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.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Student-Created Exhibitions

As a Research Services Assistant at Seidman House, I worked on a number of projects that supported my goal to work as a museum curator post-graduation.  Prior to working here, I did not have experience with providing research support, managing a professional social media account, or all of the steps that go into curating an exhibit.

Screenshot_20190426-131751_1

My favorite tasks were related to building exhibitions. I was able to create six digital exhibits and ten physical exhibits during my time as a student employee. The majority of the exhibitions were in Seidman House, but I also worked on one larger scale exhibition that was displayed at the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons.

I worked on those exhibits from the beginning to the end. This meant I had the opportunity to suggest ideas for what would make a good exhibition and then follow that idea from start to finish. I worked with my supervisor to choose the best materials to feature, design the captions, write captions, and arrange the materials in a display case. One of the main challenges I faced when creating an exhibition was writing the captions because, as an undergraduate student who writes a lot of papers, I am used to writing a lot in order to meet a page or word count instead of trying to condense so that only the most important information is featured. I have learned that text will vary by exhibition depending on whether it is a digital or physical. In a physical exhibit, text needs to fit within the parameters of the case and must be balanced against the item itself; therefore, it’s important to remain concise. In a digital exhibit, however, this is less of an issue. My confidence and skills have significantly increased since I started, but I will continue to work on this in the future.

I also enjoyed the process of setting up a display case.  Initially, I thought this would be easy, but once I got hands-on with the materials, I learned it was much harder than I anticipated. A lot of thought has to go into where materials should be placed in an exhibit such as their color, size, and how they coordinate with the other materials. This thought process varies from exhibition to exhibition; a display with just novels IMG_20190426_123903is completely different from an exhibit for a special collection with materials ranging from pamphlets to images. Being able to create exhibitions with a variety of materials is a skill that I am lucky and extremely thankful to have been able to improve upon.

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It is also important to think about the number of materials that will be in the exhibit because nobody wants a case that looks too full and possibly disorganized or with not enough materials so it feels incomplete.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working here and I am so glad that I was able to work on a variety of projects, but the exhibitions will always be my favorite. I feel more confident going into my Museum Studies program this fall because of the great experience I gained while working here.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Processing

In this installment of Archives Behind the Scenes, we’ll talk about archival processing. Processing is a shorthand term for all of the steps archivists take to get a collection of archival materials ready for research use.

Archival processing activities typically fall under three broad categories: preservation, arrangement, and description. Different archives may take slightly different approaches to these activities, but most archivists follow best practices, guidelines and standards. These are established by professional organizations such as the Society of American Archivists or American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, or by national and international standards-setting bodies such as the Library of Congress or the International Council on Archives.

Preservation

All materials decay and break down over time, and different materials break down at different rates and for different reasons. The goal of archival preservation is to extend the “lifespan” of materials in the archives so they can be used by researchers well into the future.

One of the best ways that archivists can extend this “lifespan” is by controlling the environment in which the materials are stored. Heat, humidity, climate fluctuations, and the presence of pollutants all have a damaging effect on archival materials. Archives often use specialized HVAC systems to keep the temperature and relative humidity (RH) within acceptable parameters for storing their collections. Because the majority of our holdings are paper-based, we aim to keep our climate around 70°F and between 30%-50% RH.

A large gray Leibert HVAC unit situated in the archival storage area
This Liebert heating and cooling system gives us precise control over the temperature and relative humidity of our archival storage areas.

In addition to systems that provide control over the climate, we also use a redundant climate data logger to record and analyze temperature and humidity in our storage area. This way, we can make adjustments as needed as the weather changes throughout the year. Sometimes even the simplest things, like keeping doors closed and lights off, can improve the conditions in the storage area.

A climate data logger and backup USB drive
This data logger lets us record and analyze the effects of climate in our storage areas on the collections.

On a smaller scale, we also use containers to hold archival materials that are less likely to cause damage over time. Containing archival materials in acid-free and lignin-free folders and boxes can help to extend their “lifespan.” Lignin is a naturally occurring chemical compound present in many plants. Paper that contains a high percentage of wood pulp also tends to contain a high amount of lignin – which decomposes at a much faster rate than the rest of the plant materials around it.

One great example of the damage caused by the presence of acid and lignin is in old newspapers. Newsprint typically has a very high lignin content, and is highly acidic. Over time, these aspects cause the paper to become extremely brittle. Once the paper has become brittle, there is nothing an archivist can do to reverse it.

A box contains a stack of yellowed and crumbling newspapers and scrapbook pages.
The years have not been kind to these 1940s newspapers and scrapbook pages. Due to their high acid and lignin content, newspapers decay much faster than some other kinds of paper.

In special situations, a conservator may be able to repair some kinds of damage or stabilize very valuable items. More often, when an archivist encounters brittle items that have especially high content value, he or she will use a photocopier to create a copy of the item on acid-free and lignin-free paper.

Other kinds of archival formats need even more attention. As media technology changes, formats become obsolete. Some items, like video and audio tapes, can’t be used in the archives unless there is a player available. As these kinds of media get older, archives run the risk of not being able to preserve and provide access to them due to their obsolescence.

Two U-Matic video cassettes and one small reel-to-reel audio tape
Media formats like these two U-Matic video cassette tapes and reel-to-reel audio tape are now obsolete.

In 2018, the Special Collections & University Archives undertook a major project to have its most at-risk obsolete audio and video media digitally reformatted. Over 150 videotapes, audiotapes, and films were digitized during this project, and now the digital files are securely stored. In addition to a networked storage space regularly backed up and maintained by the the university’s IT department, our digital files undergo a series of digital preservation activities and are redundantly backed up in a cloud-based data archive.

While all of these different preservation needs can be complex and sometimes conflicting, archivists do what they can with limited resources to extend the usefulness of their collections.

Arrangement

The next step archivists take when processing collections is arrangement. Arrangement refers to how the physical or digital materials are organized, and it is governed by two main principles: original order and respect des fonds.

The principle of respect des fonds, sometimes referred to as provenance, proposes that archives should group collections according to the organization, individual, or entity by which they were created of from which they were received.

One way this shapes up in Special Collections & University Archives is with the collections we have relating to the author Jim Harrison. In addition to the Jim Harrison Papers, we also have related collections of his biographer Robert DeMott, his sister Mary Harrison Dumsch, and his former sister-in-law Rebecca Newth Harrison. While materials in all four collections relate to Jim Harrison’s life and literary career, they are all grouped according to their fonds, or creator. Researchers interested in Harrison may need to look through all of the collections – and possibly collections at other archives – to get the full picture of Harrison’s life.

