Colonel Margaret M. Henderson, USMC

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March is Women’s History Month, so with that in mind we’re sharing the story of USMC Colonel Margaret Henderson (whose papers we are fortunate to house) and the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

Faced with manpower shortages in 1918, Marine Major General Commandant George Barnett asked the Secretary of the Navy’s permission to enlist women for clerical duties. That August, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the Marines, with 305 eventually joining in 1918 and taking over stateside clerical duties from battle-ready Marines needed overseas. The women were nicknamed “Marinettes.” The vast majority of USMC Headquarters personnel—almost 85% in fact—were women by the end of World War II. The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was officially established on February 13th, 1943. The MCWR was often referred to as the “Lady Marines.”

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Women held over hundreds of jobs: radio operator, photographer, parachute rigger, driver, aerial gunnery instructor, cook, baker, quartermaster, control tower operator, motion picture operator, auto mechanic, telegraph operator, cryptographer, laundry operator, post exchange manager, stenographer, and agriculturist. Soon they numbered over 800 officers and 17,640 enlisted troops, although by July 1946 only around 1,000 remained in service. Regardless, in 1948 Congress made women a permanent part of the regular Marine Corps, and thousands of active and reserve soldiers served actively in the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf conflicts.

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Margaret M. Henderson was one such Marine. Born in Cameron, Texas, on February 6, 1911, she received a degree in business administration from the University of Texas in 1932, and taught in Lubbock, Texas, until 1942 at which time she enlisted in the USMC. Her career began as a second lieutenant, and although her service officially ended in 1946 so that she could teach at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University), she returned to the Corps in 1948. Ultimately, her time in the Marines spanned 21 years. She reached the pinnacle of her career when she was named the Director of the Women Marines, a post she held from 1959 to 1964.

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If you want to look deeper into Henderson’s papers, our Reference Staff would be happy to help you with that.

You Never Know What You’ll Find…

2AFL1388Each of the thousands of collections housed at the SWC contains its share of unique material, but some are so bizarrely diverse that they deserve a closer look. Take for example the recently-processed Earnest Langley Papers. Earnest Lee Langley, Jr., was born in 1920, which set him up not only to attend Texas Technological College during the 1930s, but also to enlist in the Army following the United States’ entry into World War II. After the war, Earnest graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and subsequently built a prominent West Texas law career. As a result, we have stacks of day books and appoint books, legal documents, and correspondence related to his law practice. But we also have an alarmingly sharp World War II era bayonet!

Depicted in the photo above, this item was found among boxes full of more mundane material. Needless to say, we were surprised (and inordinately excited) to discover it. The blade has since been inventoried among the many other artifacts in his collection…many of which seem equally out of place. langley campfire001For example, several boxes were full of Campfire Girls booklets, pamphlets, uniforms, and t-shirts. Most prominent among the items was this charter incorporating the Hereford Council of Campfire Girls. What did all this have to do with Ernest Langley? Had we confused this with another collection (note: we have never done that.) It was time for research! It turned out that after Langley moved to Hereford, Texas, his wife became an active supporter and leader of the Camp Fire Girls and was integral to their presence in that region. Mystery solved.langley stamps002

In retrospect, maybe the Campfire Girls items weren’t really that odd, but the three linear feet of stamps that we found produced a lot of head-scratching. There were thousands upon thousands of stamps, some loose, some attached, and some cut off of envelopes. In a typical collection you might find evidence of a hobby or two that a person enjoyed, but three boxes packed full of postage is pretty rare. Earnest Langley: philologist!2AFL1393

Finally, we found a simple and unadorned jewelry box. Its piles of lapel pins, most of them Army rank insignias, jived with what we knew about him. Some pins were difficult to identify…until we pulled out the Shriner’s fez (not pictured, sadly) that had been tucked below the jewelry box. A quick survey of his other materials unearthed a box full of papers about his membership in the Masons! Masonic materials are always fascinating, and would probably make for some good reading for interested researchers. Also, the fez is cool (although nobody tried it on, we promise.)

