Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: August 7-13, 1917

August 7th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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).

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.

This week’s entry highlights include Forrest learning how to erect and operate a field wireless station (“every man must be on the alert and be there with the team-work”) and how to pack it on mules (“the latter are the real Missouri article”). Bassett also struggles with his long distance relationship with Marie, writing that “I will never see you until I come home for good, and that is a long time — at least a year ahead…I am hungry for a sight of you — to look into those soft brown eyes, and hear you talk again.”

Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917 Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917

Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917 Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917

Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917 Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917

Image Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 8, 1917

Wed. Aug. 8, 1917

Dear Little Girl,

Every time I read your letters you seem so close that I want to reach out and hug you tight. I wish you were that near, but your letters are a great deal of comfort to me, and I hope you wont let even a day slip by. I don’t feel homesick any more, among these fellows, but just that longing for you. It may be a long time before we see each other again, but don’t ever forget how much I love you, and don’t ever doubt it, whatever may turn up.

Everything seems to point out that we go to the East coast headquarters about Sept. 15th. We are working hard — tonight we even drilled after supper during a rain. This morning we had telegraph one hour, wig-wag one hour, and two hours of drill at erecting and operating a field wireless station. The latter is carried on two pack mules. An efficient company can unpack and set up a fifty foot mast and get the set in order in a very few minutes. Every man must be on the alert and be there with the team-work. It is the same with everything and it sure interesting work. We also had an hour of squad drill this morning. Our drill after supper was in forming a company square. In this, the company forms a four sided guard about its officers in the center. In case of attack, like a riot, the men face out and protect their leaders. There are many different marching commands that a solider has to learn to execute in the proper way and at the right instant. In walking lockstep, the soldier’s forward foot had to step ahead of the next man’s rear foot. In order to do this, one has to walk like a Dana. Can you imagine how awkward it is for me? As I said before, we a  a good decent bunch of officers, and that helps a lot. We have finished with our shelter tent drills, and the tents are shipped — East, I guess. This afternoon we learned how to pack a field wireless set on the mules. The latter are the real Missouri article and have to be fitted with blinders while being packed. We were just issued some fancy dress gloves of soft olive drab leather. We have to be very particular about our personal appearance — no watch fobs or tips of a handkerchief are allowed to show, and everything must be kept scrubbed clean. Our beds must be made just so and our lockers fixed in a certain way. This all sounds old maidish, but it is simply meant to have everything look the same.

Each of us had to take our turn at serving in the kitchen. I haven’t yet, but have served my day as orderly. Of course we all have our own “housework” to do before first drill call at seven o’clock. A bachelor’s life may be a gay one but give me a good home with a little girl in it. Well the “Lights Out” bugle has just blown so I will have to quit.

Thurs. P.M.

Biting your fingernails — I sure am glad that you have rooted out this little weed of weakness. Isn’t it a “grand and glorious feeling” when one’s better (or plus) self wins one of these little scraps with your “minus” self. It takes a long time before you really realize how important these little victories are.

I got a fine letter from your Mother yesterday. Your letter from Field’s came today. Did you get mine? I hope you will have the best of good times in Chicago. I can’t help but feel glad that you are just the least bit lonesome. My folks sure will have a new cousin to be proud of if I have my way about it.

I know I can’t ask you to always like me, but I do ask you to promise to tell me when you feel the least change.

Please don’t show my letters to anyone, especially Lauretta. She is one mighty fine girl but her heart stopped growing long before yours did. (If it has.)

She would laugh and say “O Slush” like you do.

But I think you will understand that I am trying to make you feel how much I do care for you.

Yours, Forrest.

