LAST OF THE ROMANOVS: SOME WOLFSONIAN REFLECTIONS ON THE LAST RUSSIAN CZAR ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS CORONATION

•May 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Having already assumed the throne following the death of his father in November 1894, Nicholas II and his wife, the German princess, Alexandra, were crowned czar and czarina of Russia in the old Ouspensky Cathedral in Moscow on May 26, 1896.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF
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During his tempestuous reign, Nicholas II would be overwhelmed by challenges to his rule. Desperate to preserve the autocratic rule he inherited, he dismissed demands for reform and steered the nation into two disastrous wars (first against Japan in the East and later against Germany and Austria-Hungary in the West). These wars would both spark revolutions; the latter one would ultimately cost him the throne and his family their lives. But when he first ascended the throne and during the earliest years of rule, things looked decidedly more promising.

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Only months after their coronation, the royal couple made a state visit to France in the fall, stopping in Cherbourg, Paris, Sevres, Versailles, and Chalons-sur-Marne.

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MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOAN

A Franco-Russian alliance had already been initiated by Alexander III in 1892, but the official visit of Nicholas II and Alexandra to Paris in October 1896 established ever more cordial relations. The Romanovs spoke excellent French and enjoyed escaping the parochial and restrictive Russian Court.

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MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOAN

France provided the Russian czar with loans to finance a program of industrialization, and Russia provided France with an ally in the East capable of countering the growing power and influence of the expanding German Empire.
Ironically, although Nicholas II resisted any attempt to curb his royal authority or weaken czarist absolutism, he was by nature and inclination poorly suited to wield such absolute power. The Russo-Japanese War ended so disastrously for the Russians that it provoked the Russian Revolution of 1905.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION

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GIFTS OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

While Nicholas was able to stay in power by recognizing a representative assembly, and by promising constitutional reforms, he repudiated such concessions and repeatedly dissolved the Duma. With reform effectively thwarted, more radically-minded revolutionary groups, like the Bolsheviks, began to win popular support.

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GIFT OF THE HOLY TRINITY ORTHODOX SEMINARY LIBRARY

Russian participation in the Great War again demonstrated the incompetence of Romanov rule as Nicholas personally took command of the army in 1915, leaving the Czarina at home to deal with domestic concerns.

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Alexandra’s popularity at court had declined considerably, having fallen under the influence of the Russian mystic Rasputin, who arbitrarily replaced many of the czar’s competent ministers and officials with less qualified appointees.

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GIFT OF THE HOLY TRINITY ORTHODOX SEMINARY LIBRARY

In March 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate, and a Provisional government came to power, marking the end to Romanov rule. Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children were later transferred to Tobolsk in Western Siberia under pressure from the Petrograd Soviet that shared power with the Provincial Government in the early days of the Russian Revolution. With the aim of knock Russia out of the war, the Germans sent Lenin and other revolutionary exiles to Russia in a sealed railway car in order to foment revolution and civil war.

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In November 1917, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin seized power from the Provisional government under Kerensky and established the Soviet state. In April 1918, the royal family was transferred to Yekaterinburg in the Urals. That summer, the civil war broke out, and as “White” Russian forces advanced on Yekaterinburg during a campaign against the Bolsheviks, the Yekaterinburg Soviet passed a death sentence on the imperial family. The Romanov dynasty was no more.

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GIFT OF THE HOLY TRINITY ORTHODOX SEMINARY LIBRARY

UNHAPPY ANNIVERSARY, RMS LUSITANIA: SOME WOLFSONIAN REFLECTIONS ONE HUNDRED YEARS (AND ONE DAY) LATER

•May 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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GIFT OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

At 2:10 in the afternoon of May 7, 1915, a German U-boat fired a single torpedo into the British flagged passenger liner, the RMS Lusitania as it cruised along the Southern coast of Ireland which had been declared by the Germans to be a “war zone.”

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Among the dead were 128 Americans, including Arts & Crafts publisher and printer, Elbert Hubbard and his wife. Ironically, Hubbard had memorialized those who had perished when a collision with an iceberg had sunk the “unsinkable” Titanic three years earlier.

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Hubbard had singled out Ida Straus, who had refused to board the lifeboat with the other women and children.

The calm courage that was yours all your long and useful career was your possession in death. You knew how to do three great things—you knew how to live, how to love and how to die…to pass out as did Mr. and Mrs. Isador Straus is glorious. Few have such a privilege. Happy lovers, both. In life they were never separated and in death they are not divided.

Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard would experience the same “glorious” fate as the Lusitania sank into the icy waters.

