What does chasing women’s history look like?

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I find myself feeling constantly behind on writing, blogging, and posting about what I’m up to, so I thought I would explain a little bit what this whole thing looks like to me right now. I’ve had this fantastic idea to find and record these women’s camps, and to learn more about women’s history in general. Every book I read, every site I visit, every web page I dig through, I’m constantly repeating in my head: “But where are the women.” It turns out this is not an easy question to answer. Any given day finds me annotating musty library books, original archived documents, or more recent web articles about women’s camps and other lost facets of women’s history, primarily from the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, it seems that for every stone I turn, there are little snippets of information that start to scurry off in every direction like an army of so many pill bugs when exposed to the light when their hiding places are disturbed.

Here’s an example: I recently revisited the great little book Camp Forrest (Images of America) which I had read before from a local interest perspective. This time, I took notice of women in the pictures, gleaning every little bit I could about who they were, and what their roles were at the training center during WWII. I noted that while the book discussed how women worked in the 9000 square foot laundry, and then later the POW’s interred there did the same, the connection was never made that if the inmates were now doing the work that had previously been done by local women, then those women most likely lost their jobs and were simply dismissed. With most of America’s men off fighting the war, it was the women left at home trying to make ends meet. It’s these connections that are important to me when piecing together women’s history.

Here’s how an average recent week went for me. First, I read the book. Something I read made me curious about maps if the area at the time, probably about how there were so many troops (including Women’s units?*) arriving in Tullahoma during the war years, that the railroad station wasn’t big enough, and so a second, larger one was built a few blocks away to accommodate the increased traffic. Well, that made me wonder where that second, larger station was? Is the building still in existence today? Suddenly I found myself cruising around downtown Tullahoma looking for answers. Then, I did the next logical thing- using the Avenza mapping app that I originally got for hiking maps, I uncovered maps of the local area from 1936 and 1941. While I didn’t find the depot I was looking for (yet*) I made two new discoveries. One was a collection of buildings on the outside of town described as the Girls Vocational School* (on the grounds of the present day Correctional Training Facility) -very interesting. Second, I noticed a section of land on the western edge of Tullahoma (technically in Moore County) listed as the Camp Forrest Motlow Annex. I had already been curious about the photos showing troops training at Cumberland Springs and learning how to float tanks and trucks across Cumberland Lake (both not far from our house) and so my next stop along this wandering trail of discovery was to use Google Maps to compare modern Cumberland Land Management Company holdings to the vintage maps from Avenza. 

Imagine my surprise the very next day when an article in the Lynchburg Times about the new solar farm going in on this same property mentioned in passing that this land was formerly leased to the federal government as part of Camp Forrest training facility. Since I was already out in the area, I took the long way home, starting at the far end of Cumberland Springs Road, looking for evidence or hints, not only to this bit of WWII history, but also taking a moment to appreciate what I have always thought was one of the most beautiful spots in our area before it is changed forever by the incoming solar farm. Today’s progress is tomorrow’s history, after all.

Please heed warnings like these when you are out exploring- sometimes history can be dangerous!

Not only did I find evidence that I was indeed looking in the right area, but there were new signs labeling the fields on both sides of the road as former Camp Forrest property (along with unexploded munitions warnings.) Note that through all of this I wrote nothing more than a few jotted notes here and there, but I was excited to dig into more local history that would possibly be tied to my research in some way. I honestly love every minute of the hunt, and cant wait until I am able to get out even more often and find more of these types of places, all over America. So, go find your passion- and follow wherever it leads you- no matter who your detractors are. Life is supposed to be an adventure that inspires you, and you never know what you might find out about the world and yourself along the way. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

*Everything marked with an asterisk (*) is another research area that I’m now looking into. It’s a never ending process, and I’m enjoying the ride.

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