The principle of original order is the idea that if the creator of a set of records created and/or maintained them in a particular way, then that organization should be preserved regardless of how easy or difficult it might be to use. Historians and other researchers may be able to infer or make connections within or about the records or their creator due to the original order of the materials. Archivists should strive to preserve or even re-create original order if one is evident.

A binder full of 35mm photo negatives and contact sheets sits in front of a box full of binders
The photographer who created this collection was meticulous in how he organized his own negatives and contact sheets. As we process this collection, we will maintain this original order even though we may exchange the binders for archival containers.

However, not all collections have evidence of original order when they are evaluated by an archivist. In these cases, an archivist might decide to organize them in some logical manner to facilitate research use. Common arrangements include chronological order and alphabetical arrangements by names or topics.

Arrangements in archival collections can be simple or complex, depending on the size and nature of the collection. Archivists often group similar items together to create files, and group similar files together to create series. Once an archivist has completed the arrangement of a collection, he or she will then create a record that describes the collection.

Description

Archival descriptions can take several forms. Some archives use the same kinds of catalog records as with books to describe their archival collections. Some archives use more complex records, called Finding Aids, to describe the collection and its creator(s), and often to provide an inventory of the series and files that comprise it.

At Special Collections & University Archives, we use Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), to guide our collection descriptions. We record our finding aids in a database called ArchivesSpace, which allows us to share the finding aid online in an easy to search format.

A screenshot of the GVSU Special Collections & University Archives finding aid database, ArchivesSpace
From the front page of our ArchivesSpace database, researchers can search through descriptions of hundreds of archival collections.

One of the most important aspects of archival description is providing context. Archival collections are often the product of the day-to-day life or business of a person or organization. It is important for researchers to know who created and maintained the materials, when and where this took place and under what circumstances, and how they came to be placed in the archives. In the same way that preserving original order within a collection can lead a researcher to inferences about a collection, so too can the context of a collection’s creation.

A screenshot of an archival finding aid in ArchivesSpace
In this snapshot of a finding aid in ArchivesSpace, we provide information about the collection as well as contextualizing information about its creator.

Archivists must do their own research in order to provide this context – often by referring to the collection materials themselves – but also by looking into other primary and secondary sources on the subject. However, archivists try to present only the facts of the matter within an archival finding aid, leaving interpretation and drawing of conclusions to historians and other researchers. While many archivists are experts in their own right on a variety of subjects, we also try to remain impartial when presenting a collection of materials to researchers.

Once the finding aid is published, the collection is open for research use. Boxes and folders are neatly labeled and shelved carefully in our storage area. Researchers can request materials in our reading room, or request remote reference assistance by phone or email.


In the next installment of Archives Behind the Scenes, we’ll discuss the development of our Digital Collections through digitization and collaborative partnerships. We’ll also touch back on some of the ins and outs of our digital preservation strategies.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Acquisitions

In a departure from our usual exhibit posts highlighting our exciting collections, this post will kick off a short series of “Behind the Scenes” discussions about what goes on in the Special Collections & University Archives at Grand Valley. In this post, we will discuss how we acquire collection materials, what they’re like when they get here, and what we do once we have them.

View of front entrance to Seidman House

Within Seidman House, we have one curator, two archivists, one archives assistant and a couple of student assistants who work to collect, organize, document, and preserve archival materials and rare books. We also have several distinct collecting areas. One, the Special Collections, contains materials collected for their historical value, their connection to regional history, or their connection to the research and teaching interests of the Grand Valley community. The other, University Archives, contains the records, photographs, publications, and media created by Grand Valley State that document the university’s history.

Acquisition

Materials that come into our collections are acquired through transfers, donations, and purchases.  Materials accepted into the collections are guided by a collection development policy.  This policy describes what kinds of materials are (and are not) collected by the Special Collections and University Archives. It details the types and formats of materials collected, as well as what kinds of contents, topics, geographical areas, and time periods we aim to collect.

Transfers

Transfers happen when a campus office, faculty member, administrator, or staff person officially deposits their inactive records to the University Archives. Transfers can happen at any time of year, but often occur during the spring and summer.

An archivist standing with a cart of record boxes in front of a trophy case
Archivist picking up a records transfer from the Intercollegiate Athletics Department

Not all records created at the university are archival. Some records have long-term value and are considered “permanent” records, but they are not archival because they remain in active use. Other kinds of records, such as student transcripts, may be permanent and have long-term value, but are protected by laws or policies that restrict access to them. Records such as these are usually maintained by the office that creates and manages them.

Other kinds of records, such as routine correspondence, invoices and receipts, and scrap notes with no context, have no long-term value. Even when these kinds of records are no longer in active use, they should not be transferred into the University Archives. Instead they can be shredded and disposed of.

The University Archivist often consults with offices before transfers to ensure that the records are archival, and that they have long-term value and are no longer in active use.

Examples of archival university records include reports, committee agendas and minutes, correspondence of high-ranking officials, official memorandums, course catalogs, official publications, budgets, and high-level planning documentation.

Donations and Purchases

When collecting archival materials and rare books for our Special Collections, we have a modest budget for purchasing materials, and we also accept donations. Collecting decisions made by the curator and archivists are guided by the collection development policy that defines the collecting strategies for the department.

When donations occur, a curator or archivist works closely with the donor to determine if the materials fit our collecting policy and to negotiate the terms of the gift. Donors who own copyrights to the materials can choose to transfer those rights to the university as well. Donors sign a Deed of Gift form that records the donation and details the terms. Once this has taken place, the materials become the property of the university.

Photo of a room full of bookcases packed with books, newspapers, magazines, index files, and other materials
Archivists sometimes visit the homes of donors to identify and sort out materials to acquire

When purchasing materials for the Special Collections, the curator reviews catalogs and websites of rare book and manuscript dealers, searches online auction sites like eBay.com, or works directly with the item’s owner to acquire materials that fit our collection development policy. The curator also often consults with archivists and faculty in various disciplines to find out if items available on the market might fill a particular gap or be of interest for classroom or research use.

