Collections Highlight: The Bowling Poet

I recently pulled some materials for a food ways class visit and I stumbled across a fascinating woman whose papers we have in our collection.  While retrieving copies of World War II food stamps from her file, I was introduced to Dr. Eleanor Risteen Gordon.  Dr. Gordon was born in Wisconsin in 1935, and grew up during the war years.  Her surviving childhood letters in the collection little reflect this difficult time, but they do reveal a youthful appreciation for hot dogs, as well as a humorous hint at her later profession.

gordon001

gordon002editgordon003As I delved into Dr. Gordon’s papers, I quickly learned she loved words and language, and used them to communicate in unique and thought-provoking ways.  She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Chicago, and taught rhetoric and composition.  In addition, she published poetry that touched on nature, art, and everyday life with sensitivity, realism, and humor.   In this sample of her poetry, she describes a seemly mundane action, eating an orange, with an infusion of passion and sensory language.

oranges-really

“My sister has given the orange ‘voice,’ enabled the everyday to ‘speak.’” – Betty Risteen Hasselkus, Dr. Gordon’s sister describing this poem

It seems the wordsmithing apple didn’t fall far from the tree with Dr. Gordon; her father was a renowned crossword puzzle creator, who published regularly to the New York Times.  I can only imagine the level of competition on family Scrabble nights!

Digging deeper through the collection, I found that when Dr. Gordon wasn’t composing poems or teaching, she enjoyed a diverse range of hobbies and interests.  Amongst papers and letters I found numerous bowling awards and pins.  In 1986 she even bowled a perfect 300 game during league play.  In her obituary (Dr. Gordon passed in 1996), Henry Gordon, her husband of 37 years, shared that a fellow poet once told her “a bowling poet is a contradiction in terms,” but that “she never let that bother her.”

As if that wasn’t enough, I was surprised to find another of Dr. Gordon’s interests was antique, plastic jewelry.  An expert on the subject, she published articles that explored the impact of the development of plastic as a new material on style and culture.  She focused on how it made fashion more accessible and spawned whimsical and colorful styles while also being used to replicate and produce traditional styles for mass-wear.  As Dr. Gordon wrote, “Plastics provided fashion for everyone to laugh at, to enjoy, to wear.”[1]

A photo of a collection of vintage and modern plastic jewelry Dr. Gordon took for use in one of her articles.

A photo of a collection of vintage and modern plastic jewelry Dr. Gordon took for use in one of her articles.

At first glance, it may seem like Dr. Gordon’s interests were pretty eclectic.   I think however that they reflect a woman with a witty and playful personality who thought deeply about the culture around her.  Her body of work suggests to me that Dr. Gordon wanted to call attention to the beauty in everyday life, and show that the mundane could be celebrated.

I’d like to leave you all with one last material from the collection that reveals another of Dr. Gordon’s hobbies: a knitting pattern!  For those skilled with needles and yarn, please enjoy Dr. Gordon’s own pattern – “Eleanor’s Beret”.  As the holiday season approaches, it might make a fun and unique gift!  For those of us who’ve not yet conquered the intricacies of knitting and purling – may your takeaway from this post be to pursue what interests you, even if it makes you a “bowling poet.”

Click the following link to view the knitting pattern created by Eleanor: Eleanor’s Beret Pattern

 

[1] Eleanor Gordon and Jean Nerenberg, “Everywoman’s Jewelry: Early Plastics and Equality in Fashion,” The Journal of Popular Culture 13 (1980): 643.


kate-johnson

Kate is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and in the first year of her M.A. in Public History at Loyola University Chicago.  A Colorado gal, she enjoys classic films, bike riding, and all things museums.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Women and Leadership Archives Graduate Assistant in the Field

Pallas Athene Statue outside of the United States Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA. Athena, Greek goddess of knowledge and war, was adopted as a symbol for Army servicewomen during WWII. She appeared on recruiting literature and Army insignia worn on the uniforms.

Pallas Athene Statue outside of the United States Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA. Athena, Greek goddess of knowledge and war, was adopted as a symbol for Army servicewomen during WWII. She appeared on recruiting literature and Army insignia worn on the uniforms.

As part of my graduate coursework, our program requires students take a research seminar with the goal of completing a draft of a scholarly article for future publication. This semester’s seminar asks students to write a paper using a women or gender history framework of analysis. A third of the semester is spent reviewing articles that use those modes of analysis to better inform our efforts in writing our own papers while the rest of the semester is spent in the archives researching primary source material, delving into the secondary literature, and writing the final product. My paper, tentatively titled “’Fashioned for You’: Outfitting the WAC and Construction of the Female Solider, 1948-1955,” investigates the history of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) uniform worn from 1951-1955 and how it was employed by the Army to assuage public anxieties of women entering the military at a transitional time in the history of women entering the workplace in the United States. I found early on in my study that not a lot of records pertaining to WAC servicewomen existed in the Chicago area, and even fewer dealt with the WAC during the postwar era. As a result, I had to pack my bags and hit the road to Virginia to the United States Army Women’s Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia and the United States Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.  I spent a week in October in the archives researching the uniform worn by Army servicewomen in the 1950s, got a behind the scenes look at museum collections, and got to meet some of the most gracious professional archivists and public historians a graduate student could hope for. My experiences in the archives can hopefully show others more tentative about the research process that archivists are indeed your friend, and actually taking the trip to archives can reveal some unknown treasure a researcher didn’t even know they were looking for!

