Connecticut Women’s Land Army

 

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

The Second World War upended domestic agriculture. Across the United States, farms faced an acute labor shortage as workers left the land for military service and industrial jobs in the defense industry. The federal government responded with a nationwide plan to put high school students, immigrants, and even convicts into agricultural service. Founded as an agricultural school in 1881, the University of Connecticut was primed to support the government’s efforts.

A notable example of UConn’s support for this plan came through the Connecticut Women’s Land Army (CWLA). The CWLA sought to train young women in agricultural work and place them on local farms in desperate need of labor. By serving in the land army, young women would receive training in modern agricultural practices and fulfill their patriotic duty by providing food for Americans at home and abroad.

The Connecticut program began in the summer of 1942 under the direction of Corinne R. Alsop. Alsop had served as a Republican in the Connecticut House of Representatives, and was a cousin and close confidant of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alsop recruited thirteen women to take part in a two-week course taught by faculty from UConn’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture. Training covered everything from cleaning barns and washing milk bottles to driving tractors and applying pesticides. With their training complete, seven of the women were then placed on local farms.

The initial program was deemed a success, though some revisions were in order. Judith Churchill, one of the trainees, wrote to Alsop after working on a farm in Litchfield County. Churchill described the job as “most interesting and successful.” But she felt the program would benefit from more specialized training. Alsop and the head of the program at UConn, Wilfred B. Young, agreed and changes were made as the program entered its second year.

The new program, which began in February 1943, reflected a more ambitious vision. The course would still last two weeks, but trainees would specialize in either poultry or dairy work. Also, the course would no longer be a one-time affair. Alsop and Young aimed to have about twenty students trained and placed on farms every two weeks. The expanded program was made possible with increased support from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and other federal agencies.

In the revamped program, all costs would be paid by the FSA as long as the trainees agreed to serve on a local farm for at least three months. This new offer succeeded in attracting a range of applicants. Women of all ages and occupations, and living as far away as Virginia and Missouri, wrote to Alsop and Young for more information about the program.

Even with the diversity of applicants, most trainees were young white women in their late teens and early twenties. The majority came from within Connecticut and almost all admitted to having little to no experience with farm work.

The rare exception was a Chinese exchange student named King Sze Tsung, who was in the country learning to teach braille to blind children. Sze Tsung, or Jane as she was known, even received coverage in the local newspaper.

When the first group of trainees arrived on the Storrs campus in February, they faced the daunting prospect of beginning their training in the middle of winter. But the school newspaper, the Connecticut Campus, reported that “despite the biting winds, freezing temperatures, and the snow covered ground,” the women were “cheerful, eager and full of spirit.”

The trainee’s day began around 5:30am. The women milked cows, fed chickens, cleaned utensils, and tried their hand at other farm tasks. Along the way they received instruction on more challenging jobs like cooling and bottling milk or grading eggs. The day ended around twelve hours later with dinner and socializing in campus facilities.

Despite the positive response from trainees, high hopes for the program were soon dashed. In particular, attendance fell well short of the initial goal. Meanwhile, the state’s labor shortage continued to hinder agricultural production. But the program received a publicity boost in March 1943 when Eleanor Roosevelt paid a surprise visit to the Storrs campus.

Accompanied by CWLA director Alsop, Roosevelt spent her time at UConn visiting with President Albert N. Jorgensen, delivering a lecture on the importance of youth involvement during the war, and taking a tour of the poultry houses, dairy barns, and dormitories used to train and house the CWLA members.

After finishing the two-week course, CWLA trainees were placed on farms around Connecticut. The women were guaranteed room and board and a salary that ranged from $45.00 to $75.00 a month.

Once on the farm, the women found themselves faced with a wide range of tasks.  They might take on work for which they had been trained or be pressed into jobs that fell well outside their instruction. For example, one trainee recounted her dismay at having to face off with a troublesome tractor engine.

Nevertheless, local farmers generally responded positively to the CWLA recruits.

In job surveys sent to Wilfred Young, farmers praised the instruction offered by UConn and commended the work done by their new employees. Some even planned to rely on CWLA labor in the future.

CWLA recruits also spoke well of the program. Marie Sullivan, a trainee who worked on a farm in Middletown, reported that she “enjoyed the work immensely.” Another named Polly Brooke said she “liked every minute of the work and would do it again.”

For some though, the adjustment to farm life was not always easy. Recruits often complained about poor housing, a lack of proper training, and the dearth of social life on the farm. Farmers too grumbled about the women’s lack of skill, charged them with laziness, and pressed Young to instruct future recruits on how to better integrate into farm life.

