24 July 2021

How appealing was the Rosie The Riveter campaign for U.S women in WW2?

We Can Do It! 1942
by J Howard Miller
Norman Rockwell Museum, Mass

c350,000 women joined U.S’s Arm­ed Services, serving at home and abroad. As encouraged by El­eanor Roose­velt, and impres­sed by the British enc­ouragement of women in ser­v­iceGen George Marshall supported the introd­uc­tion of a women’s service branch into the Army. In May 1942 Cong­ress inst­ituted the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps/WACs, later the Women’s Army Corps. Mem­b­ers worked in 200+ non-combatant jobs in the US and in theatres of war.

The prototype for the famous Rosie the Riveter was actually created in 1942 by Pittsburgh art­ist J Howard Miller, and was featured on a poster for West­ing­house Elec­tric Corporation under the headline We Can Do It! This poster was disp­layed in Westinghouse factories to encourage more women to join the war­time lab­our force. It feat­ur­ed a wom­an in a red-and-white polka-dot headscarf and blue shirt, flex­ing her bicep! For years, the inspiration for the woman in the Westing­house poster was believed to be a specific Michigan woman who worked in a Navy mach­ine shop in WW2. The poster was only displayed by Westinghouse for a fortnight in Feb 1943, and then rep­laced by other promot­ional images.

Another inspiration was a popular song called Rosie the Riv­et­er which was written by Evans & Loeb, and sung by the Four Vagabonds in 1943. Listen to youtube.
All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history, working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a male will do
Rosie the Riveter

From then, the name Rosie went down in U.S history.

At the same time, see the painting that was commissioned by Britain’s War Artists' Advis­ory Committee as part of their WW2 war effort. Ruby Loftus Screw­ing a Breech-ring 1943 was a painting by UK artist Laura Knight depict­ing a young woman working at an industrial lathe, cutting the screw of a breech-ring for a Bofors anti-aircraft gun. The tough looking image was reproduced in large-scale poster version by the WAAC for display in factories across Britain.

Ruby Loftus Screw­ing a Breech-ring
by Laura Knight , 1943
Imperial War Museum

Once America joined the war, women entered the work­force in record numbers, since widespread male en­listment left gaps in the industrial lab­our force. In 1943-5, the female percentage of the U.S work­force increased from 27% to 37%. Women in wartime worked in a variety of pos­it­ions previously closed to them, especially the aviation industry. 310,000+ women worked in the U.S air­cr­­aft industry in 1943, making up 65% of the industry’s total work­force (1% in the pre-war  years).

By late in the war in the U.S, there were 100,000+ WACs and 6,000 female officers. In the Navy, mem­bers of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service at home held the same status as naval reservists. The Coast Guard and Marine Corps soon followed, though in smaller num­bers. 

One of the other roles women played was prov­ided by the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots-WASPs. Hav­­ing already won their pilot’s license pre-serv­ice, these women became the first to fly American military aircraft, from factor­ies to bases, transporting cargo, sharing in simul­ation tar­get mis­s­ions, and freeing thousands of male U.S pilots for active duty. 1,000+ WASPs served, and 38 of them died during the war. Considered civil service employees without official military st­atus, fallen WASPs unbelievably earned no military honours or bene­fits!

The munitions indus­try also heavily recruit­ed women workers, as ill­ustrated by the U.S govern­ment’s Rosie the Riv­et­er propaganda campaign. This image was created by the famous artist Norman Rockwell. On the front cover of Saturday Evening Post in May 1943, Rock­well’s poster depicted a woman in a blue work jump­suit with a riv­et gun on her thighs, a sandwich in hand and a foot plac­ed on Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The woman’s lunch box said “Rosie”, linking her to the song.

Rosie the Riveter became the most iconic recruiting image for working women. Based on a real-life mun­itions workers, confident Rosie became one of the most successful recruit­ment tools in American hist­ory. In film, newspapers, posters, photographs and art­ic­les, the Ros­ie campaign stressed the patriotic need for women to join the work­­force.

Rosie the Riv­et­er poster
by Norman Rockwell.
Saturday Evening Post in May 1943

Although women pre-1943 had been mostly occupy­­ing the private space, the war campaign of Rosie the Riveter was said to inspire many of them to work in priority jobs. But exactly what short and long-term changes in women’s lives were brought about by the Rosie the Riveter campaign? Enjoy “From Empowerment to Dom­est­icity: Case of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII Campaign” by Maria Sant­ana. 

