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The Changing Fashion of Women’s Shoes


Shoe’s from the HMFM Collections

Though it may seem a woman’s love for a variety of shoes in her closet has only been possible since the hemline of her skirt was shortened in the early 20th century, we have found an amazing assortment of stylish shoes in our “closet” at the Fort Missoula Historical Museum.


During the 1850s, women’s fashion introduced the steel framed crinoline hoop that allowed women’s skirts to swing while walking.  This would allow a peek at ladies’ ankles which inspired a need for boots.  They were made from silk, satin, or leather and were custom made for the wealthier women of society.  Beaded, embroidered, or bejeweled, the boots help preserve women’s modesty, for the ankle was never to be exposed.


Boots from HMFM Collections

By the 1870s, bustle skirts brought the fashionable hourglass look that extended to women’s shoes.  Many shoes had an hourglass, 2 inch heel.   The Fenelon (a multi looped bow) and button closures added to the fashion of the shoe.


By the 1880s, the United States began mass producing sturdy, fashionable, and fitted footwear that could be purchased at a fraction of the cost of custom made shoes, thus opening a market for women with smaller incomes.  Boots continued to dominate fashion, but new styles were available.  Rubber soles and canvas shoes were often used for lawn sports and some had a low heel.  These shoes became popular for use with the most exciting new activity – bicycling!


Buckle Shoes from HMFM Collections

The Cromwell shoe became popular during 1885 and 1900.  It sported a high tabbed front and buckle, reminiscent of 17th century Puritan shoes.


During the 1890s, heels could be as high as 6 inches.  But, by 1901, any heel over 3 inches was deemed uncouth.   Cuban heels made their debut in 1904.  These stacked leather heels of 2 ½ inches were popular through the 1910s.


The 1910s brought women’s liberation in many areas of American life, including shortened skirt lengths.  With the exposure of women’s ankles, the strappy look became the new fashion.  Boots were still considered daywear, but with the night came low heels and straps.  Many women preferred the narrow toe, often necessitated the removal of bones in the small toes so they would fit.  But what is the loss of a few bones to fashion?!


Thank goodness not all shoe manufacturers made tight, narrow shoes!  Pumps with small heels became popular for daywear by 1910.  Often made from satin or silk, these shoes were much more forgiving of the natural contours of women’s feet.


Shoes have not always been functional for upper class women.  We have found in our collection that many were simply for looks and outward displays of status.  In the following decades, France became the leader the in shoe fashion, and shoes for children became a target market.

J Rankin Dissenting Vote 1941

Jeannette Rankin

We ought to know that you cannot settle a dispute by violence.”

Miss Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana 11 June, 1880.  She served as the first woman in the House of Representatives in the 65th session of Congress from 1917 – 1919. She said that she was the first woman to be elected, but she would not be last.  Women had had the right to vote in the state of Montana since 1914, but a constitutional amendment giving all women the right to vote was not ratified until 18 August, 1920.  She was welcomed by her fellow congressmen by cheers and had to bow in acceptance twice.



During her first term in congress, she, along with forty nine of her fellow congressman, voted “No” against the United States involvement in World War I. Commenting on her vote, she said, “As a woman I cannot go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

In January 1918, she opened the House Floor debate on a constitutional amendment on woman’s suffrage, the very first of such debates.  Many representatives who shared her vote defended her, including Fiorello La Guardia, Representative from New York.  In an effort to distance themselves from Miss Rankin’s views, the National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote, “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation – she represented Montana.”

As was the pattern of her life, Miss Rankin spoke for miner’s rights, social welfare programs, and peace.

J Rankin Dissenting Vote 1941

Miss Rankin was narrowly defeated in the following election, but when war presented itself on the world stage in 1939, she submitted her bid for re-election and won.  Her purpose in this term was to speak against the United States in World War II.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she immediately returned to Washington D.C. to cast her vote against war.  She was not given the floor to speak against President Roosevelt’s request to fight back.  She was also encouraged to abstain from the vote.  But, when the roll was called, she declared, “No.”  This time, she stood alone, the resolution passed 388-1.  The response was immediate.  She was driven from the House of Representatives amidst hisses and boos, and had to run from the building.  Finding shelter in a phone booth, she waited until the police arrived to escort her back to her office.

Miss Rankin was ignored for the remainder of her term.

