Daily Archives: February 1, 2024

Finding Women at Camp Adair: HST 363 student research projects

Marisa Chappell, Associate Professor of History

The twenty-four students in History 363: Women in U.S. History spent the final three weeks of Fall Quarter 2023 in OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center exploring women in Camp Adair’s history. Archivist Tiah Edmonson-Morton made archival collections, oral histories, and other primary sources available for students to examine. She also shared her infinite enthusiasm, patience, and knowledge with the students, both in class presentations and frequent individual consultations. Students worked in groups of three to explore the sources, identify a historical question/focus, and find and read scholarship to help them contextualize what they were discovering. In the end, they produced new knowledge about the history of women at Camp Adair and Oregon State College.

Three groups were especially intrigued by portrayals of women in the Camp Adair Sentry, the camp’s official newspaper. A February 1943 front-page article about a PX Girl contest served as a starting point for all three groups, who were struck that a military training camp during wartime was holding what seemed like a beauty and popularity contest. The article led students groups in distinct directions. Two groups decided to further explore images of women in the Sentry. Bakhshoudeh, Hawes, and Kirschenbaum followed the PX Girl story and used it to discuss “Women’s Objectification in the Camp Adair Sentry.” Merims-Johnson, Lerner, and Johnson focused on the newspaper’s photographs more generally, using them to think about how media producers during the war grappled with the new opportunities available to women, in their post, “Mixed in Classification: The Paradox of Gender Roles in Media and the Mobilization of Women at Camp Adair.” Finally, Alam, McMillan, and Scalet wanted to learn more about “PX girls” and other kinds of women’s labor at Camp Adair, resulting in their post, “Image versus Reality: Women in the Camp Adair Sentry.”

In a related post, Collins, Cunningham, and Lake discuss the prominence of women as entertainers for servicemembers both at Camp Adair and at Oregon State College. In “Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair,” they argue that whether as nurturers reminding of the comforts of home or as objects of femininity, beauty, and sexuality, they found, women were enlisted during the war to maintain soldiers’ morale. Meanwhile, an exploration of the Oregon State Barometer led another group to focus on campaigns to promote women’s physical fitness at OSC during the war. While not directly about Camp Adair, the post “Promoting Physical Heath for Women at Oregon State College during World War II” by Blair, Matteo, and Zhang highlights yet another way that the war affected both ideas about and the experiences of women. The group found significant urgency around women’s physical conditioning, both as a way to fulfill wartime labor demands and as a general duty.

Moving forward in time, two groups were drawn to explore women’s roles at the first Adair Village, which the area was dubbed when it housed married OSC students in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They started with Dan Poling’s 1956 dissertation about that first Adair Village, which mentioned a Mothers Club. Students noted Poling’s reference to a newsletter, The Community Spirit, which archivist Tiah Edmunson-Morton uncovered in SCARC’s collections. McCarville, Buresh, and Howell, in their post “The First Adair Village: Women at OSC’s Postwar Married Student Housing,” noted its homemade quality, which was starkly different from the more professional, military-produced Camp Adair Sentry. Students in both groups documented the activities of the Mothers Club as evidenced in The Community Spirit and a 1949 Adair Village Directory. Bransetter, Kreitzer, and Miller looked for evidence of the club and its officers in OSC yearbooks and the Barometer and they were surprised to find little. They conclude therefore that most members were wives of male students rather than students themselves. They also suggest in their post “Adair Village Mothers Club: Invisible Community Builders in the Postwar Era,” that women’s community-building activities, while crucial to the well-being of Adair Village families, did not seem to qualify as news on campus. Both groups’ findings raised questions about the longer history of women’s community building labor. Under what circumstances have government and public institutions committed to providing social supports for families and for which families, for example, and how has community building changed as women’s roles have changed?

At the end of class, we discussed how students’ findings related to the broader content of the course, which emphasized how women’s lives and ideas about gender have always shaped and been shaped by been shaped by race and ethnicity, sexuality, class, and other axes of difference. There is still much to discover about the mostly white, economically secure, and able-bodied women whose lives intersected with Camp Adair. At the same time, it will take a different set of methods and sources to find women who do not fit those categories. I look forward to engaging new groups of students in this work.