 

Sat. Aug. 11, 1917

Dear Marie,

Won’t you please “open your heart” and take a chance on my understanding? I will never see you until I come home for good, and that is a long time — at least a year ahead. Please sit on my lap again and tell me everything. I wonder if you think my letters are too “soft” like Edgar & Grace? Do you? Mother sent me the pictures of you eating cherries and the in the canoe with the duck. I can picture you perfectly in your new clothes. Gee, but I am hungry for a sight of you — to look into those soft brown eyes, and hear you talk again. Wont you please talk to me as if we were together? I am going to wait one more week and then I am going to go to the Battallion commander, Moore, and ask him to transfer me to the photo-graphic section of the Signal Corps. Whether I leave here right away, or in six weeks, don’t count on seeing me again till the finish. I wonder why you call yourself my friend. Have you found that you can’t be a little more than that to me? Dear Little Girl, please be perfectly frank with me in everything. You can’t imagine how much I hate any kind of pretense.

We passed the hat here this afternoon and bought a 25 Victor with some records. About 45 of us bunk in this room so we expect to get a good bunch of records. This morning the fourth & fifth sections of Co. A 6th helped unload a shipment of saddle horses and pack mules from El Paso, Texas. Believe me it was a lively job to lead that bunch, two at a time, from the cars to the corral. One fellow from Co.B-6th was sent to the hospital with a mule’s “thumbprint” on his chest. We were off this afternoon so I went to Leavenworth City, which is little larger than Beloit. A lot of fellows went to Kansas City for over Sunday. I am pretty near broke again as I won’t get last month’s pay until September. Blanche sent me some stamps — will you feel peeved if I pass some on to you? I don’t think your Mother will mind very much because you spoke on the stage. Congratulations etc. Now you will have to stop biting you nails.

I got Vera’s card alright. And yours too, today. Did Lauretta get my letter? Be sure to tell me soon enough when you Chi. so none of my letters will there after your gone.

Yours,
Forrest

 

Sunday, Aug. 12, 1917

Dear Marie,

I only have time for a short note tonight but want to write so you won’t forget to write me. That’s the one big favor you can do me while I’m away. Did you like Riverview? I sure do wish I could be there with you. You and Vera must have had about the same luck on the “Chute the Chutes” as we did on the Giant dips when the car jumped the track. Here’s hoping you and L. will have a gay time Tuesday night. I am glad Lauretta interested you in hiking — go to it. You can bet we will go bike riding, too, when I get back. Gee but I get tired of saying “when I get back.” No danger of any hiking ever “killing” you. But don’t try any of Lauretta’s tricks. She carries it too far – nothing is gained by breaking one’s arch.

Also, hiking is not worth while unless you really do like it. I do hope you will learn to swim. Did you get the wings O.K? How was the Lake? The last time I was in was at Sheboygan. My folks would not treat you very nice unless they liked you pretty well, and I am mighty glad they do, but not a bit surprised.

What pleases me the most, though, is that Blanche likes you so much. She writes that you “have wrapped yourself around her heart” and that “you are a dear, sweet, Marie.” Blanche is no hypocrite and when she can say that in such a sincere way, I know I am make no mistake in loving you. Say how much does Blanche know anyway? She is one mighty fine sister and comes next to you in my regards, so you see I am pretty fond of her. Gee, but the postscript to your last letter, Sat. 11th, sure did stir up a happy feeling here. I wonder if you write that way just to “cheer me up.” Don’t do it again if that’s it. I do need to be cheered a little though, for I am all out-o-luck. Starting with this morning I have take my turn in the mess hall for a week, “slinging hash” to this crew of Signal men. I don’t have to wash any dishes but have to push the broom and mop and set the table etc.

All this from 5:15 A:M. until 7:15 P.M. Can you beat it? But then, everyone has to take a shot at it, except the officers. At noon, George Stock brought your letter down to me, but I didn’t get a chance to open it until about 3:00P.M.

Can you imagine how anxious I was to read it? Maybe — but you don’t know how happy I felt after I had read every word for the fourth time. So please write everyday if you can – at least until school starts.

The “lights out” bugle just blew and I had to go down in the basement to finish this. I know this writing is awful — Can you read it alright?

Yours,
Forrest

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett, July 27-August 6, 1917

August 4th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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).

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.

