Leslie Pryzbylek, Senior Curator, #Pixburgh, Heinz History Center:
So we’re talking about mystery images – photos where we have to do a little bit of digging to figure out what the story might be. In some cases, we at least get enough information with the photo to give us a clue.
We have a wonderful image here that shows 19 young women, and they are women, all dressed like men, happily enjoying a few pipes, they’re drinking. What on earth is going on in this image?
Well, there’s a notation on the back of it that helps provide part of a clue. It was simply marked “YWHA stag party 1922.” That stands for the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. This is some kind of a private event that relates to these women. Perhaps they are mimicking the tradition of men. This is not the only image we’ve seen showing young women in a stag party during the 1920s where they seem to be kind of dressing like men, in keeping with the 1920s and all this kind of topsy-turvy world with things women are doing that people could not imagine.
Now, there’s more to it than that. As I said, it’s the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. It came in as part of a larger collection of a family, most of whose life was in Duquesne, Pa. It’s one of the outlying steel towns in the area.
So the odds are good that this was some kind of a private party for this group of young women in Duquesne. And here, they’re taking advantage of the topsy-turvy time period to celebrate in a manner that maybe evokes a little bit of the behavior of some of their male colleagues.
While we don’t know the full story, we know enough to give a little bit more information on it.
Now sometimes, we get really lucky.
We have a marvelous little photo that shows some girls happily sitting on a car. They have their names written on there, and more crucially, there’s a date: August, 1941. So we knew it was some kind of image from the summer and they look pretty young, they look like they’re in high school.
Well, 76 years after this photo was taken, it appeared in an ad for #Pixburgh and someone showed it to one of the women in the photo, the woman seated at the left, Ginny English. She filled in the rest of the story.
It turns out, they were part of a group of 11 friends, all girls, who had just graduated that year from Taylor Allderdice High School. As a group, they went to spend a “no parents” vacation that summer at Edinboro Lake up in Northwestern Pa. They all roomed in one cabin. She said later, “Can you believe it? Our parents let us go because they trusted us.” Every day, they had to get in a small rowboat and row across the lake to visit the only grocery store.
So it’s this wonderful little snapshot, literally, a snapshot, of the picture of 11 kids from Taylor Allderdice High School enjoying that period of freedom after high school graduation but before adult activates come on and literally just a few months before America’s entry into World War II, a wonderful story that we would have never known if we hadn’t actually made contact again with Ginny after all these years.
It’s really this tantalizing little reminder of how much some of these other photos might hold if we just keep on digging.