To mark the centennial of the end of the “War to End All Wars,” The Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) opens a new exhibit designed to bring to life the personal stories of residents who met the challenges of World War I at home and in France. The new exhibit, “Facing War: Connecticut in World War I,” displays hundreds of photographs from 1917-1919, many displayed for the first time and many in life-size, as well as letters, diaries, propaganda posters, clothing, uniforms and equipment, and other artifacts. The exhibit will be on view and open to the public at the CHS from May 22 through December 1, 2018.
The exhibit focuses on the personal stories of 12 individuals including one of the 700 military members from Connecticut killed in action, a soldier disabled in battle, an African American soldier, an Army nurse at a base hospital, a YMCA chaplain, a conscientious objector in prison, a refugee relief worker, an Italian immigrant, and a Red Cross worker reporting on the mental health of veterans. There are also materials that detail life after the war ended, and the impact on families and communities.
“Like all wars, World War I affected Connecticut profoundly,” explained Jody Blankenship, CEO of the CHS. “Many people who joined the war effort saw the world beyond Connecticut for the first time, and many who stayed at home focused their energies on helping end the war quickly and victoriously. Residents shared their experiences through personal letters, postcards, and diaries, many of which are now preserved at the CHS. We combined these first-hand accounts with military and state records, newspaper articles, photographs and artifacts to tell the story of the Great War from Connecticut’s perspective. It really is a powerful exhibit for anyone interested in history, our state, or our military.”
The exhibit is centered around three aspects of the war: life at home in Connecticut (bond drives, parades, military training camps, war-time industrial production, the state’s preparedness and propaganda strategy, and volunteer workers); life in France, where most of Connecticut’s people were stationed (battlefields, trenches, military camps, hospitals, welfare centers, and YMCA activities); and life after the war (soldiers and workers returning home, veterans struggling with PTSD, concerns of post-war refugees and immigrants, and thoughts on the fight for women’s rights).
Many of the images used in this exhibit will be on view to the public for the first time, as they have only recently been digitized from personal scrapbooks, letters, and photo albums. To give the most realistic representation of these stories, many of the photos are reproduced to near-life-size.
Throughout the exhibit, Connecticut residents will be encouraged to reflect upon and consider how many of the same issues from World War I are relevant today. These include the United States’ presence as a world power, spreading democracy, patriotism, intervention vs. isolationism, PTSD and veterans’ health treatment, the global refugee crisis, and immigration.
The Connecticut Historical Society (www.CHS.org) is a private, not-for-profit educational organization that includes a museum, library, and the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center. Founded in 1825, the CHS is the state’s official historical society and one of the oldest in the nation. The CHS, a Smithsonian Affiliate, works to connect visitors to the story of Connecticut, and to help create a society that values historical perspective and understanding as essential tools in shaping communities and making informed decisions. To accomplish that, the CHS has collected more than 4 million manuscripts, graphics, books, artifacts, and other historical materials related to Connecticut’s social, cultural, and family history – which are available to the public onsite at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford, off-site at other locations, and online.