Two advertising circulars from circa 1900. One advertises artificial eyes, the other advertises surgical and veterinary instruments
Purchased items, such as these advertising circulars for medical devices from the early 20th century, often come with detailed descriptions provided by their sellers

Next Steps

Once we have received the materials at Seidman House, they may be in any state of condition or arrangement. We are careful to look for certain kinds of problems, like evidence of mold or pests. If left unsolved, these problems can spread and damage other materials in the library. Once we determine that the materials are safe to take in, we accession them, or create an official record of what we acquired, where it came from, how much is there, and any special instructions or restrictions relating to the materials. We then label these new accessions and set them aside for cataloging and processing.

A small blue box is filled with bundles of letters tied with ribbons and stacks of black and white photographs
When new archival acquisitions are made, they’re evaluated by an archivist for their condition and contents. This collection will need to be processed before it is useful to researchers.

In the next “Behind the Scenes” installment, we’ll discuss archival processing, highlighting the steps an archivist takes to bring a new collection to life.

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

Advertisement for “Along Came Ruth”

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.

Postcards: 100 Years since the End of World War I

On Veterans Day, November 11, 2018 we show our respect and gratitude for the service of our country’s veterans. This year’s celebration is a little more special than past observances, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the ending to World War I.

On this occasion, we invite you to explore these postcards from the Philo Holcomb, Jr. World War I postcard collection. Holcomb was a native of Atlanta, Georgia who served in the U.S. Army from 1918 to 1919. After the war, he traveled extensively in Europe, collecting numerous postcards, travel guides, and maps.

[Postcard front] The home fires are burning

[Postcard rear] Dear Philo
Dear Philo, You are constantly in our thoughts. Mother has given all the news. Father


World War I consumed the better part of Europe between the years 1914-1918. Its battles were fought with a brutality that was never before seen. The Great War took a significant toll on the men who fought bravely.

These men were sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, and nephews. Many of them had a family waiting for them to come home. While the soldiers were abroad fighting, the most common method to communicate with family, friends, and acquaintances was through letters and postcards.

 

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Millions of postcards were created between the years of 1905 and 1915. This time period is known as the ‘golden age’ for postcards. In Germany alone, there were about three million printed. In some ways, communication by postcard is similar to today’s use of social media such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Postcards have a limited amount of space for writing and picture to tell a story. That story could be about the place the person was currently stationed, a place someone visited, or just to reassure loved ones that they were okay.


 

[Postcard] Nenette et Rintintin - Right - Don't Leave Me - Ne t'en vas pas sans moi!
“If Rintintin is a soldier under special orders (like me most of the time) the allegory of jerking him away is true to life. Don’t blame me for the short dresses ladies wear these days. “
One could analyze this piece–featuring the French character Rintintin as well as the writing on the back of the card–and see this as him being “jerked away” from focusing on his duties in the Army with his interest in the women of Europe. You can see this again in the postcard below with Philo’s friend Bill having accidentally chased away a girl. Another example how postcards have the power of image and words in a short small package.

[Postcard front] Bar-aus-Aube - Usine Gadenne - Montagne Ste-Germaine

[Postcard rear] The flour mills - still a little farther upstream. A girl in the mill smiled at Bill but when he showed interest she ran away. Girls is funny creatures I guess.
“The flour mills – still a little farther upstream. A girl in the mill smiled at Bill but when he showed interest she ran away. Girls is funny creatures I guess.”


Postcards printed during this era sometimes reflected the politics and popular sentiment of the day. During the World War I era, humor became darker, illustrated below in the text of these British postcards.

British wartime postcards
My Latest Portrait: Just Me, Gas Who It Is; Some Bonnet: I eat & drink out of it, it protects my brains, it’ll come home with me under it.

Some Germans who opposed the war expressed their defiance through art. In the postcard below, one could interpret that it is making a mockery of the people in power. You can tell by the man’s luxurious clothes, clean nails, and wine glass that this is a wealthy man. In the corner of the postcard on the right, there is a small printed statement–SCHENKER– which means “boozer” in German.

 

Mockery of those in power has often been used by the common people to make their displeasure known. It can be seen in a lot of German artwork for the period of World War I. Mockery is still frequently used to the same effect in the present day, through its proliferation in memes and social media.


But more often than not, postcards were a quick way for soldiers, sailors, and airmen to connect with those they held close to their hearts.

[Postcard front] Remembrance and Love, when you're a long way from home
A postcard from Grand Valley State University Professor of History Dr. Jason Crouthamel’s WWI postcard collection
It is important to understand the sacrifices our military veterans have made.  Today, we honor them the best way we know how—Thank you, for your service and your dedication to our country.

 

 

October is Archives Month!

You can ask any student at any university about researching for a paper, and they will probably tell you a few war stories about trying to find information on a certain topic or subject. Research can be a time consuming and frustrating process for many. Luckily, there are people to help with that research. Archivists keep track of primary documents, and work with archival materials to make sure the information is preserved and accessible to the public.

October is National Archives Month, which means an entire month dedicated to the celebration of the people who keep delicate historical items safe, organized, and reachable by all.

A group of students in cap and gown celebrates their graduation from GVSC.
Students celebrating their graduation from Grand Valley State College

To add my own celebration to the mix, I would like to share with you a little about what I do as a student worker at the Special Collections & University Archives at Grand Valley State University.

My job is to help the archivists in processing material so it can be added to the archives or to the University Library website. I also aid in arranging materials so it is easier for the public to search through, and find what they need.

World War I era postcards are organized into geographical groupings.
Processing World War I postcards

Processing is a methodical approach of taking massive amounts of information and organizing it into a cohesive and understandable format. Processing can include, but is not limited to: transcribing letters to make it more reader friendly, organizing photos and old documents into file boxes, or preserving damaged material.

A good example of preserving damaged material is the case of the Newspaper Scrapbook.

We received scrapbooks full of articles from WWII years ago. Newsprint, by nature, is highly acidic and is prone to degrading.

Close-up view of deteriorating newspaper scrapbooks from World War II.
Richard Platte Red Arrow Scrapbook

These articles were in sore shape, so we had to scan the material to the computer to save that information from being lost to time. This is just one small example of the many things archivists do to preserve material.

What I love most about the archives are the hidden gems that lay deep within the recesses of the University Photograph Archive. The archives are full of photos about all sorts of things. There are photos on previous travel abroad trips, old sorority/fraternity photos, pictures of the building of GVSU, and so much more!

