Friday, May 24, 2019


by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

There’s an urban legend that attempts to explain why tombstones for Confederate soldiers come to a point at the top rather than being curved like those used for Union soldiers. The story goes something along the line of ‘not wanting Union soldiers to sit on their gravestones, the top of Confederate headstones come to a center point.’
Confederate tombstones, Woodlawn National Cemetery
It makes a great story, but after various searches and even asking questions of Woodlawn National Cemetery staff, the most confirmation I could get is a non-committal shrug.
Union tombstones, Woodlawn National Cemetery

Taking classes from Fassett Elementary School on recent tours through Woodlawn Cemetery, adjacent to Woodlawn National Cemetery, we looked at gravesites for a few prominent local people. We visited stones for Alexander Diven and his family, for Samuel Clemens and his family, a vault for the Arnot family, and the Firefighters memorial area. While some of the students recognized schools, streets and buildings named after these people, most of their curiosity and questions focused on the physical features of the cemetery. We compared noticeable differences between individual headstones, family markers, and vaults.
Woodlawn Cemetery, May 2019
Chartered by the state and established as a cemetery in 1858, Woodlawn covers 184 acres. In October 2004, it was added to the National Registry of Historic places. While the two cemeteries were once one, Woodlawn National Cemetery was separated off in response to a federal decree in the mid-1800s, that burial places be set aside to recognize Civil War battle dead. This included soldiers that died in battle, prison camps, and hospitals. Today, Woodlawn National Cemetery stands in stark visual contrast to Woodlawn Cemetery. The markers are in tight rows, and almost identical. Here too, only eligible military are laid to rest. The cemetery is part of the National Cemetery system run by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, National Cemetery Administration. While Woodlawn National Cemetery doesn’t accept burials anymore, if anyone who qualifies wants to be interred, that’s still possible. There are 136 National Cemeteries in the nation. Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. was established in 1865 and remains one of the most well-known.

Notable in Woodlawn National Cemetery are the Confederate soldiers’ graves, those headstones that come to a point at the top. There are almost 3,000 of these in military formation. The majority of these soldiers died at the nearby Elmira Prison Camp during 1864-1865, due to disease, poor hygiene, inadequate food, bad care or insufficient clothing. They were buried by John W. Jones, a man who took such good records that after the war, when it came time to identify the buried soldiers, his notes provided accurate names and dates.
John W. Jones, 1817 - 1900
Losing the war and legally defeating slavery, the Nation still chose to respect all fallen soldiers despite their allegiance. 150 years later, the pointed and curved headstones blur together in the cemetery. The rows of mainly white headstones stand at silent attention, and as one young student observed, they’re lined up like soldiers. 

Memorial Day is a day to remember those that died in service to their country. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially sanctioned by Congress as a national holiday observed on the last Monday of every May. It was thought to be connected to Decoration Day. This was a day, established three years after the Civil War, set aside to decorate the graves of war dead with spring flowers. Waterloo, New York, less than two hours from the museum, has been recognized as having one of the first formal Memorial Day ceremonies in 1866, when local businesses closed to observe a day of remembrance.  

It is predicted that over the Memorial Day weekend, more than 135,000 people will visit Arlington National Cemetery near our nation’s capital, and tradition dictates the United States President or Vice President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Federation Farm

by Erin Doane, Curator

Federation Farm was a residential treatments center for children who were undernourished, anemic, or had been exposed to tuberculosis. The farmhouse, located on six acres of land on Hoffman Street in Elmira, opened its doors on April 14, 1917. Creation of the farm was spearheaded by two members of the Women’s Federation of Social Services, Mrs. John M. Connelly and Mrs. Thomas Fitzgerald. They were able to purchase the farm property with money from the sale of Red Cross seals and a donation from Mrs. J. Sloat Fassett.

Federation Farm
Tuberculosis was a major problem in the early 1900s. The disease mainly affects the lungs and is spread through the air from one person to another. Crowded living conditions and poor hygiene could increase rates of infection. The purpose of the Federation Farm was to help prevent the spread of the disease by removing children from poor conditions and building up their health. It was estimated that it would cost six times as much to treat and care for someone with tuberculosis as to prevent its onset through good nutrition and a healthy outdoor environment. Children between the ages of five and twelve in homes where there had been cases of tuberculosis were recommended for treatment at the farm with no cost to the families.

Children playing at Federation Farm
Federation Farm was seen as an ideal place for children to gain weight and build up their health. Situated on the outskirts of the city, there was plenty of open space and fresh air. Skinny, pale children would be kept at the farm fulltime from as little as a month to up to two years until they were robust and healthy. Physicians examined the children when they first arrived and continued treating them throughout their stay. Parents were allowed to visit on weekends but otherwise the children were under the full charge of the matron. Most of their time was spent outdoors, playing and helping in the garden or with the chickens. A teacher appointed by the Elmira City School District came daily to teach lessons on the porch.