15 Jan 1968, Washington, DC, USA --- A group of women belonging to the Jeanette Rankin Brigade march in protest of the Vietnam War. Jeanette Rankin, the first female congress member, stands holding the banner at center (wearing eyeglasses). --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

15 Jan 1968, Washington, DC, USA — A group of women belonging to the Jeanette Rankin Brigade march in protest of the Vietnam War. Jeanette Rankin, the first female congress member, stands holding the banner at center (wearing eyeglasses). — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Jeannette Rankin worked as a seamstress and a teacher after her service in government.  She also stayed active in politics.  She was impressed with Mahatma Gandhi’s adherence to nonviolent protests and had made several trips to India even though she lived on a minimal income.

When war, again, raged at the United States door, she formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade.  In 1968, she and 5000 protested marched in Washington D.C. against the war in Vietnam.

At age 92, she was considering running for Congress again to put an end to the conflict, but she passed away 18 May 1973 in Carmel, California.

Jeannette Rankin’s life was one of consistency.  She said, “What one decides to do in a crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident.”



Every state is allowed two statues to be placed in Washington D.C. to memorialize what is valued most by each state.  Montana chose Charles Russell and, appropriately, Jeannette Rankin, who embodied the spirit of Montana in her perseverance in standing, even alone, for her convictions.

All images are courtesy of the following websites:

Dissenting Vote,

Rankin Statue,

Rankin Brigade,

Miss Jeannette Rankin,


100th Anniversary First Presbyterian Church of Missoula

In 1909, Missoula was a town to be talked about. Its second railroad, the Milwaukee, had finally reached town, an electric streetcar system ran the streets, and a new modern Higgins Avenue bridge had been recently completed.
Reverend Dr. John Maclean was also just arriving to town, delivering his first sermons at the First Presbyterian Church of Missoula. At that time, church buildings were not just used for worship, but were social centers for town as well. On a daily basis the Brotherhood Club, Boy Scouts and a variety of women’s groups were using the small church. By 1910, Maclean and local architect and congregation member, A.J. Gibson, began plans for a larger church.

In 1912, lots were purchased on the south side of Missoula, at South Fifth and Myrtle street, and the current church was finished three years later. Though Gibson had retired in 1913, he came out of retirement to design the large scale Gothic Revival-style brick church as his last official project. The building includes an enormous square bell tower, steep central gable, and pointed-arch windows. Its large size and nod to European style of architecture makes it the showcase of the South Side.


John Maclean was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church from 1909 to 1925. His sons, Norman and Pual, grew up in Missoula and learned to fly fish in the surrounding rivers. It was their adventures in Missoula that sparked Norman to write “A River Runs Through It.”


On September 13th, 2015 the First Presbyterian Church will be celebrating its 100th year with a variety of events. Check out their website for more information:

Teepee Burner Ceiling

On the grounds of Fort Missoula…

Teepee Burner Ceiling

The other day, I snapped this picture while wandering the grounds of Fort Missoula. To me, it looked like some kind of celestial map, or maybe a planetarium. I asked my friends what they thought it was and got the following answers: the eyeball of a giant steel chameleon, a kaleidoscope looking at a forest, the ceiling, the inside of an old silo, a stained glass window, and, a personal favorite—the time-traveling, dinosaur space ship from We’re Back, a bizarre animated children’s movie about, of course, time-traveling dinosaurs.

What do you think it is?

The most precise and accurate answer came from my friend Chris: “That’s a dome ceiling, poorly welded together. The green and red part is a mesh top that’s sagging inward and full of mold (unlikely) or a similar dome of netting, but extending conical, showing silhouettes of the trees.”

Well, yes, kind of. I took the photograph while standing in the center of the teepee burner at Fort Missoula on a bright, sunny day, looking straight up into the mesh ceiling. Named for their resemblance to Native American teepees or wigwams, teepee burners were once used by sawmills to burn leftover sawdust and slabs of wood, generally at night when the glow from the fires could be seen for miles. Before the Clean Air Act of 1970, they were ubiquitous across the Pacific Northwest—signs of a healthy timber industry. In the Missoula Valley alone, there were eleven operating teepee burners in the 1940s and 1950s. Imagine driving into the valley on a moonless autumn night, the sky lit up by scattered torches of fire. Imagine the smoke drifting into the air, blocking out one star at a time until the smoke itself took on the shape of something silhouetted against the darker night—a bear, for instance, or a fish. Like finding faces in the clouds.


The teepee burner on the grounds of Fort Missoula

The teepee burner at Fort Missoula is 5½ stories high, consisting of 18 forty-foot panels and a 15-foot high dome at the top. Normally, the domes, or screen spark arrestors, are made of wire mesh to keep burning embers from escaping. The teepee burner at the fort also has a fiberglass covering over the mesh to protect the structure from the elements. The fiberglass was painted orange and yellow to resemble an operating teepee burner. The colors and size of the Fort Missoula burner enables hikers to locate the fort from as far away as the M. Trust me, I’ve tried it!

