's desk to help him write in the evenings. But the lives of regular folk are sometimes less easy to picture unless, for example, they left behind a purse stuffed with primary source documents that historians can use to better understand their biographies.

This is why I love samplers. Often made by girls as young as seven or eight whose names might have otherwise been forgotten or lost to history, samplers help us understand how girls were prepared for their roles in family and community life. For example, a sampler made by one M.A. Hofman provides a glimpse of what public school education was like for a young girl in Pennsylvania in the 1840s—and how education differed for male and female students.

Before woman suffrage passed in 1920, women were often barred from participating in many aspects of political life, but some samplers hint at other avenues of participation that women were able to take advantage of. Betsy Bucklin's 1781 sampler defies British rule to express faith in George Washington, a rare glimpse into the political thinking of a young woman during the Revolutionary War. Of course, it's hard to know how much choice a student had in selecting the message and design of her own sampler, but even if this message was part of an assignment, I still find it interesting for the time period. Some women used their needlework and skilled handling of sewing machines to support their families, using tools like these. Though they may seem small and quaint on the surface, samplers did leave a little mark on history. At least two of our samplers (one by Elizabeth Holland, the other by Esther Tincom) include the following rhyme: "When I am dead and gone and all my bones are rotten, I leave this sampler behind, I may not be forgotten."

Photo of sampler

Explore the samplers in our collection and see what you can learn about how some girls and young women participated in their families, schools, churches, and communities.

4. Exclusion, business success, and cultural identity were woven into the Lee family textiles

White top and trousers with patterned hems and no sleeves

After immigrating from Guangdong Province, China, to San Francisco in 1881, Lee B. Lok (1869–1942) moved to Chinatown in New York City. He found work at the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. general store. By 1894, he became head of the store and upgraded his identity papers from "coolie" to "merchant," a change that allowed him to avoid restrictions imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which barred the entry of Chinese laborers who had not already been in the United States. He was able to return to China to marry Ng Shee around 1900 and then return to New York. Living above the store at 32 Mott Street, the couple raised seven children.

Lee went on to found the Chinese Merchants Association and become a prominent member of the Chinese community in New York—a great example of community participation—but U.S. laws barred him from citizenship.

Photo of bonnet with colorful floral designs. It covers the child's neck and has two ears on top, like a dog or other mammal. Tied with a red ribbon under chin.

From the trunk Ng Shee brought with her from China to New York to the baby bonnet she made for her only son, the Chinese American textiles in the Virginia Lee Mead Collection tell powerful stories of cultural identity.

5. Quilts raised funds for community causes

Photo of quilt

Complete with an American flag and an appliquéd and embroidered fire engine marked "Yale 1," this quilt is marked "Ladies' Donation / to the Fireman's Fair / Yale Engine Co. No. 1 / South Reading / July 1853." This quilt, so carefully worked, is an example of efforts by women of South Reading, then a small rural New England town, to work together to provide for their community. A new engine house was erected in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1853.

From how they were made to how they were interpreted by those who wore or saw them, textiles offer much to explore when we think about participation in American life. Are there treasured textiles in your family history—perhaps a wedding gown made from unusual fabric, a military uniform, or quilt that raised funds for a special cause? Do these perhaps have tales to tell of participation or exclusion in American democracy and culture? Share your stories in the comments below or on social media. To follow the conversation, check out our #AmericaParticipates website and our posts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Patri O'Gan, Leah Tams, Jordan Grant, Madelyn Shaw, Doris Bowman, Virginia Eisemon, Karen Thompson, Timothy Winkle, and Nancy Davis contributed to this blog post.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - 08:00
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American Philanthropy: A new Smithsonian initiative

National Museum of American History

"In the United States associations are established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion; for there is no end which the human will, seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining."

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Philanthropy has been a critical element of American society from the beginning. Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, keen observer of the United States in its formative years, concluded that the success of the new nation depended heavily on voluntary associations and giving. For democracy to work, Americans had to participate in it actively, both as individuals and through organizations. He was encouraged to find that Americans relished the opportunity to shape their civic life themselves and to take responsibility for nurturing the common good. 

For the past few years, I served as project director for the major new exhibition that just opened on the first floor of the Museum, American Enterprise. It traces the history of business and innovation in America from the 1770s to the present. The exhibit chronicles the interaction of capitalism and democracy in the nation throughout this period, and how that dynamic interaction has shaped economic development.

