The Phillips Museum of Art recently opened the exhibition Before Rosie the Riveter: Women and Work in WWI, which illustrates the involvement of propaganda in inspiring the vital participation of women in the First World War. As with every exhibit, many people worked behind the scenes in order to bring a variety of works together. We have curators Professor Misty Bastian, Julie Copperman ’14, Brandon Cunningham ’15, and Raechel Richardson ’15 to thank. But how does an exhibit come to life? We asked two of the student curators, Brandon Cunningham and Raechel Richardson about their experience.
What is your year and major?
Brandon Cunningham: I am a senior, Class of 2015, and am double majoring in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History and Anthropology, with a minor in Latin.
Raechel Richardson: I am a senior and am majoring in Anthropology.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
Brandon: I hope to find an internship or job relating to museum studies. After which I hope to find a graduate program in Museum Studies, and go on to curate in a museum.
Raechel: I hope to go into education.
What was involved in the process of curating Before Rosie the Riverter: Women and Work in WWI?
Raechel: Last summer. Hackman Scholar Julie Kopperman ’14 worked with Professor Bastian, Anthropology, to research women’s roles in the war. This summer we worked to organize their research into three separate exhibits around the same theme.
Brandon: Our work focused on the smaller pieces, selecting which ones would contribute most to our exhibit, and on the layout and presentation of all these ephemera in the museum. We also spent an entire day in the State Historical Archives in Harrisburg digging through a vast amount of records to find photographs of women from Pennsylvania who participated in the war efforts.
What did you enjoy most about this job?
Brandon: I most enjoyed seeing this project from beginning to end. When we began our work, our space was entirely blank. Now, it is filled with beautiful posters and smaller ephemera that share a wonderful story of the work that women did in WWI. It is such a good feeling, knowing that we, in part, made that happen.
What did you find most challenging about this job?
Raechel: Because our exhibit is threefold, and because it involved so many different people helping to put it together, coordinating our time and resources was a challenge.
Why are you passionate about the women of World War I?
Brandon: I think this topic goes largely unnoticed. You learn about the trenches and the biological weapons, but you never see the women who worked to keep these countries running in the absence of the men who went to fight. That is why I am so passionate and proud of this exhibit, because it brings to light the actions of these unsung heroes on the home front.
Raechel: I want to learn about and show other people who these women were. They were vital to the war effort and often are forgotten in favor of Rosie and her WWII work. Without these women on the home front and abroad in WWI paving the way, Rosie the Riveter might not have existed.
What most intrigued you?
Raechel: The different ways people used the image of a woman. They were used to invoke protective feelings in men, appeal to women as a workforce, and occasionally sexualized as a kind of reward for victory.
Brandon: The War Gardens, which were brought about to supply Europe with foodstuffs. I learned that by the end of 1917, nearly 3 million private plots of land were dedicated to this effort, and nearly 5.3 million by the end of 1918. At the end of the war, it is estimated that these plots produced nearly 1.2 billion dollars worth of food!
What are you seeking to communicate through this exhibit?
Brandon: Women played key roles in WWI through volunteer organizations like the Red Cross and YWCA, and by working in civil jobs and even on the front lines in the armed services. Not many people understand exactly what these women did, and how much they helped the war effort, and we are trying to display that.
Raechel: I want people to leave the exhibit with a new respect and admiration for these women. They really were revolutionary and their efforts allowed for a greater discussion of women’s suffrage postwar.
Caylah Coffeen ’17, Digital Media Assistant