Women's History

Ridley, Elizabeth | Second World War photo album compiled by an American Red Cross worker on the home front.

  • An evocative Second World War photo album and group of naval publications representing life on the American home front for Red Cross worker Elizabeth Ridley (1912-2004) and her sister Christine Ridley (b. 1920), a naval air mechanic. The sisters were originally from New Jersey, but moved throughout the US as part of their wartime work and would later settle in Washington D. C. Elizabeth’s pre-war career is unknown, but after the war she continued to work for the Red Cross in Riverton, New Jersey, and in later life was employed at the Library of Congress. Christine was originally a teacher before joining the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES - officially the Naval Women’s Reserve), which began operating in 1942. Her preliminary training as a naval aviation mechanic was undertaken at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee, followed by advanced training for Petty Officer Second Class in Atlanta Georgia.

    Elizabeth’s album compiles several years worth of photographs beginning in 1941, presenting a wonderful cross-section of American life during the War. The pages are filled with both formal and informal snaps of friends and family, the many individuals in military uniform evoking the War’s long reach into ordinary Americans’ lives. Included are numerous pictures of Elizabeth and her colleagues in their Red Cross uniforms, two large and particularly nice shots of a Red Cross office with booster posters on the walls, and an image of Red Cross workers marching in a parade. There are also numerous photos of Christine in her naval uniform, two taken outside a Naval training office.

    Despite the troubled times most of the images are light-hearted and depict family reunions, days out, and travel, including trips to Florida; Texas (with shots of the Alamo and one of a bomber approaching Kelly Field); Gulfport, Mississippi; the beach at Hampton Bays, New York (with a series of shots of the sisters and their friends in bathing costumes and also bicycling down a country road); the Rochester Yacht Club; Washington D.C., and other unnamed locations.

    A charming series of photos taken during Christmas 1941 depicts John Knight and Bob Phelps, who appear in what may be police uniforms, posing with the girls, horse-playing, and making snowballs. Two pages include photos taken with four male friends, “Vic & Jock” in naval uniforms and “Ted & Chippy” in suits. Two pages are devoted to formal shots of Elizabeth’s wedding day on April 10th, 1942, and the single full colour photo, a small Kodachrome, shows Christine’s wedding day, with Elizabeth as the maid of honour in a red dress. Later images include Christine and her husband posing with their first baby, and the child, a little older now, playing with a puppy and various toys, followed by black & white shots of Christine’s wedding.

    Also included are three Naval publications related to Christine’s training as a member of WAVES. The first, titled Navy Log, is the yearbook for her course in aviation mechanics at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee. We Keep ‘Em Flying is an entertaining and richly illustrated souvenir book on life at the same center, and Tattoo is a similar publication produced for the US Naval Air Station in Atlanta, Georgia, where Christine had her second round of training. Bot publications include information on life at the stations, including images of military personnel at work and pursuing leisure activities, and information on sites of interest in the surrounding areas.

    Overall this collection is a compelling look at life for two American women participating in the mass mobilization of American society during the Second World War.

  • Together with three wartime Naval yearbooks & souvenir books owned by her sister Christine, a naval air mechanic in the WAVES programme.

    Oblong folio (340 x 260 mm). 1941-45. Contemporary dark blue skiver elaborately embossed in grey with military motifs including an American Eagle, planes, tank, battleship, artillery, and blimp. Bound with black nylon ties that may not be original. 80 black paper pages containing 219 photographs attached with photo corners. The photos range in size, with the majority measuring 90 x 60 mm, and the largest 255 x 200 mm. A few items, including some photos, a small colour Kodachrome, several negatives, and an unused Anchor Line trunk label are loosely inserted. Elizabeth has written her name and address on the front free endpaper and annotated many of the photos with white ink. Boards separated and reattached with cellotape, some rubbing and wear at the extremities. The leaves are brittle and exhibit cracking and chipping at the edges. Good condition.

    The naval books owned by Christine Ridley include We Keep ‘Em Flying: A Visit to the Naval Air Technical Training Centre, Memphis Tennessee; Navy Log, a yearbook from the same centre, and Tattoo: United States Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia. Loosely inserted in the Navy Log yearbook is a certificate showing that Christine passed the training to become an aviation machinist mate in October 1943. Loosely inserted in Tattoo is the certificate she received upon becoming an aviation machinist’s mate second class in June 1944. These volumes are in generally very good or excellent condition with just a little rubbing and toning at the extremities.