Aunt Ethel did not date the cartoons she clipped, so neither can I. But she did paste most of them in her albums in chronological order, so we can tell the approximate date from the event depicted. Where possible, I’ve posted the precise date of the cartoon.
About the newspapers
My great aunt lived all her life in Emporia, Kansas and most of the cartoons she clipped appeared either in the Emporia Gazette, the Kansas City Star or the long-defunct Kansas City Journal. The Kansas City Star had it’s own talented cartoonist, S.J. Ray, but also ran cartoons it received over the wire from newspapers throughout the country, as well as from England and even Australia. More than 40 U.S. newspapers, many of them now gone, are represented in her collection.
About the cartoonists
The cartoonists run the gamut from Pulitzer Prize winners to obscure but surprisingly talented cartoonists with small and medium size papers. I attribute cartoons to their source wherever possible, but some cartoons do not have legible signatures. If you can fill in any blanks, please let me know. In the process of building this site, I collected a fair amount of biographical information on most of the cartoonists. I hope to add this information in the future. Meantime, if you want information on a particular cartoonist, I’m happy to share what I have.
A list of the cartoonists featured on this site appears on the Welcome page.
About this project
This website is a work in progress and new cartoons will be added as time permits and if there is sufficient interest. My initial goal has been to post one or more cartoons for each month of the war years 1941 through 1945. With more than 3,000 cartoons to choose from, the challenge of picking the most interesting or pertinent has been daunting. If there is a particular military, political or societal event of World War II that you would like to see depicted, let me know. Chances are there’s a cartoon about it in Aunt Ethel’s War. You can email me from the Welcome page.
About the collection
My first memory of Aunt Ethel’s enormous collection of old cartoons is as a small boy in the late 1940’s and early ‘50s. My brother John and I would visit her quiet home on Cottonwood Street in Emporia, Kansas where she would invite us to look through the large black photo albums always sitting on a table in her parlor. I would peer at the strange and often frightening cartoons but never comprehended what they represented. I knew they had to do with a great event, a great war, but even then, only a few years after it’s conclusion, World War II was ancient history and of little interest to a young farm boy in Kansas. I remember our aunt talking to us about the war — it’s great battles, sorrows, tragedies, defeats and victories, and how the cartoons told the story of the war. We were polite boys and listened, but I’m sure Aunt Ethel sensed our overwhelming lack of interest.
Years passed, my brother and cousins and I grew up, married, had families and busy lives. And Aunt Ethel remained…well, Aunt Ethel, living her quiet simple life in Emporia, a family fixture at holiday gatherings, always with a quizzical smile on her face, a bemused spectator of the commotion around her. She aged gracefully and passed away at age 89 in 1975.
A few years before her death, Aunt Ethel gave her cartoon collection to my first cousin, Dan Lumley. It was a logical choice. His father, my uncle, served in World War II and one of my aunt’s motivations for starting her collection was to document the war for him. Also my cousin, a history buff and a high school educator, was far more interested in the collection than the rest of us nephews.
My cousin valued the collection and used the cartoons for various educational purposes. But preserving 743 pages of half-century-old newsprint is not easy, and time was taking its toll on the collection. The album pages were becoming extremely brittle and in danger of turning to dust. And too, my cousin felt the collection deserved more recognition than just being an interesting family artifact. In 1997 he donated the collection to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas where library officials described it as a one-of-a-kind national treasure. Today the original albums are preserved in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, part of the library’s 23 million pages of materials relating to Eisenhower. (See letter below).
A few years ago I visited the Eisenhower Library to take one more look at my great aunt’s curious cartoon collection. This time they grabbed me. I decided the cartoons deserved a far wider audience than they had ever received. The internet is the perfect vehicle for this. The Library carefully photocopied every page of the five large albums for me, and it is those reproductions that have been scanned for this website. I am indebted to my son Jim Rice for constructing this site for me.
My great aunt could never have imagined that someday her collection would be available to a worldwide audience, but I remember her well enough to believe that, with a bemused smile, she would heartily approve.
About the selections
The cartoons on this website have gone through three filters. First, they are the choice of the editors of the newspapers my aunt regularly read. Secondly, they are only the ones Aunt Ethel chose to clip and paste, probably because they struck her as especially poignant, humorous, or in line with her own political persuasions. Finally, I narrowed the selection to only cartoons that would reproduce fairly well and, in my opinion, have stood the test of time and would be pertinent 70 years after World War II.
Many of the cartoons dealing with politics are as contemporary today as they were back then. They could run in tomorrow’s newspaper and fit right in. But many others are far from politically correct by today’s standards, and there are many omissions. For example, not one cartoon in my aunt’s entire collection shows an African American or Native American in military uniform.
Only one cartoon depicts a black person at all, and that is as a railroad porter.
There are no cartoons showing women in uniform, although a few pay tribute to Red Cross nurses. A few cartoons show women as factory or farm workers, but none really pay tribute to the enormous role women played in supplying our fighting forces with the weapons and food they needed for victory.
Only three cartoons make any reference to the internment of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during the war, and then only indirectly and with no sympathy shown to the victims of this injustice. There is no depiction of U.S. soldiers of Japanese ancestry, although the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, consisting of Japanese American volunteers, has been recognized as the most decorated fighting unit in United States military history.
Should apologies be made now for slights, oversights and injustices of 70 years ago? Will we be apologizing 70 years from now for the political cartoons of today? Aunt Ethel made no apologies. She was not a social critic, simply a chronicler of her world and her time through an art form that apparently spoke to her, the political cartoon. In her quiet parlor or her kitchen table, for five long years, she simply clipped and pasted what she saw and felt. It was, after all, Aunt Ethel’s war.