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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 … [ Read all ]

No Thanks…

With Thanksgiving just two days away, this cartoon reminded residents of the nation’s capital of one reason not to be thankful in 1921—the high cost of living in the United States. Prices had spiraled upward in the years following World War I as the country converted from war production to a peacetime economy.

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

In this cartoon an elongated turkey holds a price sticker in its beak as John Q. Public grumbles: “There’s one item I won’t have to be thankful for.” The recession, however, was short lived—the U.S. economy quickly rebounded ushering in the prosperous roaring twenties.

This cartoon was drawn by Clifford K. Berryman, who was a prominent Washington, DC, cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century. Berryman used John Q. Public in many of his cartoons to denote a symbolic member of society deemed a “common man” or “man on the street.”

The Center for Legislative Archives has approximately 2,400 of Berryman’s original pen-and-ink drawings. They are all available for viewing in the National Archives Online Public Access catalog.

 … [ Read all ]

Laying the cornerstone for the FDR Library

On November 19, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY—the first Presidential library within the National Archives.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

In front of an estimated 1,000 onlookers, Roosevelt placed inside the cornerstone a metal box containing several items including the Articles of Incorporation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Inc.; several congressional resolutions, reports, and hearings related to the library; copies of deeds related to the property; Archivist of the United States R.D.W. Connor’s 1939 Society of American Archivist address on the Roosevelt Library; and copies of New York daily newspapers from November 19, 1939.

During his Presidency, Roosevelt contemplated what to do with his papers. After careful consideration, he devised a plan to preserve, intact, all his correspondence, public papers, pamphlets, books, private papers, and other valuable source material into an archive to be housed on his family estate at Hyde Park. However, he did not intend for the collection to be privately owned—Roosevelt wanted the Federal Government to own the material and for it to be open to the public.

In July 1939, Congress approved the establishment and maintenance of the library, authorizing the Archivist of the United States to accept land in Hyde Park, NY, and permit a nonprofit to construct … [ Read all ]

Was Harding’s mistress a spy? The National Archives knows and tells.

Today’s post comes from Miriam Kleiman of the National Archives Public Affairs Staff.

I’ve worked at the National Archives for many years and have always been content with our 13 Presidential libraries (Hoover through Bush 43). Sure, I’ve thought wistfully about a Washington, Adams, or Lincoln Library. But only recently did I long for a Warren G. Harding Library to be part of NARA!

Warren G. Harding. (111-P-1627, National Archives Identifier 530676)

Warren G. Harding. (111-P-1627, National Archives Identifier 530676)

Our neighbors down the road at the Library of Congress recently shared online more than 1,000 pages of love letters from Warren Gamaliel Harding to his longtime paramour, Mrs. Carrie Fulton Phillips.

I’ve read letters between John and Abigail Adams, and between Harry and Bess Truman. And while interesting, those seem G-rated in comparison to the wild, impassioned, heated, salacious letters (the early 20th-century version of sexting) from Warren to Carrie.

Is this news?

Historic Presidential affairs are not news; we’ve long heard of Harding’s carnal appetite. He boasted to a group of reporters: “It’s a good thing I’m not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can’t say no.” Even during his Presidency, there were reports of mistresses, dalliances with young aides, and even illegitimate children.

But many of the affairs of other past Presidents didn’t leave a paper trail.

What is unique about this affair is the newly available extensive … [ Read all ]

The Ike Jacket

Today’s post comes from Timothy Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. In honor of Veterans Day and those who have worn a uniform while serving their country, here’s the story behind the famous jacket now on display in our exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered the Army’s World War II military uniform to be restricting and poorly suited for combat. Instead he had a standard issue wool field jacket tailored to be “very short, very comfortable, and very natty looking.” The resulting “Eisenhower jacket” or “Ike jacket,” as it came to be known, was standard issue to American troops after November 1944. This “Ike jacket” was worn by Eisenhower.

One of General Eisenhower's jackets is currently on display in the "Making Their Mark" exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

One of General Eisenhower’s jackets is currently on display in the “Making Their Mark” exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Ike urged theater-wide adoption of the shorter jacket in a May 5, 1943, letter to General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff:

I have no doubt that you have been impressed by the virtual impossibility of appearing neat and snappy in our field uniform. Given a uniform which tends to look a bit tough, and the natural proclivities of the American soldier quickly create a general impression of a disorderly mob. From this standpoint alone, the matter is bad enough; but

[ Read all ]