One success of this era was how women adapted to factory work without uniforms or safety equipment. Women shoes with metal tips were first manufactured in 1943, AFTER women became factory work­ers. And as American women began wearing pants anyhow, it was approp­riate and fortunate that pants managed to spread to factory attire.

The call for women to join the workforce in WW2 was meant to be tem­­porary; women would leave their jobs after the war ended and men came home. So it wasn’t surprising that for women who worked during WW2, their pay continued to lag far behind their male counterparts: c50% of men’s. Even the women who stayed in the work­force cont­inued to be paid less than their male peers and were us­ually demoted. But after women’s selfless war efforts, men could no longer auto­matic­ally claim superiority over women. Women had thrived on a taste of financial and personal freedom! The impact of WW2 on women changed the workplace.

In 2020 U.S leaders gave 5 million civilian women who served in the defence industry in WW2 the official recognition they deserved. They bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal to the group of women known by its ubiquitous embodiment: Rosie the Riveter. 

20 July 2021

Faberge is coming to London in 2021!!!

Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) was born into a St Petersburg family that created jewellery. Young Carl, trained in Russia and Germany, was in the right place and the right time. When he took over the family bus­in­ess, he created a firm that became closely linked to the romance, glamour and tragedy of the Romanovs

Romanov Tercentenary Egg,
made from gold, silver, diamonds 1913
Moscow Krem­lin Museums

Four factors led to his success, bringing him to the att­ention of the Russian Imperial Court:
1] His work co­incid­ed with the rise and fall of  the Romanovs, from their vast wealth to their abrupt deaths.
2] He had great creative skills
3] He had beautiful crafts­manship and
4] He used precious metals and gorgeous gemstones.

He worked in the Hermitage's Jewellery Gallery and by the mid-1880s was named goldsmith and jeweller to the Russian court. His works were first displayed at the 1882 Pan-Slavic exhibition held in Moscow under the patronage of Czar Alexander III. See examples of the work from the 1880s.

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé,
gold, diamonds, rubies 1908
Moscow Krem­lin Museums

Fabergé began making Imperial Easter eggs when Tsar Alexander III com­missioned one as an Easter present for his wife, Tsarina Maria Feod­or­ovna, in 1885. It became a Romanov tradition for the next 3 decades. There were 50 surviving Imperial Easter eggs in collections around the world, the most famous being manuf­actured under the gold­smith's direct supervision between 1885-1917.

3 Imperial Easter eggs created by Carl Fabergé are being lent by Moscow Kremlin Museums to the UK for the first time. Altogether the V&A will display 200+ of the most stunning or­n­aments ever produced. Fabergé in Lon­don: Romance to Revolution will run from Nov 2021-May 2022, Covid allow­ing.

The Fabergé story may have been quite familiar to the world, but less well known was his UK branch, the only one out­side Russia. The V&A Ex­hib­ition will explor­e Faberge’s little known success in London; the shop that op­en­ed in Dover St and moved to New Bond St London in the Edwardian era attracted a client­ele of roy­alty, nobles and wealthy bus­inessmen. Faberge had been famous for creating intricate, golden be­jewelled orn­aments for Russian Tsars to give to their wives, but appar­ently rich British husbands loved them also. It closed in 1917.

The Moscow Kremlin Egg, Fabergé.
Gold, silver, onyx, glass, enamel 1906
Moscow Krem­lin Museums

By far the largest Imperial egg sent to the V&A was the Moscow Krem­lin Egg (1906), which was inspired by the architecture of Dormit­ion Cathedral in Moscow. In the base of the egg was a gold music box that had two traditional Easter hymns, played when the clockwork mechanism was wound up. The hymns were favourites of Czar Nicholas II.

The Kremlin Museums’ next treasure was the Al­ex­ander Pal­ace Egg (1908) which featured the children of last Tsar Nicholas II & his wife Alex­andra. The richness came from diamonds, gold, rubies and jade; the min­­iature watercolour paintings on ivory were also stunning. The de­tailed rep­l­ica of Alexander Palace, the Imperial family's favourite home in Tsarskoye Selo, was made of gold, enamel and rock crystal.

Finally the Romanov Tercentenary Egg (1913) had very rich materials: gold, silver, diamonds, turquoise, porphyry, rock crystal & watercolour painting on ivory. The egg celebrated the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty, 300 years of Romanov rule from 1613-1913. The egg was decorated in a chased gold pattern with double-headed eagles as well the Romanov crowns that framed the Tsars’ portraits.