Personally, my favorite is the construction photos of the campus. Seeing the building of a place that I so frequently visit take shape is fascinating. For example, Kirkhof Center–a place where there is a constant flow of students in and out– whether that’s for a coffee, a snack, club meetings, movies, catching the bus, or help from the 20/20 desk.

Campus [Kirkhof] Center construction
On the left of the photo is Zumberge pond, and on the right is the bare beginning of Kirkhof Center.
 

Compare this to the now dominating structure that lets everyone know that they have made it to the Allendale Campus.

View of east face of Campus [Kirkhof] Center, with Zumberge Pond in the foreground
Kirkhof Center, circa 1970s
The difference is amazing. I could never see Grand Valley State University without a Kirkhof. But Kirkhof was built in 1974, so there was a time where students did not see the structure that we are so familiar with today. There are tons of photos like these located in our archives and these are just a few examples of the wonderful things we hold. So, when you need a hand in finding sources for your new research topic make sure to remember the Seidman House archives.

Happy National Archives Month to all!

 

25th Annual Grand Valley State University Shakespeare Festival

This fall marks the 25th anniversary of Grand Valley’s Shakespeare Festival, hosted by Grand Valley State University’s Theatre Department. In celebration of this legacy, we are honoring the Bard’s history on campus. Although the Festival wasn’t established until 1993, GVSU began producing Shakespeare’s works as far back as the 1970s.

1970's Taming of the Shrew
Audience enjoying a performance of Grand Valley’s production of Taming of the Shrew on the green, circa 1970’s

The GVSU Shakespeare Festival is a semi-professional organization based out of the Allendale campus.  They’ve operated annually since 1993 and are Michigan’s oldest and largest Shakespeare Festival. More than 6,000 patrons attend the Festival activities each season, which include main stage performances of the Bard’s works, high school touring shows, workshops, new plays projects, symposium with visiting scholars, an all-campus student art competition, a Renaissance Festival, and other events.

1999 Macbeth witches
GVSU’s production of Macbeth, 1999

Their productions are cast from a pool of students, community actors, and guest professionals; union artists are engaged under guest artist contracts administered by the Actors Equity Association.  The Festival company operates from mid-August through early November, producing public events starting in late September.  By beginning their season in the late summer and early fall, they successfully merge quality productions with the academic life of the University community.

2014 Comedy of Errors

Jake Jager (center) as Dromio of Syracuse in
2014 The Comedy of Errors.

The festival is organized by members of the University faculty and staff, who strive to involve students with all aspects of Festival planning and operation: management, production, fundraising, public relations, acting, design, budgeting and other areas.  Each season the faculty and staff also strive to connect Festival activities to important areas of University life outside of dramatic arts: cinema, multicultural affairs, music, philanthropy and public service, alumni, dance, and communications, among others.

1973 King Lear
Robert Moyer as King Lear (left) and David Dean as the Fool (right) in Grand Valley’s 1973 production of King Lear

In 2016, season audience members were given the opportunity to vote upon which of the Bard’s works would be produced for the 25th anniversary. The winner was King Lear. Above is a photograph from GVSU’s 1973 production of King Lear. The play featured Robert Moyer, a GVSU faculty member, as the titular king and David Dean, an Aquinas College student, as the fool. Director Michael Birtwhistle, a GVSU faculty member, adapted Shakespeare’s text into a more modern-feeling and action-filled play.

This year’s production is directed by Karen Libman,  GVSU Theatre faculty and Fulbright Scholar.

The Green Show

The Green Show is a production performed “on the green,” or outdoors, and may even include actors parading their performance between various locations. The photos below are from a 1970s Green Show performance of Taming of The Shrew.

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A History of Design

Check out our collection of uniquely designed annual Shakespeare Festival playbills, posters, and mailers!

 

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For more information about the Shakespeare Festival, visit their website, at https://www.gvsu.edu/shakes/ 

To view more items related to all things Shakespeare in our Special Collections and University Archives, visit Seidman House on the Allendale Campus.

The Pink House

In 1962, as construction was getting underway at Grand Valley State College, the administrators vacated their downtown Grand Rapids office and moved into several small houses near the new campus in Allendale. While a small gray farm house was selected as the site of administrative offices, a pink ranch house with a two-car garage was chosen to house the college’s budding library collection.

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The Pink House

To prepare for the college’s opening in 1963 Library Director Stephen Ford and his staff of seven worked out of this small house, collecting and cataloging over 10,000 books.

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Among the stacks of the Pink House Library

When the college finally opened, space was set aside for the library collection in Lake Michigan Hall, the only building that had been completed on campus at the time. Director Ford and his staff packed up the Pink House and moved the library collection to its temporary site.

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Library director and staff moving books for the opening day collection

What became of the Pink House is uncertain, but once the college had opened its doors students made good use of the temporary Lake Michigan Hall Library. Still, students and faculty alike eagerly awaited the construction of Zumberge Library to be complete.

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Temporary Lake Michigan Hall library

 

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Zumberge Library construction

Zumberge Library finally opened in the spring of 1969 and served as the campus’ intellectual center until it was replaced by the Mary Idema Pew Library in 2013. GVSU now has five total library locations on its Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses, and holds over 1.6 million titles in its print and electronic collections.

Michigan Picture Postcards

Postcard. Why Don't You Come to Holland, circa 1910
Holland, Michigan. Why don’t you come to Holland, Mich. and runabout the town with me, circa 1910

Among the many instruments that people have devised to communicate with one another, the postcard fills many roles. If you need a simple way to send a quick note, to let someone know you’re thinking of them, to save or send a souvenir of your travels, or merely to document your own surroundings – postcards can meet all of these needs and more.

The American postcard was first developed in the 1870s, and the first souvenir postcard in the 1890s. They quickly became immensely popular, with their “Golden Era” spanning from around 1907 to 1915.

During that period, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the “divided back” postcard, which included a line on the blank side to separate the address area from the message area. Also during this period, Kodak produced a specialized “postcard camera” which enabled the quick production of “real photo” postcards.

The postcards highlighted in this exhibit come from our American Picture Postcard Collection (RHC-103).  Their photographs and illustrations depict the locales and sights of Michigan, and show us how things used to be.

Love Letters

For Valentine’s Day this year, we’re taking a peek into some of the most romantic correspondence collections in Special Collections and University Archives. We managed to whittle the choices down to two correspondence collections that really exude love. We hope you enjoy these snippets as much as we do!