After this initial exploration, my mind immediately jumped to the next set of questions: how did the museum go about moving this enormous structure, and, maybe more importantly, why? It couldn’t have been an inexpensive process, right? Originally, the teepee burner was built for the S&W Sawmill just north of Darby. It was moved in 1973 to the historic pioneer village erected by the Bitterroot Valley Historical Society at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds in Hamilton and then, just over 30 years later, given to the museum at Fort Missoula to better preserve it. The burner was dismantled in 2005 and over the following year, volunteers prepared an 18-sided foundation, sandblasted and painted the 40-foot panels and finally erected the new teepee burner on October 8, 2006. Just to give you a sense of the commitment here: it took 12,000 pounds of sand to sandblast the panels, 100 gallons of paint to paint them, and 594 bolts to stitch the entire thing together. Before the stitching together even began, volunteers spent 4 hours sandblasting each panel and then two hours painting it (remember, there are 18 panels). That’s a lot of work!

Lifting the ceiling of the teepee burner

Lifting the ceiling of the teepee burner

The building is pretty empty inside. It feels magical, standing in there alone, looking at the chinks of sky sneaking through the mesh. Back in 2006, Scott Kuehn described it nicely, “Tepee burners are funny because, while this one is 45 feet in diameter and 55 feet tall, if you go inside one it’s like walking into a cathedral. It seems like it doubles or triples in size.” Scott is the chair of the Society of American Foresters, the group responsible for erecting the teepee burner and maintaining the Forestry Interpretative Area on the museum grounds, which includes a steam powered sawmill and a locomotive.

But does the teepee burner warrant that kind of effort? There are a ton of historic objects out there. Some have more value than others. What does this particular piece add to contemporary conversations? Surviving teepee burners are still littered around Oregon and other timber-rich areas, dotting the countryside much like Roman ruins are still strewn along highways in Italy, mainly left to themselves as an almost natural part of the landscape. Photographer Curt Deatherage made it one of his missions to discover and document teepee burners after he saw one demolished by a tornado near his home in the Willamette Valley. As of 2006, his list contained over 150 existing teepee burners in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana (only 3), and California, many of which he’s photographed and posted on Flicker. Like Scott Kuehn, and like me, he’s impressed by the beauty of the incinerators and the kind of mystical quality they have: “…somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I remembered as a child seeing one of these burners glowing in the night sky, imagining the glowing embers swirling and dancing under the screen must be what a firefly looks like.” But it’s more than that. In a 2010 article documenting the birth of the Oregon Wigwam Burners Association, Deatherage describes the association’s mission to preserve the memory of the men and women involved in the lumber industry—an industry that completely transformed this part of the country. Much like photographs of deteriorating barns or covered bridges, the images are haunting reminders of how quickly the world is evolving.

Perhaps the most applicable conversation about our teepee burner is one that walks the line between history and the present, a conversation not only about air quality and pollution, but about soil, science, government spending, and the ways in which we try to repair the damages we’ve wrought in the past. The S&W Sawmill, home to our teepee burner for about ten years, was founded in 1965 by Milo Wilson and Dee Shook, who had opened the first modern mill in the Darby area in 1954. The Shook Mill, their previous endeavor, was destroyed in ’64 by fire and in fact, a week after the S&W Mill opened the following year, with a work force of about 150 men, the new sawmill caught fire too. A newspaper reported that, “A fire in the chipper shed at the mill caused some damage and threw the chipper machine out of operation for several days—but the blaze was confined to the shed at the north end of the new plant and did not damage the main building.” Still, it gives you a sense of how dangerous (read: flammable) this kind of work could be. The S&W Mill was one of four operating in the Darby area at the time.


Another view of the teepee burner, with our locomotive in the foreground!

With so many sawmills continually burning wood waste, air quality concerns became a major issue, particularly in the Missoula Valley. As many readers will know, Missoula is surrounded by mountains and experiences severe temperature inversions in the winter, making it difficult for polluted air to escape the valley. In 1978, the EPA designated Missoula a “nonattainment area”—meaning that the county was in violation of federal air quality standards, particularly with carbon monoxide (motor vehicle emissions) and particulate pollution. One of the committees organized to address this issue focused on residential wood burning. If even residential wood burning was an issue, imagine what 11 teepee burners could do to the air! We all see the way that the valley traps smoke (particulate matter) during the fire season in the summers—even without teepee burners, the air gets heavy, hard to breath. Some days it’s difficult to make out Mount Sentinel because of all the smoke!