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The Lusitania (and her sister-ship, the Mauritania) were originally commissioned by the Cunard Company as a response to competition from “Kaiser class” ocean liners being built in Germany by Norddeutscher Lloyd and Hamburg Amerika Linie under the encouragement of  Wilhelm II. This was the “civilian” equivalent of the “naval” arms race between Great Britain and Germany.

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 Construction first began at the John Brown shipyard on the Lusitania’s keel on June 16, 1904. So great was the keel that the shipyard had to be reorganized, and railway tracks installed alongside the ship and across the high tensile steel deck plating in order to bring in the construction materials for this goliath.

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 When complete, the Lusitania would measure 790 feet in length, 88 feet in breadth, with a gross tonnage of 32,500 tons. She would be equipped with four funnels, and four steam turbines driving four separate propellers.

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The Lusitania was launched on June 7, 1906 and her engine and first sea trials took place in the summer of 1907.

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The central half of the ship below the waterline contained four boiler rooms. Coal bunkers were placed along the length of the ship outboard of the boiler rooms, for convenience and safety.  The hull was divided into twelve compartments by 35 hydraulically operated watertight doors. Unfortunately, sliding doors to the coal bunkers needed to be open while the ship was moving to allow for a constant supply of coal.

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At the time of her completion, the Lusitania was (if briefly) the largest ship ever built (soon topped by the slightly larger Mauritania).

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The Lusitania offered 552 saloon class, 460 cabin class, and 1,186 third class accommodations, and luxurious dining halls and common spaces.

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The Lusitania was expected to be able to make the Liverpool to New York transatlantic crossing in about one-third of the time needed by the Britannia.

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The Lusitania’s four funnels distinguished her from other ships; the smoke from those stacks made her an easy target to find and track.

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Between 1907 and 1914, the Lusitania had an illustrious career in the transatlantic service.   At the outbreak of hostilities, she was temporarily repainted drab grey to minimize her visibility, but with the German Navy effectively blockaded, the Royal Navy determined Atlantic crossings to be safe. Although German U-Boats still posed a threat, Cruiser Rules required a submarine to surface and to allow passengers and crew to take to the lifeboats before attacking. On the surface, the submarines were extremely vulnerable, and contrary to the rules of engagement, the British Navy ordered merchant ships to ram and sink submarines as they surfaced. The Captain of the German U-20 submarine did not surface before firing off one of its torpedoes.

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A single torpedo proved sufficient to cripple and sink the Lusitania. After a second internal explosion, the luxury passenger ship began to list so dramatically that the crew was only able to successfully lower 6 of the 48 lifeboats. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard, 1,191 drowned or succumbed to hypothermia.

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 The Germans accounted the sinking of Britain’s largest ocean liner still operating a civilian passenger service to be a great victory, and emphasized the folly of transporting munitions of war aboard a passenger ship.

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MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR PROMISED GIFT

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A German even struck a commemorative medallion to mark the occasion, depicting on one side a skeleton in a Cunard booth selling tickets for the transatlantic crossing, and the ship sinking under the weight of the contraband armament on its decks.

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World opinion, however, be moved by more emotional appeals, as images of the funerals were circulated and political cartoonists took aim at this latest German atrocity that claimed the lives of some many non-combatants. A French postcard, for example, pictures a drowning child clutching a lifesaver, piteously crying for his mother and asking “why?”

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The British published a folding recruiting poster mailer that included an illustration of women and children drowning in the wake of the sinking ship.

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Although the Dutch remained neutral during the Great War, the artist Louis Raemaekers felt compelled by events to deploy his talents in creating political cartoons that were highly critical of the Germans. After the sinking of the Lusitania, Raemaekers depicted Kaiser Wilhelm as the bloody tyrant King Herod, whose guilty conscience has wondering “Are they crying, ‘Mother’ or ‘Murder’?”

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While American reactions to the sinking varied, a survey of editorial cartoons published on the subject indicate that while many still thought the country ought to remain neutral, there also appears to have been a decided shift in sympathies against German barbarism. At least one questioned the wisdom of permitting Americans to take passage aboard a powder keg, and another the fairness of supplying Britain but not Germany with arms.

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But many more cartoons focused on German actions and a number depicted the Kaiser as a bloody pirate.

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Some cartoons ridiculed Uncle Sam for inaction in the wake of the Lusitania sinking and advocated for a more aggressive approach to dealing with Germany.

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Some political cartoons specifically attacked President Woodrow Wilson after his “Too proud to fight” speech. One depicted him with a scrawny peacock feather in his cap as the Kaiser thumbs his nose and tramples the American flag behind his back!

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Others, by implication, praised Uncle Sam for maintaining “strict neutrality” and depicted the advocates of “military preparedness” as warmongers eager to see American drawn into the European conflict.

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Still other cartoons focused on the need for America to defend her own commercial interests against both warring parties.

