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Shorter Skirts and Shoulder Pads: How World War II Changed Women’s Fashion

Today’s post comes from Marisa Hawley, intern in the National Archives Strategy and Communications office.

As part of the “six weeks of style” celebration to recognize the Foundation for the National Archives’ partnership with DC Fashion Week, we are showcasing fashion-related records from our holdings. This week’s fashion theme is Women and the War: 1940s Fashion.

Women's Work Safety Fashion Bulletin, October 1942. (National Archives at Atlanta)

Women’s Work Safety Fashion Bulletin, October 1942. (National Archives at Atlanta)

During World War II, the United States experienced a drastic—albeit temporary— transformation in gender roles. Nearly one in every three American men left home to serve in the military between 1941 and 1945, so women increasingly began to take up civilian jobs to carry on the work of their male counterparts.

These women not only continued to manage the households, but they also worked in factories, laboratories, power plants, government organizations, and military auxiliaries. The war completely changed the responsibility of women in the workforce during these years—and subsequently transformed how they dressed.

The general style adopted by women in the 1940s greatly resembled U.S. military uniforms. The cut and color of clothes worn on the home front often mirrored what was worn by soldiers fighting in the European and Pacific theaters. Blouses and jackets became increasingly militarized and masculine with shoulder pads, and hats were also styled similarly to the U.S. Army berets.

Fun fact: the company that produced this advertisement,Higgins Industries, is most famous for its production of the Higgins boat, an amphibious landing craft that was used extensively in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Because women were now taking on more labor-intensive tasks like driving trucks, flying military aircraft, and working in shipyards, safety and practicality took precedence over glamour and femininity. The popularization of “Rosie the Riveter” meant that slacks and headscarves were considered stylish.

Rosie the Riveter Poster, War Production Board 1942-43. (National Archives identifier 535413)

Rosie the Riveter Poster, War Production Board 1942-43. (National Archives identifier 535413)

Working women traded in their high-heeled shoes and silk pants for khaki jackets and blue jeans. They also began wearing wraparound dresses with fewer adornments and pinned their hair back to avoid getting it caught in the machinery.

Pragmatism aside, women’s clothing also needed to adapt to the rationing of certain materials for military purposes. Wool and silk were in high demand for uniforms and parachutes; most civilians wore clothes made from rayon or viscose instead.

To conserve fabric, dressmakers and manufacturers began designing shorter skirts and slimmer silhouettes. Nylon was only available for civilian use in restricted quantities, so stockings soon disappeared and women went barelegged.

By the end of the war, over 6 million American women had joined the workforce, and nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. Although many were ultimately replaced by men once they returned from war, it is remarkable what women accomplished on a national scale in just four short years.

These women demonstrated patriotism, skill, and determination, making an undeniable impact on the workplace—and the fashion world.

Office Memo to TVA Employees regarding Uniforms For Women Public Safety Service Officers, April 17, 1943. (National Archives at Atlanta)

Office Memo to TVA Employees regarding Uniforms For Women Public Safety Service Officers, April 17, 1943. (National Archives at Atlanta)

Office Memo to TVA Employees regarding Uniforms For Women Public Safety Service Officers, April 17, 1943. (National Archives at Atlanta)

Office Memo to TVA Employees regarding Uniforms For Women Public Safety Service Officers, April 17, 1943. (National Archives at Atlanta)

Examine more “signature styles” and history-making signatures in our current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.


Political Cartoonist Clifford Berryman: Fusing Fashion and Politics

Today’s post comes from Marisa Hawley, intern in the National Archives Strategy and Communications office.

As part of the “six weeks of style” celebration to recognize the Foundation for the National Archives’ partnership with DC Fashion Week, we are showcasing fashion-related records from our holdings. This week’s fashion theme is Roaring 20s: Fur, Feathers, and Flappers.