So here we have represented the struggle for clean, breathable air—an ongoing concern around the world. Now back to the S&W Sawmill. The site was an active sawmill until 1998, but prior to 1978 it also “operated as a wood treatment plant that used the chemical pentachlorophenol (PCP) mixed with diesel as a wood preservative. The chemical mixture and its by-products (dioxins/furans) have contaminated the soil and groundwater at the Facility.” The old sawmill is a state superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act (CECRA), with International Paper working as the lead liable group responsible for the cleanup—meaning that they’re collecting soil samples, devising a model for remediation, and even dismantling the old buildings onsite. It’s quite a long process! Data confirmed contamination in the water and soil back in November 2004 and the proposed plan and approved decision for remediation will probably not be finished until approximately January 2017, after which the actual cleanup will begin.

The teepee burner is, in part, a catalyst for thinking about the ways in which the past molds the future. They deserve to be preserved not only as an intriguing part of the landscape or as a gesture of respect to the people who built the timber industry, but as a reminder of significant contemporary conversations about land use and preservation—both of ourselves and of nature.

Online Sources:;;;



Happy May Day!



May 1st, otherwise known as May Day, has been celebrated by Europeans and Americans for hundreds of years. In pre-Christian societies, May Day celebrated the rebirth and fertility that occurred during springtime. May Day celebrations originally sprang from the Roman festival honoring Floralia, the goddess of flowers. Over time May Day became a Christian-based holiday in which people would anonymously leave baskets of flowers on their neighbor’s doorsteps as a sign of goodwill and friendship.  Many European and American communities held May Day celebrations in which children danced around a tall, wooden maypole, often decorated with colorful ribbons. A maypole is visible in the photograph of a May Day celebration being held in Kalispell in 1913.


The May Day celebrations of nature and springtime are immortalized in American poet, Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s 1914 poem entitled “May-Day and Other Pieces, Song of Nature.” Below is an excerpt from Emmerson’s “May-Day.”

“Wreaths for the May! for happy Spring

 To-day shall all her dowry bring,

The love of kind, the joy, the grace,

Hymen of element and race,

Knowing well to celebrate

 With song and hue and star and state,

With tender light and youthful cheer,

The spousals of the new-born year.

 Spring is strong and virtuous

 Broad-sowing, cheerful, plenteous,

Quickening underneath the mould

Grains beyond the price of gold.

 So deep and large her bounties are,

That one broad, long midsummer day

Shall to the planet overpay

The ravage of a year of war.”


History of Arbor Day

History of Arbor Day

When pioneers J. Sterling Morton and his wife came to the Nebraska Territory in 1854 they immediately planted trees, shrubs, and other vegetation in their new home. Morton became the editor at one of Nebraska’s best newspapers. He used his employment as a journalist to educate and encourage the public about trees. Morton was originally from Detroit and he along with other pioneers missed seeing trees on the landscape. Besides aesthetic benefits, tees were also useful as windbreaks to stabilize soil, for fuel and building materials, and as a source of shade from the sun. Morton advised not only individuals to plant trees, but also civic organizations to take part in planting trees. Morton wielded more legitimacy and respect when he became secretary of the Nebraska Territory. He used this opportunity to continue to emphasize the value of trees.


During January 4th, 1872 Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. The holiday was to be called “Arbor Day.” The holiday was to be held on April 10, 1872. To promote the new holiday prizes were given to counties and individuals for planting the largest number of trees on that day. On the first Arbor Day in Nebraska it is believed that more than one million trees were planted.  After the territory became recognized as a state, Governor Robert W. Furnas declared Arbor Day a holiday on March 12, 1874. It was celebrated on April 10, 1874. Arbor Day was declared a legal holiday in 1885 and Morton’s birthday, April 22nd, was named a day of observance.  The April 1885 celebration of Arbor Day included a parade and a speech by J. Sterling Morton. In Nebraska City students went to school and each grade planted at least one tree for the students to take care of. After the mass planting, the students led a parade from there schools to the opera house. The children waved banners and the closer the children got to the opera house the townspeople joined the march. The festivities celebrating the first legal holiday of Arbor Day ended with a speech from Morton.


In the 1870s states across the U.S. passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. The last Friday of April is the most common day to celebrate Arbor Day, but it can vary across the country to coincide with the best tree planting weather. In Montana it is celebrated on the last Friday in April.

Click on the link to learn about Arbor Day in Montana.