Thinking about the ways that capitalism works within our democracy led our exhibit team to consider how and why Americans become motivated to give back to support the common good. Some are motivated by their religious convictions, others by family traditions, and still others simply by a sense of gratitude for the opportunities they have in this country. We were also interested to see how American giving has continually changed, from the first March of Dimes on the eve of World War II, to telethons, to the Internet-based crowdfunding of today.

Our investigations led us to ask: if philanthropy has been so important to American history, shouldn't the Smithsonian document its development and role in our national life? After all, the Smithsonian itself was the outgrowth of the astonishing philanthropy of Englishman James Smithson—who never even visited this country. And like many other museums, universities, hospitals, and similar institutions, it can only continue to exist with ongoing voluntary support.

Museum case containing a bust, a gown, paper documents, and a framed painting

Consequently we are launching a new Philanthropy Initiative on December 1, #GivingTuesday. We will seek to document, preserve, interpret, and exhibit at the Smithsonian the role of philanthropy in American history, as well as the role of Americans in encouraging and using philanthropy throughout the world. As first steps in this initiative, we are opening preview cases for Giving in America coinciding with The Power of Giving: Philanthropy's Impact on American Life, the first in a series of annual symposiums dedicated to exploring the past, present, and future of American philanthropy.

The Giving in America preview focuses on how philanthropy has shaped American civic culture in two eras—the Gilded Age (1870s–1900) and the present day. In the years following the Civil War, American capitalism boomed, and the United States became the leading industrial nation in the world. Some Americans became very wealthy, and this presented new challenges to American social life. In an article on "Wealth" he published in 1889, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie stated, "The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship." 

Bust of Andrew Carnegie, white painted plaster

Carnegie believed that the right way to dispose of wealth was not to leave it all to descendants. Nor did he think it should be taxed away and distributed by the government. Rather he thought that individuals with substantial wealth beyond their needs should distribute it to worthy social causes of their own choosing during their lifetimes. In his mind, they themselves were the best judges of how their money could best benefit the common good. He followed this precept with most of his own vast riches, giving them to libraries, universities, trusts, and a variety of learned institutions.

Carnegie's perspective on the responsibilities of the very wealthy was controversial in America then and remains so today. Yet underneath it is the same idea that Tocqueville espoused, and that most Americans accept: those who have benefitted significantly from living in the United States, with the freedoms and opportunities it affords, have a responsibility to give back to their society to support its maintenance and improvement. In a representative democracy based on individual freedom, this is not solely the government's responsibility. And this principle applies not only to the very wealthy, but also to citizens of modest means. Giving back is among the fundamental ideals that define us as Americans.

Among the most important recent innovations is The Giving Pledge, which arose in 2010 out of conversations that Bill and Melinda Gates had with Warren Buffett and other wealthy individuals. They decided they should invite the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes to help address society's most pressing problems. To date, nearly 140 have publically made that pledge, and the number continues to grow. The new display will feature a rotating selection of original Giving Pledge letters which are on long-term loan to the museum as well as a computer kiosk on which all the letters may be accessed. 

Letter

White nurses cap

As the Philanthropy Initiative moves forward, we will be hiring a full-time Curator of Philanthropy, creating a permanent Giving in America exhibition, and seeking philanthropy-related artifacts and documents to add to our permanent collections. These will all support a wide range research, scholarship, and exhibition.

Our initiative will focus on American giving at all levels. And it will include how Americans give of their time and talents as well as their money. We invite you to keep an eye on our website to see how this initiative develops—and also to join in! The success of American democracy depends in large part on the participation and spirit of giving that characterizes the American people. Help us document and preserve this story permanently at the Smithsonian.

David Allison is associate director of the Office of Curatorial Affairs.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 09:00
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From satin to khaki: Women join the Military Preparedness Movement of 1916

National Museum of American History

6:00 a.m. June 16, 1916. Nestled in the Ramapo Mountains of Passaic County, New Jersey, lay an orderly row of cream-colored tents. At the early cry of the first reveille, several dozen women rise from their canvas cots. They have 15 minutes to don their handsome uniform: a neatly-pressed shirt with a red tie, leather gaiters, and billowing khaki breeches. On this morning, the women—many of them daughters of New York City millionaires—trade satin and lace for military khaki. And in the name of military preparedness, the Emergency Services Corps is born.

Black and white photo of women in uniform in a line with trees in background

Why did so many women eagerly forgo the luxuries of modern life, choosing instead to don uniforms and train in military camps throughout the U.S., before the U.S. had even entered the war? In 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated, the ethnically divided "powder-keg" of Europe exploded into war. However, nearly 5,000 miles away, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would remain neutral.