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But by far, it was Woodrow Wilson’s U.S. Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan who received the lion’s share of criticism after he “jumped ship.”

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A committed “pacifist,” Bryan resigned in June 1915 over what he considered to be a too strongly worded diplomatic message delivered to Germany demanding a cessation of “unrestricted submarine warfare.” Several cartoons inserted a white feather (symbol of cowardice) in his cap.

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Bryan did not help his cause, with comments like “…why be so shocked by the drowning of a few people, if there is to be no objection to starving a nation.”  Some found the former Secretary of State’s new pacifist stance towards Germany to be more than a little hypocritical given that Bryan had advocated American military intervention in Mexico’s civil war in 1914.

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Other cartoons went even farther by implying that Bryan was either a blind “peace at any price” dupe, or a treacherous German “scarecrow” and sympathizer.

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A couple of cartoons even went so far as to place a German pickelhaube helmet, an iron cross, or a Kaiser-like mustache on his face!.

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President Wilson’s diplomatic strategy successfully forced the Germans to suspend their campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in the immediate aftermath of the Lusitania sinking. But by 1917, the German military command decided to once again unleash the U-boats, gambling that one great offensive on the Western Front might win the war before American soldiers could even be deployed overseas. It was a gamble they would lose.

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BEAUTY AND THE BEACH: WOMEN’S BATHING SUITS AND THE PROMOTION OF MIAMI BEACH

•May 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In the days when Miami Beach was first being incorporated and developed as a “bathing beach,” it was not so common for people to actually “swim” in the ocean.

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, private COLLECTION

In spite of the name, the first casinos” built on Miami Beach were not gambling establishments, but rather simple “bathhouses” where visitors could stow away their clothing and valuables in lockers and rent and change into “bathing suits.”

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, gift OF FRANCIS X. LUCA & CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

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Men (and boys) as well as women wore suits that modestly covered their chests.

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MIAMI BEACH HISTORICAL ARCHIVE (1921), MB 1

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Early bathing suits were made of wool, and for women, the outfit included a skirt, long cotton stockings, and even bathing shoes, as modesty forbade any glimpse of female leg.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF LAWRENCE WIGGINS

Some ladies even sewed weights into the hems of the skirts to prevent them from riding up and exposing their legs in the surf. While the women wearing such contraptions were in little danger of sunburn, obviously swimming in such a suit was out of the question, and so wading in the shallow surf was about as much as a person might dare without risking drowning. Other women might choose to roll down their stocking a bit for a bit of sun, or at least for a quick snapshot.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF LAWRENCE WIGGINS

We can forgive the artistic license taken by the illustrator of this early promotional pamphlet in depicting the bare shoulders and backs of the female bathers–this at a time when men were still wearing tops at the beach!

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. PROMISED GIFT

Things started to change in the early 1900s as a new generation of women began to shake loose from prudish Victorian values concerning female propriety. In “puritan” New England, an Australia swimmer, Annette Kellerman, dared appear on a Boston beach in 1907 wearing a formfitting one-piece suit. She was promptly arrested. In the nineteen-teens, however, women would no longer face arrest merely for showing their legs or shoulders at the beach. And bathing suits, while still made of wool, became slightly more functional.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF LAWRENCE WIGGINS

In the early 1920s, the proprietors of the Miami Beach bathhouses organized bathing beauty contests that shamelessly exposed women’s legs as a means of generating positive publicity for the fledgling winter resort.

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

While Carl Fisher is duly credited as one of the founders of Miami Beach, his young wife, Jane, also contributed to the promotion and development of the city as a resort and tourist destination. After Carl purchased and took over one of the early bathing casinos, Jane grew frustrated as she was trying to work on her Australian crawl swimming strokes. At that time, modesty still dictated that women’s bathing attire include a dress or skirt, and long black cotton stockings; hair was to be tucked into a bathing cap. Jane reordered her bathing attire so that her skirt dropped only to her knees and she substituted short anklets in place of long stockings. Apparently, her “skimpy” suit scandalized and offended some of Miami’s religious folk, but her husband, Carl, encouraged her to persevere, and other women followed her example. According to Jane’s memoir, Fabulous Hoosier, “within a few weeks of my public pillorying, not a black cotton stocking was to be seen on the Beach.”

