Pinterest

All Hands on Deck: Mobilizing Communities to Preserve World War II History

by Erica Fugger, Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, Chestertown, MD on


Home Front Project interns interviewing Elinor Otto,
one of the longest-working Rosie the Riveters.

 

When World War II started, I lived in San Diego. And they were advertising for women to replace the men that, of course, had to go to war. And so it was a big challenge to us women, and we were excited to see if we could do the men’s work. Which we did—sometimes better than them, after they taught us.

After the war ended, we knew we’d be laid off. We did other things; never thought about being a “Rosie the Riveter” or any of the exciting things that are happening now! And it took all these years for the country to realize that the Rosies did something.

I’m so proud of it: to pave the way for all these wonderful women I see with all of these top jobs. It just gives you such a gratitude that we were able to do that, even though at the time we didn’t think we were doing anything but helping the war effort.

Interview with Elinor Otto, 2017 (edited excerpt)

Supporting Community Dialogue

Over the past decade, the nationally renowned StoryCorps program has designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as the “National Day of Listening,” urging families to come together and engage in meaningful conversation. This winter season, I similarly encourage you to think about some of the longest-lasting memories within your own community, as you travel home or welcome visitors for the holidays.

Many stories passed down within families relate to transitional moments in both American and global history. When you think of World War II, what comes to mind may be momentous battles in the long campaign for victory. But it is also important to recognize that these military efforts were supported by American fortitude and sacrifices by those remaining at home, whether it was women entering the workforce, families rationing supplies, or marginalized communities challenging widespread discrimination.

Today, there are numerous efforts to collect the last remaining stories of World War II veterans, spanning the national Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress to more localized initiatives. But the wartime experiences of veterans’ families and their communities—though so pivotal—are lesser-known and celebrated. It has become The Home Front Project’s passion to preserve these memories and begin new dialogue between the generations before the opportunity is soon lost forever.

Preserving Home Front History

Since 2013, the StoryQuest Oral History Program at Washington College in Maryland has recorded over 200 interviews with local residents of the home front. Supported by funding from Iron Mountain, these student-led oral histories have been compiled on an interactive website, preserved in a digitally accessible archive, showcased in public exhibitions, and featured in publications by Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic.

While the program began with a focus on the mid-Atlantic region, The Home Front Project will be spreading its reach in 2018 by seeding new interview initiatives across the country, digitizing pre-existing home front oral histories, and ensuring that these stories are preserved long-term.

Communities interested in beginning or growing their World War II collections will have access to equipment recommendations, educational resources, and promotional support. Interviews previously documented on analog mediums like audio cassettes can be donated to the project, along with pre-existing digital recordings. Student interns will showcase our partners’ oral histories on The Home Front Project’s multimedia website and deposit them in Washington College’s public archives.

Celebrating Untold Stories

The StoryQuest Oral History Program will be selecting our partners before the end of the 2017 calendar year and will begin collaborations heading into the spring semester. We are prepared to work with partners across various institutions and capacities, among them:

  • Historical societies
  • Public libraries
  • Museums
  • Archives
  • Educators of all levels
  • Veterans groups
  • Community centers
  • Retirement facilities

We are particularly excited to collaborate with organizations across the country who share a similar sense of eagerness for inter-generational dialogue and urgency for recording these lesser-known stories of WWII.

If your family has an important story to tell, your community is interested in honoring its longtime residents, or your institution has World War II interviews in need of an archival home, please reach out via story_quest@washcoll.edu to receive additional information about our national partnership program.

We look forward to preserving these essential conversations, discovering new stories, and honoring all contributors to the long-lasting legacy of World War II—which most certainly includes the Rosies.

Erica Fugger is Oral Historian to Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. Her research focus lies in examining the personal narratives underpinning peace activism and social movements. Erica is currently developing training curriculum and community partnerships for the StoryQuest Program’s nationwide effort to preserve memories of World War II on the American home front.

Leave a Reply