To say that Clifford K. Berryman was an accomplished 20th-century political cartoonist would be somewhat of an understatement. Known as one of DC’s renowned graphic political commentators, he was once told by President Harry Truman, “You are a Washington Institution comparable to the Monument.”

Clifford K. Berryman, undated. (U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives)

Clifford K. Berryman, undated. (U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives)

In honor of the upcoming DC Fashion Week, we take a closer look at three of Berryman’s cartoons from the U.S. Senate Collection that used fads and fashion of the time to make creative political statements.

Berryman first moved to Washington, DC, at the age of 17 to work at the U.S. Patent Office, using his self-taught talents to draw patent illustrations.

In 1891, he left the Patent Office to become a cartoonist’s understudy for the Washington Post, and within five years, he rose to the top as chief cartoonist. He held this position until 1907, when he became the front-page cartoonist for the Washington Evening Star, where he drew political cartoons until he died in 1949 at the age of 80.

Berryman produced more than 15,000 cartoons throughout his lifetime. For nearly half a century, he chronicled every Presidential administration from Grover Cleveland to Harry Truman, satirizing both Republicans and Democrats alike. Because he never used outlandish caricatures to depict political figures, he earned respect for staying true to the portrayal of his subjects. In 1944 he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, and his collection is featured here at the National Archives in a special online exhibit.

His cartoons, however, were not strictly limited to politics. They covered other topics such as Presidential and congressional elections, both World Wars, DC weather—and, of course, fashion.

Political cartoons are ultimately a commentary on current events, personalities, and societal norms. By referencing various fashion trends at the time, Berryman made his drawings more relatable to the reader.

For example, in his 1909 cartoon about a bill introduced in the Illinois Legislature limiting women’s hats to eighteen inches in diameter, Berryman satirizes the ridiculous nature of women’s headwear during the Edwardian era.

News Note, 04/24/1909. (National Archives Identifier 6010794)

News Note, 04/24/1909. (National Archives Identifier 6010794)

 

In others, he drew attention to political trends using references to 1920s fashion. In this cartoon, he dresses recurring cartoon character Miss Democracy, the personified voice of the American people, in classic flapper’s garb to reflect the shifting national mood of the time. 

Democracy At It’s Best, 11/08/1922. (National Archives Identifier: 6011767)

Democracy At It’s Best, 11/08/1922. (National Archives Identifier: 6011767)

 

Similarly, Berryman addressed the topic of the Federal Income Tax, ratified in 1913, by comparing the prospect of tax return cuts to the popular haircut that characterized women’s fashion in the 1920s—the latest women’s fashion was short hair, called a “bob.” Cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s familiar caricature, Mr. John Q. Public, looks at a fashion poster and comments: “Now if Uncle Sam would just bob the income tax return, Oh, Boy!”

Untitled, 07/02/1925 (National Archives Identifier 6011891)

Untitled, 07/02/1925 (National Archives Identifier 6011891)

 

Who knew that fashion could be so political?

Examine more “signature styles” and history-making signatures in our current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.


Setting the Records Straight

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Today’s post comes from Dan Ruprecht, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

From its earliest days, the Federal Government has been concerned with preserving its records.

During its very first session, the First Congress under the new Constitution in 1789 passed the Records and Seals Act, setting the expectation that government records were to be preserved for future generations.

The Records and Seals Act holds a special place in the heart of the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the formative years of the Republic, the act established the importance of recordkeeping and provided that copies of government records would be made available to the public via newspapers.

With the act’s passage, the Founding Fathers attempted to archive the nation’s documents and set a precedent to record, preserve, and report national history—a reflection of their belief that the American public ought to be a well-informed citizenry. Many of the nation’s founders shared the belief that it was imperative for the people of the young nation to be educated and informed in order for the government to properly function.

The act changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State to reflect several new domestic responsibilities. The newly established Secretary of State, aside from duties as a foreign affairs adviser, would also be the nation’s record keeper.

