Marjory Collins—Chronicling the Lives of Older Women

Library of Congress, Moravian quilting circle

Library of Congress, Moravian sewing circle

During the Second World War, Marjory Collins (1912-1985) was hired by the Office of War Information to provide a photographic record of American life on the home front. Most of her photos fit a standard mold—parades, church scenes, factories. But if you look closely, you’ll discover that she always paid close attention to what women were doing.  She was not only interested in the young women engaged in war work; she also had an eye for how older women lived during the war.

Library of Congress, Buffalo, 1943

Library of Congress, Buffalo, 1943

Her photo notes are almost as evocative as the photos.  For the quilter above, the oldest member of the Moravian sewing circle in Lititz, Pennsylvania, she tells us that the group charged one cent per yard of thread for hand quilting, with the proceeds donated to the church.  In the notes for the older woman freshening up at work, she informs us that the New York Car Wheel Company in Buffalo had only recently hired women and was still finishing up the women’s locker room.  Note that the older woman’s kerchief is tied at the top, headwrap style.

Library of Congress, Sunday School picnic

Library of Congress, Sunday School picnic

And consider this unusual shot of four women, no longer young, taken from behind at a Fourth of July picnic in 1942.  There is so much information about daily life in this picture. It shows the textile patterns, hats, hairdos, and shoes worn during the war. “Some watched while others waded,” she tells us. “The water was too shallow for swimming.”

While researching Collins, I discovered that she edited a feminist journal in the 1970s aimed at older women called Prime Time. Since I had seen so many of her photos, I wasn’t at all surprised. Best of all, I found some issues via inter library loan.  I’ll be sharing their contents soon.

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4 Responses to Marjory Collins—Chronicling the Lives of Older Women

  1. I love these photos–this is exactly the sort of thing I find fascinating.

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    I’m eager to read about Prime Time. My mother belonged to a church quilting group. One issue she told me about: each quilter sewed in her own distinctive way, so the sewing across a quilt was not consistent. One perfectionist friend of hers picked out all the quilting and re-did it herself because of that situation.

  3. eimear says:

    love the last photo, with the shoes of the waders….. really gives a feel for the time

  4. Jen O says:

    Looking forward to seeing more of her photos. I couldn’t help but notice that in the last photo, the 2 women on the left are probably wearing those high waisted corsets because it’s easy to see where the top of the corset is. I imagine at that age they are wearing them more for comfort than fashion. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/131871095309791021/)

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