One farmer, for instance, lamented that his trainee never left him and his wife alone. “While we want her to feel at home,” he wrote, “we feel she is taking some advantage of this.”

By the end of 1943, several waves of recruits had passed through the program and been put to work on Connecticut farms. In the end, though, both Alsop and Young offered a gloomy assessment of the program.

Young wrote that despite large numbers of applicants, many women failed to show up for one reason or another. In an interview with the Connecticut Campus, he noted a number of challenges to recruitment. The CWLA had a small publicity budget, hours and wages for factory work were better than in agriculture, and, Young feared, many interested women may have been scared off by the thought of hard labor on the farm.

Alsop echoed Young’s view, though she added that prejudice toward hiring women for farm work also impeded the program. But she argued that the CWLA should not be judged by the number of placements.

In her estimation, the Connecticut Women’s Land Army had come a long way. “There is still more pioneering to be done,” she wrote, “but the first roads are cleared.” The program continued to run for the remainder of the war, though it never proved as successful as some had hoped.

The Blizzard of 1978 “Stops State Cold”!

It started snowing in the early morning of February 6, 1978, in Connecticut and across the entire area from New York City up through New England. Thirty hours later there were over two feet of snow in some places, including on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs. The famous Blizzard of 1978 is still one for the record books, with the cost for damage over $25 million statewide and the deaths of six people including four men who had heart attacks from shoveling snow. Governor Ella Grasso shut down the state for three days, hundreds of cars were abandoned on state roads and thousands of people sought refuge in emergency shelters. President Jimmy Carter declared Connecticut and the other New England states a disaster area and federal troops were called in to help the state recover from shoulder high snow drifts and blocked roadways.
On the UConn campus it was more of a party atmosphere, with students having snowball fights, sledding down Horsebarn Hill, and enjoying a couple of days of no classes. Twenty students were treated at the University Health Services for snow related injuries, including one who broke his foot jumping from the upper story of a dormitory into a pile of snow below. There were reports of other students doing the same thing, except they did so with no clothes on (see the article “‘Skin’ Diving Becomes Winter Sport,” from the Connecticut Daily Campus of February 8, 1978). University Facilities was busy with round-the-clock plowing and shoveling, and classes finally resumed on February 9.

Car meets Duck Pond, 1972

We recently came across a folder of photographs in the University Photograph Collection that we just had to bring to the attention of our blog viewers. Luckily the photographs were accompanied by a note written by Doug Cutchins, a UConn History graduate student who worked as a student assistant in the 1994-1995 school year at what was then the Archives Department of the UConn Library. Doug found the photographs in the Archives and interviewed the professor whose car is the subject of the photographs over 20 years earlier. With Doug’s permission we are using his writing (below) although we have made a few minor changes.

Here’s the story of the photographs:

On January 17, 1972, UConn Professor Bob Asher parked his car on the road above the Duck Pond, the body of water now better known as Swan Lake, as he did every morning. While he had remembered to set the parking brake he had neglected, he later assumed, to put the car into “Park.” The cold of the day froze and snapped the parking brake cable, and the wind blew the car down a hill, where it hit a rock or stump, swerved at a ninety degree angle, and skidded out onto the frozen pond.

Professor Asher received a call at his office from the University police, who told him his car was out on the ice. Rather incredulous, he waited until they came to his office to get the full story. The police walked into his office, and apparently glared at his print of Andy Warhol’s “Pigs” painting on the professor’s wall. Prof. Asher then decided to move the meeting out to the pond.

A tow truck was called, but refused to go out onto the ice. As everyone watched, the wind picked up again, blowing the car further out onto far thinner ice, which the car soon started to break through. Eventually, someone was able to get to the back bumper of the car with a cable, and it was pulled out of its partially-submerged state onto the hard ground.

The car was then towed to a local garage, where it was left out overnight. Unfortunately, since it had been under water, the engine block froze during the night, killing the car. The garage offered Prof. Asher $1100 for the car as scrap. Prof. Asher agreed immediately since he had bought the car used only a year earlier for $1000.

Asked if he was sure that the car hadn’t been pushed by students, he said he was sure that was not the case since the incident occurred during Winter Break and the doors were locked and there was no indication that the car had been tampered with when it was brought up from the water.

A UConn Student visits Vietnam on Winter Break

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. All images are from issues of the Connecticut Daily Campus and the Nutmeg, the student yearbook.

