They worked as typists and mail sorters, and as telephone and radio operators. They worked as weather observers and air traffic controllers, medical technicians and nurses. All in all, as many as 400,000 women were a part of the United States military victory of World War II. These women took a first-time opportunity to soldier for their country when they enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). A momentous happening, it was marked, in 1943, by the Hudson River Museum and its director H. Armour Smith; an Army recruitment officer, Lt. Joanne Coates; and artist Francis Vandeveer Kughler. The trio collaborated in a unique project to capture the likenesses of the Yonkers enlistees to “ensure that future generations … have a living record of our fighting women.” The oil and pastel portraits, painted as the women “joined up,” became a part of the Museum’s Permanent Collection. For the exhibition Westchester Women & War: Portraits, the Museum adds to its 1940s collection of 45 portraits the new photographs of 11 soldiers, most from contemporary conflicts, who grew up in Westchester or make the county home. Noted photographer Margaret Moulton captured the images of today’s soldiers, who range from U.S. Army Reservists to World War II veterans. The women soldiers have stories and perspectives on the wars that caused them to cross lines of gender to brave struggles, military, emotional, and social. A video of today’s veterans recounting their military moments adds to Kughler’s portraits and Moulton’s photographs. At the exhibition’s close the images of the women and film footage of their stories will become part of the Hudson River Museum’s archival collections.
Lt. Joanne Coates took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art on her summer vacation from Bryn Mawr College, and convinced art would aid her recruitment of women soldiers, promoted the WAC portrait painting project.
Francis Vandeveer Kughler, chairman of the Salmagundi Club War Art Committee and a trustee of the Yonkers Art Association, was commissioned by the Museum to paint the portraits of Yonkers WAC enlistees. In 1944 he said, “In the United States today there are many hundreds of fine artists...Is it not logical that these men should be turned to in time of national crisis?
H. Armour Smith, Director of the Hudson River Museum, was a community arts organizer and a lover of old and new paintings.
Sgt. Gloria Donen Sosin
Westchester’s women are not shy about entering military life. Long dominated by men, the United States opened its army to women when it introduced the Women’s Army Corps in 1943 and Yonkers, alone, attracted at least 50 WAC enlistees.
This summer Westchester Women & War: Portraits features our county’s women soldiers, among them Gloria Donen Sosin, who became a WAC in 1944, and Technical Sargeant Crystal Radcliff, whose more recent military service spans both Gulf wars Sgt. Sosin was already working for the army teaching Russian to soldiers. She said, “I thought the war was the most important event of my life . . . and I wanted to serve.” Sosin was deployed to Mason General Hospital on Long Island, where she used her writing skills in the hospital’s public relations department. Asked if she comes from a military family, Sosin said her father Isaac Donen served in World War I when he came to the United States, after fleeing conscription into Russia’s army, where he spoke against the Czar.
Crystal Radcliff is a soldier of today. One of 11 photographed this year for Westchester Women & War: Portraits, she is a Navy veteran of Operation Desert Shield-Operation Desert Storm, the Middle East conflict of the 1990s, and now serves in the New York Air National Guard, setting up services at military bases. She believes that joining the military “Is the best decision I ever made.” It helped her provide a good life for her daughter and made her father proud. “There was an article in the paper about me joining the Navy, and he kept that folded up in his wallet until the day he died. I have it in my wallet now.” For both women, family support was a big part of their military service. During World War II, Gloria
Tsgt. Crystal Radiff
Sosin’s parents volunteered in Mamaroneck as local “observers for aircraft…from two to four in the morning... [looking] for enemy planes.” Radcliff says her parents cooperation was critical, “They took care of my daughter when I was away at training and on the ships.” Both also come from families of girls. Radcliff is the third sister of four and Sosin from a family of two girls but her sister was too young to enlist as a WAC. She remembers fondly, “Oh, my father was terribly proud. After all, there were just two daughters. He didn’t have a son.” Daughters and sons alike, Westchester County is right to be proud of its many veterans.