WWII Paper Dolls

Although often considered a child’s toy nowadays, paper dolls were originally used to advertise current fashions, illustrate moralistic stories, and, of course, reflect society’s view of women.

First manufactured in America in 1812, they were printed in women’s magazines as well as newspapers. Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine famous for its hand-tinted fashion plate, printed their first paper dolls in November 1859. By the early 1900s, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal regularly printed paper dolls.

Paper dolls reached their height of popularity during the 1930s-1950s. Since paper was an affordable medium even during the Great Depression, and was not affected by rationing during World War II, paper dolls became a popular plaything.

Paper dolls produced during World War II reflected the changing roles of women. While the clothing choices included the requisite military uniforms, they often appeared alongside “date night” appropriate and traditional clothing choices. Despite their expanding roles in the work force and military, still needed to be seen as feminine and desirable.


To view the Paper Dolls Collection please visit Special Collections & University Archives in Seidman House.

Late 19th-Early 20th Century Sheet Music

Special Collections and University Archives acquired a collection of late 19th century early 20th century sheet music. Ragtime arrived, World War I inspired patriotic fervor, and show tunes exploded on Broadway. Many of the compositions included in the collection are written by famous composers. All of the following songwriters were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in its 1970 debut.

George M. Cohan

Nicknamed “the man who owned Broadway”, Cohan is considered the father of American musical comedies. He wrote, composed, produced, and/or acted in more than thirty-six Broadway musicals. His first big hit was Little Johnny Jones in 1904, which introduced now-famous songs “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”.

In fact, Cohan wrote more than 300 original songs. “Over There” became America’s most popular World War I song. Other hits included “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, “Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway”, “Life’s a Funny Proposition After All”, and “Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye”.

Cohan was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his popular patriotic songs. Shortly before his death, Cohan was able to see the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” based on his life, starring James Cagney. Cohan died on November 5, 1942.

On September 11, 1959 Oscar Hammerstein II unveiled an eight-foot tall statue of Cohan in the heart of Times Square on Broadway commemorating Cohan’s contributions to musical theatre in America. Cohan’s status is the only public statue of a theatre performer in all of Manhattan.

Fred Fisher

After visiting the United States in 1892, Fred Fisher immigrated in 1900. He was famous for writing dozens of Irish songs, including “Peg O’My Heart”.

“Come Josephine in My Flying Machine” was written in the early days of aviation. The song follows a young man courting his girl. Allegedly, the girl was based on Josephine Sarah Magner, who was an early American female parachutist in 1905, and who married aviation pioneer Leslie Burt Haddock.

Fragments of the song are sung in the movie Titanic (1997) by both Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) during the Irish party and the “I’m flying” scenes. It’s also featured in an early episode of Peaky Blinders.

Irving Berlin

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Irving Berlin was born Israel Beilin on May 11, 1888. He was an incredibly prolific songwriter, with over 1000 songs to his name. Hi first major international hit was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, which sparked an international dance craze.

Berlin produced ballads, dance numbers, novelty tunes, and love songs that defined American popular song for much of the century. Some of his most famous hits include: “Blue Skies,” White Christmas,” “Always,” “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “Heat Wave,” “Easter Parade”, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, and of course “God Bless America.”

Berlin won an Academy Award for Best Song of the Year for “White Christmas” in 1942.

Egbert Van Alstyne

Van Alstyne composed a number of popular and ragtime songs, often teamed with lyricist Harry H. Williams, such as “Who Are You With To-Night?” Our collection also includes “That Old Girl of Mine”, a collaboration between Van Alstyne and Earle C. Jones.

Con Conrad

“Oh Frenchy”, words by Sam Ehrlich and music by Con Conrad

In 1912, Con Conrad published “Down in Dear Old New Orleans”. In 1913 he produced a show on Broadway called The Honeymoon Express, starring Al Jolson. His first big hit wouldn’t come until 1920 with “Margie”. Other famous songs include “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me”, “You’ve Got to See Your Mama Every Night”, “Memory Lane”, “Lonesome and Sorry” and “Come on Spark Plug”. He went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Song, along with collaborator Herb Magidson, for “The Continental” in 1934.

Harry & Albert von Tilzer

Harry Von Tilzer was born Harry Gumm in Detroit, Michigan. He ran away and joined a traveling circus at age 14, where he adopted his mother’s maiden name (Tilzer) as his own, and added on a “Von” to seem even more elegant. Eventually all his brothers would also change their last name to match his.

In 1898 Harry Von Tilzer sold his song “My Old New Hampshire Home” to a publisher for $15. It went on to become a national hit, and Harry decided to become a professional songwriter. His 1900 song “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” became one of the biggest hits of that time.

In 1914, Harry Von Tilzer was a charter member of the performing rights society, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). 

His younger brother, Albert, also became a songwriter. One of his most notable hits is the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.

