New Exhibit Tells Stories Worth Telling

Throughout the history of journalism, there have been different mediums in which writers tell their stories. Print, TV and radio have all dominated the journalistic world at one point in time, and while there are many forms to share information, Special Collections explores Tom Brokaw’s stories from the greatest generation through an exhibit, Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of “The Greatest Generation.”

Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of “The Greatest Generation” uses pages, photographs and artifacts from the book, The Greatest Generation, which documents the experiences leading to World War II and those who fought in the war. It also uses materials from the African American Museum of Iowa, Iowa Women’s Archives, and the State Historical Society of Iowa. 

Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, hit the book shelves 20 years ago and became a quick bestseller. The book stirred something within the memory of American citizens, and soon letters from readers poured into Brokaw’s office, sharing their thoughts and own stories about their time on the battlefield or on the home front. 

These letters were kept and eventually made their way to the University of Iowa Libraries when Brokaw donated his papers to Special Collections in 2016. Elizabeth Riordan grew up watching Brokaw, and being a history fanatic herself, she wanted to know more about the collection. So, in 2017 Riordan was hired as the Graduate Research Assistant for the Papers of Tom Brokaw: A Life & Career.

“It’s a fascinating collection,” Riordan said. “You get the biggest events from the last 50 years from the point of view of a reporter, as well as the people he interviewed. It’s also interesting just to look at the history and evolution of journalism.”

While processing the material, Riordan found a lot of interesting objects, including rocks from the Great Wall of China and poems about the moon landing. However, her favorite part of the collection are the letters from readers that came in after The Greatest Generation was written.

Photo taken by Meaghan Lemmenes

And it’s these letters that are the focal point of the exhibit in the Main Gallery. 

“So many people shared their personal stories of triumph and tragedy through manuscripts and letters,” Riordan said. “It opens a different window into a moment of time not always seen in our history books.”

Surrounding the avalanche of letters in the gallery, the “Greatest Generation” unfolds along the walls through quotes from the book, with more stories of people with Iowa connections added along the back wall. Material from Special Collections, Iowa Women’s Archives, African American Museum of Iowa, and the State Historical Society of Iowa all add a part to the WWII narrative.  

“I wanted the exhibit to speak for itself,” Riordan said. “There are so many individual voices telling the story of our past, that I feel it makes it unique. I encourage people to read the stories in the avalanche art piece; don’t just stand and look at it from afar.”

“The letters share where we were as a country and where we can still go,” Riordan continued. “Brokaw called them the “Greatest Generation.” My hope is that this exhibit makes you think about what that term means.”

The exhibit is open to the public from Sept. 7th – Jan. 4, 2019 and visitors can see it Monday- Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., with Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. The exhibit is in the Main Gallery on the first floor of the Main Library. 

World War II Map of Occupied Countries

map_legend3Today is Veterans Day so we want to share this 1943 map of occupied countries, noted in gray. The legend reads: “Help erase the gray blots on this map by buying U. S. war bonds and stamps.” This map is part of the John N. Calhoun Papers. Calhoun lived in Burlington, Iowa. After earning his law degree at the University of Iowa, he served as a senator in the Iowa state legislature from 1933 to 1937. Major Calhoun served as a member of the U. S. Army in the Persian Gulf from 1942 to 1945 and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Calhoun returned to his legal practice in Burlington following the war. His papers include other materials from his World War II service, such as photographs and correspondence.  We are grateful to have received John Calhoun’s papers from his wife after his death in 1972.

The U.S. Goes to War – and the War Comes to Iowa III.

We are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War Two by highlighting some items in our collections relating to this event.

 

Vice President Henry Wallace's appointment book 1943

 

How did Henry A. Wallace, an Iowan and national politician respond to the coming of World War II to the United States? A look at his official Vice Presidential diaries reveals little.  The day when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor was December 7, 1941, a Sunday. Vice President Wallace’s schedule for that day is empty. But that does not mean that he was not busy that day. John C. Culver and John Hyde in their biography of Wallace titled American Dreamer, write:

 

“[…] Wallace went to New York City with Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to meet with Latin American officials. They were there to discuss the need for pan-American unity and his vision for a world in which democracy and abundance would become reality.  […]

Shortly after lunch that day (1:25 PM on the East coast; 7:55 AM in Hawaii) Japan launched an air attack on the U.S. fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. Wallace learned of the attack from someone who heard a news flash on the radio. A few minutes later a White House operator reached him on the phone and said a plane was waiting at the airport to return him to Washington immediately.

Wallace went directly to the White House, where he learned the grim facts: 2,403 American lives lost, hundreds more wounded, the battleship Arizona and 18 other ships ruined, hundreds of planes destroyed or damaged. Roosevelt had cabled the words “Fight Back” when he learned of the attack. […]

Wallace stayed at the White House through the long evening, discussing the situation with Roosevelt personally, then sitting through somber meetings with the cabinet and congressional leaders, remaining until almost midnight to talk again with Roosevelt and [Under Secretary of State] Sumner Welles. The president was “really very gravely concerned,” Wallace later said. “We all were drawn very close together by the emergency. Americans are very good when they really get up against it.” (Culver and Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace. W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, 264)

 

Walllace’s vice presidential diary for the next day lists a 10 AM White House conference, and a noontime “Joint Session of Congress – Declaration of War on Japan.”

 

 

To see our digital Henry A. Wallace collection, go to

http://wallace.lib.uiowa.edu/

To see the description of our larger, physical collection of the papers of Henry A. Wallace, got to

http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsc200/MsC177/Wallace%20new%20template%20FA.htm