In January 1968, Dennis Hampton, a twenty-year-old philosophy major at the University of Connecticut, spent his winter break thousands of miles from home in the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. As editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Connecticut Daily Campus, Hampton went to report on the U.S. war in Vietnam. The conflict occupied the minds of many students that year. In the following months, protests against the war would rock the UConn campus. But by then, Hampton had already seen the conflict up close.

Photo of Hampton and Major William Corliss from March 1, 1968, Daily Campus (pg. 3)

After a Pan American flight over half the globe, Hampton disembarked at Saigon’s Ton Son Nhut airport. Stepping off the plane, his first view of the city surprised him—it seemed so ordinary. European cars and bright new motorbikes clogged the roads, the clamor of people and car horns filled the humid air, and the refuse of urban life lined the streets.

Only “a few odd touches” hinted at the reality—Saigon was at war. Hampton noted the grills on bus windows for deflecting grenades, the street-corner guard stations stacked high with sand bags, and the endless American military and civilian personnel. Still, the war seemed far away.

Dennis Hampton and unidentified woman at the Nutmeg office

Hampton disliked Saigon. He found the city too crowded and noisy, and his first night left him feeling discouraged. What should he do and how would he do it? Why would he leave his friends and family to wander alone in a foreign city, and on his vacation no less? “I wondered what I was proving,” Hampton later wrote, “whom I would impress by coming to a country when practically everyone else did everything possible to stay away.”

Hampton had better luck away from the capital. He left Saigon by military helicopter, flying low over rice fields and canals of coffee-colored water. He touched down in Can Tho, a city southwest of Saigon. The pace was slower there, and the streets less snarled by traffic.

Hampton soon met Major William Corliss, a resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, who had taught in the ROTC program at UConn’s Hartford campus before enlisting for a tour of duty in Vietnam. Hampton reported that Corliss “was impressed that a college student would spend time to come to Vietnam, and maybe just a little glad to see someone from UConn.”

Front page of Connecticut Daily Campus, February 22, 1968

In South Vietnam, Corliss served as senior commander to an American advisory team. He oversaw the small village of Phong Dien and promised to show Hampton the community development work underway there. Corliss and Hampton boarded a military jeep and took off. Hampton felt elated. He was finally “on the track of SOMETHING.”

As the pair reached Phong Dien, Hampton noted the lack of U.S. personnel in the area. He had arrived in “an actual, un-Americanized Vietnamese town.” Village life had ground to a halt because of the fast approaching celebrations of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Hampton spent his first day in town meeting local officials, drinking tea, and enjoying regional dishes.

The excitement would have to wait until that evening. Hampton spent the night with the U.S. military detail stationed in the village. Earlier in the day, Corliss had warned him about an impending mortar attack. Hampton wrote that he was “just a little nervous, a little afraid, but also eager.”

Dennis Hampton and Nutmeg staff, 1968

That changed once he heard the first mortar round go off around 11:00pm. He quickly became “a lot more nervous and afraid.” Luckily, his fears were unfounded. Hampton learned the next morning that the boom of mortars had come from U.S. troops firing in the opposite direction.

The next day, Corliss took Hampton on a tour of the surrounding hamlets. The commander spoke at length about the prospects and problems of community development. They had made some strides in education and local government but faced setbacks too. Hampton pointed to the lack of healthcare and sanitation in the area as a particular challenge. But Corliss was optimistic about his work. Community development, he claimed, would win the war.

This optimism seemed to rub off on Hampton. The college student found his time with Corliss the most informative part of his trip. It would not last. Hampton noted that he left Phong Dien only a day before the Tet Offensive, a major turning point in the war. Thereafter, the American public’s support for the war plummeted, never to recover.

Archives & Special Collections holds several collections that provide information about the Vietnam War era and its impact on campus and in society. You can find the finding aids to the following collections in our digital repository:

Crisis at UConn, Alternative Press Collection

Diary of a Student Revolution — a National Educational Television documentary showing the dramatic behind-the-scenes struggle between President Homer D. Babbidge and the UConn protesters demonstrating against on-campus employment recruiting by Dow Chemical Company on the Storrs campus.

Hoffman Family Papers

Poras Vietnam War Memorabilia Collection

Frances Perkins and the E. Ingraham Company

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. The letters are from the E. Ingraham Company Records.

In late October 1944, famed U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins wrote to the E. Ingraham Company of Bristol, Connecticut. In her letter, she gave the company permission to employ girls between the ages of sixteen and eighteen for nine hours a day. Under an earlier federal regulation, young girls could only work for eight hours a day.