First is the Edward Manley and Jean Worthington Letters, which includes a total of 60 letters written by Jean “Jeannie” Worthington and 159 written by Edward “Ned” Manley. The letters were sent between February 15, 1945-June 27, 1946 while Ned was serving in the U.S. Army. Jeannie, however, was a teenager, still in school in Cleveland, Ohio, trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life. A U.S. Army Private, Ned was assigned to an anti-tank company in the 27th Infantry Regiment in Japan.

The love between these two is heartwarming. Though it’s harder to imagine in today’s world of instant connections, letters were one of the only ways separated couples could communicate during the war. The only way to actually “see” your significant other was via photograph or in your dreams. Ned’s and Jeannie’s letters try to show the other person how much they cared through added emphases, terms of endearment, and the occasional inside joke.  They both mention how they will be together “always”, sometimes underlining the world, call each other “sweetheart”, and frequently mention 28–the number of children they joke they will have once they are married.  They both mention seeing each other in “Dreamland” at the end of some of their letters, alluding to the place they can at least pretend they are with each other. One example is the end of a letter Ned wrote to Jeannie on February 23rd, 1945:

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Letter from Ned to Jeannie from February 23, 1945

The love these two share is evident, whether they’re talking about their daily routines or how much they miss each other. Many of these letters mention “Someday”, typically in quotation marks, likely referring to their hopes of being reunited after the war. Jeannie mentions “Someday” twice in the conclusion of a letter she sent to Ned on March 2nd, 1945:

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Jeannie’s letter from March 2, 1945

The second collection we chose to highlight is the Doris Keirn and Burley Yehnert Letters, containing a total of 34 letters, 21 from Doris (nicknamed “Dorrie”) between November 13th, 1944 – February 4th, 1946 and 13 by Burley “Burl” between December 13th, 1946 and July 29th, 1947. Dorrie’s letters typically discuss school events, since she was attending the Altoona School of Commerce in Pennsylvania, early musical talent, and her heartache over her separation from her fiancée, Burl. During this time, Burl was a Private at various Army Air Force postings before receiving a promotion to Sergeant, stationed in Tampa, Florida in late 1945. While his letters were written after he was discharged from the Army, he struggled to find postwar work, preventing him from moving to Phoenix, Arizona to be with Dorrie.

Through these letters, it is easy to feel the deep love these two had for each other, which make their separation all the most heart-wrenching. For example, on November 25, 1944, Dorrie is listening to a song from one of her records and has to write out all of the lyrics to Burl because she thought it “suits us perfect”. The song is titled ‘Just Plain Lonesome’ by Burke-Van Heusen for the 1942 Kyser film “My Favorite Spy”. To write out every lyric shows just how much she was relating to this song, missing her fiancée and the moments they shared together. Listening to the music while you read the lyrics she wrote out evokes the loneliness she felt and her yearning to be with Burl.

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Song lyrics in letter from Dorrie on November 25, 1944

The letters Dorrie sends to Burl are filled with romantic reminders. Some of the envelopes from Dorrie include special notes written on the flap, such as this example from January 21st, 1945 that reads “Close to you I will always stay/Close to you though you’re far away”:

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Envelope flap from Dorrie’s January 21, 1945 letter

Two letters even contain lipstick kisses:

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Five lipstick kisses sent to Burl

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Stack of lipstick kisses Dorrie sent to Burl

A few of her letters include her picture glued on, creating a more personal stationery (and one that Burl would enjoy):

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Letter from Dorrie on March 18, 1945 including her picture glued to the stationery

These letters are full of references to her love for Burl. She refers to him as her ‘husband’ even though they had not wed yet, and writes continually about how much she misses him and cannot wait until their time together truly begins.

Burl’s letters are also full of his love for Dorrie. Where Dorrie calls him ‘husband’ he refers to her as ‘wife’ – and even points out how often people believe they are already married! He also is sure to tell her how lucky he is to have a person like her love him in return.

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Closing of a letter from Burl

One letter even contains an “I Love You My Darling Dorrie” doodle:

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“I love you my Darling Dorrie” doodle from Burl

Both Dorrie and Burl begin and end each letter by explaining how much they love the other person. These two truly fit the definition of true love.

We hope you enjoyed this peak into these two love related correspondence collections in our Special Collections. If you’d like to see more romantic letters in our Special Collections, be sure to check out the Olexa letters. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Grand Valley Logos: 1960s and 70s

Grand Valley State College, 1960-1973

The Official Seal

Grand Valley was founded in 1960, and its first classes were held in 1963 on a campus under heavy construction along the Grand River ravines in Allendale, Michigan. Still in its early days, Grand Valley organized a contest to design an official seal. The contest received 60 submissions from nearly two dozen entrants, but the winning logo (so the story goes) was an anonymous design found in the college mailbox with no postmark. The prize money of $100 was donated to the GVSU Scholarship fund. Students voted to select the school colors of light blue, black and white.

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Grand Valley State College seal, circa 1960s

The official seal can be found gracing numerous publications, promotional materials, and pieces of stationery in the University Archives. The 1960 date at the bottom of the seal reflects the date of Grand Valley’s founding, not necessarily the date of the item on which it is printed.

Alternate logos, such as the one below, with the “G” and “V” connected side-by-side, also cropped up during the mid- and late 1960s.

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Grand Valley logo, circa 1960s

Grand Valley State Colleges: 1973-1983

In 1973, Grand Valley adopted a “cluster college” organization, and its name changed to Grand Valley State Colleges. This change reflected the distinctive teaching styles of its four colleges: the College of Arts and Science, Thomas Jefferson College, William James College, and College IV (later renamed Kirkhof College).

The Leaf Logo

During the early- and mid- 1970s, the “GV Leaf” logo, depicted below, graced much of the stationery and promotional materials produced by the institution.

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Grand Valley Leaf Logo, 1970s

The logo’s designer, W-B Advertising Agency, explained that the smooth flowing line making up the “GV” symbol was characteristic of one large school encompassing a number of smaller colleges within. The tree or leaf-like symbol in the center is symbolic of ecology, rural setting, rebirth, and growth.

College of Arts and Sciences Logo

The most traditional of Grand Valley’s four colleges, the College of Arts and Sciences, or CAS, had curricula covering a wide spectrum of disciplines in the arts, humanities, and sciences. This spectrum is symbolized below in the logo that included a rainbow-like arch over the CAS initials.