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

Never one to miss an opportunity to capitalize on free publicity, Carl not only quietly encouraged his wife to flaunt social convention, but had photos taken of beautiful young models sitting around his Flamingo Hotel swimming pool wearing swim suits that left most of the women’s legs exposed. These publicity photos were reproduced in albums and in promotional campaigns designed to attract male vacationers down to Fisher’s warm winter playground for the well-to-do.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, illustrations or colorized photographs of beautiful women wearing formfitting bathing and swim suit attire were printed on brochures and postcards as a means of luring winter-weary Northerners down to sunny Miami Beach.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

While the rest of the country (and the world) were still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, an advertisement for the Sun-Ray Sanitarium in Miami was enticing “convalescents and chronic cases” to come down to South Florida’s healthful climate. The brochure’s cover features a pictorial map of North and South America with Miami as its center, and photographic illustrations of attractive young women in swimsuits perhaps intended to allude to Florida’s “fountain of youth” legend. While the women on the left panel posing by a palm tree are wearing the more “modest” swimsuits typical of the period, the young woman standing next to an illustration of a thermometer on the right hand panel has been photographed in a two piece outfit that covers her navel but leaves part of her midriff exposed. This was extraordinarily unusual given that the “bikini” was not formally introduced until after WWII, and even then did not catch on until the 1950s and 1960s. Considering that this sanitarium promoted sun-bathing and warm pool activities as a health benefit, and provided treatment facilities that included electrotherapy and special terraces for nude sun-bathing, it is not so shocking to assume that they also promoted less constricting swimsuits maximizing sun-exposure.

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During the Second World War, tourists and local residents had to share the beach with tens of thousands of soldiers as the community was transformed from a sleepy winter tourist destination into a year-round military base for the U.S. Army Air Forces.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF JUDITH BERSON-LEVINSON

Periodicals published by the military to keep up the morale of the officer candidates and technical trainees stationed in Miami Beach featured lots of illustrations of the women that the average “Joe Jeep” was likely to encounter at the beach and in his dreams.

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF JUDITH BERSON-LEVINSON

In the post-World War II era, women in swimsuits continued to be used to bring men down to Miami Beach. Even the Miami Beach Kennel Club promoted its greyhound dog track by pairing the sleek racing dogs with attractive models in swimsuits.

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, GIFT OF LINDA LA ROCQUE AND BLISS VAN DEN HOUVEL

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Miami Beach’s Copa City Nightclub, (which opened in a building designed by Norman Bel Geddes), published and distributed entertainment programs in the early 1950s that also included photographic illustrations of women at the beach wearing the revolutionary new swimsuit—the bikini. Just four days after the nuclear tests on the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, French engineer Louis Reard first introduced what he hoped would be an equally earth-shattering design in July 1946. So revolutionary was his two-piece “bikini” design that he was unable to convince a single Parisian fashion model to wear it, although a nude dancer proved willing. The bikini was officially banned from beauty pageants in the 1950s, and largely remained “taboo” until 17 year old French actress Brigitte Bardot popularized it by wearing one in the sultry French romance released in 1952 under the title, Manina, la fille sans voiles. Notwithstanding the motion picture censorship Hays Code prohibition of exposure of the midriff, the film debuted in the United States in October 1958 as Manina, the Girl in the Bikini. As these Copa City programs suggest, however, Miami Beach promoters did not wait for France or the rest of the country to jump on the bikini bandwagon. Issues of Copa City magazine published in 1951 and 1952 to promote the Miami Beach night club’s beauties boldly pictured their show girls sporting bikinis and losing their “pale ‘night-club tan’ on the sun-drenched beaches of Florida.”

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THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU, MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. PROMISED GIFT

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

While nightclub owners and burlesque dancers flaunted social convention in the early fifties, by middle of the decade it was the model and photographer Lennea Eleanor (Bunny) Yeager who was shaking things up. Having moved to Miami at age 17, “Bunny” won numerous local beauty pageants (including Miss Personality of Miami Beach) and become one of the most photographed models in Miami. In the 1950s, she also personally designed, sewed, and modeled hundreds of bikinis and did much to popularize the fashion in the United States. She also met the “infamous” Bettie Page in 1954 and took more than 1,000 photographs of her that year. Some of Bunny’s photographs of Page and other models were reproduced on postcards promoting Miami Beach.

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During the first years of the sixties, staff photographers for the City of Miami Beach News Bureau were snapping publicity shots of beautiful models in swimsuits enjoying the sun, surf, and sand.

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The early 1960s also brought the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant to Miami Beach, where, in the course of the competitions, beautiful women from around the globe competed for the title. Contestants wore the more traditional one-piece swimsuits; the bikini was not permitted.

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Bathing suit style rules were not restrictive for other contests, as during the Miss Miami Beach Golden Girl Pageant, organized in 1965 as part of the city’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations.

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While the bikini gained some acceptance in the early 1960s, most female sunbathers and swimmers on Miami Beach appear to have preferred the one-piece outfit, in spite of the wishful thinking of at least one cartoonist.

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

Color images of bikini-clad women on postcards began to be a popular means of promoting Miami Beach in the mid- to late-1960s.