Through Fabergé’s creations, the exhibition will explore timeless st­or­ies of love and blatant social climbing. For example see a Faberge cigarette lighter given to Edward VII by his mistress, Alice Keppel. The Queen has lent the V&A some of the royal Fabergé collection, incl­uding personalised pieces made for King Edward VII and Queen Alexand­ra. And the Basket of Flow­ers Egg, comm­is­sioned in 1901 by Nicholas II as an Easter present for his wife.

Carl Faberge married Augusta Jacobs in 1872 and had 4 surviving sons: Eugene (1874-1960), Agathon (1876–1951), Alexander (1878–1952) and Nic­olas (1884-1939). The House of Fabergé was nationalised by the Bol­sheviks in 1918. Carl Fabergé left Petro­grad by train for Riga, then to Germany. The Bolsh­eviks gaoled his sons Ag­ath­on and Alexander. Mrs Fabergé and Eugène crossed the border into Finland in Dec 1918. Alex­an­der later escaped from prison, and Agathon left the USSR for Finland with his family. In 1924 Alex­ander and Eugène successfully opened Fab­ergé in Paris.

Faberge's only shop outside Russia
New Bond St, London
Closed in 1917

Kieran McCarthy wrote the book Fabergé in London: The British Branch of the Imperial Russian Goldsmith (2017). It is of great interest to fans of the decorative arts, the Edwardian Golden Age and European Royalty.  

17 July 2021

Strasbourg’s Dancing Plague of 1518 - the devil, mass mania or ergot poisoning?

Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Peasant Wedding Dance, 1623
Private collection, Wiki

Strasbourg’s Dancing Plague of 1518 was not the first. Previous dancing plagues had inv­olved people who were in towns and cit­ies close to the River Rhine, along with the merch­ants, pilgrims and soldiers who plied its waters.

A] In the 1020s in Bern­burg in Saxony, a group of peasants started dancing around a church in the middle of a Christmas Eve service.

B] A 1237 outbreak involved Ger­man children walk­ing the 20 ks from Erfurt to Arnstadt, dancing and jumping uncontrol­lably en route. This was similar to the leg­end of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in Lower Saxony, where a piper led the dancing chil­d­ren from Hamelin, never to return.

C] A 1278 outbreak saw c200 people dancing on a bridge across the German River Meuse, leading to its collapse.

D] 1428 a Schaff­hausen monk danced himself to death. And

E] In 1491 nuns in a Spanish-Netherlandish convent foamed, convulsed and gestured obscenely. Strange behaviour, but it was known that their commun­ity en­couraged them in mystical supernat­ur­alism.

German engraving of hysterical dancing in a church­.

Now to Strasbourg. 1517 had been a bad year! Social and religious con­fl­icts, recurrent dis­eas­es, harvest failures and spiking wheat prices were caused by extreme weather and crop frosts. That summer, orphanages and hos­pitals were over­­flowing with the desp­er­ate. Outbreaks of small pox, syph­ilis, leprosy and English Sweat Disease occurred. John Waller exp­lained how ordinary people behaved when they were driven beyond the limits of endurance.

In Strasbourg, in mid 1518, Frau Trof­fea began to dance maniacally in public for six days! On­lookers laughed and clap­ped the lady for her energy and high spirits. With arms flap­p­ing, bodies swaying and clothes sweating, people joined in and danced all night. Within a week, 34 people had joined her; within a month, 400. Meantime res­id­ents were dying from strokes, heart attacks and exhaustion. Sel­dom stop­ping to eat or drink, and oblivious to painful feet, they continued until the authorities eventually interv­ened.

St Vitus had been a Catholic mar­t­yr, killed in 303 AD. He was ven­er­ated in the late middle ages when citizens danced before his statue. So St Vitus’ Dance became the name of a dancing plague, a form of mass hysteria that infected large groups of dancers, often with halluc­in­­ations. Sydenham’s Chorea was a condition that affected people who’d had acute rheumatic fever or ep­ilepsy in childhood, so Catholic legend also required that Chorea-afflicted peop­le be brought before a shrine of St Vitus. 

 Cologne Cath­edral down-river from Strasbourg dramatised the curse; under St Vitus’ image, three men danced joylessly and deliriously.

Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights, c1505.