Today’s first entry catches up with Forrest’s story and includes his letters from the previous week. Highlights include his instructions on how to swim (“always swim in the water“) and comments about a newspaper article predicting the “world coming to an end…this noon” (“I have no opinion to offer – it is the least of my troubles”).

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, July 27, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, July 27, 1917

Friday, July 27, 1917

Dear Marie,

I am going to be a Radio operator in the Company A, 6th Field Battallion, Signal Corps. Will study at Fort L. School. Will write Sat. or Sun.

Yours,
Forrest

Address
Forrest W. Bassett
Co. A, 6th Field Battalion
S.C.
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, July 29, 1917

Sunday, July 29, 1917

Dear Marie,

Are you have a good time at home? I would like to be there for a few days. Sure miss the good times we had. Unless something serious turns up I will not see Beloit again until the end of the war. This is a fine place here. We have a fine bunch of fellows and good officers. I wish you would write. I only got your first letter. Tell me all about everything at home.

Your,
Forrest.

 

Wed. August 1, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your four letters from J. B. [Jefferson Barracks] are here ok. They sure stirred up some “happy feeling” alright. I wish I could have one every day. You would write that often if you know how glad I am to get them. We are getting the heavy work now and are pushed from rising call till bedtime. Today we were up at 5:15 and there were very few spare moments. We drilled until 8:00 tonight. We have regular infantry drill on top of the signal work. In the latter we have buzzer practise like you and I used to do and ‘wig-wag’ signaling in the field.

There are about six different means of communication that we must master. My partner in ‘wig-wag’ practise told me (by the flag signals) that he was a Minnesota man, head been a train dispatcher and had served in the army five years. He started to talk by asking me if I had heard the report about the world coming to an end. My arm is dead tired from waving my signal flag and I can hardly write. I guess I am the youngest man here. Almost all are over 25. They are starting classes in French language tonight. Our training is being rush as fast as possible. I went to the sergeant and asked him why I was assigned to the Radio Corps and he referred me to the Company Commander. I saw him but he told me to discuss it with the Battallion commander. I didn’t push it any further but last night the sergeant called me in the orderly room and questioned me pretty thoroughly on my past experience. I may get in the aerial photography yet. However I am well pleased with what I have now. This “stuff” is also a little safer than photography from aeroplanes.

They keep us on the jump but it certainly is interesting.

Mother says you look like a girl of 18 with you hair done up. I almost hate to think of you any different than you were when I last saw you. I am afraid after all that you will change in more ways than one before I come back. Please keep that diary and don’t skip even a day. Put down what you think as well as what you do. I will send you a picture when I get one of you, maybe. Don’t hesitate to tell me if there is anything I have that you can use.

Yours, Forrest

Tell you mother to write some more like her first one.

Believe me I sure enjoyed it.

No more time tonight but will write again tomorrow.

I got your letter with the world coming to an end clipping this noon.  I have no opinion to offer – it is the least of my troubles.

 

Thursday, Aug 2, 1917

Dear Marie,

I got two letters from you and one from Blanche today. Lauretta is a good kid alright; I’m glad you like her. I wish I were there to play “Sailor Boy’s Dream” with you. I would probably dutch it all up but we sure had some good fun that way. I’ll never forget the time we ate those cherries on the porch. Gee, but I’ll be glad to get back to you again but I’m not sorry that I’m making these sacrifices. I only hope you won’t change from the same big little-girl that you were. Please write as often as you can, and keep your diary.

I will do the best I can, but there are many odd little jobs to take care of after all the regular work & drill is done. We had an hour of wig-wag practice this morning and I talked with an Iowa railroad telegrapher. The ‘wig-wag’ is a method of talking in the field by means of flags. We always start up with conversation and tell about ourselves. This afternoon I practiced with a railroad telegrapher from Wisconsin. In the morning we had an hour of drill at fancy marching. We also had two hours of drill at pitching shelter tents. This afternoon we had a buzzer practise and our third lecture on doing guard duty. We have good officers here and everything is as good as one could expect. I pity those fellows that had to remain at Jefferson Barracks several weeks before being sent to their regular post. I may be transferred from here. This noon the sergeant told me to report to the commanding officer of the battalion. The latter asked me a lot of technical questions about lenses and cameras and I know I answered them correctly. He dismissed me without dropping any hints so I don’t know how I’ll come out. The nearest first class aviation camp is at Texas. They are going to start one in Kansas City too.