The State Department would oversee the safekeeping of the new government’s records and send copies of legislative records to state governments. It also provided that every new law, order, resolution, and vote would be printed in at least three public newspapers in the United States.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as the founders would have hoped.

It turned out that recordkeeping was a more monumental task than Congress could have imagined. No government-wide security existed to ensure that the records were preserved properly.

Attic of the House wing of the U.S. Capitol where the papers of the first 23 Congresses were stored, May 13, 1937. (Records of the National Archives, National Archives)

Attic of the House wing of the U.S. Capitol where the papers of the first 23 Congresses were stored, May 13, 1937. (Records of the National Archives, National Archives)

 

Documents were stored wherever space was found. This meant some records were stored in basements, attics, or garages, some hidden away in file cabinets, and some simply lost or stolen. Fires and insects also threatened to destroy or damage the documents.

When a fire in the Commerce Department destroyed the census records of 1890, the editor of the American Historical Review, Professor J. Franklin Jameson of Brown University, called on Congress to create a Hall of Records.

First page of the National Archives Act, June 19, 1934 (National Archives Identifier 299840)

First page of the National Archives Act, June 19, 1934. (National Archives Identifier 299840)

Jameson’s appeal was echoed by many others, and in 1934, with the intent of the Records Act of 1789 in mind, Congress established the National Archives.

The First Congress set the expectation that the nation’s records were to be preserved and protected, and their content disseminated to the American public. Since its establishment, the National Archives has been committed to performing those important duties.

That means using state-of-the-art document preservation and restoration techniques, as well as a commitment to making the records available to the public in person and online.

The work today is a far cry from what the founders could have imagined—for instance, maintaining the Constitution’s sophisticated argon-filled aluminum and titanium climate-controlled encasement, or the National Archives’ growing online presence.

These efforts are proof that the National Archives still lives with the spirit of the Records and Seals Act passed 225 years ago.

Because government documents were stored in such poor conditions many records, such as these Veterans Administration records, had to be fumigated in a vacuum chamber by National Archives workers, 6/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7822037)

Because government documents were stored in such poor conditions, many records, such as these Veterans Administration records, had to be fumigated in a vacuum chamber by National Archives workers, 6/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7822037)

 

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.


Loan to Nevada Museum of Art

Today’s post comes from James Zeender, Senior Registrar at the National Archives. 

Governor Brian Sandoval and Curator Ann Wolfe at Nevada Museum of Art press conference, July 29, 2014. Courtesy Nevada Museum of Art.

Governor Brian Sandoval and Curator Ann Wolfe at Nevada Museum of Art press conference, July 29, 2014. Courtesy Nevada Museum of Art.

The Emancipation Proclamation will be on exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art for 36 hours from October 30 to November 2, 2014.

This will be the capstone to the museum’s exhibition “The 36th Star: Nevada’s Journey from Territory to State,” which opened on August 2. It features other original documents from the National Archives, including President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation establishing Nevada as the 36th state in the Union and the state’s constitution transmitted by the Nevada Governor to Secretary of State William Seward. (The Governor sent the constitution in a 175-page telegram that cost $4313.27 at the time (over $60,000 in 2014 dollars).

Nevada became the 36th state in the Union just before the 1864 Presidential election. Its two Electoral College votes for Lincoln played little role in the outcome of the election—Lincoln handily defeated his opponent, Gen. George McClellan, in the popular vote, getting 55% of the popular vote to McClellan’s 45%, and overwhelmed him in the Electoral College vote of 212 to 21.

Governor Brian Sandoval speaks at the press conference. July 29, 2014. Courtesy of Nevada Museum of Art.

Governor Brian Sandoval speaks at the press conference. July 29, 2014. Courtesy of Nevada Museum of Art.

However, Nevada’s votes in Congress for the 13th Amendment—where Lincoln’s opponents posed more of a threat—played more of a decisive role in the amendment’s eventual passage.

