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We Are a College at War

Women Working for Victory in World War II

Mary Weaks-Baxter, Christine Brunn. And Catherine Forslund

Publication Year: 2010

By exploring the myriad experiences of young women at Rockford College, the authors show how, during WWII, American women claimed the right to be everywhere--in factory jobs, in war work at home, even at the front--and link their efforts to the rise of feminism and fight for womens' rights in the 1960s.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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Front Flap

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Back Flap

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p. iv


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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

This research project on American women and World War II has followed an evolving course. Like Mary Ashby Cheek, president of Rockford College from 1937 to 1954, Christine Bruun had lived in Danville, Kentucky, and had family connections to Centre College, so the earliest work grew out of these commonalities. However, the remarkable influence of President Cheek at Rockford College emerged as a story with its own momentum. Cheek’s ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: The Jane Addams Legacy

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pp. 1-13

Early in 1945, Corporal Joel Archer, who was serving with the U.S. Army in France, wrote a letter to an Illinois college student whom he had seen pictured in a Detroit newspaper photograph. Archer did not know the young woman but felt compelled to write to ask about her personal contributions to the war effort. His letter quickly drew the attention of students and faculty at the college the young woman attended, a small liberal arts institution named ...

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1. War Looms

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pp. 14-40

When Rockford College student Elane Summers Hellmuth planned an August 1940 horseback ride to Washington, D.C., to protest conscription, the Associated Press picked up the story. Just two months earlier, after the fall of France to Germany, the Burke-Wadsworth Bill was introduced into Congress, which proposed the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. It resulted in the intense national debate that inspired Summers to take her ride. Pictures of ...

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2. A Crisis of Opportunity

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pp. 41-66

At the opening of each academic year, President Mary Ashby Cheek spoke to the Rockford College community gathered in the college’s chapel about goals for the year and the issues she saw at the forefront of their work together. The beginning of the 1940–41 academic year was no different, but her message seemed to carry even greater urgency, not only because of the war that was already raging in Europe and the Far East but also because of its implications ...

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3. Rescue Stories

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pp. 67-89

A simple encounter between Jane Addams and “an old Italian woman, her distaff against her homesick face, patiently spinning a thread,” captures the story of Addams’s care for immigrants in late-nineteenth-century Chicago. Addams’s words tell it best: “Suddenly I looked up and saw the old woman with her distaff, sitting in the sun on the steps of a tenement house. She might have served as a model for one of Michelangelo’s Fates, but her face brightened as ...

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4. Home-Front Activism

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pp. 90-117

In an age when comic strips were read widely by the American public, the introduction of the fantasy character Wonder Woman in 1941 was part of a turning point in the popular representation of females in the media. The answer to the problems of “a world torn by the hatreds and wars of men,” Wonder Woman was described as a heroine “whose sensational feats are outstanding in the fast-moving world.” “As lovely as Aphrodite—as wise as Athena—with ...

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5. Women Wanted

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pp. 118-153

Her envy and admiration of the radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow were shared by many students at Rockford College. Like so many other Americans, they tuned in to his broadcasts routinely and followed with interest his firsthand, vivid reports of the war from London. The knowledge that he himself flew as a passenger on combat missions undoubtedly spurred a desire to be involved. Murrow and his wife were friends of...

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6. Romances of War

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pp. 154-178

When Catey Glossbrenner Rasmussen began her studies as a freshman at Rockford College in the fall of 1943, she was very close to Robert Gilmour Smith, a friend from her hometown outside Indianapolis, whom she started dating in 1941 when he was a student at Butler and Indiana universities. Once Smith joined the Naval Reserves in April 1942, Glossbrenner wrote the first of many poems articulating her growing feelings for the young man with ...

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7. Twentieth-Century Feminism and New Roles for Women

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pp. 179-192

Years after graduation from Rockford College and her return from a post overseas with the WAC, Anne Saucier watched intently in August 2007 as Hillary Clinton spoke about the influences on her political life in a televised debate for the upcoming presidential election. “When I was growing up, I didn’t think I would run for President,” Clinton explained,...


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pp. 195-210

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 211-215

Suggested Reading

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pp. 217-226


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pp. 227-237

Author Bios

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p. 238

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809385911
E-ISBN-10: 0809385910
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329922
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329921

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 17 B/w halftones, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 730519999
MUSE Marc Record: Download for We Are a College at War

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cheek, Mary Ashby.
  • Addams, Jane, 1860-1935.
  • Rockford College -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- War work -- Schools.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Women -- Illinois.
  • Women college students -- Illinois -- History -- 20th century.
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