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LAWRENCE WIGGINS, PRIVATE COLLECTION

These Miami Beach “bathing beauty”-type postcards have remained popular ever since.

MIAMI BEACH, TODAY AND YESTERDAY: CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS AND GLIMPSES OF THE CITY’S EARLY HISTORY

•April 22, 2015 • 1 Comment

Last month marked the hundred year anniversary of the founding of Miami Beach, and residents and visitors have had all sorts of opportunities to get nostalgic and to celebrate, ranging from attending swimwear and fashion shows; a free centennial concert (featuring Andrea Bocelli, Gloria Estefan, and Barry Gibb); watching a Jackie Gleason TV Marathon at the Fillmore; and watching the Miami Vice pilot episode on the New World Center Wallcast.

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Diners, shoppers, and pedestrians taking a stroll down Lincoln Road at night also have the chance to get to know the city better as social media posts, animated art, images of “Miami Beach Legends,” and historical photographs, brochures, and postcards are projected onto the wall of the H&M building (formerly the Lincoln Road Theater). The public are invited to send in their own photos, art, and video footage for inclusion in the nightly displays.

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Some of the images projected onto the H&M and bank tower buildings on Lincoln Road come from The Wolfsonian-FIU library collection, including a copy of a rare publicity photograph album of Carl Fisher’s Boulevard Hotel. Before Fisher had entered the picture, John Stiles Collins and his son-in-law, Thomas Pancoast, had already been clearing land, planting avocado groves, and dredging canals to tap the island’s agricultural potential, and begun construction on a wooden bridge connecting the beach to the mainland; developers like J. N. Lummus had formed the Ocean Beach Development Company and had been burning and clearing the palmetto and mangrove and ridding the island of rattlesnakes, raccoons, rats, and other “pests.”

When the Indianapolis automobile and speedway promoter and self-made millionaire, Carl Fisher entered the scene, he began swapping much needed capital for real estate lots with the aim of transforming the narrow peninsula into a winter retreat for the well-to-do. Fisher’s wife, Jane was originally aghast at her husband’s investments in this desolate sandbar, but as the number of Carl’s luxurious hotels took root and other wealthy socialites began to buy into the beach, she too began to revel in the atmosphere so unlike Palm Beach.

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Years later in an interview she confided that the well-to-do in Palm Beach “thought we were just scum…nouveaux riches,…New money from the Midwest, automobile money from Indiana and Michigan” as opposed to the “old money from the East, bankers and railroads….” While Carl was promoting the beach as a resort for millionaires like himself, in August 1926, he opened the Boulevard, his last Miami Beach hotel.

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Unlike his other luxurious grand hotels that catered exclusively to wealthy patrons, the Boulevard courted and catered to a more modest, middle-class clientele, with prices half that charged at Carl’s Flamingo Hotel. The Boulevard, located on the “new Venetian Causeway,” had been designed by architect William F. Brown, and featured the expected Mediterranean-influence touches common to Carl’s other hotels.

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The Boulevard had a central terrace, clay roof tiles and a tower, ornamental columns in the hotel lobby, and arches that still afforded views of the neighboring golf course.

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But in contrast to the other hotels, the Boulevard offered “plain, American home cooking” in its cafeteria-style dining room that was open to the general public.

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Timing, of course, is everything in life—and in real estate as well. The Boulevard opened just one month before the Great Hurricane of 1926 hit Miami Beach, destroying a great deal of property and claiming the lives of hundreds of tourists and residents.

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Jim Snedigar, son of early Miami Beach mayor, Louis “Red” Snedigar, was only two and a half years old when the hurricane hit and nearly completely blew away the family’s brick home on Collins Avenue.  With the entire island under nearly three feet of water, “Red” Snedigar tied his family together with sheets and swam across the Dade Canal to seek shelter in the Boulevard Hotel.

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Though the hotel survived the storm with relatively little damage, Fisher’s flagging fortunes did not. Already overextended with a new real estate venture in Montauk, Long Island, the hurricane damage, bad publicity, and instant end to the real estate boom ruined Fisher and brought the beach into a serious economic depression years before the rest of the country and world were overtaken by the Crash and Great Depression in 1929. Needless to say, Miami Beach’s fortunes revived, even as Carl Fisher’s fortunes went from rags to riches, and back to rags again.

OVERT / COVERT: MIAMI DADE COLLEGE STUDENTS USE WOLFSONIAN ART OBJECTS TO DECODE THE ICONOGRAPHY OF LABOR

•April 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday afternoon, I crossed the bay separating Miami Beach from the mainland to deliver a lecture to a class of Miami Dade College students enrolled in a museum studies course. I had been informed that the students had put together an exhibition titled Overt/Covert dealing with the confluence of propaganda and labor, with artifacts drawn from the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Study Centre in downtown Miami. The exhibition had recently opened in the Museum of Art + Design located in the historic Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College—at one time the tallest building in downtown Miami, though it has since been dwarfed by a plethora of glass towers!

