Nellie Windsor is the woman standing underneath the pointing arrow, one of the women involved with the American Women’s Voluntary Service in Montauk. It was important to AWVS members, like other female volunteers in organizations such as the Red Cross and the Office for Civil Defense, to participate in the war effort.
Throughout World War II, writes Emily Yellin in her 2004 book Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, “more than 325,000 women volunteers were trained by and worked through the AWVS in such jobs as driving ambulances, operating mobile kitchens, selling war bonds, working in canteens,” etc. In addition, in coastal communities it was often the women who served as air raid wardens, who scanned the sky and sea for suspicious aircraft and marine vessels.
In this particular photograph donated to the archives by Peg Winski, the Montauk AWVS members are packaging Christmas gifts for soldiers abroad. Identified from left to right are Lottie Pospisil and Mary Smith, both seated; Nydia Bruno and Jane Duryea standing behind Mary Smith; Nellie Windsor looking at the camera, and next to her, Lena Sears, Fran Parsons, and Dorothy Conway. The archives contains other photos of these same Montauk AWVS volunteers running stretchers, driving ambulances, and changing tires.
The AWVS was founded in 1940, inspired by the British organization with the same name whose goal was to prepare cities for attack. Sadly, the American AWVS was often ridiculed in the press for being an “alarmist” group of “frivolous” women, although that perception changed after Pearl Harbor. Ultimately, 350 branches were set up across the nation by women who answered an inner call to do their part for the boys overseas.
Hardly frivolous, and very serious, the AWVS is a proud part of Montauk’s military heritage.