Gas Masks

With the onset of World War II many world leaders were concerned about chemical warfare becoming a factor in in the war. This fear led to massive manufacturing and distribution of various types of gas masks. The anxiety of chemical warfare came from World War I when tens of thousands of tons of deadly chemicals were used to gain an edge in the fighting. An estimated 1.4 million people were killed by these deadly attacks, many of them being civilians.

British Civilians during World War II

British Civilians during World War II

Once World War II had begun, many countries handed out gas masks to civilians. Every British civilian was issued a gas mask for fear that Germany would perpetrate a chemical attack. Many civilians in countries like France, Australia, and the United States were issued gas masks as well. The gas mask in the picture below was a standard issue civilian gas mask in the United States; many other countries used this model to protect their citizens against chemical attacks, as well.

A MIA2-1-1 Civilian Gas Mask

A MIA2-1-1 Civilian Gas Mask

There is one major problem in gas masks from this time period; many use a filtration system that has asbestos in it. Asbestos is a material that is known to cause mesothelioma and is a very dangerous substance. Ten percent of workers in gas mask facilities during World War II would eventually succumb to mesothelioma. A tragic irony of history, the gas masks designed to save lives could actually take them away.

Homesteaders heading west. Homesteaders Heading West.

The Homestead Act and Westward Expansion.


The wagon train is one of the iconic images of the Western part of the United States. Most great western films have the quintessential wagon train jerking through a flawless prairie heading west. There is a historical context to this perception of the West most of us hold. On the eve of the American Civil War much of the American West was unsettled. The very few people settling out West led to the federal government passing the Homestead Act of 1862.

Homesteaders Heading West.

Homesteaders heading west. Homesteaders Heading West.

The Homestead Act of 1862 was a land grant program that allowed people to claim 160 acres of land as long as they made certain improvements upon the land. Those improvements usually included building a house, planting crops, and staying on the land for five years. This essentially-free land (there was a twelve dollar application fee) created a surge of western re-settlement. Eventually, four million homestead claims were made with 1.6 million being successful. This amounted to 270 million acres of land distributed in thirty states. The 270 million acres distributed from 1863 to 1979 is approximately 10% of all U.S. lands.


Homestead certificate to George Amiraux. 1979.037 Arch Box 001

The document below is a homestead certificate to George P. Amiraux for 160 acres of land in Montana, one of 151,600 homesteaders in Montana. George Amriaux was also the son of H. A. Amiraux, a notable Missoulian from the 19th and 20th century. H. A. Amiraux was known for working as a bookkeeper for the Higgins and Worden Company and managing the Inn and Bakers Station.


Homestead States.

The 151,600 homesteaders in Montana claimed 32,050,480 acres of Montana land, which amounts to just over a third of Montana. This is an enormous amount of land considering Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S. In fact, Montana was the most popular state for Homesteaders with 30,000 more acres claimed than the next state, which was North Dakota. The Homestead Act was the most effective distribution of land the federal government ever enacted. Nearly ninety-three million homesteader descendants are alive today, many likely in Montana.

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula.  On display in our galleries.

Artists Imprisoned: Italian Internees During WWII

This morning, I spent some time digging around in the basement of the museum. It was cold. White sheets covered antique mirrors, highboys, skis, a doll stroller. Bare light bulbs hung at the end of each row, casting shallow shadows on the concrete floor. Now, I’m a huge wimp. I’m afraid of ghosts and enclosed spaces. Basements make me think of spiders and crickets and boogiemen (none of which a museum basement would have). And isn’t every piece of old furniture haunted by the hands that once touched it? Paintings?  Mirrors?

Still hooked by the story of Odette Samson’s dolls, I was in search of objects made by the Italian internees housed at Fort Missoula during WWII. It felt somehow related: this question of productivity and creativity while imprisoned; a question, too, of what it means to be an enemy and how we get past this idea of “other.”

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula.  On display in our galleries.

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula. On display in our galleries.

The permanent exhibition on the first floor contains an intricate model ship made by Umberto Benedetti and a tiny life jacket painted in the colors of the Italian flag. A wooden box mounted on the wall contains another model ship, smaller and more whimsical than Benedetti’s. Locally, Benedetti is probably the most famous of the Italians detained at Fort Missoula. When the U.S. joined WWII, he was working as a cabinetmaker on an Italian ocean liner in the Panama Canal. He, along with 1,200 other Italians who found themselves on American soil (or in American ports) at the outbreak of the war, was sent by train to Fort Missoula, which had previously been used to house Civilian Conservation Corps members. The Italians weren’t soldiers. They were civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: artisans and chefs stuck in New York after the 1939 World’s Fair, for instance, or ship captains. After the internees were released in 1944, many of them opted to come back to the United States as citizens. Benedetti, for example, joined the U.S. army to gain his citizenship and spent the rest of his life in Missoula. The internees called the fort Bella Vista. They played bocce and golf in the summers. They put on plays and orchestral performances for each other and for the town. They made ships and painted. They worked on farms and for the Forest Service. Which is all to say, of course, that despite their confinement, they found a way to live.