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The subject matter of the student exhibition was not new to me. I have worked at The Wolfsonian museum for more than two decades and have been teaching for another decade at Florida International University, often about the Great Depression and New Deal era.

I had prepared a Powerpoint presentation for the occasion illustrated with examples of American, Soviet, Fascist, and National Socialist labor propaganda with images drawn from The Wolfsonian-FIU museum library collection. Some of the American materials dealt with the irony of the 1930s mania for picturing “men at work” in an era of extreme unemployment; the depiction of strikes (and their suppression) by left-leaning artists; and the celebration (and criticism) of New Deal “back to work” projects, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Federal Arts Project (FAP).

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My presentation compared and contrasted such images with those produced in the Soviet paradise of “full employment.” In the early years of the revolution, much artwork was done in the Constructivist style; other works conformed to the Socialist Realist style dictated by regime after Comrade Stalin assumed power.

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Turning from the Soviet Union to Fascist Italy, I included a number of images showing the relative tolerance of Benito Mussolini for depictions of labor in radically different styles. Il Duce did not seem to care whether artists worked in the Futurist or Neo-Classicist styles, or even if they employed techniques like photomontage–so long as they supported the values and goals of the regime.

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I ended my discussion of labor imagery with propaganda produced by the National Socialists in Hitler’s Germany. As in Stalin’s Russia, there was  little room for free expression in Germany. Artists and photographers were constrained to depict Der Fuhrer (doing more than his fair share of shoveling), armies of shovel-wielding Hitler Jugend, or Aryan maidens working in the fertile countryside and churning out future soldiers for the Nazi state.

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I actually began my talk and slide show with a couple of iconic images from the depression decade. One was a photograph taken by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) used to decorate the dust jacket of his Men at Work, published in 1932; the other, was a lithographic print from Comrade Gulliver: an Illustrated Account of Travel into that Strange Country the United States of America, an oversized portfolio published in 1935 by Hugo Gellert (1892-1985).

Although published during the darkest days of the Great Depression, Hine’s photograph celebrates the incredible feats and accomplishments of labor (symbolized by the smiling young man dangling from a skyscraper-erecting crane), even as one-quarter of the American workforce had been thrown out of work.

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As a committed Communist who placed all of his artistic talents into the service of the “cause” of the laboring classes, Hugo Gellert subversively lampooned such images. One of his illustrations, aptly titled “Useless,” instead depicted a despondent construction worker dangling precariously from a derrick with no work to do.

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After the lecture was over and some colleagues and I were given a guided tour of Overt/Covert, I was thrilled to discover that one of the student curators, Giselle Gonzalez, had not only included a small format version of Comrade Gulliver open to the same image, but had juxtaposed it to a color lithograph poster by the same artist, titled: See the Soviet Union in the Making published in 1930.

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She also used a silhouette of the poster to illustrate the cover of the exhibition catalog.

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I had never seen the poster before, and was immediately struck with the realization that the “Useless” illustration dating from 1935 had been recycled and modified from this earlier illustration. Although strikingly similar, the first pictured a confident Soviet worker hanging from acrane and was designed to celebrate the industrialization of the Soviet Union; the latter image substituted a downcast American worker intended to mock the failures of American Capitalism during the decade-long depression.

After some introductory remarks, each of the student curators focused on at least one of the labor-themed selections they had made, providing additional background information, and talking about the piece’s historical and or cultural significance.

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One of the student curators, Johnathan Sanabria, has been interning at The Wolfsonian-FIU library this semester. In addition to talking about the Wrigley’s chewing gum advertisement he selected for the exhibit, he also introduced our staff to a projection of historical clips he had pulled together of people at work.

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The montage included an excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, a brilliant and hilarious satire of working life in the industrial age.

So, having originally crossed the bay to deliver a lecture, I found myself learning quite a bit about the subject from the student curators. I highly recommend that anyone interested in seeing more on the subject head to the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami to check out this great exhibition.

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A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, OR, A STUDENT RECEPTION WITH WOLFSONIAN-FIU RARE BOOK LIBRARIANS

•April 8, 2015 • 1 Comment

Isabel Brador, a Museum Studies intern who has been cheerfully and enthusiastically working away in our Rare Book and Special Collections Library this semester, organized a reception and after-hours visit for her professor and fellow students this past Thursday. We are always delighted to have the opportunity to share a sampling of our library holdings with our university colleagues. Sharf Librarian Rochelle Pienn took the lead on preparing for the group. Here is her report:

You might have seen Ben Stiller’s family comedy hit, wherein a night guard at the New York Museum of Natural History discovers that the exhibits come to life after the renowned building closes.