I hope I can see you before we leave. Maybe we can dope out some way. My friend George Stock started his French under a French lady last night. I am going to start next Monday but am going to try a University professor. This is not required. I don’t know what it will cost. The govts pays Sig. Corps men $30 a month and a $60 a year clothing allowance. We have to be careful and dress neatly and in clean clothes all the time. We have all of every Friday afternoon off to prepare for Saturday morning inspection. Believe me it’s ticklish business to get by the inspection officers. One’s hair has to be kept cut close but I am always going to keep mine that way, even when I get home. I only have to comb it about once a week when I used to do it at least three times a day. Suppose I’ll have to get acquainted all over again when you start wearing your hair done up and your heels upon spools. Mother gave you straight tip about finger nails and will power.  Did you notice how Lauretta bites hers. No you didn’t. Believe me if no one does anything worse than that, he needn’t worry about the end of the world. Did you and Lauretta go swimming? I told Mother to get the waterwings out for you.

Once more:

  1. Always swim in the water.
  2. Hold your breath until you learn to time your arms with your legs and keep afloat for a few strokes.
  3. When you do breathes, always breathe out thru the nose and in through the mouth.
  4. Be sure to time your breathing and every movement of your legs and arms. When this becomes instinctive (ouch) you can go to sleep on the job.
  5. Take your time, and go easy.

Do you remember how I used to fuss about that? I sure do wish I could be with you. Each man had to swim a hundred yards in order to pass examination here. There are a few that will have to do some tall practising. Lot of them are 30 & 35 and never saw anything but a tub for 15 years.

I suppose the “sullies” will get us if we don’t watch out, but we may not even have to cross over to France. Things to worry about. The most I’ve got to worry about is a little brown eyed girl. I left out the “big” this time. Gee I don’t want you to be all grown up when I get back. But I don’t care if you are if something else doesn’t change.

Your’s, Forrest.

You will find any negatives you want in my negative file box.

Help yourself.

I wish I had printed one of you in the canoe and by the cherry tree.

Write soon and talk to me as if we were together. Please.

 

Monday, Aug. 3, 1917

Dear Marie,

I guess you don’t really know me after all. When you were in my arms, couldn’t you see in my eyes how much I care? How can I tell you in my letters that I will always love you and make you feel that I am honest and sincere? I have had lots of time for good sober thought, here, and I know it is your high character and big, warm heart that has won me so completely. There is not another girl on the map that would make me look twice after knowing you so well. Little girl, even if you go through High School and find out that  you can’t really love me, the influence you have had on me will have done its work and I will never be able to pay the debt I owe. Don’t believe all the good things that sister says of me. You know how it is. I didn’t have any idea Blanche did not know how much we are to each other.

Marie, even if I can’t have you, I will always think of you as a big warm hearted girl that understood, and trusted me so I couldn’t do very wrong. I hope I can have your pictures soon. Here is a post card of the Sixth Field Battalion on muster day. I am in the front rank with the arrow at my feet. I am wearing leather leggings and the men on each side have on white leggings. Now can you find me? All the men in the picture are in the 6th FB S.C. Some are telegraph men, some are telephone, but Co. A is all radio. We had quite an interesting period of radio practice this afternoon. Within fifty feet of our station there was a class of artillery officers with a big gun and range finding instruments. Last week we saw the engineers build a pontoon bridge across the small lake at the foot of our hill. I wish I could write to you oftener.  Sunday I worked all day from 6 o’clock AM til 6:45 PM and after I had scrubbed my leggings and taken a shower, I felt so tired that I hit the hay.

We sure will hike together if you really like it, and I hope you will. We had an inexperienced drill master this morning and he Dutched up everything. He would give his command of execution on the wrong count and then get sore because we got our feet all tangled up. Our regular sergeant was taking a special examination for officers.