When a German U-boat sank the British oceanliner RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing 123 Americans, a movement of military preparedness gained traction in the United States. Led by Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and General Leonard Wood, the Preparedness Movement mobilized citizens to prepare for war and stressed the importance of strengthening the country at home as battle raged in Europe. By 1916, with the passage of the National Defense Act, Wood spearheaded a movement to open military training camps for young men.

Color poster with text "Are you trained to defend your country? Plattsburg." Uniformed soldier with gun and camp tents.

The Military Training Camps Association (MTCA) formed a summer training camp in Plattsburg, New York. Many of the trainees were businessmen and college students—hence the nickname the Businessman's Camp or, less flatteringly, the Tired Businessman's Camp. Here, wealthy, educated men demonstrated, as stated in a 1918 Vanity Fair article, that "men of high standing in business, professional and social affairs are willing to make personal sacrifices for the country's good." Men who had never carried a gun were preparing for a time that might come when Americans would fight in Europe. While it would not be until April of 1917 that the U.S. would declare war on Germany, the rigorous propaganda effort wafted through the air, and soon women too began to be swept up in the military preparedness movement.

Black and white photo of four people sitting in front of canvas camp tents: three women, one man. They wear military-style uniforms and boots. All are wearing hats. One woman holds a trumpet/bugle.

Enter Candace Hewitt: daughter of wealthy Edward Hewitt, granddaughter of presidential candidate Peter Cooper, and graduate of Bryn Mawr College. Modeling a military training camp on Plattsburg, Hewitt organized the Emergency Services Corps advisory board in June 1916, consisting of retired officers, the ex-Secretary of War H. L. Stimson, and society women, such as Anne Morgan, who were eager to mobilize women for wartime service.

Black and white photo of two young women outdoors in uniforms and military-style hats. One uses signal flags, arms raised aloft, while the other takes notes, looking down at notepad.

Hewitt's 19,000-acre summer estate known as "Wewappo Farm" served as the site for this training camp, championing the importance of military preparedness for women. Under the guidance of "Captain Hewitt," the young campers abandoned the luxuries of upper-class city life, starting their days with a plain breakfast of scrambled eggs, marmalade toast, and coffee. Throughout the day they trained rigorously and attended lectures offered by prominent military officers.

They learned to shoot rifles, ride horses, practice flag signaling, hike for 30 miles at a time, and preform first aid procedures. Each recreation activity, lecture, and drill was executed with military precision and campers were disciplined for tardiness and lethargy. The day of marching, drilling, and instruction concluded with the return to a soldierly row of tents. At the end of the day, the women ate another simple meal of canned fruit and boiled potatoes. The next morning, the women of the Emergency Services Corps rose from their tents, ready to drill like soldiers all over again.

Photo of tan colored jacket with three buttons, navy colored arm bands, and a wheel-shaped insignia on left shoulder.

Just 300 miles south of Hewitt's camp, women in Chevy Chase, Maryland, trained with the same militaristic fervor: practicing calisthenics, drilling, marching, and learning to signal through heliography (using sunlight reflections on a mirror) and "wig-wagging" (using flags). They were members of the First National Service School.

The First National Service School was founded in early 1916 by Elizabeth Elcott Poe and Vylla Poe Wilson in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The camp opened in May 1916 to great fanfare; President Wilson and high-ranking officials in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army attended the opening ceremony. For the next three years, the First National Service School held four two- to three-week camps and trained uniformed women, offering classes including "national defense," "good citizenship," and "American history." By the spring of 1919, nearly 4,000 women representing 43 states had graduated from the First National Service School. The large-scale encampments were referred to as the "female Plattsburg" movement.

Black and white photo of woman in military attire next to a car. Camp tents in background. Dusty road.

While both camps focused on military preparedness training for women, life was somewhat different between the two camps. The Washington Post noted that Hewitt's camp cultivated "the sincerity, the practicality, the real spirit of self-sacrifice which seemed…conspicuously lacking" at the Chevy Chase camp. While Hewitt may have created a more severe environment at her training camp, perhaps the most conspicuous difference between the two camps was the uniform. While the vast majority of civilian and military uniforms for women at the time, including Army and Navy uniforms, consisted of ankle-length skirts, the motto at Hewitt's camp was "no skirts allowed." Hewitt's campers trained in military-style breeches while women at the Chevy Chase camp wore the standard, more socially-acceptable, long skirts.