But as Perkins’s acknowledged, times had changed: a labor shortage in Bristol and the essential work of the E. Ingraham Company to the war effort meant rules would have to be bent – if only temporarily.

Founded in 1831, the E. Ingraham Company had by the 1940s become one of the most successful clock and watch makers in the United States. The company’s successful manufacturing operations, though, would soon serve a different purpose. In 1942, the War Production Board drafted the company into the U.S. military effort against the Axis powers.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, industries throughout the United States shifted from producing for the consumer market to providing essential material for the war effort. The E. Ingraham Company went from crafting fine clocks and its popular “dollar watches” to cranking out mechanical time fuzes for the Army and Navy.

Local women had long labored in the E. Ingraham Company’s Bristol factories. But World War II drew even more of them into the workplace. The relentless demand for munitions pushed company president Edward Ingraham to ask the federal government for a loosening of labor restrictions.

Appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, Frances Perkins was the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position and has so far been the longest-serving Secretary of Labor. She devoted much of her life to defending the rights of women and children in the workplace. Moreover, setting limits on working hours had been one of her chief aims upon accepting her position. Perkins’s approval of an extra hour of work for young women employed by the E. Ingraham Company thus illustrates the demands placed on daily life during war time.

In June 1945, with the war in Europe over and the need for munitions in decline, Perkins rescinded her prior authorization. Young women could no longer work more than eight hours, and the E. Ingraham Company returned to fashioning the clocks, watches, and other products that had made them a household name in the years before the war.

 

Reading room closed, December 18-January 1

The Archives & Special Collections reading room is closed from Monday, December 18, 2017, through Monday, January 1, 2018. We will reopen our doors on Tuesday, January 2, 2018. If you have a question about our collections please email us at archives@uconn.edu and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

UConn Professor of Music Herbert France leads students in singing Christmas Carols, 1947

Storrs Girl and Her Classmates Earn Jeep Rides!

 

The March 9, 1944, issue of the Hartford Courant had this news story:

Girl’s War Loan Letter to President Wins Jeep Ride for Storrs Pupils

As the result of a letter to President Roosevelt, in which Geraldine Hall of Storrs Grammar School told him of the good work her schoolroom did in the Fourth War Loan Drive, the 39 children in that room were given rides in jeeps Wednesday [March 8, 1944] and the rest of the school will be taken on similar rides Thursday [March 9, 1944].

Geraldine’s room comprises the fifth and sixth grades at the school. Boys and girls in the room brought more than $3500 worth of war stamps and bonds during the drive, enough to pay for three jeeps. The sum they raised was more than one fifth of the $15,000 quota for the town of Mansfield.

In the whole school there are 135 students and their total contribution to the Fourth War Loan Drive was $8000, more than half the town’s quota. When the officials who sent the jeeps here primarily to give the fifth and sixth grade students rides learned the fine record of the whole school, it was decided they would come back again Thursday and see that all students in the school get rides.

Geraldine’s letter brought an answer from the White House praising the record of her school room and said that if the answer were taken to the nearest Army post her classmates would be given rides in a jeep. She displayed the letter to Major Michael F. Moffitt at the University of Connecticut and the two jeeps were sent out from Hartford.

Geraldine Hall is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Burton C. Hall. Her father is first selectman for the town of Mansfield.

 

We are fortunate that UConn professor and photographer Jerauld Manter took photographs of the children and their jeep rides on that day in March 1944.  These photographs are in the University of Connecticut Photograph Collection and can be found here: http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/search/jeep?type=dismax

25th Annual Connecticut Children’s Book Fair THIS Weekend – With Exhibition on View

For 25 years, the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair has welcomed families, collectors, teachers, students and librarians to UConn to meet and to hear talented, award-winning authors and illustrators discuss their work.  This weekend on November 4 and 5, we are excited to once again foster the enjoyment of reading among Connecticut’s youth with two days of dynamic programming. The Book Fair takes place at the Rome Commons Ballroom on the UConn campus — visitor information can be found on the event website.

Archives and Special Collections celebrates the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair in this milestone year by featuring the collections of authors and illustrators found in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection (NCLC). The Book Fair is also an opportunity to highlight recent research conducted in the papers and archives of NCLC authors and illustrators.

The following is an excerpt of an exhibition essay by Nicolas Ochart, Student Exhibitions Intern in Archives and Special Collections, for an exhibition currently on view in the McDonald Reading Room in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. This semester, Nicolas is responsible for conceiving and developing small-scale exhibitions that highlight archival material found in the collections. He hopes to pursue professional curatorial work in an effort to promote the work and experiences of marginalized and underrepresented communities in the United States. In December, Nicolas will receive his B.A. in Art History from the University of Connecticut.