Last Saturday at retreat roll call he asked if anyone in the ranks knew anything about the theory of gas engines. This stuff happens to be my specialty so I had the privilege of explaining how gasoline is converted into power in 2 and 4-cycle motors.

It was deep stuff but I got away with it OK. You see our wagon set generator for the field wireless is run by a four-cylinder gas engine, and that was part of his exam.

When you go back to school, will you write to me about your work and let me help you! Well there goes tattoo, which mean “lights out.”

Yours,
Forrest

I see I am a month behind on my date.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 6, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 6, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 6, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 6, 1917

Monday, August 6, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your letter of Friday the third was certainly a gloom chaser. I did not get one yesterday nor today. I suppose you and Lauretta are on the skip every evening, but don’t forget to write and tell me everything – and be sure to keep your diary. I don’t care if you do wear your hair up, now. I would like to see you that way.

Here’s hoping Chicago will not make you forget one whose every thought is of you and you. I am going to keep that Friday letter with me always. It’s that thought of you that makes me put in my best licks every minute. I hope I will see you by the end of the month. Every one seems to think we leave for Monmouth, New Jersey about Sept. 15th.

About 70 men came in from San Francisco yesterday. I heard a company sing “On Wisconsin” and give some University yells, and believe me it sounded great. I am still in doubt about the aerial photography, but the sergeant said I may be called for any minute. This Radio Co. is a fine bunch and I will be satisfied to stick with it.

We had a lecture on Field Wireless sets, and one on military law today. I can receive about ten words a minute in the European code and am picking up fast. I am going to take my first French lesson tonight, and will have to close now. Be good to me and write.

Yours,
Forrest

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Letters Home: Correspondence during World War I

May 15th, 2017

In December 1917, the University of Kansas Alumni Association’s Graduate Magazine began publishing letters from Jayhawks serving in various capacities overseas. The letters became a regular part of the publication in 1918 and 1919. While some of the letters were from former students to faculty at KU or to The Graduate Magazine itself, most were sent to their families and later shared with the Alumni Association’s publication – giving those back home a glimpse into the lives of brave Jayhawks overseas.

For example, Herbert Laslett was a psychology major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who graduated from KU in 1918. During his final year at KU, he was a student officer in the KU Cadet Regiment. While in Europe as a member of the 353rd Infantry, A.E.F., Laslett wrote to one of his former instructors describing his experience and sharing some news of other former students as well. His letter appeared in the December 1918 issue of The Graduate Magazine.

Photograph of the KU Cadet Regiment, 1918

The KU Cadet Regiment in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1918.
Herbert Laslett is in the back row on the far left.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1918.
Click image to enlarge.

Herbert Laslett, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, December 1918 Herbert Laslett, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, December 1918

Herbert Laslett’s letters in The Graduate Magazine, December 1918.
University Archives. Call Number: LH 1 .K3 G73 1918. Click images to enlarge.

Evadne Laptad was a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Science who graduated from KU in 1908. Evadne worked as a hospital searcher with the American Red Cross’s Hospital and Home Communication Service during the war. A new initiative during World War I, the Hospital and Home Communication Service sent American women to military hospitals in Europe during and after the war. These women relayed information about injured soldiers to their family and friends back home. Her letter appeared in the April 1919 issue of The Graduate Magazine alongside letters from two other female graduates who were serving the war effort overseas.

Photograph of Evadne Laptad in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1908

Evadne Laptad’s senior picture in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1908.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1908.

Evadne Laptad, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, April 1919 Evadne Laptad, “Letters,” The Graduate Magazine, April 1919

Evadne Laptad’s letters in The Graduate Magazine, April 1919.
University Archives. Call Number: LH 1 .K3 G73 1918. Click images to enlarge.