Color photo of two small insignia: anchors with twisted rope

The women who joined the Emergency Services Corps and First National Service School carved out a place in the preparedness movement alongside the men at Plattsburg. Yet in joining the "female Plattsburg" movement, they were being tested. The urgency for these women to use their newly cultivated skills and prove that women were capable of this kind of work is perhaps best captured in a Washington Times article published on July 26, 1916: "The eyes of the entire country are upon them to see if they are going to put the training they received into practical use, and they must not fail, lest the work of the school will be unjustly criticized."

Five women in uniforms (with pants and aprons) stand at an outdoor table, washing dishes in a line.

Though Hewitt proclaimed that she felt women did not belong in the trenches, it was her hope that should the U.S. enter war, her campers would know how to better serve the war effort. And serve they did. Hewitt worked for the Ordnance Department in Washington, D.C., and in Anatolia with the Near East Relief in Turkey after the Armistice. Hewitt's younger sister, Lucy, worked overseas in France as a nurse with the American Committee for Devastated France. The campers, and hundreds of other American women, went on to serve at home and overseas, both as civilian volunteers and members of the military. They were nurses, motor drivers, telephone operators, reconstruction aides, office workers, farmers, and countless other jobs that supported the war effort and redefined women's place in society.

As Margaret Vining, Curator of Armed Forces History at the National Museum of American History, notes: "Of the many ways the Great War divided the past from the future, none was more significant than the reordered place of women in society." While camps like Hewit's Emergency Services Corps prepared women for life at war, they were perhaps ultimately preparing them for life in a new age.

Katie Wu is an undergraduate at Harvard University studying American History and Literature. She recommends learning more about women who served in uniform in World War I and the Hewitt Family's Ringwood Estate, now a museum in New Jersey. 

Author(s): 
Katie Wu
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - 08:00

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The World War I story of Nénette and Rintintin

National Museum of American History

Some dolls, some dogs, and a charming Parisian story from our textile collections, part of our World War I series this month.

In July 1918, observers of life in the war-weary city of Paris, France, commented on the fad for carrying tiny yarn-doll good luck charms. One noted: "It is taking a long chance in these wild days of war . . . to go about unprotected by a Nénette and Rintintin. Curious little mascot dolls they are, that have taken Paris by storm. . . . But their charm is not to be purchased. Until you have been presented with a Nénette and Rintintin, you have not their sweet protection; and if you have the one without the other, the charm is broken."

Several origin stories exist for the dolls. One widely circulated was that they arose as a charm when the German bombing raids began over Paris. A more sentimental and less likely version of the tale says that a French regiment discovered two French children, a boy and a girl, sheltering on an abandoned farm and adopted them. The girl then made a set of yarn doll mascots, which were named after the children. The regiment went on to have great good luck in succeeding battles.

Another version of the story: a Parisian seamstress in the couture house of Madame Paquin made them for a friend and named them after two war refugee acquaintances. But no matter how the dolls originated, they were always supposed to be given, not bought, and the yarn link between the two dolls must not be broken, or they lost their power to protect.

Photo of fabric. Dark blue background. Images of small children wearing pink, brown, white, and blue outfits. Attached together with string.

In the fall of 1918, just about the time of the Armistice that ended the carnage of World War I, H. R. Mallinson & Co., Inc., one of the most innovative American silk manufacturers, created a design for printed dress silks depicting the little dolls and their linking yarn. The company noted that for each yard of the design sold, five cents would be donated to the relief fund of the orphaned children of Alsace and Lorraine—two French provinces that were occupied by Germany during the war. The Mallinson firm may have made this gesture from respect and friendship for a colleague in the textile industry, Albert Blum, head of the United Piece Dye Works of New York and New Jersey. Blum was active in wartime relief efforts and had a particular interest in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. 

Detail of fabric above

Rintintin made his mark in America after the war was over. In September 1918 Corporal Lee Duncan of the U.S. Army Air Service rescued a German shepherd and her newborn puppies, abandoned in a damaged kennel. He nursed them back to health, then gave several of the dogs to fellow airmen. The two he kept he named Nanette and Rin Tin Tin, as his own good luck charms, and brought them back with him to the U.S. at the end of the war.

The Americanized Rin Tin Tin, and a few of his descendants, would become American film and television stars from the 1920s through the 1950s. Early in World War II, Rin Tin Tin also served as a mascot in his own right, encouraging Americans to donate their dogs to the military’s newly established K-9 Corps.

