This post was written by Jill Reichenbach, Reference Librarian, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections
One of the highlights of the World War II Photograph Collection, which includes press photos and promotional material created by the U.S. War Department, are the shots of women working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, ca. 1942-44. The war-time shortage of skilled male laborers forced the Navy Yard to start hiring women for the first time in its 143-year history.
While the contributions women made to the war effort are well-documented, the photographs of young ladies working alongside men still resonate, particularly in today’s political climate. It’s also great to see the women socializing together over lunch; one can imagine the bonds formed during that critical time and can’t help but wonder what became of these women after the war ended.
Perhaps most interesting is the text on the back of the photographs, written by the United States War Department. The photos were clearly an attempt to boost morale and portray servicemen, industrious women, and military activity in the most positive light. The accompanying captions, which often read like those in a high school yearbook, state the women’s names, ages and addresses, and occasionally mention a physical feature, such as hair color, or ethnicity. The subjects were referred to as “girls” in nearly every photo.
The collection includes over 2,000 black and white photos. See the online finding aid for more information.