Elsie Thomas Culver on shipElsie Thomas Culver, a publicist for church relief services in New York City, packed her camera, hopped on a troop ship to England and then traveled through Europe on a fact finding mission in late 1945.

She writes:

I went avowedly to meet and talk with the common people, to hear their stories, and to let them know, so far as one person could, that the Christian people of America do care what has been happening to them, and want to share their burdens as far as possible by gifts of money and material goods.

Through England, Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia, from September to December, she visited hospitals, schools, relief centers, and wherever reconstruction work was going on, taking hundreds of photographs. The pictures, along with experiences recorded in her journals and letters, capture her unique perspective as an American woman civilian on post World War II Europe.

She remembers:

But such incidents, and the physical discomforts of sitting up all night on the wooden benches of unheated, windowless trains while subsisting on hunks of sour and tough (greaseless) black bread, or being caught in the middle of an angry "demonstration" of the displaced people milling about one of the depots of central Europe, were nothing as compared to the joy of knowing how much it meant, for many persons, to have an American woman, travell1ng pretty much on her own and in civilian attire, drop in on them—just like that—for a friendly call or to start up a casual conversation in the train or at the restaurant. Without in the least having sought the role, I'm sure I represented to some of them Return to Normalcy. And I am glad to be making that contact on behalf of the American ohurch people.

Culver (1898-1988) was a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion and an ordained Congregational minister (1943), one of the few women ministers at the time. She worked as a publicist for the Church Committee on Overseas Relief and Reconstruction during World War II. She was in charge of creating material for fund raising campaigns. This organization later became Church World Service under the National Council of Churches.

This online exhibit features her photographs (there are many more) along with excerpts from her journals and letters and several of her brochures. For additional information on the collection, which consists mostly of photographs taken on her major trips to Europe after World War II and her trip around much of the world in 1948-49, see the finding aid or visit the GTU Archives.

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