Advertisement with text "First aid for Uncle Sam's newest recruits" with photo of two small puppies (one black, one white) and picture of Coast Guard official with a German Shepherd

Madelyn Shaw is curator of textiles in the Division of Home and Community Life.

Author(s): 
Madelyn Shaw
Posted Date: 
Monday, January 11, 2016 - 08:00
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At home and "Over There": Women in World War I object group

National Museum of American History

The Women in World War I object group was a long labor of love for my internship. Essentially an online exhibition, the object group showcases objects from this museum, as well as the rest of the Smithsonian, and is part of the Division of Armed Forces History's effort to incorporate women's military history within the larger field of military history. The group is also particularly appropriate because we are in the midst of the centennial of World War I—and will continue to be until 2018!

Illustration of people working together. A charcoal and watercolor sketch on paper of a salvage depot at St. Pierre, France. Below a backdrop of five large windows, men and women are working in a large open space. The women are mostly engaged in carrying and sorting material. A group of men are on top of a pile of salvage on the left side of the drawing.

This project was a wonderful experience for me on many different levels. I was able to delve into a part of history in which I have a keen interest and bring to light many untold or forgotten stories. I had the pleasure of working with several museum staff members and divisions to complete the group. What I love most about this project is that the focus of women's military history is not restricted to what we might consider traditional military roles; instead, it showcases the breadth of women’s experiences during the war, whether they were on the home front or "over there," as a member of the military or a member of a civilian organization.

Photo of embroidered table cloth

The group is split into 17 sections, the first eight showcasing groups of objects in the collections of this museum, and the latter nine suggesting and highlighting collections at other Smithsonian museums and archives. As a knitter and craft-lover, two of my favorite sections are the French Stitchery and the Belgian War Lace. The items themselves are amazing—exquisite laces and embroidered household objects, many bearing motifs of the different Allied countries participating in the war. What is more extraordinary about these items, though, and why I loved working with them, is that they were handmade by French and Belgian women, oftentimes under extenuating circumstances. The stitchery came from Lorraine, an area of France ravaged by war, where peasant women worked under impossible conditions to embroider the household items to be sold in America. The profits from these pieces would go back to the French women to support themselves, their families, and their communities.

Lace

Like the stitchery, the laces in the Division of Home and Community Life were made by Belgian women, and the profits from selling these laces abroad went back to the women and their communities. The exportation of lace was part of a larger effort by the Committee for the Relief of Belgium, chaired by Herbert Hoover, to bring food and other necessary supplies to the Belgian people. Among the supplies imported was thread for making the war laces.

Black and white photo of four uniforms for women

On the other side of the Atlantic, American women were doing everything in their power to support the soldiers and people overseas. For some, this support meant joining an auxiliary to the U.S. armed forces, such as the Navy's Yeomen (F), or a voluntary organization. The Women's Uniforms section of the object group highlights these uniforms in a unique way while we are in the process of digitizing color slides of them; it presents a slideshow of black and white photographs taken of the uniforms while they were on display in the 1920s. The best part about getting to put this section together was going back into collections storage with my supervisor and seeing the uniforms up close and in color. Getting to see the uniforms was an indescribable feeling, and it also gave us the chance to discuss the important roles that uniforms played in shaping women's future identities and rights.

Photo of orange and blue button with three ribbons

Aside from uniforms, pins and buttons also signified women's participation in voluntary organizations and their efforts on the home front. The Pins & Buttons section was especially fun and engaging to work on with the Division of Medicine and Science because the objects come from so many different organizations and war efforts. I spent a lot of enjoyable time researching each one and putting together brief histories. My favorite button is one that began as a bit of a mystery, as I'd never heard of "Sunbeams" before. It shows that even young girls volunteered what they could to help the war effort—Sunbeams were the very young (ages 6 to 11) female members of the Salvation Army, an extremely active organization during World War I.

As wonderful as it was for me to work on this project, I am happy that it is now online so that people can see these great pieces of women's history. Some of the sections in the object group, such as the War Posters and Women's Uniforms ones, will continue to be updated and filled with more objects as they are photographed and approved to go online. We are also adding two more sections to the group later in the fall, including additional war-inspired textiles, so please explore the diverse, rich history of women's military involvement through this object group and check back frequently for updates!

Former National Museum of American History intern Leah Tams works for an archive in Washington, D.C. The James Lollar Hagan internship was generously created with the support of Bette and Lindsey Hagan. Visit our internship website to learn more about this opportunity

Author(s): 
Leah Tams
Posted Date: 
Monday, January 4, 2016 - 08:00
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