Meet the WWI women who pretended to be rocks for the war effort

The Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps were a group of 40 woman artists from NYC and Philadelphia ("in perfect physical condition") who devised camouflage systems for fighters and materiel during WWI, testing their theories by hiding in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx -- where the local cops grew accustomed to having seeming rocks and trees spring to life as they passed.

There was little known about the corps until 42 photos of them were discovered by Richard Green as he was undertaking a digitization for the National Archives. Green documents the way that the corps' camouflage work grew to encompass large scale dazzle camouflage projects, including "an ambulance and a tank on the steps of the New York Public Library, and a War Savings Stamps Booth at the intersection of Broadway and 43rd Street" and culminating with "a full ship, the USS Recruit, in the middle of Union Square."

Allied forces used camouflage in two very distinct ways during in World War I. The first, and more traditional way, was designed to conceal a soldier in their environment. The “rock suit,” for instance, was designed to keep the wearer safe from detection at a distance of ten feet. Similarly, the “observation suit” was designed so the wearer could blend in with the sky, and when needed, turn the suit inside out to blend in with snow and ice. Female students studied the environment, and apparently tested the suits, in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park before joining the Allied forces in France.

Hidden Women: The Art of WWI Camouflage (Photos) [Richard Green/National Archives]

Why Women Pretended to Be Creepy Rocks and Trees in NYC Parks During WWI [Lauren Young/Atlas Obscura]

(via Kottke)

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