'It's a Wonderful Life,' WW II home front center of new Women’s Rights National Historical Park exhibit
SENECA FALLS | One of the focuses of a new exhibit launched at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights National Historical Park is the unsung heroes of World War II: those on the home front.
So perhaps it's fitting that one of the exhibit's main items, a woman's military jacket from World War II, was originally thought to be a man's jacket.
Kimberly Szewczyk , the chief of interpretation and education for the park, said she found the jacket at a garage sale for $5, where the previous owners had thought it was a men's coat.
"I got it home and I was looking at it and realized, this is not a man's coat, this belonged to a woman," Szewczyk said.
The men fighting in Europe and the Pacific are portrayed most often in media depictions of the war, so it could be natural to assume a green military jacket from the period belonged to a man. This exhibit challenges those types of assumptions.
Through a series of items ranging from news clippings to posters to jewelry, the exhibit shows the role women especially played on the home front in the war. It tells both the good and a bad from a country forced to change its lifestyle to produce the resources needed for a massive war.
The exhibit addresses the discrimination women and other groups, such as African Americans, Latinos and Japanese Americans, faced during the period, while also exemplifying the triumphs and contributions each group made to the war effort.
One article hung on the wall tells the story of a woman pilot who was the first to fly a B-29 bomber. The men were all scared it wouldn't fly. Instead, they gathered on the runway to watch a woman who had volunteered to take it for a test flight.
"She took that thing up flew it around and landed it, and the men just watched like 'wow,'" Szewczyk said. "And that's how they got the men willing to do it."
A documentary playing on a screen at the end of the exhibit explains how women answered the military's call for people with strong math skills to help with a variety of war-related tasks. A formula written by a woman during the period set the groundwork for a major technological breakthrough.
"It was their work that went into the first computer," Szewczyk said. "But their story gets lost."
The exhibit will run until the end of January. Szewczyk explained that the timing coincides with the holiday season, when many watch "It's a Wonderful Life."
The exhibit has several tie-ins to the movie, set in the fictional "Bedford Falls" which is believed to have been based on Seneca Falls. It will soon have letters that "Wonderful Life" star Donna Reed sent to soldiers while working with the USO.
"The movie touches on so many themes of the home front," Szewczyk said. "So if we're talking about that, we decided we should do a home front exhibit so we can really get in to the background. And of course get into that holiday spirit, too."
The exhibit, along with all sites at the park, is free to the public.
Staff writer Ryan Deffenbaugh can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or Ryan.Deffenbaugh@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @Citizen_Deff.