In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.
Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.
Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.
Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).
In this week’s letter, Forrest gives Ava advice for dealing with boys: “Please believe me there, little sweetheart – be the good–pal sort of girl, a “tomboy” if you like, for all boys love that type, but let them see ‘Hand off,’ and that you mean it. You may think you will have fewer friends, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Thursday March 21, 1918.
Well what do you think of the hair? I let it grow about as long as the law will allow, and now nearly all of it will come off or the “cooties” will get me if I don’t watch out.
Now Marie don’t judge boys too harshly. You will find that your boy friends will be just what you make them. No matter what a boy may apparently think of you, he will, way down in his heart, respect you all the more for being a sweet, clean-hearted girl. Please believe me there, little sweetheart – be the good–pal sort of girl, a “tomboy” if you like, for all boys love that type, but let them see “Hand off,” and that you mean it. You may think you will have fewer friends, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not giving you any purely personal opinion of my own.
For the last eight months I have heard men of different types and character discuss “Girls.” (Lots of times it’s the only thing they talk about). So I believe I know something of what others think, – as well as myself.
The Good Girl is the only kind that any self respecting man loves. She is the kind of Girl that makes the world move.
And take my word for it these are no personal views of mine.
Please dont think that what I’ve said is altogether uncalled for – I just want you to know that allowing too much freedom on the part of the boys you meet, will never win you more real friends. And don’t be too quick to condemn a boy because he seems to expect the things you know are not quite right. Other girls – that didn’t care – let him go just a hair too far, – and he doesn’t know you real good – yet.
So forget it if you think the clean, decent fellows are few and far between. I don’t know what you think of my telling you all this; – most boys don’t write to little girls in this way do they?
But, Girlie, you are my Little Sweetheart and little sister, all in one, and I love and worship you as I never have anyone else. So please believe I am just trying to help you to be the kind of a girl that “makes things move.”
The Y.M.C.A. is about to close so I will have to finish this.
Public Services Student Assistant