The Northeast Children’s Literature Collection was developed in 1989 to collect and preserve the history of children’s literature and illustrations, and comprises the archives of over 120 notable authors and artists. Among completed editions of beloved children’s books, the collection also includes countless preliminary sketches, letters, dummies, manuscripts, notes, and correspondence with family, editors, and other writers and artists.

The collection’s extensive holdings have made the University of Connecticut a nexus for scholars and children’s book writers and illustrators across the nation interested in studying the literary and aesthetic qualities of the form. In an effort to support and encourage study of the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection, Archives and Special Collections have developed a number of awards for researchers, including the Billie M. Levy Travel and Research Grant and the James Marshall Fellowship. Grantees and Fellows have written on such varied topics as queer American Jewishness in the art and writings of Maurice Sendak, as well as influences of modernism and fashion design in the work of Esphyr Slobodkina. Aspiring and established authors and illustrators have also looked at papers by James Marshall, Natalie Babbitt, Tomie dePaola, and Eleanor Estes for guidance in their own practice.

The objects on display in Archives and Special Collections represent just some of the archival materials past Fellows and Grantees have found noteworthy in their research. These objects also dialogue with others in Archives and Special Collections, and together offer rich and surprising stories of classic tales.

The collection’s extensive and cross-historical nature provides a visual and narrative mapping of the perseverance of certain character types and situations. One of the most persistent topics of interest in children’s literature concerns problems that arise from class conflicts, and the tensions between members of the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and working class communities. Where a character is from and the spaces they are permitted to navigate reveals much about their personality, goals, and interactions with other characters in their environment. These works show desire and punishment, as characters’ morality largely dictates whether they are granted social mobility or afflicted with poverty or other penalties.

Even if clear moral distinctions between classes are not drawn, the picturing of difference is almost always apparent. The objects displayed in Archives and Special Collections represent a sampling of the visualization of class and “otherness” in popular children’s fables and fairy tales, as well as the ways in which characters’ bodies, properties, and reputations are threatened by these factors.

We encourage exploration of the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection, or explore the blog for Archives and Special Collections, to learn more about scholarship conducted by visiting academics, writers, and artists.

– Nicolas Ochart

 

 

The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

by Richard Telford

Author’s note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. Still, I believe it begins an important process of bringing renewed attention to natural history writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale. Teale himself frequently published chapters of his books first in the popular journals of his day, such as Natural History, Audubon, Nature, and Coronet. I welcome critical response, either in the comment section here or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year so that this work could be undertaken.  Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.

 

Chapter 9: The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”[i]

Stephen Crane, from “War is Kind,” 1899

Again and again, reason refutes the claims of worry; again and again, the rational mind points out the mathematical odds and the laws of averages—but again and again, the fallible heart returns to its lonely suffering.[ii]

Edwin Way Teale, March 22, 1945

 

The evening of April 2, 1945 began joyfully for Edwin Way Teale. It was an evening that affirmed his rising stature among the natural history writers of his day and perhaps, too, amongst the former-age titans he revered—Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, W.H. Hudson, and others. Two years earlier, he had accepted the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing for his 1942 publication of Near Horizons: The Story of an Insect Garden. Now, two years later, he had returned to the American Museum of Natural History in Central Park West, New York, to look on as Rutherford Hayes Platt, a fellow Dodd, Mead natural history writer and photographer, received the Burroughs Medal. Platt’s 1943 This Green World was a book that in spirit, intent, structure, and design closely paralleled Grassroot Jungles (1937) and Near Horizons. Just as Edwin had suggested in 1937 that the amateur student of the insect world could be “like the explorer who sets out for faraway jungles” but do so in “the grassroot jungle at our feet,”[iii] Platt argued in 1943 that such wonders in the botanical world “were not rare nor discovered in a remote place, but were here all the time in the immediate surroundings of the everyday world.”[iv] That evening, Edwin noted later, “Platt pays tribute to my help in his acceptance speech.” He also celebrated his own election as “a Director in the John Burroughs Association” and expressed appreciation for the tenor of the evening, which “from beginning to end was in just the right key. I felt happy, enjoying every minute with no sense of impending doom.” It was “perfectly memorable.”[v]

