Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society presents ‘WWI: The Home Front-Our Community Takes Action’
On Saturday, Sept. 10, the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society is unveiling its newest exhibit, “WWI: The Home Front-Our Community Takes Action.” This nine-room exhibition examines how and why the U.S. entered World War I and how it impacted communities on Long Island, New York State, and across the country. With photographs, uniforms, newspapers, personal letters, military documents and more, the exhibit tells different stories about the efforts on the home front during the war.
The exhibit is five years in the making. The pandemic prevented progress on the exhibit but allowed Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society to go in-depth with the production and compile more research.
“Since we were able to put more effort into the exhibit, it became very apparent that the real human interest story wasn’t the war, but how everyone pulled together to get us through it,” said Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society President Chris Bain.
Every room has a theme. Starting at one end of the house, the tour takes you through the downstairs section of the Sands-Willets House. The guided tour is about 75 minutes long and takes groups of 10 at a time. About ten minutes are spent in each room, five for the guide to explain the room and five for questions.
“Each room is themed. One might be on the how and why we got into the war in the first place and the next room is mobilizing the draft,” said Bain. “In the course of a few weeks, they drafted over a million men, and all of a sudden, your life changed, everyone’s lives changed.”
The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society has gathered lots of original paperwork for the drafted Port Washington men.
“Pages are there with photographs and lots of names that people on the tour can see,” said Bain. “And even if you’re not from the area, you see how these people are all locals that people knew like your neighbors, shopkeepers and local farmers.”
One of the largest rooms in the front of the house holds many displays detailing the suffragist movement. Because women didn’t have the right to vote and didn’t have the same fundamental rights as men, the suffragist movement began long before WWI. But the mass efforts of women across the country helped the movement progress.
The exhibit highlights the various jobs women did during the war that men previously did.
“You don’t really think about it, but when all the men went off to war, who grew all the crops? The women had to take over the farming role,” said Bain. “The women not only stepped up to the plate and did an amazing job but, statistically, they actually did better.”
The phrase Farmerettes was coined during WWI to describe the women farmers in Port Washington, across Long Island and nationally.
“The fact that the women pulled together to help out is what really convinced President Woodrow Wilson to support the 19th amendment,” said Bain. The 19th amendment, prohibiting the United States from denying citizens their right to vote based on gender, was passed in 1920, shortly after WWI ended in 1918.
In the suffragette’s room, a large timeline is on display to show what was going on throughout the years, which is broken down into what was happening locally, statewide and nationally.
The exhibit continues to showcase the various contributions from organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Long Island Railroad.
“The Long Island Railroad had a canning train that went from town to town to give lessons on how to can goods,” said Bain. “We have a copy of the schedule from newspapers for the women to plan when they would be able to go down to the station and get canning lessons. For the Port line, the train would go to Auburndale, Bayside, and end up in Port Washington.”
The themed rooms dive into details that many never knew. When learning about WWI in school or watching movies and documentaries about the war, everything is usually focused on the war itself and not the contributions from home. The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society made sure to find artifacts, create displays and provide information on many facets of the home front.
“An aspect that is not generally known is that the Germans were mining harbors all up and down the east coast,” said Bain when discussing the various rooms of the tour. “They were blowing up ships and ammunition factories, and we weren’t even in the war yet. But they knew we would join the war, so they started proactively mining harbors and having submarines off the coast of Fire Island. It was a different time.”
In one of the rooms, an extensive panel shows animals used to help during the war with their stories.
“We have the dogs, the cats, the pigeons, the canaries,” said Bane. “[Visitors] can see the dogs and horses wearing gas masks and then we have the gas masks themselves for people to see the real things.”
According to a press release from Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, “visitors can view photographs and artifacts of Port Washington’s Home Defense Force, considered one of the most well-disciplined in the state. Training camps included Port Washington’s Main Street School and Manorhaven’s Locust Grove Pavilion, with military bases in Garden City and Yaphank.”
When going from room to room, a new story from a unique time in the war is told. The very last room of the tour shows everyone who came home from the war.
All the stories told throughout the tour are happening simultaneously, and lots of information is provided. Because of the great detail of the exhibit, the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society will be selling a 160-page color catalog.
“There is so much information in each room, and you can’t possibly take it all in. There just isn’t time,” said Bain. “[The catalog] is good reading. It’s written in an approachable and absorbable way.”
“I think people will leave pretty proud of their fellow countrymen from yesteryear,” said Bain.
The exhibit opens on Sept. 10 and will be open till Oct. 29. Tours are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10:30 a.m. with a $10 entry fee. The exhibit will close in winter and open back in May for the next season.
For more information and tickets, visit cowneck.org, call 516-365-9074, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society is located at the Sands-Willet House, 336 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington, New York.