Emily Beran
Public Services

The Quandary of Young Francis Snow

January 20th, 2016

On Sunday, PBS aired the first of a six-part miniseries called Mercy Street, set at a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. This is the first of two blog posts that will explore a Spencer connection to that program. Both have been guest written by Spencer researcher Charles Joyce. Mr. Joyce is a labor attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also a long-time collector and dealer of Civil War photography.

Any connection between the University of Kansas and the PBS series Mercy Street would probably be considered unlikely at best. However, a fascinating historical link does exist in the form of Francis Huntington Snow (1840-1908), who, after the Civil War, became a prominent scientist and served as KU’s fifth chancellor.

Photograph of Francis Snow, undated

An undated photograph of Francis Snow taken in Lawrence.
Snow arrived at KU in 1866; he taught mathematics and
natural sciences and was one of the school’s first three faculty members.
Snow served as KU’s chancellor from 1890 to 1901.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/6 Undated Prints:
Chancellors: Francis Snow (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

In July 1863, Snow was a young Massachusetts divinity student facing a knotty ethical dilemma. The son of ardent abolitionists, Snow shared in his parents’ zeal to see the war transform into a crusade for the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. However, he believed his religious conviction and pacifist views prohibited him from actually taking up arms for the cause. Snow was drafted on July 18, 1863, and he recorded his thoughts on the matter in his diary, held at Spencer Research Library.

Could I be sure of a place where no fighting would be required, no amount of danger would deter me from going…[as] I might be of some service to the wounded on the battlefield or in the hospital. But a drafted man has no choice of position, and I, too, should be liable to be called to musket duty. So I can’t go.

Snow weighed his options for opting out of service, as allowed by the draft law. Believing that “[g]etting a substitute would be worse in my opinion than going myself,” Snow decided to pay the commutation fee of $300.

One year later, as soon as he finished his final exams at the Andover Theological Seminary, Snow hit upon a way to serve the Union cause and stay true to his moral precepts. He volunteered as a delegate with the U.S. Christian Commission, established by the YMCA, then just ten years old. The organization’s purpose was to promote the spiritual and physical welfare of Union soldiers and sailors. Francis Snow was posted at Alexandria, Virginia, for six weeks (August-September 1864) and tasked with caring for sick and wounded men at several of the military hospitals there. (He later served another five weeks with the Commission, March-May 1865.)

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Duties of Delegates," August 1-September 14, 1864

“Duties of Delegates” of the U.S. Christian Commission. Francis Snow journal, August 1-September 14, 1864.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Delegates to the Hospitals," August 1-September 14, 1864

Instructions for Commission delegates serving in hospitals,
from Francis Snow’s 1864 journal. Other Commission delegates
served with regiments in camps and on battlefields.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow was unpaid, except for expenses, and he was required to keep a journal detailing his service on behalf of the Commission. In this, he recorded that during his stay in Alexandria, he visited with over 2700 hundred wounded soldiers, wrote 128 letters for them, read scripture, sang hymns, and led them in prayer many hundred times more.

Image of Francis Snow journal, cover, March 25-May 1, 1865

The cover of one of Francis Snow’s two Commission journals.
Included is Snow’s account of being at Appomattox Court House,
Virginia, on April 9, 1865, when General Lee surrendered to General Grant.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a travel pass included in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

A travel pass glued in to Francis Snow’s 1864 journal, instructing
“guards [to] pass F. H. Snow to and from the Hospital at will until further orders.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a list of soldiers in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

Snow’s 1864 journal included a ten-page list of soldiers with whom he interacted.
Here he noted information about each man, especially the nature of his injury and his religious affiliation.
Many of the men listed on this page were African American soldiers; their regiment was listed as “USCT,”
or U.S. Colored Troops. University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

One of Snow’s assignments in Alexandria took him to L’Ouverture Hospital, specially constructed to care for sick and wounded African American soldiers, who were kept segregated from their white comrades. Here he befriended the Hospital’s Chaplain, the Reverend Chauncey Leonard, who signed his journal on a page he apparently maintained for “autographs.”