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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. COPYRIGHT 2006 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX. A SHAWN LEVY FILM.

Did you know that the movie was based on a children’s book by Milan Trenc?

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COPYRIGHT 1993 BY MILAN TRENC. PUBLISHED BY BARRON’S EDUCATIONAL SERIES.

Florida International University Museum Studies students and their professor, Dr. Annette Fromm, were invited to a special almost-end-of-the-semester spring reception at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library to meet and greet the rare book librarians, and to see how special collections books themselves are living objects d’art.

After a relaxing interlude in the Wolfsonian-FIU café for some evening refreshments, Chief Librarian Frank Luca, Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi, and myself, the Sharf Associate Librarian, led our select group upstairs for an exclusive presentation.

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Not only did he demonstrate the beauty of intricately illustrated tomes, but Dr. Luca also spoke about the historical context of individual books’ designs.

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This imposing volume on the 1935 (Second) Italo-Ethiopian War used the ancient Roman symbol of the fasces, an axe protruding from a wooden base, as a way to glorify Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

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This magnificent example of bookbinding encloses a 1903 Amsterdam imprint of Dutch artist Jacob Maris’s work. The Art Nouveau design by C. A. Lion Cachet is embellished with gilded ink.

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Dr. Harsanyi discussed the glorification of German royalty as it pertained to this silver-stamped 1913 imprint from Berlin, aptly titled German Memorial Hall.

In spite of what was a less-than-illustrious reign, this richly decorated history made much of the last German Kaiser, Wilhelm II.

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Dr. Harsanyi cast minimal illumination on one of the Wolfsonian-FIU Library’s most mysterious treasures. This exquisitely hand-illustrated, unique artifact features gilded vignettes of Indonesia during the time of the Dutch colonization. The book is written in Kawi and was produced in Semarang, Central Java, in 1894.

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Next, I introduced our guests to rare and one-of-a-kind materials from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

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Japanese artistic prodigy Wakana Utigawa provided the illustrations for this British novel by Fannie Caldwell. The love story was the number one best seller in America in 1907, instigating popular sympathy with Japan following the Russo-Japanese War.

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Utigawa’s later stay at New York City’s Astor Hotel was enthusiastically reported on by the New York Times on May 12, 1913. They quoted her less-than-flattering description of the Western artists’ attempt at painting Japanese people, where she quips:

“The Japanese men and women painted by Western artists look very funny to us. You can never find such queer-looking creatures in Japan … The difference between European and Japanese eyes is too much exaggerated. If I were a Western artist I might try to paint the Japanese people, but I certainly would not care to exhibit the paintings.”

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Using stereotypical colors and typefaces that Westerners associated with Asian themes were also common techniques of publishers at the time. For example, this 1903 British imprint on the Boxer Rebellion has a yellow decorative binding and bamboo, vertical titles on the front cover to symbolize China.

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XC2010.08.1.335_136a[1] GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

These charming children’s books of Japanese fairy tales are constructed of soft, double-leaf muslin pages hand bound in red string, with wood-block illustrations in vivid colors on their front covers.

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The archive of Sergeant Edwin Taylor contains an eclectic collection of individual pieces. The items reverberate with the voice of man in the midst of active duty. A handwritten diary, a personal knapsack Bible, an inscribed multi-purpose knife and a Certificate of Freedom all belonged to him—artifacts of his stint in the City of London Imperial Volunteers’ Army of Great Britain during the South African (Boer) War in 1900.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

While the museum studies students weren’t chased around by any ghosts of long-gone soldiers or runaway dinosaur skeletons, they did escape their night at the museum with an alluring insight into the Wolfsonian-FIU Library.

HE/SHE GOES TO WAR: TWO SILENT WWI MOVIES CLASSICS AT THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU MUSEUM

•March 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last Friday evening I had the privilege to introduce a silent film double-feature in the auditorium of the Wolfsonian-FIU museum, with Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919) and She Goes to War (1929). Although both films were set during the First World War, the films treated that subject matter in very different ways. Yankee Doodle in Berlin was released just one year after hostilities ceased, and its comedic tone provided war-weary audiences with a catharsis and release from the tensions of war.

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She Goes to War, on the other hand, was released a full decade later and provided a serious reflection on the horrors of trench warfare at a time when Americans had grown cynical about their participation in the Great War. Although very different in these respects, the two films did share another theme and focus: each of the plots revolved around a central character transgressing the gender norms during wartime.

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Produced by Mack Sennett, Yankee Doodle in Berlin starred Bothwell Browne, a famous European female impersonator.