A class on the porch
When the farm first opened in 1917, it could accommodate 12 children. Before any of them arrived, the public was invited to tour the home. It was reported that the children would enjoy the most modern conveniences including electric lights, a water heater, and a hot air furnace. The bedrooms on the first floor for the girls and second floor for the boys were all prettily decorated with blue checkered blankets on the beds. There were also sleeping porches. They were sure to benefit from the wholesome environment and five healthy meals a day.

Children helping in the garden
The Federation Farm operated entirely on donations – both money and materials. Toys, books, ice skates, canned fruit and vegetables, and even the beds that the children slept in were all donated. Proceeds from the sale of Christmas seals by the Red Cross went to keeping the farm operating and donations from private individuals and organizations were solicited to meet deficits.

The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs held
fundraisers to help support Federation
Farm throughout the 1920s
While many people contributed to keep the farm open, it perpetually struggled to find funding. It was close to shutting down in 1919 before New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith helped push the sale of Christmas Seals, its main source of revenue. In 1927, the Exchange Club in Elmira held an emergency vote and decided to finance the farm to keep it from closing due to lack of funds. Later that year, the Chemung County Board of Supervisors voted to take over management. With the county in control, tax dollars were then used to fund operations and maintenance. The farm became known as the Chemung County Preventorium and was placed under the same management as the Chemung County Sanatorium.

By 1940, the number of children being treated at the farm had dropped significantly. Over the years, hundreds of children had been treated there. In 1926 alone, 49 children had been in residence and 143 medical treatments and operations of various kinds were provided. In his statement to the Board of Supervisors in November of that year, Dr. Arthur W. Booth reported that only eight patients remained on the farm. With reluctance, he recommended that the Preventorium discontinue its activities and he submitted no budget for the next year. Parents took the last children home after a Christmas party on December 18, 1940. In 1943, the building was razed and the property became part of the federal housing project that was built to accommodate workers in the local wartime defense industries.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Land Girls and Farmerettes

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

When Mrs. Louise T. Roberts of the New York State Food Commission proposed it in the spring of 1918, people were skeptical. College girls working on local farms? That’s crazy talk. There was no way they could work as well as men. Luckily for area farms, the skeptics were wrong.

Following America’s entry into World War I in April 1917, there were massive labor shortages in all fields. The civilian group, the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) proposed to replace the missing men with college girls, school teachers, and other women with seasonal jobs or ones which allowed for summer vacations. The idea was modeled after the British Woman’s Land Army. The state branches of the WLAA worked closely with local colleges to recruit and train young women who would be assigned to work certain farms. The women were known as farmerettes. 

Elmira College Farmerettes at a farm on Canton Avenue

In the spring and summer of 1918, Elmira College sponsored a series of farmerette work camps throughout the Southern Tier. Each camp consisted of between 10 and 30 girls, plus a full-time cook/housekeeper. The first two work units were established in Horseheads and Southport in late May before the end of the semester and the girls who signed up were exempted from having to take exams as long as they agreed to work the land for at least six weeks. Over the course of the summer, Elmira College students established additional work camps in Hector and near Binghamton. Each camp was self-governing and at least one ended up producing their own book of work songs. 

Elmira College students Misses Wallace, Farnham, Reed, & McNamara start their work in Birmingham, June 1918

Elmira College farmerettes learned to plow and drive tractors. They planted and harvested tobacco, oats, potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. Girls stationed near Germantown, New York, harvested cherries while the ones in Hector picked grapes. They were paid $3 a week, a wage comparable to most male farm hands. 

Farm owners were surprised to find themselves pleased with the quality of the girls’ work. Several area farmers wrote to Mrs. Roberts with their thoughts on the program.

“Your letter at hand and would state in reply, asking about our opinion in regard to girl labor, that it worked finely. We have mostly employed man labor before this year and always with some dissatisfaction, drink habit being the worst. The girls all seemed eager to work and they certainly picked the fruit well and cleaned up every tree in good shape, a thing the men never did. It is our first experience with girls and we were well pleased and look to having them another year.
                                                                            --Henry Sheffer, North Germantown, N.Y.

“Your letter of July 19th at hand. In regard to girl labor, we care convinced that they have been the greatest assistance to us in harvesting the cherry crop. They did a great deal better than we expected as this is our first experience. They picked their fruit in better condition than the average foreigners, that is they did not pull off the stems or fill their baskets with leaves. The girls picked about 2,000 baskets of the crop. We hope to have a larger and better camp next season if you of the Food Commission are able to provide help
                                                                                                                              –Peter Fingar

Despite the end of the war, the Woman’s Land Army of New York did place college girls on farms in the summer of 1919. By April 1919, over 400 girls had already been recruited.