Strasbourg’s leaders were disturbed by the 1518 events. Leading doctors diagnosed the hysteria as a Natural Disease i.e one not having any super­natural causes. In fact the doctors pres­c­r­ibed more danc­ing! So councillors ordered an open-air grain market cleared, commandeered guild halls, erected a huge stage next to the horse fair and paid pipers and drummers to keep peop­le dancing around the clock. To these locations they escorted the crazed dan­c­ers, hoping that the frantic motion would end the sick­ness. Alas they simply encouraged more people to join the craze.

The council sensed it was wrong only when the dancers eventually fell un­conscious or died. Seeing the dancers suffer from holy wrath and not sizzling brains, councillors opted inst­ead for enforced penance i.e they banned public mus­ic and danc­ing. Finally the dancers were taken to a shrine ded­ic­ated to St Vitus in the hills above Saverne in Alsace Lorraine. Bloodied feet were placed into red shoes and led around a wooden fig­ur­ine of the saint.

Without the dancers who went to the Saverne shrine, those remaining slowly stopped dancing as well. They ceas­ed their wild movements and the Strasbourg epidemic ended, the last of its kind in Europe.

This was one of the strangest epid­emics to be fully recorded. Brill­iant physician Paracelsus (1493–1541) detailed Stras­bourg's dancing plague. And one of city’s councillors, writer Sebas­tian Brant (1458–1521), dev­oted a chapter of his book Ship of Fools to the folly of dance.

The Church thought spirit possession “caused” people to act as if their souls have been taken over. Once Spirit Possession was taken seriously by ordinary med­ieval citizens, they could en­t­er a dissoc­iative mental state. They then acted according to culturally prescribed ideas of how The Possessed behaved. The Church was always suspicious of the strange dancing plague, see­­­ing the dancers as a band of heretics who used mad­ness to exer­cise their devilish rituals.

Under the hot summer sun, the dancing was as insane as Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, Garden of Earthly Delights 1500s. In his hell­ish vis­ions, the hum­ans lost all cont­rol over their senses, dancing in a wild collective delirium and groan­ing in agony. Soon several thous­and frenzied people in Aachen were also dan­c­ing in fits that lasted for weeks, then the mania spread to Utrecht Neth­­erlands, Liège Belgium and Metz France.

Did the medical profession believe in demonic possession and ov­erheated blood? Probably not. The danc­ing frenzy was a reaction to the years of Black Death, ex­plained by 1 of 2 possibilities. Their best explanation was that the cit­izens were the vic­tims of mass psychosis. With Stras­bourg’s mass psych­ol­ogical distress, famine had been prevalent in the region for some time, caused by extreme weather. Diseases spread rapidly and thousands died from dancing.

St Vitus Dance, 1564
Pieter Bruegel the Elder 
Albertina, Vienna

And consider the ergotism/St Anth­ony’s Fire explanation. Long-term ergot poisoning, caused by the fungus that grew on rye bread, occ­urred in warm, damp conditions. Anyone who ing­ested ergot-laced rye developed seizures, viol­ent cramps, mental derange­ment, halluc­in­at­ions, twitching and later, gangrene. On one hand, it was very un­likely that really sick ergot sufferers could have danced for days. On the other hand, as record­ed in phys­ician’s notes, dan­cing seemed in some way to rel­ieve the pain of suffering ergotism.

In Oct 2018, the 1518 dancing epidemic centenary was memorialised in Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame. So read "Dance to Death" in Tudors Dynasty.

13 July 2021

Brilliant British train ambulances 1914-18 - thank goodness wounded men were saved.

Many thanks to "Rapid Relief by Rail",  History of Medicine, 2021. Trains had already been used in the C19th and early C20th, in the Crimean War, American Civil War and Boer War. But railways weren’t fully utilised until the first truly industrial war, WW1.

Even before WW1, the British government was secretly prepar­ing for battle. By 1912 the British govern­ment created the Railway Executive Com­mittee to ensure the smooth run­ning of the railways into the future. Antic­ipating mass cas­ualties of a Europe-wide war, they met the manag­ers of Britain’s rail­ways  to design capacious ambulance trains.

Wounded soldiers in their bunks
being checked by medical staff

Motor ambulances taking patients from New Zealand Stationary Hospital in Wisques, France
to the ambulance train, Wiki

Pharmacy being loaded up before ambulance train departs

But just as thousands of British workers were leaving to join the ar­my, many railmen were barred from volunteering; they were ess­ent­ial workers during the war eff­ort. For indust­rial labourers and engine­ers far from the front, this was their chance to contribute, and they did so with great speed. They built ambul­ance trains and railway companies supplied stretchers, guns, shells and veh­ic­les.

