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       Students in Dr. Marisa Chappell’s fall 2023 History 363 “Women in U.S. History” class spent the final three weeks of Fall Quarter 2023 in OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center exploring women in Camp Adair’s history.

By Alexandra Collins, Brandon Cunningham, and Maitreya Lake

World War II was a trying time in the United States. Even though the country avoided much of the war’s physical destruction, American military and industrial participation created significant upheaval. Entertainment thus played an important role, offering feelings of comfort and community and lightening the load of challenging times. As we explored the various entertainment options for service members at Camp Adair, we were struck by the prominence of women. Women were essential in organizing events, performing, and participating in social activities. This was not new; women had historically been called upon to serve as morale-boosters for male soldiers, particularly during wartime. This was not different at Camp Adair.

Picture111 1
A glamour shot of actress Strelsa Leeds, announcing
her appearance at Camp Adair in the play “Junior Miss”
in February 1943.

A striking example appeared in the Camp Adair Sentry,   the camp’s newspaper, in February 1943. The newspaper   announced a   visiting performance of a Broadway   production called “Junior   Miss.” The show’s two   headliners, Helen Eastman and Lucille   Fetherston, play   “two teenage girls who prance through three   acts of   devastating beauty” in a comedy that provides “hilarious   and warm-hearted fun.” The description of the play   emphasizes   comfort and stability, while the caption   beneath a glamorous   headshot of actress Ellen Curtis   refers to her as a “beauteous   blond.”[1] Women often   played a key role in performances for   soldiers.[2]

Another example, captured a photograph, is the 1943   “Little   Colonel” contest (see below).[3] The Oregon State   Barometer,   which  included additional photographs,   described a shooting   contest among “girls” who were   nominated on the basis of   “beauty and personality   alone.” The top shooters would earn   titles using a   diminutive form of military ranks, from “Little   Colonel”   for first place to “Little Second Lieutenant” for fifth, with   winners announced at a “‘GI’ Military Ball,” where “Miss ‘Dead-Eye   Dick’” would “Rule Over Dance.”[4]

Picture112 College women with 1903 Springfield rifles, circa 1943,” Oregon Digital.
Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair 11
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A humorous article from the Barometer in October   1942   highlights the emphasis on women’s   appearance, even   outside of entertainment   venues. In “Pigtails Irksome to   Men, Says One   With  Keen Eye,” Normal Sholseth   complained   about women students’ hairstyles. “What has     happened to those super-glamorous sweeping   bobs?” he   asked. “Okay, so it does take 15   minutes  to put up the   mop, but after all look in   the mirror and see results.”  Sholseth suggests   that women’s appearance was   important to men,   the “fellow [who] rolls out of a warm   bunk just to   report to an 8 o’clock gym class,” the   “harassed   manhood of Oregon State.”[5] The article shows   that ordinary women, not just entertainers, were   being   held to particular standards of feminine   appearance and   seen as a visual source of   entertainment.

Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair 12
Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair 13
Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair 14
Picture114 This photograph from the Sentry depicts the staff of one of several USO clubs in communities around Camp Adair. Camp Adair Sentry, October 8, 1943, 8.
Dances, Bands, and Pageants: Women and Entertainment at Camp Adair 15

 Women also played a central role in organizing and participating in social activities for Camp Adair’s servicemen. Many women served as “hostesses” with the United Service Organization (USO), creating and staffing recreational spaces and generally providing female company for servicemen far from home. October 1942, the Barometer informed “co-eds who wish to volunteer” in hospitality programs at Camp Adair to fill out an application in the “dean of women’s office for membership in the Corvallis Victory volunteers,” through which they can “indicate interests in Junior Hostess groups, serve as dancing partners for service men at chaperoned dances” or “indicate preferences to serve as hostesses for handicraft, games or other recreational activities at the USO center.” The article also noted that “some evidence of family sanction should be on file in the dean of women’s office, for those girls who plan to accept invitations to officers’ dances at the camp or to volunteer to go to enlisted men’s dances.”[6] The job of hostess was discussed by Barbara Martin in a book of collected memories of Camp Adair. Martin described her experience living near Camp Adair as a young woman and noted that many local girls saw the influx of servicemen as an opportunity to expand their circle of friendships and romantic opportunities. In fact, Martin would end up marrying a serviceman who was stationed at Camp Adair.[7]

The various examples of women as entertainment at Camp Adair point to the different kinds of roles they played. The historian Meghan Winchell argues that the USO’s senior hostesses served as surrogate mothers to soldiers, providing the physical and emotional comforts of home, while the USO “depended upon junior hostesses to use their beauty and sexual appeal to entice men into USO clubs.”[8] Women entertainers were also sexualized, and there was an emphasis on women appearing feminine and attractive to men, another way that women were used to emphasize the masculinity of male servicemembers.[9]


[1] “‘Junior Miss’ to Be Here Feb. 20,” Camp Adair Sentry, February 11, 1943, 1.

[2] Sherrie Tucker, “‘And, Fellas, They’re American Girls!’: On the Road with the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 16, no. 2/3 (1996): 128-160.

[3] “College women with 1903 Springfield rifles, circa 1943,” Oregon Digital.

[4] “‘Little Colonel’ Candidates Shoot It Out For Honor to Reign Over Military Dance,” Oregon State Barometer, April 30, 1943, 1.

[5] Norman Sholseth, “Pigtails Irksome to Men, Says One With Keen Eye,” Oregon State Barometer, October 24, 1942, 1.

[6] “College Officials Set New Policy For Camp Adair,” Oregon State Barometer, October 23, 1942, 1.

[7] Barbara Martin, “A View of History,” Camp Adair: 50 Years Ago (Dallas, OR: Polk County Museum Association, 1992), 61.

[8] Meghan K. Winchell, “‘To Make the Boys Feel at Home’: USO Senior Hostesses and Gendered Citizenship,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 25, No. 1 (2004), 200.

[9] Marilyn E. Hegarty, Victory Girls, Khaki-Wackies, and Patriotutes: The Regulation of Female Sexuality During World War II (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2010).