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Celebrating Women of the Post-War Era Through Photographs

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The Los Angeles Public Library has been the custodian of the photo collection from the Valley Times newspaper (1946-1970) for over 30 years, since receiving it as part of the donation from the Security Pacific National Bank in 1981. Not much attention had been paid to it since then, except for in 1986 when many of the prints suffered water damage following the devastating Central Library fires. Perhaps at the time of the donation, the scenes depicted in the collection, which document the San Fernando Valley's post-War suburban growth and optimism were not distant enough to be interesting. Or maybe, the many bright and cheery images were too stark a contrast to the social cynicism that eventually set in during the 1970s. However, at this point we are far enough removed from the time to appreciate the crew cuts, civil pride, and culinary treasures (can there really be enough coverage of casseroles?) that permeate the Valley Times photos, along with the seemingly endless parade of social clubs, science fairs, and shopping malls. And so we have finally turned our attention to this long neglected collection.

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Once we dove in and started aggressively organizing and digitizing the images from the Valley Times, we started to discover a few things. For one, the photos themselves are at times exceptionally good and have a very different look and feel from the images in our Herald Examiner collection. Former Valley Times photographer George Brich revealed that the newspaper's staff were the first in the region to use 35mm film. The editors were so impressed with the results that they began advertising their five staff photographers as "five good reasons to read the Valley Times."

Another thing that has become apparent is that while the Valley Times photos do have a picture-perfect 1950s Leave it to Beaver element, they also represent a gradually turning tide of political activism, racial integration, and women's liberation. The latter has become especially obvious as we continuously come across one photo after another portraying women in professional settings.

Musicians, artists, librarians, flight attendants, police sergeants, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, business owners, architects, stock brokers, and physicists are just some of the positions held by women whose accomplishments were captured by the Valley Times cameras. There are also the uniquely "Valley" women such as celebrities like Ann Blythe and Dolores Hope (wife of Bob) who used their time away from movie cameras to be involved in their communities. And let's not forget the pioneers like Frances Muir Pomeroy who's roots were so deeply planted in the San Fernando Valley that she became the region's chief historian and most stalwart preservationist for a number of years. One cannot underestimate the impact a company like Rocketdyne had on the Valley who at one point employed over 2,200 women in positions ranging from secretary to rocket scientist.

The accomplishments of these women have largely been buried in file cabinets for decades, but are now being resurrected through our efforts to digitize the Valley Times collection. This month, a new Central Library exhibit was unveiled highlighting the remarkable women of the Valley Times. "Defining Their Identity: The Changing Roles of Women in the Post-War Era as Documented by the Valley Times," will be on display through the end of the year with a companion catalog available for purchase in person at the Library Store or online through Amazon. All proceeds benefit Photo Friends and their efforts to digitize the Valley Times collection.

Over 6,500 (and counting) images from the Valley Times collection can be view through the Los Angeles Public Library website.