Look T - Major Kate Hopwood Kinnee Payne
Major Kate Hopwood Payne (1914 - 2008) joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942, shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the formation of the women’s branch known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Maj. Payne completed her officer training at Smith College and worked on degaussing projects during the war. Her work involved developing electromagnetic coils for U.S. naval ships, which would keep the ships from triggering German naval mines. Maj. Payne’s work saved many lives, but her first husband did not survive the war: Major Dale Kinnee was a POW and killed while leading an escape (he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart). She later married Army Air Corps officer John D. Payne and in 1947 the two transferred into the U.S. Air Force Reserves, until their retirements (his in 1964, and hers in 1966).
Josephine Ogden Forrestal, a former fashion editor at American Vogue and wife of the undersecretary of the U.S. Navy, “was central to the creation of the WAVES’ public image,” says historian Shoshana Resnikoff (2012, p. 64). Forrestal approached American couturier Mainbocher and asked him to design the WAVES uniform, reportedly saying “Main, why don’t you design a uniform for the women’s Navy? After all, nothing is too good for our girls” (Resnikoff, 2012, p. 63). The “uniform suite” consisted of blue wool service dress, white service dress, and a gray and white seersucker working uniform. Slacks were introduced in 1943. Stylish and fashionable, the uniform was considered a recruitment tool and by 1945 over 86,000 women were enlisted and wearing WAVES uniforms.
After retiring from the military, Maj. Payne and her husband Col. John D. Payne began a new chapter in their lives. "These two military officers, with distinguished careers in wartime and in the cold war, seem to have turned on a dime," Payne's obituary reads. “Throughout the remainder of the 1960s and for the rest of their lives, they devoted themselves to helping others, seeking ways to end suffering, supporting sustainability, protecting the planet, and to bringing peace to all people” (Payne, 2008, para. 15). In the 1970s they joined with Mabel DeMotte Beggs to establish the Foundation of Light in Ithaca, NY, “an ecumenical Free Church dedicated to propagating the ancient wisdom that underlies all the world's great religions” (Payne, 2008, para. 2).
Maj. Payne traveled the world to collect and create a library of over 6,000 volumes on the spiritual, healing, and practical arts. She brought “the academy” to the people of Ithaca by making her library available through the Foundation of Light. She spent the remainder of her life dedicated to education: building her public library and sharing her spiritual wisdom to help others with self-healing.
Look U - Martha Van Rensselaer
Martha Van Rensselaer (1864 – 1932) grew up in a family that supported women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. In her early career, Rensselaer served as a schoolteacher and the elected commissioner of Cattaraugus County, New York. In 1900 Liberty Hyde Bailey invited her to begin a distance education course at Cornell University, which would serve rural women in New York State. The success of this program, which was noted by Susan B. Anthony among others, influenced the university’s decision to hire Flora Rose and begin a formalized program in Home Economics. The two women co-founded the Department of Home Economics, which would later become of the College of Home Economics (in 1925), and eventually the College of Human Ecology (in 1969).
They were known collectively as “Miss Van Rose” and cohabitated in a “Boston Marriage” from 1908 until Rensselaer’s death in 1932 (Elias, 2006, p. 70). Van Rensselaer and Rose were both actively involved in service activities during World War I and Van Rensselaer directed the Home Conservation Division of the United States Food Administration. Shortly after World War I, Van Rensselaer amassed a large collection of books and presented them to the libraries of Belgium, which had been destroyed during the war.
Van Rensselaer and Rose traveled to Belgium in 1923: Rose conducted a nutritional survey of nearly 5,000 Belgian children and teens and Van Rensselaer visited local schools in order to develop recommendations for education efforts, particularly in the field of home economics.
They were presented with six medals in recognition of their work, and Van Rensselaer wore this gray satin dress on the day she met Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of Belgium. A fashion emergency of sorts occurred in the days leading up to meeting the Queen: Van Rensselaer realized that she did not have shoes to match her dress. Flora Rose came to the rescue and took to the streets of Belgium on a shopping mission and found these gray suede beaded shoes to match Van Rensselaer’s dress.
Look V - Dr. Eulanda A. Sanders
This ensemble represents two powerful women: Dr. Eulanda A. Sanders and Josephine Baker. Dr. Sanders is a pioneer in the field of fashion design scholarship and in 2017 became the first African American female department chair at Iowa State University. As a department chair, Dr. Sanders is honored and proud to serve academia and support faculty and students’ success. She created (and modeled) this design as part of her Master’s thesis in 1994: she innovated with computer-aided design by using animation software to create the garment pattern, to hand-knit, in the stockinette stitch, a representation of Josephine Baker’s face onto the dress.
Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) was an important activist and civil rights advocate who used her position as a prominent entertainer in France to help the French Resistance during WWII. Later, when she traveled to perform in the United States, she refused to appear before segregated audiences. She also worked with the NAACP and spoke alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington.
Baker’s activism against racism and prejudice extended into her personal life as well, which resulted in a complicated family relationship. Baker adopted twelve racially diverse children from around the world to form what she called a “Rainbow Tribe”. These children were made to walk, talk, and dress as specific ethnic representations, occasionally for paying spectators. As a multiracial family they were supposed to portray Baker’s belief in the possibility of racial equality and civil rights, but this experiment was a mixed experience for the children involved (Guterl, 2014).
Baker’s life, and her rise to fame during the Art Deco design period inspired Sanders to create the dress. Sanders acknowledged Baker as role model, both for her talent and activism, and according to Dr. Sanders the dress design “was my way to honor her.” Through their creative expression, both women have elevated and empowered women of color across the globe.