The brief interlude of unrestrained pleasure that unfolded in “the Hall of the Roosevelt Wing”[vi] on that early April evening offered much-needed reprieve. It was a time marked largely by deep foreboding for Edwin and Nellie Teale as their beloved Davy, their only child, fought near the Siegfried Line during the final collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich. This fear had taken root in the elder Teales’ shared consciousness long before David’s August 1943 enlistment in the Army Specialist Training Program at Syracuse University, long before his transfers to Forts Benning and Jackson after the ASTP was disbanded, and long before his deployment as a Private First Class to the European Theater of Operations in the fall of 1944.[vii] Edwin would later characterize this fear as “the dread of seven years—from 1938 to 1945,”[viii] and it was a dread that consumed the collective consciousness of a generation of parents watching their children come of age during the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany—the future course of which became fully evident with the September 1, 1939 German invasion of Poland—and the apogee of Japanese Imperialism, made plain to the American public by the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Teales’ dread is evident in a brief but poignant anecdote near the end of the eighth chapter of Edwin’s 1945 book The Lost Woods, a book that, for Edwin, would become inextricably linked to David’s wartime service and to his death.

In the aforementioned chapter, “On the Trail of Thoreau,” Edwin chronicles the final leg of a 1939 car trip during which he traced the famous river journey undertaken by Henry and John Thoreau exactly 100 years earlier. Henry Thoreau, in his 1849 A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, wrote in great part to memorialize John, who had died in excruciating pain in his brother’s arms three years after the trip, succumbing to tetanus. Edwin too, in The Lost Woods, would later recount a trip he and David took by canoe on Middle Saranac Lake in upstate New York. “The Calm of the Stars” would be the last chapter completed for the book’s first draft, written while David was declared Missing in Action in Germany. It, too, would later serve as a memorial. In “On the Trail of Thoreau,” Edwin noted how, one century after the Thoreaus’ journey, on September 2, 1939, “the Merrimack flowed as placidly as before around the great bend of Horseshoe Interval.”[ix] The world’s waters, however, were turbulent and troubled: “Thoreau’s September day had been one of comparative peace in the world,” while, “a century later, it was a time of fateful decisions, of onrushing war, of the breaking of nations.”[x] The conclusion of Edwin’s 1939 journey came one day after Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, one day before declarations by France and Britain of war on Germany, and six days shy of David’s fourteenth birthday.

Pulling into a filling station that evening, Edwin noticed the attendant, “a young man in his early twenties,” who appeared “silent and preoccupied” as he listened to a “radio […] shattering the Sabbath quiet, raucous with direful news.”[xi] Edwin’s description of this young man is telling. It stands in stark contrast with most of the book’s content, which largely lives up to its subtitle, “Adventures of a Naturalist,” and strays only rarely into social commentary or overt emotionality. Edwin wrote:

We spoke but a few sentences that morning. I have never seen him again. I don’t know his name. Yet, often he has been in mind and his face, like a stirring countenance seen under a streetlamp, has returned many times in memory. Under the blare of the radio, that late-summer Sunday, we were drawn together by a common uncertainty, by a common experience. Although we were strangers before and strangers we have remained since, we were, for that tragic moment, standing unforgettably together. I have often wondered about his fate in the years that followed.[xii]

Continue reading

Archives & Special Collections reading room closed for holidays

American Brass Company employees singing Christmas carols, 1955

Our reading room will be closed from Monday, December 19, 2016, through Monday, January 2, 2017. We will open at 9a.m. on Tuesday, January 3, 2017, and resume our regular hours of Mondays through Fridays, 9a.m. to 4p.m.

In the meantime we’ll sing Christmas carols with these employees of the American Brass Company in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1955.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us here in Archives & Special Collections!

Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection

Sewing Department, D&I Shirt Company, New Haven, ConnecticutThe Greater New Haven Labor History Association’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the history of working people in the New Haven, Connecticut, area. For years they gathered the historical records of labor unions that served New Haven businesses, conducted oral history interviews, and constructed traveling exhibits to disseminate this history. Recently they’ve had to close their office and offered to Archives & Special Collections the labor history records they have collected through the years. Working with their archivist Joan Cavanagh we’ve received many records in batches in the last several months, with more to come.

Collections we have received so far include those of the following labor unions:

Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Local 125/International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 151

Typographical Union of New Haven

American Association of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1939

New Haven Council for Unemployed Workers

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 299

and the papers of local labor activists Nicholas Aiello, Dorothy Johnson, Joseph M. Rourke, and David Montgomery.

You can find out more information on the materials in the collections through the finding aid.