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College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) logo, circa 1970s

 

William James College Logo

The William James College was founded in 1971 and was organized under a philosophy of trans-disciplinary liberal education that emphasized critical thinking and personal fulfillment. Named after the famed American psychologist and philosopher, the college’s logo depicts a portrait of a young William James. This logo can still be found painted prominently on the wall of Lake Superior Hall, the building in which the college was housed.

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William James College logo, 1971-1983

 

Thomas Jefferson College Logo

The Thomas Jefferson College’s logo was, you guessed it, a portrait of United States’ Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson, after whom the college was named.

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Thomas Jefferson College logo, circa 1970-1983

Though it began in 1968 as the College of General Education, it eventually grew and evolved into an interdisciplinary liberal arts program that was focused on bringing students “into contact with themselves, their personal and academic needs, their capacities, their values, their aims in life, and to help them integrate these elements into an effective whole by providing the necessary opportunities and resources. The college was housed in Lake Huron Hall.

College IV Logo

College IV provided an individualized, modular, self-paced, and interdisciplinary curriculum intended for goal-oriented students who didn’t fit into traditional modes of education.  Instead of classes or lectures, students learned through module books and video tapes that could be checked out of the College’s A/V Center.

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College IV logo, circa 1973-1979

The learning modules were supplemented by discussion groups, problem-centered projects, and independent studies. The college’s logo features its name and two beaming light bulbs.


In the early 1980s, Grand Valley disbanded the cluster colleges and reorganized with discipline-based academic divisions. Check back later for an exploration of Grand Valley Logos in the 1980s and 1990s!

Class of 1967 50th Reunion

Welcome to Seidman House IceSculpture Exhibit2

On June 24th, Grand Valley State University welcomed back members of its first graduating class. Members of the Class of 1967 returned to campus over the weekend to celebrate the anniversary of their graduation 50  years ago.

The Class of 1967 took a chance on the “college in the cornfields.” The 138 students who made up the class (including “pioneer” members who enrolled in the very first year, rather than transferring in later) knew a very different campus from today’s. While the Great Lakes Plaza remains a central academic hub, the size and scope of campus has greatly expanded.

As part of the weekend’s festivities, Special Collections and University Archives toured groups of the alumni through Seidman House.

Archivist for Collection Management, Annie Benefiel, displayed notable items from our collections, while Archivist for Public Services and Community Engagement, Leigh Rupinski, showed them an exhibit of 1960s photographs and documents.

Alumni were particular interested in the changes to Seidman House itself. Back in 1967, Seidman House was the “Collegiate Center”. It served as a student union, complete with bookstore downstairs. Although the “pit” (where performers like Arlo Guthrie entertained student crowds) remains, its primary purpose now is as a quiet study space for students. Instead of a bookstore, the downstairs houses our climate-controlled stacks.

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In the evening, staff attended the “Hootenanny” (party), where we manned a table of 1960s memorabilia drawn from the Archives. Items included yearbooks, student handbooks, the 1967 Commencement program, and course catalogs. Alumni eagerly flipped through memory books to help us identify unnamed faces in our photograph records.

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We were thrilled to be a part of the Reunion festivities!

Innovations in Learning: College IV

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College IV logo

In September of 1973 Grand Valley State Colleges (as it was then known) opened College IV. College IV was so named because it was the fourth college in GVSC’s cluster concept, joining the College of Arts & Sciences, Thomas Jefferson College, and William James College. College IV sought to create a barrier-free approach to higher education. According to the 1973-1974 catalog, “College IV has thrown away the lecture platform and class schedule, freed the student and the professor from the drudgery of fact-passing, and engaged them both as partners in the learning process”.

In College IV, instruction was delivered via “auto-instructional learning modules”. These portable information packets all followed the same format. They included a clear objective, a detailed study guide, and a self-assessment test for students to check their readiness for the final test. Additional tapes or films could be checked out of the A-V Center to supplement the readings. Some modules were conducted as telecourses such as “The Art of Being Human”. Each module was designed to be completed at the student’s own pace in order to encourage full-time workers, parents, and retirees to enroll. To pass, students had to demonstrate mastery over the subject. Only a 90% or “A” grade allowed students to pass–anything less meant restudy and a new final exam.

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A student browses College IV module booklets

Since there was no traditional classroom setting in College IV’s design, faculty were expected to be available throughout the day to work with students and answer questions.

Although envisioned as a four-year liberal arts college, College IV had both degree-seeking and non-degree options to emphasize job preparation. The majors included options like biology, chemistry, economics, English language and literature, mathematics, and philosophy. Later on, additional choices such as tourism, real estate and insurance, and advertising and PR were added.

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Brochures for the courses of study in College IV

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Areas of study listed in a publicity brochure (after College IV’s name changed to Kirkhof College)

Aside from its innovative curricular model, College IV also sought to meet students where it was most convenient for them. Students interested in enrolling in College IV could register and pay tuition via the “Mobile Campus”. The mobile unit visited area business, factories, and shopping malls on a regular basis. After registering, students could select modules, receive counseling, and take tests at the Mobile Campus.

College IV’s home on campus was in AuSable Hall. There, students had a study space as well as a laboratory and learning and testing center. Impressed by College IV’s practicality and dedication to reaching non-traditional students, local inventor and businessman Russel H. Kirkhof donated $1 million to Grand Valley in 1978. College IV was renamed Kirkhof College in his honor.

The University Archives contains administrative records related to College IV as well as numerous samples of the learning modules.

The Murmur and the Roar

The Murmur and the Roar - title image

Personal and Public Perspectives of American Wartime

In times of war or military strife, the experiences of individual soldiers are often eclipsed by the civilian population’s understanding of the conflict. Influenced by media, politics, and propaganda, the public experience of a war is far removed from that of the individuals fighting it.

Soldiers and veterans find ways to understand, cope, and connect with others over their experiences. Sometimes they choose to share those experiences – in letters, diaries, memoirs, photographs, or recordings.

This exhibit features materials from Grand Valley State University Libraries’ Special Collections & University Archives that illustrate both the public perception and personal experiences of war. Special Collections & University Archives is actively collecting the stories of veterans – to remember, to honor, and to learn from their service and their sacrifice – through their unique collections of documents, photographs, media, and digital objects. The objects and memories presented in this exhibit are only a small portion of the resources available for research use.