Benedetti, we know, loved Missoula. He became a local institution, before his death in 2009. But what about the other internees? What can we find out about these men from their paintings?

Back to the basement! The first three paintings I pulled from the shelves were watercolors done by Francesco Coscia, Second Officer on the Pietro Campanella, which was requisitioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in Panama (*Fun Fact: the Pietro Campanella was renamed Equipoise, after a famous race horse. Many of the ships requisitioned during the war were named after horses, particularly Kentucky Derby winners.). Coscia was held at Fort Missoula from 1941 to 1944, but I couldn’t find very much more about him in our records. My only sources of information were the paintings themselves. So what did they tell me?

Stone Pines (?) detail in Francesco Coscia's watercolor, ca. 1941-1944, painted while an internee at Fort Missoula.

Detail in Francesco Coscia’s Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Francesco Coscia, Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Francesco Coscia, Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Two of the three depict coastal scenes in Italy: rough coastlines and smooth, rippling water; perfect blue skies. Compositionally they’re nearly mirror images. One has two trees on the left side and the ocean to the right; the other has three trees on the right and the ocean to the left. The latter has a more severe coast—bulky rocks that might amount to small cliffs in reality. I’m not a tree expert, but someone, presumably Coscia, has written “Maritime Pines” on the back of one of the paintings. Maritime pines are native to the Mediterranean—a far cry from Montana.

The third Coscia painting, on the other hand, feels like Montana. Unlike the previous two, it has a date, 1943, and a title, Rogue River. I began to wonder if Coscia painted the other during his earlier days at Fort Missoula, when Italy was fresh on his mind. I wondered if he was homesick. If painting the Italian seascape was a way to feel connected not only to Italy but to the ocean – Coscia had been a seaman, after all. And maybe after a few years here, he started to see Montana as beautiful. Or maybe he just got used to it. Or maybe it was easier to paint the world directly in front of him. Maybe he worked on a ranch down in Hamilton or at a lookout in the Bitterroot—there are plenty of small waterfalls in the gulches down there.

Francesco Coscia, Rogue River, 1943.

Francesco Coscia, Rogue River, 1943.

After the Coscia watercolors, I unearthed an oil painting by Joe Gianatti—a quiet port, with warm stucco buildings poised just above the water, reflecting in the water, and three small red boats. The texture, thick brushstrokes rising from the canvas, was refreshing after the thinner, colder quality of the watercolors. On the back of the canvas, Gianatti left us with a title of sorts: “Martiquex (France).” And then a lovely and curious inscription, “To Miss Margery Ann Walker, Reciprocating with gratitude and admiration a nice and spontaneous act of generosity. Capt. Joe G. Gianatti / Fort Missoula, April 1943.”

Joe Gianatti, April 1943, oil on canvas.  For Margery Ann Walker.

Joe Gianatti, April 1943, oil on canvas. For Margery Ann Walker.

Gianatti's Inscription to Miss Margery Ann Walker, April 1943.

Gianatti’s Inscription to Miss Margery Ann Walker, April 1943.

I love nothing better than a good inscription when I’m researching! Who was Margery Ann Walker?! What did she do?! I ran back upstairs to the files, hoping, irrationally, that there was some kind of love story to uncover. There wasn’t. According to Margery’s son, who was in touch with the museum about the provenance of the piece, “My mother, Margery Ann Walker Van Nice, was an art student at the U [University of Montana], and involved with the Missoula art scene. She helped organize a few of the area artists to donate canvases, brushes, oils, watercolors, etc. to help the painters in the Fort arts and crafts shop get started.” I love the idea of a young student putting forth so much effort to provide a creative outlet for the Italians held during the war. It goes back to that central idea that art and expression help us to cross boundaries; to see the enemy not as “other” but as human. The Italian internees and the citizens of Missoula fostered a relationship in other instances as well and many of the Italians worked for Missoulians. One of the Coscia paintings was donated by Jacqueline Moore, the widow of William Moore, who was a border patrol officer at Fort Missoula. Notes on the provenance of the piece indicate that Mrs. Moore and the internees would bake cherry pies and bowl together, along with some of the other wives based at the Fort. Maybe it’s true what Umberto Benedetti claims in one of his autobiographical books: that Fort Missoula was the best of all the detainment campuses in the United States, that the men were treated very well. He says, specifically, “What a beautiful place to live accept there were no girls.” A great line!