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Bothwell plays the heroic lead role of Captain Bob White, an aviator who lands behind enemy lines and disguises himself as a woman into order to infiltrate and spy on Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Crown Prince, and other German military leaders. In that disguise, Captain Bob performs a solo dance before the German High Command in a costume and style reminiscent of the “Orientalist” performances of the real life spy, “Mata Hari.”

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To understand the popularity of this gender-bending satire, it is necessary to return to pre-war Germany and the infamous Eulenburg affair (1907-1909)—Germany’s version of the notorious Oscar Wilde trial. In the first decade of the twentieth century, approximately 20 German military officers were convicted by courts-martial of engaging in homosexual activities; 6 committed suicide under pressure of blackmail. Further scandal followed in 1907 when the Kaiser’s chancellor and close confidant, the Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld was accused in several court martial and civil trials of engaging in homosexual liaisons with General Kuno Graf von Moltke and other members of the Kaiser’s inner circle.

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In 1907, it had also came out that at Wilhelm’s vacation estate in the Black Forest, one of the Kaiser’s male guests, the Military Secretariat Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler, had died of a heart attack after entertaining the guests with a solo dance dressed in a woman’s ballet tutu. Naturally, scenes from Yankee Doodle in which the hero-spy performs a cross-dressing dance to entertain the Kaiser’s military high command would have reminded audiences of the earlier scandals and cast doubt on the enemy leadership’s proclivities and morals.

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In fact, in the November 1907 issue of the German satirical magazine, Ulk, the publishers included a biting satire of their own at the height of the scandal with an illustration of the unhappy royal couple. Captions had the “wife” (German Empress Auguste Viktoria) saying: “I wish you could be a man,” and the dejected “husband” (Kaiser Wilhelm) replying: “Yes, I wish you could be one too!”

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In fact, Yankee Doodle in Berlin was one of two anti-German propaganda films under production in America during the war that starred famous transvestites. The other film, Over the Rhine starred the American female impersonator, Julian Eltin, (and also introduced Rudy Valentino).

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 The project was shelved by the cessation of hostilities in 1918, although it was recut, edited, and released in 1920 under the title The Adventuress, and again in 1922 as The Isle of Love.

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During the war, propagandists also took aim at the German Crown Prince who had a reputation as a ladies’ man and womanizer. One item in the Wolfsonian library collection caricatures “The Kronprinz on the war-path” by depicting him as a “peeping Tom” who is unwittingly ogling his swinish father’s derriere!

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 GIFT OF FRANCIS X. LUCA & CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Where Yankee Doodle in Berlin was intended as war (or postwar) propaganda using a man dressing as a woman to elicit laughs at the expense of the enemy leaders, She Goes to War had a female lead disguising herself as a soldier and witnessing the horrors of the Great War. While recruiting posters printed during the war did depict women in sailor suits and naval uniforms, these were generally designed to encourage (or shame) men to sign up and take on their manly duties.

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1917 U.S. NAVY RECRUITING POSTERS BY HOWARD CHANDLER

COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

While thousands of women did don uniforms and play an important part in winning the war, they overwhelmingly did so as volunteer nurses and ambulance drivers.

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Before the war, the vast majority of working women were restricted to domestic duties (either as housewives or servants) while some found employment in textile factories. As millions of men went off to war, however, women were encouraged to enlist as Red Cross nurses, or to work in essential war-related industries.

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Women nurses and ambulance drivers in Britain’s Volunteer Aid Detachment (or VAD) were not allowed to serve at the front lines until after 1915. The 2,800 women enrolling in the Royal Canadian Army’s Medical Corps, however, received paramilitary small arms training and drill; 43 died during the conflict. More than 12,000 American women enlisted as nurses or auxiliaries in the US Navy and Marine Corps; 400 perished in the war.

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PROMISED GIFT OF MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.

The idea promoted in She Goes to War that women might see combat in the First World War was not such a stretch from reality. One Russian peasant woman, Maria Bochkareva, famously fought with the Russian Army from November 1914 through May 1917, rising to the rank of non-commissioned officer.

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With the authorization of Kerensky’s Provisional Government, she formed and commanded the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death. The all-woman unit shamed their hesitant male comrades who were unwilling to leave the safety of their trench by going “over the top” without them. Their bold attack forced the German enemy to retreat from three lines of trenches, but when promised reinforcements failed to arrive, the Russian “Amazons” were themselves forced to retreat and give up their hard-won territorial gains. Maria Bochkareva’s unit was still at the front when the Russian revolution broke out. After the unit disbanded, she continued to serve with the “White” army forces fighting against the “Reds” during the ensuing Civil War. She was eventually captured and executed by the Communists.

 
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