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John Bennitt

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John Bennitt, M.D. (engraving); Western Biogl. Pub. Co.

John Bennitt was born on March 24, 1830 in Pulteney, New York. He received an M.D. from Cleveland Medical College in 1850 and entered medical practice in Centreville, Michigan in March of the same year. During the Civil War he served as an assistant surgeon in the 19th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. He and part of his regiment were captured in March of 1863, but were released and he continued his service until the end of the war. During the war he compiled three diaries and wrote over 200 letters to his family detailing his experiences in the army.

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In letters to his wife:

Camp Chase, May 24th 1863

“I cannot claim any particular merit in that I am trying to do my duty to my country, and to those who go forth risking their  lives for their country’s sake, yet I feel that those who remain at home, and have no near & dear friends in this terrible war, know nothing of the sacrifices that are made for our common country. People of the North in the midst of their unparalleled prosperity at home almost forget that there is a war, and it is only those who are made to feel it in the absence and loss of dear ones & the desolations of homes.”

McMinnville, Tenn. April 7th 1864

“I do so much wish I could be at home now, for I feel that a great responsibility rests on us which I would be glad to share with you. But my Country not only calls, but demands my services now, and I am unworthy of a heritage in this goodly land, if I shrink from doing my whole duty, but the time is not far distant I hope when that duty in the present  capacity will cease and I can return to peaceful avocations and Live with those I love. Let us live in hope trusting in Him who orders all things for good.”


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Patriotic Envelopes

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Mailing envelopes with patriotic imagery or emblems printed on them appeared at the outset of the Civil War soon after South Carolina’s secession from the Union in December of 1860. Production of the envelopes in the South ceased after 1863, but continued in the North until the end of the war. The envelopes were created to encourage patriotism and allowed printers to add new product lines to their inventory. Early in the war some Northern printers produced envelopes for the South as well. Vendors marketed them to soldiers to send letters home from the battlefields, but most envelopes used in mailing letters were sent to soldiers from their families in the North. The envelopes were most often purchased as keepsakes, kept in scrapbooks, and were never mailed.

Opposition to President Lincoln

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Though President Abraham Lincoln is one of the most commemorated presidents in American History today, he was an extremely controversial figure during his time in office. Opposition and hostility toward Lincoln came not only from the people of the Confederacy and many in the southern border states, but also from his political opponents in the Democratic party in the North, and even elements within his own Republican Party. The ballad “Nobody Hurt” was composed by John Ross Dix, a Unionist and native of Bristol, England, in response to a speech Lincoln gave shortly after he was elected. During the speech, Lincoln implied that no one would be hurt during his first term as president and that people would have an opportunity to vote for another candidate in four years. The ballad shows how public criticism of President Lincoln was not limited to the Confederacy, and that even small statements had a large impact on public opinion.


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Archibald Irvine McColl (1893-1981)

Irvine McColl was a resident of Grand Rapids and attended the University of  Michigan, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 1917. McColl enlisted in the Army later that year and was a Sergeant in Battery C in the 119th Field Artillery from 1917 – 1919.

Though we have no photographs of McColl, we have many of the letters he wrote to his family. The photographs presented here are from the D.J. Angus photograph and film collection.

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From the letters of Irvine McColl:

January 31, 1919

“I wonder a lot what it will be like to be back again, and to be a chooser to some extent of what I can and cannot do and the men I will be with, and to actually be on speaking terms with English talking women, and to have a bath more than once a fortnight, and to eat real meals and not to have to mess as we do when we eat. I’m afraid I’ll seem a bit rough, at first at least, and a bit wild, for dispite [sic] our continual lament about nothing to do there is something going on, a fight or a fire or a wild party of some kind or other … And to come back to chocolate and sodas and canned excitement and adventures will seem tame,  perhaps, but I am certainly ready to try the civilized ways again. 

Mother and Aunt Hattie … both seem to think I am somehow different than I used to be,  but I am afraid I’ll disappoint them, for really, Al, I am only what I am, and can’t borrow much from the thing we have been over here for. It is only the fellows who were popped off that are the real heroes of the war. Their memory is as glorious as the immortal soul of the United States, but the rest of us are only poor weak mortals after all.”


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Posters to Sell the War

During World War I, the U.S. Government recruited advertisers, designers, and illustrators to communicate key messages about the war to the American public. Propaganda posters such as these were created to encourage citizens to join the military and help the U.S. defend its European allies. Posted along the street and in store windows, they were used to inspire patriotism and nationalism and to dehumanize the enemy. Their bright colors and intense graphics made them eye‐catching and easily noticeable.

 “I Want You…”

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“I Want You for the U.S. Army,”by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917

This World War I poster was designed in 1917 by James Montgomery Flagg, who contributed 46 posters to the government. Originally published on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly, the portrait of “Uncle Sam” went on to become one of the most famous posters in the world. Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the image was later adapted for use during World War II. This is perhaps one of the most recognizable images of this era, and has become an icon of American patriotism.

“Destroy This Mad Brute”

 

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“Destroy this mad brute” by Harry R. Hopps, 1918

During World War I, German soldiers were often depicted as apes in American propaganda. This poster posed American allies England and France as “civilization” and Germany as a ”mad brute.” In this poster, the ape is holding Lady Liberty, symbolizing the perceived  peril to the American values of liberty and democracy. In the background you can see Europe in ruins as the ape steps onto American shores. Due to propaganda like this, many German Americans whose families may have lived in America for centuries faced persecution during the war.


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Joseph P. Olexa (1918-2000)

Joe Olexa enlisted in the Army on December 9, 1940 and fought in the 26th Infantry Division, Company “L”. During his time in the Army, Olexa was stationed in Northern Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium, and Germany, fighting in some of the most remembered battles of World War II, including the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. While stationed in America and overseas Olexa sparked a romance with Agnes Van Der Weide, a young woman in Grand Rapids. They kept in constant contact while he was overseas fighting and the couple married on July 23, 1945, and settled in the Grand Rapids area.

Though we have no photographs of Olexa, we have hundreds of his letters to Agnes as well as his personal memoir, written after the war. The photographs below come from the World War II collections of James W. Ochs, F.W. Beasecker, and Otto Kuxhaus.

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Dedication in the memoir “As I Remember,” by Joseph Olexa

“To all who served in the Armed Forces giving their lives, limbs and unselfish devotion to their country to achieve victory in a struggle to fight tyranny and oppression and be free from men who seek power and conquest the world over.”

