A FEW DONATIONS MADE IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF (JUNE 23, 1922-OCT. 24, 2011)

A little more than a month ago, Wolfsonian museum director Cathy Leff’s mother, Ginger, passed away at the age of 89, leaving as her legacy five children, nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Over the course of my long association with the Wolfson Foundation for Decorative and Propaganda Arts, The Wolfson Initiative Corporation, and the Wolfsonian museum, I had met Ginger on a number of occasions and was always impressed with the manner in which this handsome and exceedingly energetic woman carried herself. Having attended the funeral service along with several other museum staff, I learned some surprising facts about Ginger (Rose Ethel) Leff from a eulogy delivered by one of her grandchildren.

It came as no surprise to those of us who had a change to meet with Ginger even in her sunset years that this Brooklyn beauty took pride in her personal appearance and managed to keep “perfectly manicured and coiffed at all times.” Nor was it difficult to imagine that she might have given Imelda Marcos competition in her love for fashionable shoes. But what came as a shocker (to me at least) was finding out that before getting married and settling down in the sunset state, Ginger had apparently worked as the personal assistant to the director of the OSS–(the predecessor of the CIA). And before that assignment, Ginger had served on the staff of some of the key generals involved in the top-secret Manhattan Project during the Second World War. As her granddaughter jokingly noted, “We all knew that somehow or other Ginger was responsible for the development of the A-Bomb!”

Much like many other young, single, and independent women of the World War Two generation, Ginger had answered the nation’s call and played an important part on the home front. To commemorate her life and service, a couple of us here at the museum decided to donate some items that mirrored Ginger’s pride in her appearance and fashion-sense, and also reflected her commitment to her country during the war years.

GIFT OF JEFFREY G. FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH

GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COULTRE

Wolfsonian accountant Larry Wiggins donated a couple of books that deal with the contributions of women to the war effort. The first one, More Cuties in Arms, is a collection of wartime cartoons drawn by E. Simms Campbell–the first African-American cartoonist to be published in nationally syndicated glossy magazines. Campbell’s humorous “cuties” series were syndicated by King Features and appeared in more than 145 newspapers.

GIFT MADE BY LARRY WIGGINS IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF

The images collected in this wartime anthology blend humor, glamour, and the “call to duty” in a volume that implies that even as women moved into jobs traditionally associated with or reserved for men, they never sacrificed their sense of femininity.

GIFT MADE BY LARRY WIGGINS IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF

Another of Larry Wiggin’s donations is Girls at Work in Aviation, a more realistic look at some of the demanding jobs women assumed in the wartime aircraft industry.

GIFT MADE BY LARRY WIGGINS IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF

Again, even as women are photographed wearing coveralls and doing all manner of maintenance work, one cannot help but notice the attention paid to makeup and hairdos.

GIFT MADE BY LARRY WIGGINS IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF

I myself found an issue of Curtiss Fly Leaf whose cover and content captured the sense of the times. Even as the issue lauded the concrete contributions of women engineering “cadettes,” one cannot help but notice their “coiffed” hairdos, and how much the shots reflect the culture’s preoccupation with “glamour.”

GIFT MADE BY FRANCIS LUCA IN MEMORY OF GINGER LEFF

Hollywood films of the era also reinforced America’s obsession with feminine beauty even in wartime. In Meet the People (1944), for example, Lucille Ball plays a glamorous actress who learns to appreciate the contributions of real women war workers when she “volunteers” for welding work in a shipyard to prepare for a part in a Broadway play. Even the U.S. government’s Office of War Information weighed in on the issue with its production of Glamour Girls of 1943. Who says that war work and glamour don’t mix!

~ by "The Chief" on December 3, 2011.

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