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Navy Lieutenant Commander Dorothy Ryan checks a patient’s medical chart aboard the hospital ship USS Repose, off South Vietnam, April 1966. National Archives, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps


Submarine builder at Electric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut, by Fenno Jacobs, August 1943. National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Navy

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The Way We Worked

Smithsonian traveling exhibition through May 18

Check out The Way You Worked - selections from photos and stories contributed by the local community.

With their hands and minds hard at work and sweat on their brows, American workers perform a diverse array of jobs to power our society. Whether we work for professional satisfaction and personal growth or to ensure the well-being of ourselves and our families, work is a part of nearly every American’s life.

Office workers, factory workers, homemakers, truckers, soldiers and the millions more who keep the nation going through their work make great contributions not only to industry, but also to American culture. 

Museum L-A explores the professions and the people that sustain American society when it hosts The Way We Worked, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition through May 18, 2013.

The Way We Worked exhibition focuses on why we work and the needs that our jobs fulfill. Our work takes place everywhere – on the land, on the streets of our communities, in offices and factories, in our homes, and even in space. An exploration of the tools and technologies that enabled and assisted workers also reveals how workers sometimes found themselves with better tools, but also with faster, more complex and often more stressful work environments.

Because there were so many working musicians in Lewiston-Auburn, the area had its own chapter of The American Federation of Musicians, #409. In 1940 there were 400 members of the Lewiston chapter. The union set up a recording and transcription fund in 1942 and 1943 which was made up of a small percentage of the money made from each record sale. By the end of 1948, the fund had handled more than $4,000,000. That money was designated “to provide music for any cause deemed worthy in the eyes of the executive committee.” As a result, the American Federation of Musicians’ Lewiston chapter offered multiple music programs to the public at no cost. In this photo George Fenton and his Orchestra play a fundraiser at the Lewiston Armory in the 1940s.

The diversity of the American workforce is one of its strengths, providing an opportunity to explore how people of all races and ethnicities identified commonalities and worked to knock down barriers in the professional world. And, finally, the exhibition shows how we identify with work – as individuals and as communities. Whether you live in “Steel Town, USA” or wear a uniform each day, work assigns cultural meanings and puts us and our communities in a larger context. 

The exhibition offers multiple interpretive opportunities for visitors through large graphics, along with relevant objects and work clothing. Through audio components, hear from workers their own stories about with changes in their industries and confronting workplace challenges. Follow workers into their workplaces through films of various industries. Interactive components introduce visitors to the experiences of multiple generations of families involved in the same work.

To connect the local scene with the national exhibit, the Museum showcases how music in Lewiston-Auburn was an important industry as well as how the types of work, dress codes, work tools and technology changed over time. Also, textile artist and colorist Fransje Killaars represented the occupation of “Artist” with an exhibition at Museum L-A and The Bates College Museum of Art from Jan. 26 through March 23. The Amsterdam-based artist created  several installations at Museum L-A and incorporated vintage Bates Manufacturing bedspreads once woven in the exhibition space.

The Way We Worked is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and is adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives and Records Administration. Historic New England is partnering with SITES for their Museum on Main Street initiative to host this exhibition across New England and has asked Museum L-A to host the exhibit. Museum on Main Street (MOMs) is a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations.Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress. Museum L-A is working with the Maine Humanities Council to bring this exhibit to the state of Maine. 


Special Exhibit Materials

For The Classroom

Videos from Museum on Main Street