Image of the first page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

Image of the second page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 Image of the third page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 

Image of the fourth page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

A letter from Francis Snow to his sister describing
his hospital experiences in Alexandria, August 8, 1864.
“There are now only 9 delegates here to thus attend to the 5000 sufferers,”
he wrote, “and I can assure you we find our time fully occupied.
O Mattie you can form no conception of the amount and intensity
of the suffering among these poor fellows.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow’s interest in and empathy with the black population of Alexandria, which had swelled during the war years, was also manifest in other, less official duties, like teaching a Sunday School class of black children. Indeed, when his tour with the Commission ended in early September, Snow “found it hard to get away” from those men, women, and children. He gave the Reverend Leonard $20 to “lay out for the boys” at L’Ouverture.

Photograph of African American soldiers from L'Overture Hospital

African American soldiers from L’Ouverture Hospital, circa 1864.
Photograph in the private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission.
Click image to enlarge.

Sometime thereafter, probably toward the end of 1864, an unknown artist took a photograph of Leonard with a group of black soldiers who were convalescing from war wounds and sickness at L’Ouverture. Someone sent a copy of the image to Francis Snow; he carefully wrote down each man’s name in the margins of the image and kept it all of his life. The photograph was found in a box in Snow’s personal library some 145 years later, and I purchased it in an online auction. More research on the soldiers in the photograph led to the holdings of the Spencer Library, including Snow’s original diary and Christian Commission journals. More on that in the next entry…

Charles Joyce
Guest Blogger and Spencer Researcher
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart!

July 22nd, 2015

Friday marks the 118th birthday of the famous aviatrix and Kansas native, so this week we’re highlighting a letter in the Kansas Collection that Earhart (1897-1937) wrote to a young girl, encouraging her to pursue her interest in flying.

The recipient of the letter was sixteen-year-old Helen Edna Mason of Greenfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts. Helen was the oldest sister of Alexandra (Sandy) Mason, a longtime and distinguished librarian at Spencer Research Library. Preliminary research indicates that Helen (1911-2000) was a lifelong resident of Franklin County, located in the northwest part of the state. She married Lawrence H. Wheeler in the late 1930s and had at least three children. It’s unknown whether she studied aviation, worked in the industry, or became a pilot.

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 1, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 2, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 3, 1927

Amelia Earhart’s letter to Helen Mason, September 12, 1927.
Earhart flew on the first official flight out of Dennison Airport
nine days earlier; she had also helped finance its construction.
Charles Lindbergh had completed his solo nonstop flight
across the Atlantic earlier that year, May 20–21, 1927.
Helen E. Mason Correspondence and Memorabilia.
Call Number: RH MS P23. Click on images to enlarge.

September 12, 1927.

My dear Miss Mason,

Your letter contained so little about yourself that I do not feel I can advise you adequately about aviation possibilities. I do not know whether you must earn your own living or just wish to. Nor do I know whether you are willing to leave your family.

Presuming that you are “foot-loose” I should think application at one of the large airplane factories would be the best move. Ofcourse you could not get the “job” you wish, but even if you entered as a stenographer or a factory worker, you would be on the staff and could use the knowledge gained in one department to help you in another.

Frankly, I fell into aeronautics. I took my first “job” to pay for flying instruction. I am not in on much of an earning basis yet, as I have divided my time between social work, teaching and various other occupations.

I have given your name, and the substance of your letter, to Mr. Kurt, the general manager of the Dennison Company. There are several women students and I asked him to tell you of them and give you any advice he could.

I quite agree with you that everyone should as far as possible do what he or she really wishes. If an inclination is very strong, not conforming to it means unhappiness.

I wish you luck in your inclination.

Very truly yours,
Amelia M Earhart

Interested in learning more about Amelia Earhart? Collections of her papers can be found at Purdue University and the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Harvard University. See also the Wikipedia article about Earhart, which provides links to various other paper and online primary and secondary sources.

Spencer Research Library also houses materials about other female pilots. See, for example, the records of the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots that elected Amelia Earhart its first president in 1931, and the reminiscences of member Dorothy Maloney.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services