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The Owl in Depression and War
The Owl was Wadleigh High School's yearbook. In the 1930s and 1940s it often was published twice a year, usually in January and June. Run by a student board - assisted by one or more faculty advisors - The Owl did not include senior portraits only, but also poems, short stories and articles written by Wadleigh students. Although we do not know how important The Owl was to Wadleigh students, we do know that through its pages we can peek into some of their thoughts and feelings that they chose to share with their peers and teachers.
In the context of World War II (and particularly after the U.S. entered it in December 1941) The Owl became highly invested in the war efforts. Through new sections that intended to inform students about what was happening across the sea, and by using patriotic symbols, The Owl's student board and faculty advisors transformed this yearbook into one of the many wartime devices that appeared in schools during those years.
In this section of the exhibit, we invite you to explore a selection of the material published in these yearbooks during the war years.
The Owl issue of January 1942, published about a month after the Japanese attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor, was the first to be explicitly dedicated to World War II. It was titled “Four Freedoms Issue” and included a lot of patriotic and wartime visual symbols - like the American eagle and flag in the cover. The issue also featured some informative articles, that intended to teach students about the 'slang' used in the Army and Navy and how soldiers spent their days when in camps
With slightly less intensity than the previous one, The Owl issue of June 1942 maintained its wartime rhetoric. Its tone was more optimistic - the issue's theme was “Thumbs Up!” – and it located the U.S. war efforts in the context of a shared task of the "United Nations." A section with this title included different world leaders’ declarations about the war, from De Gaulle and Churchill to Pandit Nehru and the Mexican minister Luis Quintanilla. The section also included a summary of The Atlantic Charter signed by Roosevelt and Churchill, and stated that all these were “messages of unity and faith in the ultimate victory of democracy over fascism.”
The June 1942 edition of The Owl featured a poem by student Cecilia Violenes that pointed directly at the contradictions faced by black Americans fighting in World War II. While black soldiers were committed to their duty as soldiers, they also recognized the reality of racism at home and abroad - as the U.S. military remained segregated, for example. They fought, as Violenes put it, "a double battle." Her language resonated with national civil rights organizations' calls for a "Double V," victory over racism at home and abroad.
The Owl issue of June 1943 explicitly addressed the role of women in the war. Its main theme was "Women go to War" and the cover showed a woman working in a factory. The graphic symbolism was repeated several times: women dressed in working, nursing and farming outfits were spread along the yearbook, one of them even accompanied by the American flag and the caption "Join our Land Army." An informative piece about the WAVES program for training girls to be "radio operators, aviation machinists mates, yeomen, parachute riggers, etc." contributed to the same idea, as a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to Wadleigh students did. In it, the First Lady invited them to work where they were needed. “In times of war”, the letter said “everyone has an obligation to do the best work one is capable of doing”.
The Owl had traditionally published the senior class song, always composed by Wadleigh students. Starting in 1942, it also published other student-composed songs. Many of them had patriotic and wartime themes. It is unclear whether these songs were produced in the context of a school assignment or simply by the students' initiative, although different students' composing songs with the same topic – like the “Marche Motives inspired by the Tunisian Campaign” published in 1943 – suggest they were somehow the result of formal school activities.
By 1943, the war seemed to have infused all aspects of life at Wadleigh. The two could not be separated. The Owl, in that context, had become a pedagogical wartime device. Through it, its editors wanted to teach a particular way students should behave and even feel during a time of war like the one they were experiencing. However, it was also the medium through which other Wadleigh students' voices could be expressed. Listening to these diverse voices - to the thoughts and feelings they communicated - is necessary to understand how these students imagined the war they were experiencing and themselves as historical actors in the world it was producing.
|1. Gerard Giordano, Wartime Schools: How World War II Changed American Education (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 14.|
|2. Ibíd., 48|