An artist, a museum, and an Army recruitment officer joined forces in 1944 as World War II raged.
The artist, Frances Vandeveer Kughler, the museum, the Hudson River Museum, and a woman lieutenant, Joanne Coates, captured the images of a small band of Yonkers women, enlisting in the United States Women’s Army Corps (WACS), a new opportunity for this country’s women. The volunteer soldiers embarked to Europe, the United States, and Canada to become drivers, telephone operators, cryptographers breaking codes and traffic controllers ─ just some of the 239 jobs the country’s armed services opened to them.
As the women began the adventure of war, Westchester was gifted with a collection of their portraits in oil and pastel, now on view in the exhibition Westchester Women & War: Portraits at the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers,May 26 to September 9. The Museum adds to this collection in 2012 with new photographs of 12 soldiers, most from contemporary conflicts, who grew up in Westchester or made the County home. Noted photographer Margaret Moulton captured the images of today’s veterans, who range from New York National Guardsmen serving to World War II veterans still proud to share their experiences.
All the women soldiers, from today’s conflicts and World War II, have stories and perspectives on the wars as they crossed lines of gender and race to face both military and social conflict: two WAC portraits, Pfc. Marguerite Chase and Jennie George Lee, testify to the importance of African Americans’ military service in World War II and both were real-life “Rosie the Riveters,” working at the GM Eastern Aircraft plant in Tarrytown before enlisting. Pvt. Jeanne S. Solimine, a graduate of Yonkers High School was a member of the Red Cross before entering the WACs. The first bridal shower given by the New York’s Women’s Military Service Club honored WAVE Specialist Jean Logan, third class, who married a midshipman. Many of the Yonkers women were sworn in by Lt. Joanne L. Coates, who graduated from Bryn Mawr, successfully completed Officers Candidate School, to become the WAC recruiting officer of the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Yonkers.
Among today’s veterans, some still working after active duty in the armed services, others retired, are Technical Sergeant Crystal Radcliff, from White Plains, now employed at the Air National Guard; Major Tanya Pennella, from Somers, New York in the Army National Guard, in charge, now, of training at Peekskill’s Camp Smith, and Colonel Mary Westmoreland from Bronxville, who served in Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia in 1990, now retired. A video of the today’s veterans recounting their military moments adds to Kughler’s 1940s pastel and oil portraits and Moulton’s photographs. At the exhibition close, the images of the women and full film footage of their stories will become part of the Hudson River Museum’s archival collections.
The exhibition was organized by the Hudson River Museum. Women & War: Portraits is sponsored in part by support from The Westchester Bank, corporate sponsor, and Cablevision, media sponsor.
Fancis Vandemeer Kughler was chairman of the Salamagundi Club War Art Committee in September 1942 and a trustee of the Yonkers Art Association. Commissioned by the Museum to paint the portraits of new Yonkers 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 lover of old and new paintings.
Lt. Joanne Coates took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art on her summer vacation from Bryn Mawr College, and convinced the power of art would aid her search for a volunteer army of women soldiers.
Margaret Moulton photographed contemporary soldiers with memorabilia or in uniform for this exhibition in their homes and at the Yonkers Armory. Her work hasappeared in Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is in collections at MOMA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Opening Event for Women & War: Portraits takes place Wednesday, June 13, 1 pm.
Meet the women who crossed gender lines as they faced the lines of battle.
Swing music and dance, rage of World War II, inspires the opening of Women & War Portraits.
Internationally known Eddie Allen, a recording and performing artist leads the “Swingin’ Jumpin’ Jazz Band” and the Shannon Dance Company to bring the music and mood of a United States at war and bravely facing that experience with the sound of jazz greats.