In April 1864, a vote in the House of Representatives on the 13th Amendment fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority, despite a lopsided victory in the Senate. After the November elections and the arrival of the Nevadan congressional delegation—and among other factors—Lincoln’s hand was strengthened.

Ultimately, the amendment passed by a 119 to 56 vote on January 31, 1865, narrowly exceeding the  two-thirds majority.

At a press conference on July 29, the Governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, said, “This is something that will make all Nevadans proud. We [Nevadans] were there when we abolished slavery.”

The National Archives contribution to the exhibition was acknowledged during the press conference and on the exhibition introductory panel. Exhibits Conservator Terry Boone was thanked for her role in conserving, preparing, and installing the National Archives documents.
The Emancipation Proclamation has traveled to Reno one other time, when it spent the day there on March 22, 1948, during the Freedom Train Exhibit.

Read more »


Fala and Barkers for Britain, 1941

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fala in the White House Study, Washington, DC, 12/20/1941. (National Archives Identifier 6728526)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fala in the White House Study, Washington, DC, 12/20/1941. (National Archives Identifier 6728526)

Today’s post commemorates National Dog Day, which celebrates dogs everywhere on August 26. Bow-wow!

Calling all dog lovers—arguably history’s best known Presidential pet was Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, Murray the Outlaw of Falahill (Fala for short), who was named after FDR’s famous Scottish ancestor, John Murray. He was given to Roosevelt in 1940 as a Christmas gift by his cousin Margaret Suckley. Not long after entering the White House, fame encompassed Fala’s life as he began to appear in political cartoons, news articles, movie shorts, and even FDR’s campaign speeches.

He was beloved by all White House staff, so much so that he was hospitalized after his first few weeks at the White House from being overfed by the kitchen staff. Due to this incident, FDR issued an order to his staff stating that Fala was to be fed by the President alone—talk about royal treatment. Furthermore, Fala was so well known that Secret Service agents called him “The Informer” because, during secret wartime Presidential trips, the dog was instantly recognized while out on his walks.

Fala Photographing the Photographers at the White House, Washington, DC, 04/07/1942. (National Archives Identifier 6728525)

Fala photographing the photographers at the White House, Washington, DC, 04/07/1942. (National Archives Identifier 6728525)

Aside from being President Roosevelt’s right hand man, Fala’s political side was put to good use in 1941 when he was named national president of Barkers for Britain.

A bit of context: Great Britain was besieged by Nazi Germany’s aerial bombing from 1940 to 1942, and U-boat attacks on shipping caused shortages of supplies. In the United States, a nationwide effort to provide nonmilitary aid to the British was organized under the name Bundles for Britain, which collected cash contributions and donations of clothing, blankets, and other basic necessities.

In collaboration with Bundles for Britain, Barkers for Britain was created as a way for dog lovers to support the nationwide Bundles effort, not by donating goods, but by buying memberships. Upon payment of 50 cents to their local Barker chapter, a new member dog received an official Bundles for Britain tag to wear proudly on his or her collar. Fala was issued Tag #1 and was made national president of the organization. He was often asked to sign membership certificates with his paw print.

Fala's Barkers for Britain Tag. (Roosevelt Library)

Fala’s Barkers for Britain Tag. (Roosevelt Library)

Barkers for Britain was so successful that nearly 30,000 tags were issued in the United States between April and October 1941, and another 1,000 were exported to Australia for Barkers chapters there. In response to the efforts, Mrs. Wales Latham, president of the national Bundles for Britain organization, wrote to Fala—“the first dog of the United States and a great leader of all loyal American canines”—and thanked him for raising “his voice in loud barks for the courageous people of Great Britain.”

With more accomplishments than most canines, Fala outlived his beloved Presidential master by seven years and then was buried alongside him. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC, features a statue of Fala and Roosevelt. The galleries of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, have a permanent exhibit on Fala, which includes Barkers for Britain items.

Based on the article “Fala and the Barkers for Britain” from the Winter 2006 issue of Prologue Magazine. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/winter/pieces-fala.html