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, ca. 1942-1944.

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, ca. 1942-1944.

The last artist I’ll mention is Rolando Madussi—because this post is already too long, not because there aren’t more paintings to talk about! While Coscia and Gianatti painted the sea, Madussi painted the Italian Alps—bald, rocky mountains foregrounded by grassy slopes and houses plucked straight from fairy tales. One, a gift, was inscribed in Italian. It says (in English): “To Commander Capt. P.S. Saglietto remembering the days spent of our imprisonment. Rolando Madussi, Fort Missoula, (U.S.A.) August 21, 1943.” We don’t know much about Madussi, or at least I don’t. But there’s a thick file about Saglietto in the archives and it includes (drum roll!) a Fort Missoula love story! Saglietto, the captain of the San Guiseppe before it was requisitioned by the U.S. in 1942, became somewhat of a mayor among the internees, liaising between them and the officers at the fort. After the war, he married Wilma Jacobson, who had been the secretary for the Border Patrol Supervisors at Fort Missoula. Like Benedetti, Saglietto opted to remain in the U.S., moving to Baltimore and, in 1947, he founded the Tidewater Commercial Company, which operated steamships. In 1966, the Baltimore Sun reported that Saglietto was awarded the Caveliere Officiale Order of Merit of Republic of Italy, for fostering goodwill between the United States and Italy. It seems like he was a natural-born leader. A pretty incredible life-story (and this is just an outline!) for someone who was detained against his will at our very own Fort!

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, inscribed to P.S. Saglietto, August 21, 1943.

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, inscribed to P.S. Saglietto, August 21, 1943.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick survey of paintings done by Italian internees! It barely scratches the surface of what life might have been like at Fort Missoula during the early 1940s, and doesn’t even begin to contemplate the lives of the Japanese aliens held at the camp, but research is like that… no matter how much you learn, there’s always an entire world of information left to uncover. I hope this has piqued your interest and given you something new to investigate.

P.S. For more, visit


Examples of the Nancy Ann Dolls at the Museum.  Note the "sleep eyes" on the plastic Native American doll to the left and the original, gold "Nancy Ann" tag on Cinderella's right arm.

Courage, Creativity, and Imagination: A Doll Story


Examples of the Nancy Ann Dolls at the Museum.  Note the "sleep eyes" on the plastic Native American doll to the left and the original, gold "Nancy Ann" tag on Cinderella's right arm.

Examples of the Nancy Ann Dolls at the Fort Missoula Museum. Note the “sleep eyes” on the plastic Native American doll to the left and the original, gold “Nancy Ann” tag on Cinderella’s right arm.

A couple weeks ago, I watched an episode of Museum Secrets while riding an old exercise bike in front of the TV on a rainy day. This particular episode explored the Imperial War Museum in London: the technological development of illusory army fatigues, for instance, or how physicists developed a way to locate German artillery during WWI using sound alone. The stories were somewhat confusing—most revolved around complicated science that the show tried to make accessible to the layman. They lacked character, an emotional tug, someone to root for. I almost changed the channel, until the camera focused on two handmade cloth dolls in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the museum, a gallery devoted to medals and awards for bravery. Dolls, I thought. Yes, here is a story. Dolls are curiosities, rather than necessities of war or scientific tools, right? I was compelled by the very idea: dolls and war; childhood innocence and the complete despair of wartime prisoners; home life and the front.

And indeed, there was a fascinating story:  In 1939, Odette Sansom was living with her three young daughters in Somerset, her husband already serving in the British army, when she responded to a call for photographs and old postcards exhibiting the French coastline for intelligence-gathering purposes. In her note, Odette wrote that she was French by birth and familiar with Boulogne, where she had lived for several years. Shortly thereafter, she was recruited by the War Office as an undercover agent and began intensive training to prepare for her fieldwork in Occupied France. She landed in the French Riviera in early November of 1942, immediately contacting Peter Churchill, who headed the SOE in the area (Britain’s Special Operations Executive).