Joseph E. Howard

Howard and his second wife, Ida Emerson, published a syncopated novelty telephone number called “Hello, Ma Baby” in 1899. It sold over a million copies of sheet music within months. A sequel, “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” appeared in 1904. Other notable titles written by Howard include: “On the Boulevard”, “What’s the Use of Dreaming?”, “I Don’t Like Your Family”, “When You First Kiss the Last Girl You Love”, and “A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother.” Perhaps the most famous of Howard’s songs is “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?”, a “cry-in-your-beer waltz” first performed in the 1909 Broadway musical The Prince of To-Night


For more information on any of the sheet music sampled here, or to view the entire collection, please visit Special Collections & University Archives on Allendale Campus at Grand Valley State University.

Slave Narratives

Slave narratives are a specific literary genre featuring an account of the life, or a portion of the life, of a fugitive or former slave. While some former slaves could write their own accounts of their lives, those who were not literate often worked with abolitionists to relate their stories. Narratives were meant to educate the American public about the realities of slavery.

Many former slaves who escaped to freedom, including Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, later published accounts of their enslavement and escape. The typical format follows the narrator’s journey from slavery in the South to freedom in the North.

Special Collections has a number of slave narratives in our Civil War & Slavery Collection including the following:

Title page of "Aunt Sally; or, the Cross the Way of Freedom." (1859)
Williams, Isaac.  Aunt Sally; or, The Cross the Way of Freedom.  A Narrative of the Slave-Life and Purchase of the Mother of Rev. Isaac Williams, of Detroit, Michigan. Cincinnati: American Reform Tract and Book Society, 1859.

Probably written by the son of Sally Williams (b. 1796), this anti-slavery tract details the dehumanizing practices of slavery in North Carolina that includes the separating of families. Sally Williams was sold to an Alabama plantation owner while her mother and son were left behind, and later her husband and children were sold to other owners. Her son escaped slavery and was eventually able to purchase his mother’s freedom. Written for young people, the author hopes “that this little story may be the means of leading those who read it to think and feel deeply upon the truths which it involves…so that the young may grow up imbued with spirit of liberty….”

Title page of "Father Henson's Story" (1858).

Eliot Samuel L. and John Lobb.  Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life.  Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1858.

The narrative of the life of Josiah Henson first appeared in 1849 under the title The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada. Narrated by Himself and was ghost-written by Samuel Eliot.  It tells of Henson’s life from his birth as a slave in Maryland, his life there and later in Kentucky, his being sold in New Orleans, and finally his escape north via the Underground Railroad to find refuge in Canada. 

By the time the second (and revised) edition appeared, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had appeared and Stowe, to answer Southern critics, intimated that her story was based on that of Henson and his adventures.  This was not true in the strictest sense, but this edition of Henson’s autobiography conveniently was altered by John Lobb to conform to the statements of Stowe.  In his old age Josiah Henson came to believe that he indeed was the model for Uncle Tom. Our edition has this additional note from the book’s previous owner alongside Henson’s signature:

Josiah Henson's signature.

Sylvia DuBois’ biography is written entirely in phonetic orthography. The author, C.W. Larison, wished to write her story “just as she spoke it”. Larison explains that “giving her own words in the order and style in which she spoke them, portrays more of the character, intelligence, and force of the heroine than can possibly be given in any other way” (3).

Title page of "Henry Box Brown who escaped from slavery enclosed in a box 3 feet long and 2 wide" (1849).
Stearns, Charles.
Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide.  Written from a Statement of Facts Made by Himself…. 1849.

In 1848, Henry “Box” Brown had the original idea of mailing himself out of slavery with the help of a friend.  He made a box, climbed in, had the box nailed shut, and then was sent via a shipping company from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 


February is Black History Month. To view more items related to slavery and African-American history, visit Seidman House on the Allendale Campus or view our Civil War & Slavery digital collection.

To the Letter Episode 15: The End

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Well this is it! The big finale. After enlisting in 1941, Joe has made it all the way to 1946…and is still writing to Agnes. ❤

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

The final letter featured in Episode 15 is available below:

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We have really enjoyed getting to share Joe and Agnes’ story with you through this podcast. Are you interested in learning more about the Veteran’s History Project? Visit https://www.loc.gov/vets/. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode or the podcast in general? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Want to see the Olexa Letters in person? Visit GVSU Special Collections & University Archives at Seidman House, Allendale, MI.

Thank you so much for listening!

