The women of World War I: New Milford seeks items for exhibit

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — About 100 years ago, the U.S. entered World War I, ultimately sending about 4 million U.S. citizens - mostly men - into battle.

But while they were off fighting, millions of women remained at home and assumed new roles to ensure that life could continue here as well. This spring, the New Milford Historical Society is commemorating this demographic and the country’s entry with a special exhibit entitled, “Warriors of the Home Front: American Women and World War I, 1917-1919.”

The society is turning to the community, asking residents to loan artifacts from the period for the exhibit to show what life was like in New Milford during the war. The personal items will help bolster the pieces the society already has, such as a nursing hat, medical supplies, some uniforms, newspaper articles, and a recipe book distributed by the Food Administration.

“I like to focus specifically on New Milford and how the war affected our town and our community,” said Lisa Roush, the society’s curator. “In the historical society, we always try to bring it home.”

Letters and photos are especially important because they provide real accounts of what it was like and show what people were going through. People couldn’t call each other from the front lines so this is how they kept in touch, Roush said.

“They’re personal and really capture what was going on at the time,” she said. “They’re personal records that are so emotional.”

Roush knew she wanted to commemorate the anniversary of the war with an exhibit, but let Anna Qiu, a senior at New Milford High School interning with the society, choose the focus.

The exhibit will also honor the dozens of soldiers from New Milford who fought in the war.

Qiu said she chose to focus on the role women played because it wasn’t often discussed.

“I feel that it’s not that explored,” she said. “I hope people see the different roles women took on during the war.”

She has been researching the topic several hours a week during her internship and said she’s enjoyed learning a lot about the women in town at the time. Among them was a group called the “farmerettes,” who took on the agricultural duties vacated by the men fighting.

“I liked how tenacious they were,” Qiu said. “At first there was this resistance to women laborers.”

She said many of the farmerettes hadn’t even worked on farms prior to the war.

“They just wanted to serve their countries,” she said.

The farmerettes were organized by the Women’s Land Army of America, which brought more than 20,000 city and town women to rural parts of the country to help keep farms viable and produce enough food. It was inspired by the Land Lassies in Great Britain, according to the Smithsonian.

New Milford’s chapter had between 20 and 50 members, Roush said.

Qiu has also researched influential women in town at the time, including Edith Newton, an artist, and Mary Weaver, who went on to be the first woman to represent New Milford in the state legislature.

The exhibit opens March 5 with a special event at 2 p.m. featuring re-enactors from the Royal Bavarian 10th Infantry Regiment, 1st Company. The group will also bring some artifacts.

Roush hopes people learn something from the exhibit.

“I’d love for people to take away the sacrifices that the people here in New Milford made during the war,” she said. “It’s also a way to say thank you to the patriots who fought in this war and to commemorate and honor those who fought and died.”

For more information or to loan the museum an artifact, call 860-354-3069.; 203-731-3345