Written by Taylor Stewart, guest blogger
This is one of our guest blog posts for Women’s History Month. Taylor Stewart, master’s student in Public History and graduate assistant for the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, researched and wrote this post on female students during the war years. Enjoy!
Researching women in history often requires looking at sources that may not be obvious at first, as well as looking at sources in alternative ways. Women’s voices were often lost or simply not included in sources in the first place. My current research is on women’s roles on Middle Tennessee State College’s campus during World War Two. We all know the Rosie the Riveter character, but how was the typical college woman affected by the war effort? To what extent did she participate? With men largely gone from campus, what new roles did she enjoy? Women on college campuses did enjoy a widening of their roles and duties during the war –new jobs, new majors on campus, and vacancies in student organizations were all available to them during the war. MTSC’s yearbooks illustrated many of these changes.
The Midlander yearbooks, which are available at the Albert Gore Research Center as well as online, provide incredible insight into on-campus life. Yearbooks are not only a succinct combination of pictures and text that tell what life was like, but through their choices of what to include, what was said, how it was said, and what was left out, one can see the priorities of students on campus, particularly those who worked together to make the yearbooks.
Using the immediate pre-war editions in comparison to the Midlanders released during the war, I noticed changes in the make up of the student body executive department, the Midlander staff, the Sidelines staff, and the class officer positions. These organizations were largely male before the United States joined World War Two, but almost completely female by 1944. The 1943 issue of the Midlander contained the first mention and picture of the Industrial Arts Building, as well as a large spread on MTSC’s War Training program. Before the war, the cover was usually decorated with the school seal, a picture of what is now Kirksey Old Main, or other Tennessee and Murfreesboro related images.Yet, the 1942, 1944, and 1945 yearbooks all have the Statue of Liberty on the cover.
Another way to analyze yearbooks is looking at what was missing. Things previously included were left out in a later edition and relfected changes due to the war. For example, the 1944 Midlander included superlatives for women but none for men.
Another telling absence was in sports. Throughout the war years, the football team and the varsity men’s basketball team both disappear from the pages. In 1945, the men still on campus formed an independent men’s basketball team called the Gophers, but according to the team picture, they barely had enough men to field a team!
Primary resources come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Don’t be scared to use a new one, especially when researching groups like women, who were often prohibited in one way or another from truly preserving their own voices.