The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
In 1941, as the United States began to gear up for wartime production, government planners realized that expanding the industrial and farm workforce to include more women would create new challenges. Factory jobs, for example, would be hazardous if female workers wore full skirts or loose sleeves. In response, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), designed a line of clothing to accommodate these situations. Coveralls, slacks, and one-piece suits aimed to preserve modesty, adapt to a range of climate conditions, and include plenty of pockets.
In June 1941, USDA designers Clarice Louisba Scott (b. 1899) and Margaret Smith presented their designs for "defense fashions" at a meeting of the American Home Economics Association in Chicago. Trouser cuffs were redesigned so they would be less likely to catch in machinery, and pockets were pleated so they could hold items normally stowed in a purse. Contemporary fashion was not ignored altogether, however. One of the sample one-piece "coverettes" had been sewn in pink and white striped cotton.
Pattern manufacturers were enlisted and young seamstresses were encouraged to make their own garments.
Emily C. Davis's article for Science News Letter (July 19, 1941) even included a pattern for a conical hat constructed from pie-shaped fabric casings stiffened with cardboard:
Cut two circles of fabric about 21 inches in diameter. Pin together and mark into 14 pie-shaped segments, placing one segment line on the straight of the goods. Cut out two segments. Stitch through the dividing lines of the remaining segments seam the pie together, forming a broad cone with 12 triangular casings into which cardboard casings may be placed for stiffening. To hold the cardboard in place, attach enameled snap fasteners near the rim of each segment. Inside, fasten tie strings, half an inch wide, at the peak of the crown and about three inches on each side.
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Accession 02-027 - Freer Gallery of Art Superintendent of Construction, Correspondence, 1913-1936, Box 1, Folders Letters Regarding Miscellaneous Jobs, 1920-1934. Several of the early folders concern the construction of the museum, which was completed in 1921, and opened to the public in 1923. I chose to focus on the correspondence found in the folder for January to June 1924 to see what was going on in the Freer in its first year after it opened.
The topic that seemed to occupy the most correspondence during this period revolved around artifact display cases. The museum contacted the Chemical Products Division of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co, Inc. to inquire about a finish for the walnut exhibition cases. The goal was to find a finish that would not alter the natural color of the wood when applied to the material. The company agreed to apply some of their Viscolac finish to wood samples supplied by the Freer in order to ascertain whether or not this product would meet the needs of the gallery. Once the gallery received the walnut samples that had been finished with Viscolac, they discovered that it did not have the desired effect on the wood that they were looking for. The gallery ultimately decided to go with a white shellac applied thinly instead.
Another main topic of the correspondence concerned a request for gummed paper from the R. P. Andrews Paper Company. The Freer Gallery of Art had placed an order for one quire of gummed paper based on a sample provided to Mr. Procise in November 1923. After repeated calls and inquires, the gallery still had not received the paper they requested. On March 20, 1924, the gallery received a bill for the order, even though the paper still had not been received. The paper was finally delivered on April 2, 1924, but it turned out to not be at all like the sample the gallery had originally provided. The company responded with an apology and offered to send along a sample of their gummed glassine paper, which they believed matched the description of what the Freer was looking for. After some back and forth discussion, the gallery agreed to purchase the paper offered by the company, and the issue was resolved.
A few of the letters in the folder caught my interest simply because they covered topics I would not have expected to find. For instance, one letter from a nearby resident complained of chauffers parking in front of his building when there was an abundance of parking available closer to the Freer Gallery of Art building. Another letter from Mr. J. Bundy, Superintendant of the Freer Gallery of Art, to Mr. Goldsmith inquired as to why a nightwatchman’s report of a light being out in the building had to go through so many other people before reaching his desk too late in the day to take action. Mr. Bundy requested that all maintainance reports from the nightwatchmen be given directly to him first thing in the morning so that immediate action can be taken.
- Vote Folder A for Record Unit 64, Smithsonian Institution, Chief Clerk, Records, 1869-1905, Box 12, Folder: Miscellaneous Letters and Memoranda between Smithsonian Officials, 1863-1893
- Vote Folder B for Record Unit 7399 – Hahn William Capps Paper, 1939-1964, Box 1, Folder: Miscellaneous Larval Notes, Sketches, etc. (Unpublished)
- Past Miscellaneous Adventures posts, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives