News Releases

National Postal Museum Opens Exhibition Commemorating the Centennial of First World War

Explores Firsthand Accounts of Love, Longing and Loss

April 6, 2017

“My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I,” opened today, April 6, at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition, commemorating the centennial of the First World War, explores America’s role in the war through the unique lens of personal correspondence written by Americans at the front and their loved ones at home. It is open through Nov. 29, 2018.

Created by the National Postal Museum in collaboration with the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., “My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I” features objects from the museum’s collection and material on loan from several institutions and private collections, including original correspondence from the Center for American War Letters. Several artifacts will be on public view for the very first time.

Letters humanize the enormity of war and the sacrifices it demands of military personnel, their family members and communities. As the primary method of communication 100 years ago, letters sustained profound personal connections throughout the international conflict. Four million Americans served during this unprecedented conflict that brought the United States onto the world stage; raised complex questions about gender, race and ethnic relations; ushered in the modern era; and continues to shape the world.

“This incomparable selection of wartime correspondence illuminates the thoughts and emotions of the authors as they grapple with the effects of World War I,” said Lynn Heidelbaugh, the exhibition’s curator. “The experience of sending and receiving letters resonates with us on an emotional level, and reading these firsthand accounts helps make the history relatable today.”

Included in the exhibition are letters by Gen. John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces and someone who understood the power of the medium. In his famously public letter at the end of the war, he thanked every member of the American Expeditionary Forces for their bravery and service. That letter begins, “My fellow soldiers,” and expressed his appreciation of the service members under his command. He wrote, “As an individual, your part in the world war has been an important one in the sum total of our achievements.”

The exhibition encourages visitors to explore the firsthand accounts of love, longing and loss and to reflect on the power of communication. A special website augments the exhibition as well, providing additional access to the rich content presented.

This exhibition is made possible, in part, through the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

About the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000 or visit the museum website at www.postalmuseum.si.edu.

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SI-186-2017

Media only  
Marty Emery
(202) 633-5518 
emerym@si.edu

WWI soldiers mailing letters at Red Cross station
Related photos: 

WWI Centennial

Preprinted postcard

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Postcard with pre-printed message for the military to send home

Many charitable organizations supplied stationery to encourage military service personnel to write to family and friends. Stewart C. Lockhart with AEF Medical Unit 60 sent this card to Mrs. Nellie Bailey in October 1918.

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Related photos: 

WWI Centennial

postcard with portrait pf Pershing

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

General John J. Pershing’s portrait on a World War I postcard

At the end of the war, General John J. Pershing—commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF)—wrote a letter of appreciation to the members of the AEF, and that letter begins “My Fellow Soldiers.”

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Related photos: 

WWI Centennial

Red Cross postcard of soldiers

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

American Red Cross photo postcard with soldiers sending mail

Military service personnel deployed to the front lines sent over 15 million letters home during just the first year after the United States entered World War I.

Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Related photos: 

WWI Centennial

Nurse writing a letter for wounded soldier

Courtesy National Archives, Washington, DC

American aid worker writing a letter for a wounded soldier, France, 1918

Courtesy National Archives, Washington, DC

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WWI Centennial

Handwritten letter

Courtesy Center for American War Letters Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, CA

Miss Irene Donnelly’s letter to her sweetheart Private Charles Eggeling

Irene Donnelly decorated this patriotic stationery with a blue star signifying her sweetheart's deployment. She began this letter on November 7, 1918 in celebration of the news that the war had ended, however, the official ceasefire was not signed until November 11, 1918.

Related photos: 

WWI Centennial

Letter with X mark

Courtesy National Archives, Washington, DC

German censor’s chemical testing marks on the July 23, 1918 letter sent by American humanitarian aid worker Conrad Hoffmann Jr. to his wife Louise

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WWI Centennial: Gallery

Photo of exhibit gallery wall

Juan Carlos Briceño

My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I gallery

Photo by Juan Carlos Briceño

Related photos: 

WWI Centennial: Gallery

Photo of exhibition gallery

Juan Carlos Briceño

My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I gallery

Photo by Juan Carlos Briceño



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