“A Female Sanctuary on the Former Western Front: The Gold Star Pilgrimage Rest Houses in France, 1930-33.” Buildings & Landscapes: The Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Spring 2016): 52-77.
Photo credit: National Archives, College Park
The U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps erected temporary rest houses for the Gold Star Mothers and Widows Pilgrimages at the military cemeteries of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) in France between 1930 and 1933. The army intended the architecture of the rest houses to be familiar to the pilgrims and to provide them with a female place of comfort and respite. The decision to create the rest houses demonstrated the government’s desire to include women in the commemoration of World War I, yet its choice to demolish them at the end of the pilgrimage program indicates the constrained role of women in that process. By virtue of their appearance and short life, the rest houses’ style, form, and temporary nature reveal the limitations on women’s participation in commemoration and military culture during the interwar period. The rest houses separated the pilgrims into their own female space, carefully crafted and controlled by male military leaders. Their destruction erased the story of the female pilgrims from the visible commemorative narrative at the cemeteries. Unearthing the history of these structures restores the rest houses and the agency of American women to the larger narrative of interwar American commemorative culture.