Last spring I gave a presentation about Cranbrook during World War II to the 8th grade history classes at the Girls Middle School. So, when our blogmaster asked for a post this week about WWII, I thought I would share that experience. After working in the archives for more than 14 years, I knew we had a myriad of materials relevant to WWII and I was excited to share these stories with the 8th grade girls. I was hopeful that it would help make a part of history more real to them. I began by asking each class (there were four that day!) how many thought Cranbrook was affected in ANY way by the war? Throughout the day, maybe 8 of the nearly 60 girls raised their hands. While I was surprised, I was also excited to enlighten them.
Cranbrook’s war-related activities were far-reaching – from Cranbrook School boys practicing military drills on the football field to Academy of Art ceramicist Maija Grotell who collected sweaters and unraveled them to repurpose into balls of yarn that she sent to families in Finland. War Bond drives were held at each of the school campuses, the Booth family closed off the west wing of Cranbrook House to conserve fuel due to rationing, and a previous blog post highlights one of Cranbrook’s own Monuments Men. The 8th grade girls were particularly amused by the photograph of the Red Cross class which was held at Kingswood School, and that girls their same ages had collected waste fat from the school dining hall. There were a lot of “EWW!s”
I told the girls about the war memorial plaque which hangs at the base of Hoey tower and lists the names of all 678 Cranbrook School alumni who served in the war, including the 37 who lost their lives. We talked about the Cranbrook Committee on Civilian Defense and the air raid sirens/drills on campus, and how students from both Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools entertained the troops at Selfridge Air Force Base.
At the end of each class, I asked the girls again how many thought Cranbrook was affected by World War II, and nearly all of them raised their hands. It was gratifying to be able to share primary source documents from our collections to help bring history out of the textbook and onto the campus. I’m looking forward to teaching again this school year!
– Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist