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A WASP’s Story

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The year was 1943, and Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lt. Robert William Chambers, had died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California. Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth ​”Betty” Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3. Photograph from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

A native of Hollywood, California, Betty worked for the Walt Disney Company inking cartoon celluloid cells and for Universal Studios inking cells for “picture process work.” After the death of her husband, Betty and her baby moved in with her parents; she also acquired a more stable job as a telephone operator at Southern California Telephone Company.

Betty wanted more. Like more than 1,000 other women, she took to the skies to find it.

Betty and her comrades applied to an innovative civilian program designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live antiaircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.

The WASP program was created in August 1943 when two other formerly established programs were merged: Jacqueline Cochran’s Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Nancy Harkness Love’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). The WASP program was directed by Jacqueline Cochran while Nancy Love became the Executive of the Ferry Division of the Air Transport Command.

Women who possessed a pilot’s license and were between the ages of 21 and 35 were welcome to apply. Aviatrixes across the United States fled from their desks and kitchens to climb into cockpits to serve their country.

Telegram

Telegram from Jacqueline Cochran summoning Elizabeth Chambers to WASP duty, from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

After an interview process, the women were trained as rigorously as military pilots and were paid at a rate of $1,800 per year. Successful trainees were stationed at one of 120 air bases, paid $3,000 per year, and reclassified as civilian pilots.

Like the majority of her fellow pilots, Betty Chambers received her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. After training, Betty was sent to Turner Field in Albany, Georgia, then attended the Army Air Force Tactical School in Orlando, Florida. She was later stationed at Greenwood Army Air Field in Greenwood, Mississippi.

As male pilots returned from wartime service, WASP members in service at the end of 1944 were forced to resign. Men wanted to fly domestically, and the country wanted women back at home to take care of their families. Betty Chambers was among the group of women whose service ended when the WASP program was disbanded.

This December 20 marks the 70th anniversary of the deactivation of the WASP program, a program so beloved by the women who served under it that many alumunae continued to fly and attend reunions.

On November 2, 1977, President Jimmy Carter passed Public Law 95-202, which granted military veteran status to all who served under the WASP program. In 2009, the highest medal awarded to civilians—the Congressional Gold Medal—was bestowed upon the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

The National Archives at St. Louis maintains the civilian WASP official personnel folders (OPFs). The administrative paperwork in these files reveals story after story of WASP adventures and history. OPFs are open to the public and photocopies of OPFs can be obtained for a fee. Please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ for more information.

 


Mystery lady identified!

Alan Walker, an archivist in the Textual Processing unit in the National Archives at College Park, MD, just solved a mystery that staff have wondered about for many years.

Mark down this auspicious date, for I shall reveal to you the identity of this longtime mystery woman. You’ve probably seen this photo many a time on the National Archives’s social media; it’s a great image of one of our forebears having rollicking fun with some acetate laminating foil.

Jackie Martin, a photographer with International News Photos, was at the Archives Building in 1946 to shoot photos for a planned story about the National Archives. I imagine she wanted to liven things up a bit, and the idea for draping our mystery woman in laminating foil arose from that. The original negatives for all of these photos are in her papers at Syracuse.

But until now, we have not known the name of our foil-bedecked lady.  So how did I solve the mystery?

"Acetate Foil for Lamination" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. Nationa Archives 64-NA-464

“Acetate Foil for Lamination” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-464

 

Well, I was looking through more of the 64-NA photos that recently uploaded into the new National Archives Catalog, and I found this image.

 

"Records in Humidifying Vault" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

“Records in Humidifying Vault” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

 

Then I recalled seeing her in a newspaper clipping.

 

Clipping from "History's First Draft," Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 2, 1944. National Archives, RG 64, P 67, file "1944."

Clipping from “History’s First Draft,” Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 2, 1944. National Archives, RG 64, P 67, file “1944.”

 

Then, this morning, I found this photo.

 

National Archives 64-NA-415

National Archives 64-NA-415

 

…and here’s the caption!

 

Caption, National Archives 64-NA-415

Caption, National Archives 64-NA-415

Frances Benedict worked in the Division of Repair and Preservation (later the Cleaning and Rehabilitation Branch). She appears in the Archives telephone directories from 1944 through 1949. Thank goodness someone thought to write down her name on this caption!

My colleague Amanda Ross did some online sleuthing, and discovered more about Miss Benedict. After receiving her degree in Home Economics from the University of Maryland, she worked for the Bureau of Home Economics at USDA, then came to the National Archives in 1944. Sadly, her career was cut short by her death at age 37 in 1950.

But National Archives staff now have her name–as well as her wonderful, iconic photograph–to remember her by.


Remembering the Geneva Convention through the words of Clara Barton

Today’s post comes from Christina James, intern in the National Archives History Office.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Geneva Convention of 1864. At a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, 16 countries established protocol for treatment of individuals wounded in armed conflicts. Among the points agreed upon by the representatives in attendance were aid to the wounded regardless of their nationality, neutrality of medical workers and hospitals, and the presence of a uniform flag at medical facilities with a matching arm-badge to be worn by medical personnel. The flag and badge were to bear the symbol of a red cross on a white background. Over the following decades, additional conventions were held to agree on further provisions regarding the treatment of war victims. These later conventions reaffirmed the principles established at the first convention in 1864.

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier 526057)

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 – ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier
526057)

While other nations convened in Geneva, the Civil War raged in the United States. The eventual adoption of the provisions of the Geneva Convention by the United States was in part thanks to the efforts of Clara Barton, a Civil War volunteer battlefield nurse. Throughout the war, Barton went to great lengths to ensure that the soldiers she treated had sufficient food, medical supplies, and clothing, and encouraged others to join her aid efforts.

After the Civil War, Barton learned of the International Committee of the Red Cross, an organization that grew out of the Geneva Convention. Understanding its potential benefits to Americans, Barton sought to convince the United States of the importance of the organization and to adopt the principles for which it stood. In 1881 Clara Barton founded the American National Red Cross. One of the association’s first goals was to secure the ratification of the Geneva Convention by the United States. Congress ratified the treaty of the Geneva Convention in 1882.

Among the National Archives’ holdings is a 12-page petition that Clara Barton wrote to the United States Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations supporting a bill “for the protection of the National and International insignia of the Red Cross, together with the incorporation of its National Association.”

In her letter, Barton discussed the importance of the Red Cross symbol and the need for its protection, as well as the necessity of the incorporation of the American National Red Cross and its work in both wartime and natural disasters.

Clara Barton’s letter demonstrates how highly she regarded the Geneva Convention of 1864. She wrote:

[P]erhaps no more advanced step than this, in the march of civilization and humanity had ever been taken, nor a more unique or touching sight of its kind had been looked upon, than this body of twenty six men representing the Heads of the war-making powers of the world . . . performing journeys of thousands of miles to sit down in calm counsel to try to “think out” if some more humane and reasonable methods might not be found, and agreed upon by the governments of the world for the treatment of the unfortunate and helpless victims of the wars.

This historic document speaks to the importance of the Geneva Convention and its impact both internationally and in the United States. One hundred and fifty years later, the United States and nations around the world still abide by the agreements made at the Geneva Convention. The American Red Cross and International Committee of the Red Cross continue to provide aid and relief in times of war and disaster and are known around the world by the symbol for which they were named—an enduring legacy of the Geneva Convention.

Petition to the Senate Regarding the Incorporation of the Red Cross from Clara Barton. (National Archives Identifier 7542783)

Petition to the Senate Regarding the Incorporation of the Red Cross from Clara Barton, first page. (National Archives Identifier 7542783)

Petition to the Senate Regarding the Incorporation of the Red Cross from Clara Barton, last page. (National Archives Identifier 7542783)

Petition to the Senate Regarding the Incorporation of the Red Cross from Clara Barton, last page. (National Archives Identifier 7542783)

The American accession to the “Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Time of War,” better known as the Geneva Convention, is on display in the Landmark Document Case of the Rubenstein Gallery in the National Archives, Washington, DC, from December 17, 2014 to March 15, 2015.


Carting the Charters

Procession Transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Procession transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Visitors to downtown Washington, DC, on December 13, 1952, were treated to an interesting sight—armored vehicles escorted by a barrage of military and police personnel. It wasn’t a holiday or the Presidential motorcade or a visiting dignitary.

On that chilly December morning, passersby saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States going for a ride.

“The Charters of Freedom”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—all have varied histories of transport and storage through 1952.

The Declaration of Independence, after it was signed on August 2, 1776, moved with Congress from city to city throughout the Revolutionary War. After the establishment of the new nation under the Constitution, the Declaration found itself in Federal buildings, abandoned gristmills, and private homes before it ended up in the Library of Congress in 1921.

The Constitution had a similar history—after the framers signed it, the Constitution passed into the custody of the Department of State in 1789 and moved as the Federal Government moved. Unlike the Declaration, which was displayed for many years, the Constitution spent much of its history in storage.

The Bill of Rights has an even thinner history between its creation in 1789 and 1938. It, too, traveled with the government as it moved about until the Department of State transferred it to the National Archives in 1938.

 President Herbert Hoover laying cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

President Herbert Hoover laying the cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

By 1924, the Declaration and Constitution were on display at the Library of Congress, where thousands of visitors came to see them each year. Two years later, Congress made its first appropriation for the National Archives Building to house the nation’s historical records.

In the building’s cornerstone ceremony on February 20, 1933, outgoing President Herbert Hoover announced that the originals of “the most sacred documents in our history”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—would be on permanent display at the National Archives.

The idea that the National Archives would include a shrine to these founding documents was always in the plan for the building. In fact, the building’s 75-foot-high rotunda was designed specifically to display the Declaration and the Constitution. There were even custom-made murals in the exhibit hall boasting fictional depictions of the Declaration and the Constitution being presented.

Construction of the National Archives Exhibition Hall, November 2, 1934. (Records of the Public Buildings Service, National Archives)

Construction of the National Archives Exhibition Hall, November 2, 1934. (Records of the Public Buildings Service, National Archives)

The hall was always meant to hold the documents, but for many years the Librarian of Congress refused to relinquish his hold over them.

By the 1950s, the Archives had lost patience with its empty shrine to the founding documents. President Harry S. Truman’s remarks on the Bill of Rights during a 1951 Constitution Day ceremony at the Library of Congress opened the door for the Archives to makes its move: “I hope that these first 10 amendments will be put on parchment and sealed up and placed alongside the original document. In my opinion they are the most important parts of the Constitution.”

In the weeks following the ceremony, the Archivist of the United States, Wayne Grover, worked with the Librarian of Congress, Luther Evans, on a plan for the Archives to acquire the Declaration, Constitution, and papers of the Continental and Confederation Congresses. To avoid controversy, they decided to convince Congress to approve the transfer, and on April 30, 1952, Congress ordered that the Declaration and the Constitution be moved to the National Archives.

National Archives Building Renovation in Progress, December 9, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

National Archives Building renovation in progress, December 9, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

National Archives began making preparation for the move by renovating the exhibition hall and adding a vault to store the charter documents.

Officials chose December 13 as the transfer day because they wanted to unveil the documents on Bill of Rights day, December 15.

The transfer ceremony was a spectacle. It began with the commanding General of the Air Force Headquarters Command formally receiving the Declaration and Constitution at the Library of Congress at 11 a.m.

Twelve members of the Armed Forces Special Police then carried the six sheets of parchment in their sealed cases through a cordon of 88 servicewomen and placed the boxes on a mattress in an armored Marine Corps personnel carrier.

A color guard, ceremonial troops, two Army bands, two light tanks, four servicemen armed with submachine guns, and a motorcycle brigade then escorted the armored vehicle down Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues to the National Archives Building. Along the parade route were Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, and Air Force personnel and the general public who came out to watch the procession.

Entering the National Archives Building with the Documents, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Entering the National Archives Building with the documents, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

At 11:35 am, the General and 12 policemen carried the documents up the Constitution Avenue stairs into the Rotunda and formally delivered them into the custody of the Archivist of the United States.

The documents were then placed in their cases and spent the weekend in the 50-ton, steel and concrete, bomb and fire-proof safe that had been installed earlier that month.

Two days later, the formal enshrining ceremony took place, and the three documents were unveiled in their new housing. During the dedication ceremony, President Truman observed: “The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are now assembled in one place for display and safekeeping. Here, so far as is humanly possible, they will be protected from disaster and from the ravages of time.”

Today visitors can see these documents on permanent display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

To read more about the Declaration and Constitution’s travels, read the 2002 Prologue article, “Travels of the Charters of Freedom,” by Milton Gustafson.

To read more about the Faulkner Murals in the Rotunda of the National Archives, read the 2014 Prologue article, “Depicting the Creation of a Nation” by Lester Gorelic.

Watch the footage of the transfer in our Online Public Access catalog.

Unveiling Ceremony for the Charters of Freedom, December 15, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Unveiling Ceremony for the Charters of Freedom, December 15, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)


Crafting the “Day of Infamy” Speech

Early on a quiet Sunday afternoon in December 1941, the President of the United States was in his study at the White House working on his stamp album. It was a favorite activity and one that allowed him to shut out the troubles of the world, if only for a little while.

The telephone rang, and the White House operator put through the call. Franklin D. Roosevelt learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time (1 p.m. in Washington).

It was still unclear what the loss was in lives and ships and planes, but it would be high. Hawaii was the home of the Pacific fleet, along with thousands of soldiers and sailors to man them.

Two of Roosevelt’s speechwriters were out of town, so the President summoned his secretary, Grace Tully, to take down dictation as he “drafted” one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century to deliver to Congress the next day.

“Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in world history,” he began, “the United States was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”

Franklin Roosevelt's changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on "Draft No. 1." In the opening sentence, he changed "world history" to "infamy" and "simultaneously" to "suddenly." At one point, he considered putting the words "without warning" at the end of the sentence but later crossed them out. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

Franklin Roosevelt’s changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on “Draft No. 1.” In the opening sentence, he changed “world history” to “infamy” and “simultaneously” to “suddenly.” At one point, he considered putting the words “without warning” at the end of the sentence but later crossed them out. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

day-of-infamy-draft1-page2 day-of-infamy-draft1-page3

Slowly and carefully, he dictated the rest of the speech, and Tully typed up the first draft for his review.

We know, of course, that when FDR finished his wordsmithing of the speech that the first line, the one best remembered, turned out a little different: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Prologue, the Quarterly of the National Archives, takes you through the various drafts of FDR’s so-called “Day of Infamy” speech, with images of pages with his hand-written changes in wording and updates on Japanese attacks on other U.S. installations in the Pacific. And there’s even a “deity” paragraph inserted by top Presidential assistant Harry Hopkins.

The six-minute speech ended with a request for a declaration of war, which Congress approved within hours.

In “FDR’s ‘Day of Infamy’ Speech: Crafting a Call to Arms,” Prologue shows you pages from all the drafts, as well as the transcribed version of his actual delivery to Congress on December 8, 1941.

And for the record, Roosevelt never used the term “Day of Infamy;” he said “a date which will live in infamy.”