Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: The Path to My Future from the Past

Dorothy Riggle and friends at WASP training in the 1940s.


Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: The Path to My Future from the Past

Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

History has a way of being a very impersonal subject, concerned with dates and key figures. However, once I started interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I began to understand how personal history can be, as I uncovered people’s stories and the lives they lived.

Working at this museum, I was able to work on a variety of tasks. I helped prepare the museum for events, collected artifacts from donors, and catalogued artifacts into an updated system. The task that struck me the most was being able to analyze the artifacts that came in. Besides cataloguing them, I learned more importantly about the owner’s life and their experiences.

One of the most interesting people I researched was a woman named Dorothy Riggle. She joined the military during WWII and decided to pursue a career in this sector. Unfortunately she suffered a nervous breakdown, due to stress and overwork, and was discharged. She spent the rest of her life trying to gain recognition for her struggles while highlighting the harassment she suffered while in the military. Reading over her countless letters to senators, congressmen, and even the U.S. Vice President, I was able to gain so much information about her life and her struggles. She kept such a vigorous record of her life, from her days at the university and into her elderly years, allowing me to examine every element of her life. When I was finished reading and looking at the artifacts, it almost felt as if she was a friend.

After analyzing all of her artifacts, I wrote a biography on her life for the museum which they hope to post online. Riggle is a relatively unknown figure, yet her story is just as rich as any significant person’s in history. By interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I was able to uncover a life that is pertinent to today’s fight for marginalized individuals. Her challenges in the military around gender discrimination and mental illness during the 1940s and 1950s are topics often left undiscussed, and I am proud that her story will be told one day.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here