The first stop on my research trip was the United States Army Women’s Museum located in Fort Lee, Virginia. The museum originally opened in 1955 in Fort McClellan, AL as a one-room exhibit space dedicated to the WAC, but has since reopened at Fort Lee after Congress closed Fort McClellan in 1997. When the museum once again opened its doors to the public it changed its name and mission to include women’s stories in the United States Army throughout its history. The museum now boasts a robust collection of artifacts and archives of official Army records concerning women in the Armed forces as well as a comprehensive collection of Army uniforms. Before I began researching, however, the task of getting to the museum hit an exciting and unexpected roadblock; since the museum was on base, I had to go through a clearance check-point before I was allowed entry. It all felt very official!

Once inside the museum I took a small researcher’s orientation that consisted of a two minute video documenting a brief history of women in the Army before getting at the collections the archivist pulled for my visit. They placed me at a station in the archives with my own personal laptop and scanner that I could use to save photographs and documents for future reference.  That was very handy. Alexandra, the archivist, watermarked all of my scans before I left for home for copyright purposes, but the documents are still perfectly legible with the mark. I stayed overnight in rural VA so I could get back to work right away the next day!

Lobby for the United States Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA. Get your AWM swag!

Lobby for the United States Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA. Get your AWM swag!

My second day of research started out with a little bit of excitement. The museum staff were staging photographs for a new brochure and they asked if I might pose in one of their pictures! Needless to say, I wasn’t ready for my close-up, but I turned it out for a couple of shots before getting down to business. Follow the museum’s Facebook page here in case you’re interested in eventually seeing my modelling debut! (They also posted a summary of my project on their newsfeed.) I worked through the morning on my paper but at lunchtime the collections manager took me into storage to see some of the uniforms I’d been studying in person. Seeing the actual uniforms donated by the servicewomen that wore them was a special perk —the color was totally different than I imagined and it felt super exclusive getting a behind-the-scenes look at artifacts that the general public doesn’t get the chance to see. I left the archives around 3:00p.m. in the event of (inevitable) beltway traffic and made it back to basecamp in Maryland around 6:00p.m. When I got home, I began preparing for part two of my research trip: the United States Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Arlington, VA.

Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

Day three and four of my research trip took me to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Arlington, VA. The offices of the foundation holds the records and memorabilia of women from all service branches from the Revolutionary War to the present, but they are perhaps best known for their support of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery dedicated in 1997, the only major national memorial dedicated to women in all of the service branches. I identified the foundation early on in my research because of an in-house history they published in 2005 called “A Defense Weapon Known to Be of Value”: Servicewomen of the Korean War Era. Their repository holds a number of papers donated by women who served in the WAC during the 1950s. I was certainly not disappointed—the curator of collections Britta Granrud was extremely helpful and pulled collections of potential interest especially for my visit. She also took the time to write out an e-mail with directions (for both metro and car) and parking instructions! Museum professionals and archivists are your friends, people!

Model of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, VA.

Model of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, VA.

Britta also took the time to bring one of the uniforms out for me to see with suggestions for resources I might look to for further research. She printed out potential contact information for me to use if I ever wanted to conduct oral histories of women regarding their opinions on the uniform.  The resource was super helpful and something I hadn’t considered, given the time frame of the project. If this paper ever sees publication, it may be worth it to consider partnering with the foundation to conduct the interviews. We shall see!

My experiences show that archivists and museum professionals often go out of their way to help researchers with their projects. If your project is a success, it’s a great boost for their reputation, but it’s also just the nature of archives and museum work to make information accessible to the public. If you have a school project or paper you need to complete, do not hesitate to reach out to archivists! They know what’s in their collections better than anyone, so they are the absolute best resource to help you find hidden treasures you may not ever knew existed.

If you’re interested in women’s military history of fashion history (like me) definitely check out the social media of these two stellar organizations! You won’t be disappointed!

United States Army Women’s Museum

Website

Facebook

Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation

Website

Facebook

Twitter


EllenProfilePicEllen is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is in the second year of her M.A in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. Before moving to Chicago, Ellen was a Kindergarten teacher in Louisiana. She enjoys brunch, procedural dramas, and pugs.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Election Collections at the WLA

It’s Presidential Election time! No matter the outcome, it is historic given Hillary Clinton is the first woman candidate from a major political party. The WLA holds five collections of women who held elected office. Several of those women were also “firsts.”

Carol Moseley Braun served as the first, and so far the only, African American woman in the US Senate. Sr. Carolyn Farrell, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), was elected to the Dubuque City Council and because she received the majority of votes in the council election, became mayor. She is believed to be the first woman religious in the US to serve as mayor.

Check out all five the WLA collections of women serving elected office!

Carolyn Farrell, BVM
Mayor of Dubuque 1980-1981, City Councilwoman 1977-1981carolyn-farrell


Carol Ronen
Illinois State Representative 17th District 1993-2000, Illinois State Senator District 7 2000-2008, 48th Ward Democratic Party Committeewoman.carol-ronen


Mary Ann Smith
48th Ward Alderman 1989-2007mary-ann-smith


Marion Kennedy Volini
48th Ward Alderman 1978-1987marion-kennedy-volini


Carol Moseley Braun
Illinois State Senator 1993-1999, Chicago Mayoral Candidate 2011
(Papers currently unprocessed.)carol-moseley-braun-n-d


 

A joint blog effort between Nancy Freeman, Ellen Bushong, and Kate Johnson