So, after sorting this stuff out, we now knew that Earnest Lee Langley, Jr.: stashed weaponry; helped establish some Panhandle Campfire Girls; loved stamps; and spent his free time practicing Freemasonry. Not pictured are the awards he received from over a dozen state and national law organizations, documentation of his efforts to found a local Methodist Church, and scrapbooks full of wine labels. Oh, and according to a plaque we found, he was also Hereford Citizen of the Year in 1969.

The Earnest Langley Papers were a fun one with which to work. There are other eccentric collections in our stacks as well, and if you’re interested in tracking some down then don’t hesitate to contact our Reference Department.

World War I: Mothers, Sons, and Friendship

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On Monday, November 11th, 2013 the United States again celebrated Veteran’s Day. With this honored holiday in mind, we’d like to tell the story of a unique portion of one of our collections, the Julia Duggan Hart Papers, 1837-1970; specifically, the final folder in its final box.

Sadly, not every soldier’s story ends with his or her safe return to the United States. Such was often the case during World War I, and was certainly so for Julia Duggan Hart. Her son, Lt. Vernon Hart, served in France in 1918. He was slain along with many of his countrymen shortly after his arrival on the Western front. At that time, the U.S. military rarely returned the bodies of its fallen soldiers to their families back home. This ubiquitous obstacle led to the creation of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

Still in existence today, Gold Star Mothers is an organization dedicated to honoring all sons and daughters who have fallen while serving in the U.S. military. On May 28, 1918, President Wilson approved a suggestion made by the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defenses that, instead of wearing traditional mourning for relatives who died in the service of their country, American women should wear a black band on their left arm adorned with a golden star for each family member who had given his life for the nation. In 1936, the organization’s impact had become so great that the U.S. government designated the final Sunday in September “Gold Star Mothers Day.”

Julia Duggan Hart, who was closely involved with organization’s creation, contributed the poem above to Gold Star Mothers in 1928, the same year the organization was formally established. Her connection with this group of other women was a close one, for years earlier she had engaged in a unique quest to both find and return her sons remains to his Texas home. That is the story revealed, document by document, in Mrs. Hart’s papers.

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Julia’s search began through official channels. Lt. Hart’s uncle, Malone Duggan, was a Major in the U.S. Army. At Julia’s request, he asked for any information available about his nephew’s burial site. Lt. Hart’s unit chaplain replied with brief details and coordinates, as seen in the correspondence above. While interesting, the results of this search would evolve beyond a simple bureaucratic investigation and into the poignant tale of two mothers–one French, one American–and the relationship they shared with Lt. Hart, the bond that his death forged between them, and the grieving process of a mother whose child has been taken from her.

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These two documents are a sample of the correspondence and accompanying translation (provided by the U.S. military) between Julia Duggan Hart and Thereze Collinot. Mrs. Collinot was a Frenchwoman at whose home Lt. Hart had lodged just prior to his departure for the front. He had become close friends with the Collinot family, who aside from his fellow soldiers were the last people to see Vernon alive. Mrs. Collinot became instrumental in the U.S. Army’s attempt to identify Vernon’s burial site. As a result of her involvement, Thereze and Julia began to correspond. One of their earliest exchanges, seen below, is the most incredible of this collection.

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Julia Hart knew that she might never retrieve her son’s body. Recognizing this sentiment in their early letters, Thereze Collinot made a pilgrimage to Vernon’s grave. There she took two photos (top and middle left, above) of his gravesite. This simple gesture on Mrs. Collinot’s part created a bond between the two women that would be reflected in their correspondence throughout the ensuing years. Although they eventually moved beyond reminiscences about Vernon and began to share the intimacies of their own lives, Vernon always stood at the center of their relationship.  Through the efforts of the nascent Gold Star Mothers to prompt the government into returning the bodies of fallen soldiers to their families whenever possible, Mrs. Hart would eventually receive the bittersweet gift of burying her son in his home town of San Saba, Texas. The organization provided to her a gold star card (right) acknowledging his sacrifice. After his burial, Julia took a photo of her son’s grave, a duplicate of which she quite possibly included in her correspondence with Thereze.

It is difficult to convey the poignancy of this collection without viewing it in person, but we encourage those interested in doing so to contact our Reference Department to arrange a visit.