-Leigh & Jackie

To The Letter Episode 14: Concentration Camps

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Although Joe may not have been directly involved in the liberation of any concentration camps, he certainly knew what was going on and talked with survivors. This episode we’re talking about the Holocaust.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 14 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 4, 1945

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 31, 1945

There is a lot more to be said on this topic than we had time for – if you’re interested, we highly recommend checking out the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The BBC History article mentioned in the episode is also worth reading. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 13: Hurt Again at Hürtgen

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In this episode we investigate exactly what conflicts Joe’s been a part of and how he ended up wounded and in hospital once again.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 13 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 21, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 27, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 29, 1945

Joe’s been through quite a lot! Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 12: Wounded in Action

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Previously, Joe was wounded during the invasion of Normandy. Wounded again, we dive into what Joe’s medical experience might have been like.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 12 are available below:

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 9, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 11, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 14, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 22, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, March 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 9, 1945

We learned so much researching for this episode! Tune in next time to learn more about what Joe’s been doing in the military. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 11: Peace on Earth

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It may still be summertime around here, but in Episode 11 we are all about the holiday season!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 11 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 16, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 28, 1944

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 18, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 24, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 30, 1945

What do you think of Christmas traditions from WWII? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 10: Remembering the Bad Times

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Episode 10 dives into souvenir-taking and how soldiers wished to remember (or forget!)  the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 10 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 13, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 22, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 23, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 24, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 28, 1944

Does your family have any souvenirs from wartime service? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 9: We Will Always Have Paris

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In Episode 9 we focus on what’s going on in Paris during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 9 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 31, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 11, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 20, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, August 27, 1944

To hear the clip of the Liberation and related speeches, check out https://www.history.com/speeches/liberation-of-paris. 

It was so interesting to learn more about Paris’ role in WWII (and had Leigh, at least, thinking of Casablanca…). Questions? Comments? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 8: Wounds Received in Action

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Joe and Agnes’ story continues in Episode 8, where we delve into injuries sustained  and awards given to soldiers during combat.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was voiced by Tracy Cook. Special thanks to Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at GVSU, for co-hosting with us!

Letters featured in this episode are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 12, 1944

This letter from Agnes features her trademark vibrant lipstick!

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, June 27, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, July 4, 1944

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 4, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 6, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 13, 1944

If you are a veteran or a veteran’s family member and are interested in learning more about replacing medals, awards, and decorations, check out this resource list courtesy of the National Archives.

Additional information on military resources can be found at: https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/veterans-related.html Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 7: Going to the Chapel (And They Are Gonna Get Married!)

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HE PROPOSED!

It isn’t the world’s most romantic proposal, perhaps, but Jackie and I are thrilled to pieces that Joe took the plunge! In Episode 7, we jump into what weddings and honeymoons were like during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Please note: We did jump around a bit in the timeline between Episodes 6 & 7 for purposes of clarity in our research. We wanted to group letters having to do with the movies and the engagement separately. Apologies for any confusion.

Letters featured in Episode 7 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 14, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 16, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, June 14, 1944

Are you as excited as we are that Joe’s proposed? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 6: Going to the Movies

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In Episode 6 we’re going to dive into one past time that’s been popular for years – going to the movies! Some truly notable films came out of this period, and many revolved around current events.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa is voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Letters featured in Episode 6 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 22, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 23, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 27, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 29, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 30, 1944

We were fascinated to learn more about how going to the movies worked during WWII and what films were on Joe’s radar overseas. What 1940s films are your favorites? Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 5: Raising Morale

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After a long hiatus, we’re back! We appreciate everyone’s patience as we worked through some technical and staffing issues, but now we’re ready to get back to it! It’s been a while, so feel free to refresh your memory on Joe and Agnes’ story in Episodes 1-4.

This week we’re picking up with the topic of raising morale. USO shows were just one way troops sought entertainment and escape from the war.  Celebrities such as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, The Andrews Sisters, Abbot and Costello, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Mickey Rooney, Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Laurel and Hardy, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Donna Reed, Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, and John Wayne.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Florence was voiced by Cara Cadena, Ollie Olexa by Noah Campbell, and Joe Olexa by Kevin McCasland. The audio clip of “You’ll Never Know” performed by Vera Lynn, music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Mack Gordon.

Letters featured in Episode 5 are available below:

 

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Letter from Ollie Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Oct. 10, 1944

 

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Letter from Florence Fournier to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Feb. 15, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 6, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 9, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 11, 1944

Questions about the USO? Have any favorite USO entertainers? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 4: An Interlude with Alice

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Episode 4 is here! In this episode, we take a step away from Joe and Agnes’ story to meet one of Agnes’ friends, Alice Gelisle. This is the only letter we have from Alice, but we felt it was so packed with good information we didn’t want to miss it! In her letter, Alice discusses all the facets of her life–working in a factory, playing basketball, rationing, fashion, and going to dances. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Alice Gelisle was voiced by student Katie Newville. Special thanks to Marcia Lee for joining us!

Alice’s letter is available below:

 

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide from Alice Gelisle, sent Jan. 22, 1944

Did you enjoy hearing Alice’s perspective? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave us a review on iTunes! We can’t wait to hear from you!