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The Hello Girls Finally Get Paid

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, who is an archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis, where she manages the collection of archival civilian personnel records.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. Along with the men who were recruited to fight, women were eager to assist with war efforts. Such was the case with Isabelle Villiers. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894, she acted on her patriotic pride and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in May 1917.

For eight months, Isabelle Villiers (Yeoman, 1st class) worked as a confidential secretary in the office of Commodore A.L. Key at the Boston Navy Yard. However, after reading an announcement in the newspaper calling for telephone operators, she decided she could better serve her country overseas.

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers from her civilian file at the National Archives at St. Louis

The war, which had already raged since 1914, had taken its toll on European infrastructure. General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, had devised a solution for the poor communication on the war front. War had destroyed the existing French telephone system and he felt that telegrams were too slow and expressionless. Furthermore, General Pershing wanted to establish direct communication between troops on the front line and the general-in-command as well as between allied units.

While servicemen were tasked with laying lines in the field, General Pershing felt that women would best serve as telephone operators. In order to recruit quality telephone operators, General Pershing issued an appeal for 150 women who had past telephone operating experience and who were fluent in both English and French. This appeal was published in newspapers throughout the United States in late 1917.

With an understanding of both languages, former experience as a telephone operator, and a college education, Isabelle Villiers felt compelled to apply. After receiving a discharge from the U.S. Naval Reserve Force on January 7, 1918, and two months of training in Lowell, Massachusetts, Isabelle set sail for France in March 1918 as a part of the initial group of U.S. Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators.

“Hello Girls Here in Real Army Duds” was published on March 19, 1918, in Stars and Stripes cheerfully announcing this first group of 33 arrivals.

Of approximately 1,750 applicants, 450 women were trained and 233 ultimately sent overseas to serve as telephone operators. Colloquially dubbed “Hello Girls,” these women were primarily stationed in England and France (and in Germany after the Armistice was signed); some were stationed to work on the front lines in locations such as Saint Mihiel and Souilly, France. Not only did telephone operators work close to the front lines, they wore blue U.S. Army uniforms and were subject to military rules, including the possible penalty of courts-martial for wrongdoing.

Original caption reads: American telephone girls on arrival for "hello" duty in France. They all can speak both English and French., 3/1918. (National Archives Identifier 530718)

Is Isabelle Villiers in this photo? We don’t know–let us know if you can find her! Original caption reads: American telephone girls on arrival for “hello” duty in France. They all can speak both English and French., 3/1918. (National Archives Identifier 530718)

Isabelle was assigned as a supervisor to posts in Paris and Tours, France. She completed her duty on April 21, 1919, and returned to Reading, Massachusetts. She immediately submitted her claim for the $60.00 bonus granted to members of the American Expeditionary Forces only to be denied because the work of telephone operators was not considered to be within the provisions of the Revenue Bill of 1918.

Although women served in a military capacity for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, after the war was over it was decided that technically only men could be members of the U.S. Army.

Following their service, Isabelle Villiers and many other telephone operators received a certificate for ‘Exceptional Meritorious and Conspicuous Services’ signed by General Pershing along with a letter stating that the “Signal Corps deeply appreciates and is justly proud of the manner in which its civilian employees have performed their duties.”

In 1930, a fellow telephone operator named Merle Egan Anderson started the fight for U.S. Army Signal Corps telephone operators’ military benefits. Finally, more than 60 years after the operators served, benefits were approved in 1977 and awarded in 1979 to approximately 50 survivors, including Isabelle Villiers. These brave women were designated the first female veterans of the United States Army.

The official personnel folder of Isabelle Villers and other World War I telephone operators is open to the public.  Please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ to learn more about requesting these and other official personnel folders of former civil servants.


On Exhibit: The American Debate about Alcohol Consumption During World War II

Today’s post comes from Emily Niekrasz, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

In March 2015 the National Archives opened “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History,” a new exhibit that explores the complex love-hate relationship between America and alcohol.

The exhibit’s curator, Bruce Bustard, has written, “These two different views of alcoholic beverages run throughout American history. Sometimes they have existed in relative peace; at other times they have been at war.”

Some of the documents not only represent the war of opposing views regarding Prohibition, but they also highlight the debate over alcohol consumption within an even larger conflict—World War II.

On December 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the repeal of the 18th Amendment, ending the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States. Although the American government concluded its legal war on alcohol, the American people remained divided.  This friction—documented in the exhibit—continued throughout World War II.

"Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy." Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

“Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

One such document is a 1943 petition to Congress for the return to Prohibition, titled “Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” By associating alcohol with Hitler—at the height of World War II—it is evident that the 19 petitioners, both men and women, considered alcohol an evil.

Within the opening of their appeal, the authors claimed that alcohol and women were to blame for the downfall of France. They also argued that Japanese saloonkeepers provided free liquor for servicemen at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The signers went on to quote Gen. John J. Pershing, who believed that the United States Government should ban liquor from the nation, close saloons, punish drinkers, and “if necessary, death to the seller.”

On the other hand, in another document, “Morale is a lot of little things,” the wartime context aided those in favor of consumption, particularly the brewing industry.

In the 1944 advertisement, the Brewing Industry Foundation took the voice of a fictional World War II soldier, away at war, who wrote a letter home.

“Morale is a lot of Little Things,” 1944. Courtesy of the J. Walter Thompson Archives at the Duke University Library.

“Morale is a lot of little things,” 1944. Courtesy of the J. Walter Thompson Archives at the Duke University Library.

In this letter, the soldier missed a lot of “little things,” including: his hammock, his orchard, his pet sleeping beneath him, the sounds of the brook where his children are playing, and his beer.