Olexa recalls reaching Omaha Beach, Normandy

“Three Hundred yards from shore our L.C.I. hit two underwater mines making the launch sink enough so it would not clear the sand bar. We jumped into the water from the front side like rats escaping a fiery doom. The water here was deep as we sank into its murky depths from the weight of our equipment. What seemed like ages I finally hit bottom with my feet springing enough to send me back towards the top. My lungs were now crying for air as I used my arms in powerful strokes to surface. The extra 77 pounds of equipment I carried slowed me down.”

 


World War II - Public Perceptions

On the Home Front

While American soldiers braved the European and Pacific Theaters of World War II, the American way of life was drastically altered at home. Science and technology saw a flurry of innovation. Radar, plastics, electronics, and of course, nuclear weapons, saw huge advancements during this period. Once male-dominated areas of industry, science, and business saw an influx of women workers. Women found employment as engineers, welders, manufacturers, and electricians to help build the armaments to defend U.S. troops. The lack of men pursuing traditional leisure-time activities, such as baseball, created avenues for women to compete in public like never before.

Esterline-Angus Graphic Instrument

The Esterline-Angus Company, partly owned by D.J. Angus, was an early pioneer in engineering and manufacturing of electrical instruments. Angus invented a number of continuous-recording instruments and filled orders for the U.S. government and military during World War II. One such invention was the Recording Milliammeter, used by the research team of the Manhattan Project. In Chicago, Illinois on December 2, 1942 one of these devices was used to measure the first sustained, controlled nuclear reaction.

Women Take The Field

Grand Rapids Chicks 1953 program
Grand Rapids Chicks 1953 program

With the draft calling many of the country’s baseball players away to war, Philip K. Wrigley decided to create a women’s professional baseball league. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League began in the spring of 1943 and entertained thousands  throughout the Midwest before disbanding in 1954. As the first professional women’s baseball league on record, these women brought communities together and helped keep spirits high on the home front.

Heroes Under Cover: the Flying Tigers

The "Flying Tigers" American Volunteer Group pilots
The “Flying Tigers” American Volunteer Group pilots

The American Volunteer Group (AVG) was a small force of American aviators and mechanics led by Colonel Claire L. Chennault to aid United States’ ally China in its defense against deadly Japanese air raids and bombings.  Many of the group’s members traveled to China in an undercover mission, their passports identifying them as farmers or mechanics so they could travel without hassle. Several of the pilots  painted the noses of their P-40 fighter planes with shark mouths. Their Chinese allies, mistaking the shark teeth for a tiger’s intimidating scowl, began to refer to the pilots as Fei Hu, or “Flying Tigers.” After  the United States officially entered the Pacific Theater of the war due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the AVG disbanded, many of its pilots returning to their service in the United States Army Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. News reels about the Flying Tigers’ success in China were played in cinemas in the U.S. to bolster support for the war effort and boost morale on the home front.


Vietnam War - Personal Experiences

Michael Woods

Michael Woods was born in Natchez, Mississippi and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17. After basic training he was sent to Camp Pendleton, and stationed in Okinawa in January of 1963. Sent to Vietnam with one of the first Marine units assigned there, Woods participated in a number of combat actions of varying size. After his tour in Vietnam was over, he stayed in the Marines until 1979, but did not return to Vietnam.

We have no photographs of Woods, but his interview can be found in the Veterans History Project digital collection. These images are from the digital collection of Ronald Oakes.

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From the interview of Michael Woods:

“The system in the military although stressful and demanding was the fairest system I had been exposed to at the time…You’re looking for, ‘Where can my ability take me? Just based on my personal ability, nothing else.’…The military itself is one of those places that operates under that principle.”

“The experience of leaving this training and going back to be with your buddies [back home, after training] is amazing. You find you don’t have anything in common with them anymore. You find that the things that they are doing seems childish and not grown up. So you lose that connection that you have had with these friends…and you start seeing yourself differently, maybe a cut above…”

“Every serviceman that came back experienced the hatred that many Americans showed them. For the black serviceman it was a little different…There is a civil rights movement here, and there are dogs being put on black people, and there are [fire] hoses being put on black people. Your fight is here on the streets of America, not in Vietnam. You are fighting for the Vietnamese to get rights when you don’t have those same rights here at home… Your own community had ostracized you…It wasn’t an easy time for black military people.”


Vietnam War - Public Perceptions

The Draft

During Vietnam about one-quarter of American troops were drafted into military service, most of whom were selected from poor or working class families. Men with physical limitations, college students, or men who were essential to financially supporting their families could apply for deferments. Many draft age men fled to Canada to avoid the military service. By 1972 over 200,000 draftees who protested their selection were involved in legal cases. Those who fled faced imprisonment or forced military service. In 1974, President Gerald Ford offered conditional amnesty to these men. On his first day in office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter offered a full pardon to all who requested it.

Protests at Home

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The conflict in Vietnam and the mandatory draft of young men into military service polarized American political discourse. Public protests, both in favor of and against the war, became a frequent occurrence. Many students here at Grand Valley had strong feelings about the Vietnam war. Protesters had sit-ins, chanted slogans, and held signs that voiced their divided opinions: “Stay in Vietnam to keep Freedom” and “Support LBJ kill a friend today.”

Vietnamese Propaganda

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These propaganda posters depict the Communist Party of Vietnam’s efforts to gain support for the war from their own population. Using bright, eye-catching colors and strong language, they sought to inspire nationalism and support for the communist regime. The language on these posters translates to phrases such as “Assault and defeat our enemies,” “Uncle Ho says victory, it means victory,” and “All armies fight to win.”


Capturing Veterans’ Voices

GVSU and the Special Collections & University Archives are dedicated to preserving the history of veterans. Currently the Special Collections hold very little documentation of the Korean War or the wars and conflicts following Vietnam. Aside from oral history recordings collected by the GVSU Veterans History Project, Special Collections collects photographs, letters, journals and diaries, small artifacts, and other documents and memorabilia from veterans. With the help of our community, we can preserve these unique resources for future generations to discover and explore. Please contact Special Collections & University Archives at collections@gvsu.edu for more information.

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This exhibit was curated by Special Collections & University Archives, Greg Bevier ’16, and Helen Kurtz ’16. Title and heading images were designed by Jeremy Shane ’17.