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WWII American Experience celebrates Women’s History Month

The Gettysburg WWII American Experience kicked off Women’s History Month on Saturday with an exhibit celebrating the inspirational and unprecedented contributions of women supporting the military efforts during World War II. 

Featuring many authentic original artifacts, vehicles, uniforms, pictures, storyboards, and activities for children and adults, the exhibit highlighted the important roles that nearly 350,000 women played in support of the war efforts, both at the battlefront abroad and on the US homefront. 

Organizers of the event came from various areas in the US, bringing their exhibits, dressed in authentic clothes, and enthusiastically re-enacting or demonstrating the tasks carried out by these often-unsung heroines of the war.

The exhibits included one of the authentic “Club Mobiles”, a project organized by the American Red Cross (ARC). Women joining the ARC manned these vehicles that were sent as morale boosters to various military bases overseas to serve the servicemen, handing out donuts and snacks, playing music, and socializing. In all, eight groups of ten club mobiles each were deployed to the battlefront.  Although the women’s responsibilities may sound like easy tasks, they involved hard work, long hours, and were not without risk: 52 women lost their lives while serving on these missions.

Here in the US, many heroines were involved as well.  Rosie Riveter graced colorful posters with the slogan: “We can do it!”  The poster started a nationwide movement and encouraged thousands of women to join the war effort.  Rosie was a housewife who left her kitchen and became a crucial player in the revamping of the US’s machine industry from commercial, peacetime production to building machinery for the war. The women worked as riveters, machinists, and assemblers building tanks and bombers, filling the shoes of the men who had been drafted to service.

Rosie worked the shop floor for five years, demonstrating exemplary skills that actually improved the productivity and quality of the products. Yet, at the end of the war, she, like most of the women engaged in the war efforts, was forced out of the factory to return to a life as a housewife.  Despite their demonstrated abilities, the women were viewed as simply having served as “women in men’s jobs”, which were no longer needed once the men came home from the war. 

At last weekend’s exhibit, visitors were able to meet several women veterans who had served both overseas as well as at the homefront.  In the center of it all was 99-year-old Dorothy Trate, known as “Dottie”, who had worked as a punch press operator at the Doeher-Jarvis Plant in Pottstown, PA, manufacturing parts for aircraft and other weapons.  Sharp as a tack, witty, and willing to go over all the details of her time in history, Dottie enthusiastically walked the visitor through a wide array of original logbooks, diaries, and pictures, as well as some correspondence from folks as far away as Hungary, seeking her autograph or wanting to connect with this icon of our local history.

Other activities of the day included, among others, lectures on “Ike and Mamie, the Early Years”; authors and book signings; speakers from the National Park Service; visits from World War II Veterans; displays of female pioneers in communications; as well as uniforms and interpretations by living historians, including an impressive personal collection of women’s military service uniforms presented by local residents Barry and Maureen Hesson. 

The evening concluded with a special event featuring Ms. Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, discussing her grandmother’s role during and after World War II.

The WWII Experience at the WWII Museum will offer another Women’s History Month display on March 11 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (visit:  WWII Experience Womens History Month)

For more pictures from this past event, visit:  https://www.facebook.com/WWIIAmericanExperience.

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Donate Gardner, freelance reporter, came to Gettysburg in 2021 from Montgomery County, Maryland. A former linguist-turned-legal professional, Donate recently retired from the corporate world and is eager to support her new community in a variety of ways. As an immigrant born, raised, and educated in Germany, Donate still maintains a strong connection to the German language as a freelance writer and translator. Donate is an active musician and has made her new home in Gettysburg available to host house concerts for traveling musicians and local artists in need of support. Donate and her husband have two daughters and three grandchildren.

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