By Darwin Manning
Grinnell students interested in volunteering have a new and exciting option available. Last semester, Emily Hackman ’16 and Sarah Henderson ’16 reached out to the Fort Des Moines Museum looking for a way to get students involved. What resulted was Cruise to the Muse, a student group that facilitates Grinnellians volunteering at the museum to work on an archival project.
“We [explored] a few different resources for volunteering at a museum. Finally, [Career Development Office Community Service Coordinator] Susan Sanning brought this idea to us and told us she could provide us with the funds for transportation needs,” Henderson said. “So we really latched on to the idea and … now it’s finally becoming a reality.”
The fort, constructed in 1901, graduated the first African-American officer candidate class in U.S. history in 1917 while also serving as the training facilities for the first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. The museum is dedicated to commemorating these historic moments.
Hackman and Henderson communicated with museum Executive Director Michael Kates to develop a volunteer program, settling on a project that would create an archive of biographical information about the officer class of 1917, as well as eventually female African-American officers from World War II.
“We found that many went on to become civil rights leaders in their communities,” Kates said. “So we want to document what happened to these men after they left the U.S. army.”
One of these influential individuals was Charles Hamilton Houston. A successful lawyer and civil rights activist, he worked on abolishing Jim Crow Laws, eventually becoming a mentor to legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The work on the project will be completed in partnership with the National Archives Trust based out of Washington D.C. and the U.S. military. The hope is to gather an easily accessible collection of information that might even answer some questions people had about their own ancestry.
“For instance, if your grandfather served, but you didn’t know anything about him, this will help,” Kates said.
The project can be seen as a continuation of the leaders’ academic interests: Anderson plans to declare an anthropology major, while Hackman intends to major in history. Henderson also has experience in a museum setting, having worked at several museums in Iowa City. Still, she sees this opportunity as unique because of the academic focus of her work.
“I have been working at museums for two years now and it’s a career goal that I see in the future,” Henderson said. “Now I am looking to step up my game and do something more academic.”
The two organizers spent ample time finding an institutional partner that would truly fit what they were looking for, contacting ten museums before settling on the Fort Des Moines Museum. They are looking for students who would be able to demonstrate a similar level of exuberance.
“We’re asking our volunteers to make this a commitment,” Hackman said. “It’s not the sort of thing where you come once and you don’t show up again.”
To this end, Hackman and Henderson have targeted mainly History and Anthropology students. They have also reached out to students through faculty, including History professors Matthew Johnson, George Drake and Kelly Maynard, and Monessa Cummins, Classics. Despite the focused recruitment efforts, the group is open to all interested students. The group is still inviting new members, but will need to ensure that they have enough drivers for transportation to and from the Des Moines location.
“We are not limited in the number of students that we can take, because they need all the help they can get,” Henderson said. “The limits will be on our end [because] at the moment we have one student driver.”
Having worked with Grinnell students before, Kates couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity offered by Cruise to the Muse.
“I have found Grinnell students to be some of the most analytical and inquisitive students, and have been impressed by their ability to put together information very quickly,” Kates said. “It will be a joy again to work with them.”
Students interested in getting involved with Cruise to the Muse should contact Hackman or Henderson at [hackmane] and [henderso1], respectively.