Odette Marie-Celine Sansom

Odette Marie-Celine Sansom

On November 11, just days after her arrival, the Germans invaded Vichy France and the Gestapo became more aggressive in its hunt to eradicate British spies in the region. Odette and Churchill moved their operation to the Alps, where, in mid-April 1943, they were both arrested by Sergeant Hugo Bleicher. The two were sent to Fresnes prison in Paris and Odette, condemned to death, was tortured by the Gestapo for information regarding her fellow spies. She brilliantly said that she was married to Peter Churchill, and that he was a relative of the British Prime Minister—making them both very valuable prisoners (Two small, but valuable, white lies. Eventually, years later, Odette would divorce her husband and marry in Peter Churchill in reality.).

According to Museum Secrets, Odette and the other women confined to Fresnes prison were forced to sew German army uniforms. Odette joined the sewing group, but refused to contribute to the German war effort. Instead, she made these dolls—which she gave as a gift to the German chaplain at the prison, a man who was kind to her and helped her by transmitting messages to Peter Churchill.

One of the dolls made by Odette Sansom in Fresnes Prison, Paris (courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

One of the dolls made by Odette Sansom in Fresnes Prison, Paris (courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

In May 1944, Odette was moved from the prison to a series of German concentration camps, where many of her fellow female spies were executed. She was placed in solitary confinement and starved, but when the Allies began winning the war, the commander of her camp decided to use her—a very important prisoner—for leverage. In exchange for her life, he wanted his own sentence mitigated. He did indeed give her up to the Allies, but was eventually sentenced to death because of evidence presented by Odette at the Nuremberg Trials. Odette, for her part, survived the war and was the first woman awarded the George Cross. She was famously depicted in Herbert Wilcox’s film, Odette, and her dolls are displayed as a testament to her bravery.

My curiosity piqued, I came back to the Museum at Fort Missoula to do some exploring! We don’t have dolls made by WWII spies, as far as I know, but we certainly have a substantial collection of 20th century dolls, dollhouses and doll clothes, and each of them, undoubtedly, has a story of some kind. There’s a cloth doll of Teddy Roosevelt dressed up in hunting gear, paper dolls modeled after Grace Kelley, early Barbie’s and drawings done on felt of Kewpie dolls. Some of the dolls, like Odette’s, were made by hand. Take this cornhusk doll made by Irene Paeth circa 1940—just a few years older than Odette’s dolls! Irene donated the doll to the museum in 2007, shortly before her death in February of 2008. According to her obituary, Irene, a long-time resident of both the Chicago area and Sparta, Wisconsin, also donated two life-size dolls to the Monroe County Historical Society in Sparta. What a curious web! I love the link that Irene’s donations creates between two otherwise unrelated historical societies.

Cornhusk Doll, made ca. 1940 by Irene Paeth

Cornhusk Doll, made ca. 1940 by Irene Paeth

Irene’s doll is beautiful and fragile. She wears a faded purple dress cinched at the waist and has brown hair composed of corn silk. In fact, she’s inspired me, already, to google “How to make a cornhusk doll” and I intend to try it out as soon as the four ears of corn in my garden are ready to eat!

Another recent doll donation consists of a collection of Nancy Ann dolls—not entirely handmade, per se, but historically interesting nonetheless. These highly collectible dolls are small, measuring between 3¾” and 7”. Some are bisque, meaning that they are older and generally more valuable (depending on condition) while others are plastic with “sleep eyes,” meaning that they’re newer. Each doll represents a different character—maybe Cinderella, from the Fairytale line; maybe a Russian peasant, from the International line; maybe a nun. Nancy Ann Abbott began designing dolls in 1936, just before the start of WWII. The first series, the Hush-a-Bye babies, were produced in Japan, although by 1939 production moved to California, where artists painted the facial features on each doll by hand. As the Nancy Ann website describes it, as the war got underway, “the government felt the dolls were necessary for morale and demand for the dolls was high.  Many were sent by convoy to Hawaii where soldiers were able to buy the dolls and send them home to their loved ones. By the late 1940s, the company was producing the largest doll volume in the nation.” Yet another fascinating intersection of dolls and war!

A Bisque Nancy Doll

A Bisque Nancy Doll at Fort Missoula

I’ll sign off with a quote from Madame Alexander, whose historical and literary dolls I collected as a child (My favorite? Eliza Doolittle.): “Dolls should contribute to a child’s understanding of people, other times and other places.” What better time, then, to safeguard the production of dolls than during war, when the world so desperately needs to cultivate empathy in both children and adults?


P.S. If you want to hear yet another intriguing story about a brilliant doll maker (and an early female entrepreneur), check out Marjorie Ingall’s article on Madame Alexander. What a powerhouse!

P.P.S. Tune in next week to see what the WWII detainees at Fort Missoula were creating during the war years.