Exhibit highlights role of New Milford women in WWI
NEW MILFORD — The roles President Woodrow Wilson and Archduke Franz Ferdinand played in World War I are well known, but lesser known are the roles women played in “the war to end all wars.”
But a new exhibit at the New Milford Historical Society and Museum highlights just that.
As many as 75 people saw the “Warriors on the Homefront: American Women and World War I” exhibit during its opening Sunday afternoon. The exhibit runs through June 5.
Curator Lisa Roush and museum intern Anna Qiu, a student at New Milford High School, organized the collection of photographs, uniforms, posters and other memorabilia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war and honor the role locals, especially women, played in the effort.
Roush said their role is often forgotten.
“We know what the men did on the battlefield, but a lot of what the women did on the homefront was not highlighted,” she said.
But women weren’t only nurses, but farmers. The exhibit displays photographs of the “farmettes,” college-age women who volunteered while the men were at war. Not only did they keep the farms going, but the food they produced was sent overseas. About 25 to 50 farmettes worked in New Milford, living at the Ingleside School for Girls.
They were influential in the women’s rights movement, Roush said.
“It was kind of a precursor for the suffragettes, because they were starting to fight for the rights of women and the right to vote,” she said. “It was one of the first times women wore pants and it was very shocking that women were going out and being laborers.”
All but 20 or so of the 75 artifacts in the exhibit were donated by residents and re-enactors.
“A lot of the artifacts that were lent to us were personal family pieces, like dogtags and photographs, so it’s extra personal to see,” she said.
The exhibit includes a 1917 photograph of a Liberty bond drive in New Milford, where people were encouraged to buy war bonds to support the war effort. Another photo features a Brookfield woman wearing a doughboy outfit she made.
On display was a Model 1904 McClellan Cavalry Saddle used in World War I and II, donated by the the Connecticut 2nd Company Governor’s Horse Guard in Newtown.
The museum displayed the uniforms and gear worn by American and German soldiers, donated by two re-enactors from the Royal Bavarian 10th Infantry Regiment.
Fritz Frising, a re-enactor dressed as a Bavarian soldier, said seeing the uniforms side-by-side is a reminder of the similarities between the soldiers from opposing sides.
“You can see there’s really no difference between the average American soldier or German soldier or British or French,” he said. “It was the monarchy and the political situation that was responsible for the war. ... We’re trying to show that though we’re on opposite sides, there was still that commonality. Even though we were the enemy, we weren’t the bad guy.”
One of the re-enactors, Bill Baldwin, dressed as an American soldier, showed an example of the small kit bag knitted by women of the American Red Cross, churches and ladies’ societies. Soldiers used such bags for personal items such as soap and razors. Without them, Baldwin said, the men would be miserable.
“The soldier’s whole world of comfort was created by a lady in a church someplace,” Baldwin said.
“In history class, you read about the politicians and the famous people and you don’t hear about the people who produced food and material,” Baldwin said.