With the help of an Oklahoma Christian University alumna, Oklahomans can take a step back in time when they attend the Edmond Historical Society & Museum’s new exhibit “WWII Edmond: Housewives on the Homefront” from now until Sept. 22. Amy Stephens serves as the museum’s exhibit coordinator and has been working with the local community to put together the exhibit.
“What I realized is that, although a lot of attention has been given to Rosie the Riveter and to the women who went into the military, and rightly so, three out of four women actually stayed home and carried on and kept the country running [while they] continued to take care of their households but also, in many cases, run their own husband’s businesses and farms,” Stephens said.
According to Stephens, the exhibit uses some of the museum’s 40,000 items in collection, along with artifacts borrowed from other museums and people in the Edmond community. She said she put this exhibit together to celebrate the people whom she views as unsung heroes and hopes the exhibit is more than just a visual display of historical artifacts.
“There are things like keeping spirits up, making and mending, saving, reducing, reusing and recycling—all these themes that came out in this exhibit are the ways we actually should live our lives today,” Stephens said. “I feel like something people should walk away with when they leave the exhibit is that [reducing, reusing, and recycling] is something we do today to save the environment, but they started in World War II.”
Stephens said while she intended for the exhibit to be lighter, not dark and heavy like a traditional WWII exhibit, she did not want people to forget the difficulty marked by this time in history. According to Stephens, the ending display case holds the uniform of an SS officer borrowed from the 45th Infantry Museum to serve as a reminder of why the war happened and the evil that took place.
“After you get past the SS uniform, there is, of course, a United States Military uniform, and at the very end of the exhibit is this framed newspaper that says ‘Peace,’” Stephens said. “It’s actually the newspaper that came out the day the war ended.”
According to Stephens, the exhibit is meant to tell a story using the artifacts.
“[The exhibit] starts from the beginning,” Stephens said. “As the war dragged on, it got more and more difficult to keep spirits up, but they tried really hard. Then we get past the horrors of war and find peace.”
Stephens said she wants everyone to relate to the exhibit, so she used some items she and the generations after her grew up with to help those who have not personally experienced war to relate to those who have.
“A lot of kids grew up with the Molly dolls or American Girl dolls, and Molly was from WWII,” Stephens said. “If you’ve ever read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that story happened because the dad was in WWII. There was a Taylor Swift song from her 1989 album [that] talks about ‘loose lips sink ships,’ which was a WWII phrase. Many children’s books from the 1940s are still known today: Corduroy, Curious George, Goodnight Moon. We tried to tie it in, so kids had something to relate to. It’s not just me in a museum creating a little exhibit, but it’s going out and gathering stories and making it relatable to people who might not have been part of the story.”
Senior Reuben Carter said he recently watched the movie “A League of Their Own” at the Friday in The Outfield event hosted by Oklahoma Christian. According to IMBd, the movie is about the formation of women’s baseball teams to keep the baseball industry alive while the men were off serving in the war.
“I think that [the war] helped us realize that women do have a role that is more than just being in the stereotypical kitchen,” Carter said. “With that, I think it gave them more opportunity to show their talents and that they had more to offer than just cooking. It was definitely a bright side to a horrible time in American history.”
Senior Garon Shuck visited the museum last weekend to see the WWII artifacts and said he was impressed with the exhibit.
“The posters were cool,” Shuck said. “I like how they were used to connect everyone to unite for one common purpose.”
Stephens said she thinks college students also would enjoy the event “Aprons and Rations,” happening on the last day of the exhibit from 10 a.m. to noon and encourages anyone in the area to come and support the museum.
“We are going to be doing some WWII cooking using substitute cooking without sugar,” Stephens said. “We are going to make aprons and do an activity where you have to shop using rationing coupons like you had to do back then during the war. It’s $10 for a two-hour class, and it’s living history.”
The exhibit is free to attend and features artifacts such as 1940s aprons and clothing; Red Cross, SS Nazi Schutzaffel and local Army Air Force uniforms; and food-related items such as cookbooks, ration coupons and jars used by women during the war. More information about the museum, exhibits and events can be found on the museum’s website.