In Aug 1914, car­r­iage builders worked around the clock to prep­are the trains and to build the vital fittings. The Comm­ittee dev­ised plans to build 12 ambulance trains, to move casualties around once they got back to Brit­ain. With patriotism booming, the rail com­panies geared up.

It was quickly clear that the hospital trains would­n’t be needed just in Britain. So in Dec 1914, the first Contin­ental Amb­u­l­ance Trains to be used in France were sent. There they provided support close to the front lines and a vital link in the military medical system. The Fren­ch railways were already struggling to evacuate injured soldiers.

In WW1 huge numbers of injured sold­iers needed to get away from the front lines, often carried by stret­cher bearers. At Reg­imental Aid Posts (just behind the lines) and Advanced Dressing St­ations (further behind the lines), men received basic treat­ment. This included deter­mining wh­ether they’d survive long enough to just­ify ongoing treat­­ment. If so, they were taken onto a Continent­al Amb­ul­ance Train, where they were treated and taken to a Base Hosp­it­al in a port city: Rouen, Calais or Boulogne.

For Britons being evacuated home, hospital ships provided the next leg of their trip - converted passenger liners carrying med­ic­al staff and facilities just like the trains. But here was an extra dan­g­er: being torp­ed­oed by enemy submarines in the Chan­n­el.

The first casualties arriving back in Britain were tak­en from hos­p­ital ships at Southampton to Netley Military Hosp­ital. But as more casual­t­ies arrived, Home Ambulance Trains took pass­en­g­ers to newly opened hospit­als across the country, as distant as the Scottish highlands.

All ambulance trains needed 15-20 carriages, to include wards for in­jured soldiers, pharm­acies, emer­g­ency operating rooms, kitchens and medical staff quarters. Each train had French cooks working in the kitchen car to feed every­body. The rationed food served was basic, but the meat stew was very wel­c­ome. Med­ical officers and nurses shared a mess carr­iage for meals and recreat­ion.

Ambulance trains were run by 3 Royal Army Corps medical off­ic­ers who examined each wounded sold­ier, and 3 Queen Alexander Nur­s­­ing Ser­vice nur­ses who prov­ided medical care under doctors’ ord­ers. The army doc­t­ors, all officers, kept records in the train office, record­ed the drugs of the wounded men and decided their treatment. The 6 med­ical staff lived onboard the trains semi comfort­ably eg baths. The pharm­ac­ies were stocked with morph­ine, medicines and bandages, to keep the wounded stable on route to hospital.

As soldiers boarded the train, medical officers checked their wounds, tri­aged the men, decided on treatments and separated the off­icers from enlisted men. Working on the am­bulance trains involved endless effort; doctors and nurses worked day & night treating their patients’ wounds. Even when the pat­ients were fin­ally unloaded, nobody rested until the train was cleaned and beds made.

Each ambulance train could carry 500 patients and was run by 50 staff. The majority of these were orderlies, who gave water to pat­ients, ch­anged dress­ings, fed all the passengers and cleaned the train. For ev­ery new load of passengers, there was a long list of jobs to be done. Staff regularly worked through the night to ensure their pat­ients’ needs were met. They all ran the constant risk of catching lice or infectious diseases, or being bombed.

For patients, life aboard an ambulance train could be a life-saving experience or a horror. Firstly pat­ients were thankful to be on board and mo­ving away from the Wes­­tern Front, and were supplied with beds, food and medical care. And soldiers from all over the world symp­ath­ised together, Brit­­ish, French, Ind­ians, Australians, New Zealanders, Canad­ians, Americans and captured German casualties.

But travelling on an ambulance train could be gruelling. Ward cars had to carry as many men as possible in the three-tiered bunk beds, so patients often felt cramp­ed and uncomfortable. When the train jolted, broken bones hurt. Some of the men had been shot or stabbed. Others were the victims of pois­on gases that burned the lungs and bl­istered the skin. Many others suffered from diseases affecting men straight from the trenches, so the trains quickly became filthy, smelly and cramped.

Patients lay on stretchers on a British station platform, 
off the ambulance carriages and waiting to be taken to hospital.

As well as being physically wounded, many soldiers suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the psychological effects of war. The eff­ective treatment of mental illness had not yet been developed, so patients had to be locked in secure padded cells.

By 1918, British Railway Companies had put 51 ambul­ance trains into service, 20 for use in Britain and 31 for the Cont­inent. A total of 2.7 million wounded soldiers had been taken from the front, many of whom lived!

Credit for all photos: Science Museum Group.