Project Proposal for “Bygone Banter: Love Letters to Dearest Anne”

In 2014, a friend and I went to the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford, Connecticut. Always on the eye out for unique tchotchkes, clothing, and other eclectic antiques, I was over the moon when I noticed a stack of letters sitting in a shoe box. A quick scan of the envelopes revealed that these were World War II letters – “Sgt.” and “U.S. Army” on the return label, postmarked in the year 1944. And all were addressed to one woman, Anne Silver of Canton Center, Connecticut. Quickly checking to see that the envelopes in fact contained letters, I turned to the dealer and asked how much. Fifteen dollars poorer and forty letters richer, I left quite happy.

After spending that afternoon pouring over the letters, I was able to determine that Anne Silver and Sgt. Cliff Seger corresponded quite a bit throughout the War. Only correspondence to Anne was in the pile, though, so I had little way of knowing what she might have written. However, two of letters that were not by Cliff, and were to or about Anne, were in the mix. In fact, I had acquired forty letters representing three different romantic relationships with three different soldiers: Cliff, Felix, and Herman. This turn of events, or correspondence, somewhat shifted my perception of these love letters, and inspired me to utilize them in this project, two years later.

The goal of this project will be to digitize all forty of the love letters in this collection. I will scan each page and envelope, and upload them as JPG files to Omeka. Using Omeka, I will use Dublin Core archival standards to catalogue each item, to include titles, descriptions, creators, dates, formats, languages, provenance, and tags. The combination of the original document scans with this metadata will provide a substantial introduction to the material. Fortunately, the letters are generally in fabulous condition, with little fading and staining, and very legible handwriting. However, some may need to be transcribed, in which case the original scans and the transcriptions will be included.

In addition to the online archive of these letters, I will create an online exhibit using Omeka and Timeline JS to narrate and contextualize the correspondence. Because the correspondence is entirely one-sided, and we do not have a representation of Anne’s words, it is important to try, to the best of my ability, to fill the gaps in this story. With this exhibit I have three main goals: to correlate the date and content of Cliff Seger’s letters with larger World War II events, to surmise Anne’s experience based on primary and secondary source material of the Homefront, and to contextualize Anne’s three relationships with a perspective of wartime gender and sexuality.

Fortunately, the World War II era is extremely well preserved and researched. Primary and secondary sources will undoubtedly contribute ample evidence to contextualize Anne’s love letters from Cliff, Felix, and Herman. For example, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the events that follow into 1943 can introduce exhibit users to the history of the War itself and to the beginning of the correspondence on December 17, 1943. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a thorough timeline that could provide initial understanding of political and military events, which could then be supplemented with primary sources such as articles and headlines from The New York Times. Homefront materials abound as well, existing in publications, popular media, photographs, and oral histories. Materials related specifically to Connecticut at the time may be helpful for determining Anne’s experience, such as the University of Connecticut’s oral history project “Voices of the Second World War” and the war-related materials of “Connecticut History Illustrated” of the Connecticut History Digital Archive. In addition, genealogical data from Ancestry.com databases may help consider the family backgrounds of Anne and Cliff.

There are countless pieces of scholarship that will be valuable to this project. For example, Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin considers various manifestations of femininity at the time, including romantic and familial relationships, female icons and entertainers, and the “wrong kind” of woman, such as prostitutes and unwed mothers. Through these lenses, Yellin provides a vast approach to understanding war-era women, and she may provide insight into Anne’s life at the time.[1] In addition, Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II by Jane Mersky Leder explores the revolutionary changes in romantic and sexual love that coincided with revolutionary changes in politics and warfare. Topics including women waiting stateside, popular culture, letter writing, and the post-war marriage and baby boom may all shed light on the dynamic between Anne and Cliff, and perhaps her other suitors Felix and Herman.[2] In addition, B. Lee Cooper’s Journal of American Culture piece “From ‘Love Letters’ to ‘Miss You’: Popular Recordings, Epistolary Imagery, and Romance During War-Time, 1941-1945,” points to the significance of popular music in representing the common heartbreak of soldiers and sweethearts.[3] Cooper’s selected tunes may prove helpful in creating an exhibit that contextualizes experience and gives Anne a voice. Similarly, in Women’s Studies, Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith explain the perspective of a wartime woman waiting at home in “Since you went away: the World War II letters of Barbara Wooddall Tyler.”[4] Although no two experiences or stories are the same, an example specifically from the woman’s viewpoint will be of assistance in recreating Anne and Cliff’s story. Quite different from these pieces, Marilyn E. Hegarty’s Journal of Women’s History article “Patriot or Prostitute? Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women During World War II,” explores the shifts in normative, feminine behavior in public and the media’s encouragement of sexual support for the military.[5] Though this piece approaches the women’s experience differently than some of the others, it may point to helpful primary source examples that illustrate changes in notions of gender and sexuality.

Therefore, although the exhibit and project itself will mostly consist of correspondence, it will be supplemented by other primary sources such as publications, photographs, posters, and perhaps sound or film. As such, considerations of proper reproduction or citation will be relevant in exhibit creation. I believe it is particularly important in this case to cite these sources carefully, because the love letters, as my own personal collection, require some substantiation for archival and research purposes.

Ultimately, this project will result in a digital archive and exhibit for the love letters in the Anne Silver collection. With digitized copies of the letters themselves and supplemental records, users may navigate the collection however they choose. The exhibit, alternately, will provide rich context related to World War II, the Homefront, and changing concepts of gender and sexuality. With this end result, the likely audience would primarily consist of trained historians or history students, and similarly trained academics and professionals. However, other groups may find an interest in this project. For example, I will undoubtedly reach out to the Canton Historical Museum, located in Anne and Cliff’s hometown, to see if they have any related materials or if they have an interest in this collection. In addition, I am a member of a veteran’s support organization called Pin-Ups for Patriots. This group consists of mostly women veterans and loved ones of veterans or active military personnel, and their mission is to provide institutional resources and support through programming and events. With a secondary focus on World War II popular culture and pin-up, the women in this group would probably enjoy perusing this online project. With a fairly diverse audience, multidisciplinary approach, and multimedia format, I am looking forward to preserving and interpreting this collection through archiving and exhibition.

[1] Emily Yellin, Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, (New York: Free Press, 2004).

[2] Jane Mersky Leder, Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2006).

[3] B. Lee Cooper, “From ‘Love Letters’ to ‘Miss You’: Popular Recordings, Epistolary Imagery, and Romance During War-Time, 1941-1945,” The Journal of American Culture (Winter 1996): 15-27.

[4] Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, “Since you went away: the World War II letters of Barbara Wooddall Tyler,” Women’s Studies 17, no. 3 (1990): 248-276.

[5] Marilyn E. Hegarty, “Patriot or Prostitute? Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women During World War II,” Journal of Women’s History 10, no. 2 (1998): 112-136.

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