The soldier wrote, “It happens that to many of us these important little things include the right to enjoy a refreshing glass of beer. Cool, sparkling, friendly.”

This advertisement connected beer to a wholesome image, in which beer was consumed in moderation, and suggested that the very least the nation could do for the loyal soldier returning home was to have the “little things” waiting—including a refreshing, “friendly” beer. Instead of equating alcohol with foreign saloonkeepers, this advertisement linked beer consumption with patriotism.

Want to learn more about the relationship between the American people and alcohol consumption during wartime? Visit “Spirited Republic” on display through January 10, 2016, in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

 

 


The Great Seal: Celebrating 233 Years of a National Emblem

Today’s post comes from Meagan T. Frenzer, graduate research intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On June 20, 1782, the Confederation Congress approved and finalized the first Great Seal of the United States.

The First Continental Congress in 1776 originally commissioned Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to create a national seal. As members of the First Great Seal Committee, these Founding Fathers intended to design a national emblem that reflected the independence and aspirations of the new nation.

This was no easy task. It took more than three committees and six years of congressional debate to complete the Great Seal.

It was Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, who submitted the final design for the Great Seal 233 years ago. Thomson’s design combined elements of submissions presented to the prior committees. His uncluttered, symbolic design fulfilled Congress’s expectations.

The face side of Thomson’s seal, also known as the “observe” side, displays a bald eagle with wings spread. The eagle clutches a bundle of 13 arrows (representing the 13 colonies) in its left talon and an olive branch in its right talon. Together, the items in the eagle’s talons stand for war and peace.

Charles Thompson's First Design, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

Charles Thompson’s first design for the Great Seal (obverse side), 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

The eagle’s beak holds a banner that reads E pluribus unum. The Latin phrase roughly translates as “Out of many, one,” describing the formation of a single nation from 13 colonies.

On the eagle’s breast is a shield with 13 red and white stripes below a blue chief, or the upper region of the shield. The red and white chevrons stand for valor and purity, while the blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

A cloud floats above the eagle’s head and surrounds 13 stars forming a constellation. The formation of this constellation alludes again to the formation of the new nation.

The “reserve,” or back side, of the Great Seal contains a 13-step pyramid representing strength, while the Eye of Providence sits above the pyramid within a triangle. The year 1776 in Roman numerals rests at the base of the pyramid.

Inscribed above the Eye is the Latin motto, Annuit Coeptis, meaning “He [God] has favored our undertakings.” The inscription characterizes the favorable circumstances that bolstered the American cause for independence.

The scroll below the pyramid reads, Novus Ordo Seclorum, which is Latin for “A New Order of the Ages.” This phrase represents the beginnings of a new era for the United States.

The National Archives holds the first design of Thomson’s “observe” side, which features red and white chevrons as opposed to the vertical stripes used in the final design.

Additionally, the National Archives holds seal designs by Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and designer of the American flag.

Francis Hopkinson’s First Observe Design, 1780. (National Archives Identifier 595254)

Francis Hopkinson’s first obverse design for the Great Seal, 1780. (National Archives Identifier 595254)

As a participant of the Second Great Seal Committee, Hopkinson’s work inspired the addition of the 13 stripes on the shield, 13 stars, and an olive branch in Thomson’s final designs.

The first engraved metal die of the Great Seal, based on Thomson’s design, was used from September 1782 to 1841. The National Archives holds the first die, along with other seal dies used from 1841 to 1909. Thomson had designed the reverse in case Congress wanted to impress the back surfaces of wax pendant seals but a die for the reserve was never cut.

Two hundred and thirty-three years later, the Great Seal of the United States still reflects the traits and principles that the government aims to uphold.

First Die of the Great Seal of the United States, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 596742)

First die of the Great Seal of the United States, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 596742)


The American Flag

Today’s post, in honor of Flag Day, comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlights the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlighted the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles, June 14, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the National Flag of the United States of America. Through its many changes and iterations, the American flag has come to represent the physical geography of the nation by including as many stars as states, as well as a remembrance of the nation’s origins as seen in the 13 red and white stripes.

The American flag also serves as a reminder of what America and her citizens represent: liberty, equality, and justice.

Designed by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the flag was originally intended to be used as a naval sign. However, growing nationalism around the world during the 18th century led many countries to establish a national flag, the United States included. It is unclear how or why Congress selected Hopkinson’s design for this honor.

The involvement of Betsy Ross in the design and creation of the first American flag is largely fictitious. It is likely that her grandson, William J. Canby, developed the story in the 1870s and that her only connection to the American flag was as a Philadelphia flag maker who sewed flags and banners for the United States military.

President Woodrow Wilson officially established June 14 as Flag Day in 1916. He issued a proclamation encouraging all Americans to “rededicate ourselves to the nation, ‘one and inseparable’ . . .  and in which we shall stand with united hearts.”

Following 1916, Flag Day was unofficially observed every year. It wasn’t until 1949 that Congress passed a law requiring the President to give an annual Flag Day Proclamation, encouraging Americans to honor the American flag during the week of June 14 by displaying it publicly.

Despite a requirement that all Federal Government buildings display the American flag on Flag Day, it is not an official Federal holiday. Several states have declared June 14 to be a state holiday, however, prompting communities across the nation to celebrate with parades and other events that commemorate the flag and what it stands for.

This year’s Flag Day Proclamation will designate June 14, 2015, to be Flag Day and National Flag Week to be June 14 until June 20, 2015.


Strategically Important: West Point

Today’s post comes from Adam Berenbak, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

The Continental Army and Gen. Samuel Parsons first occupied the land at West Point, New York, owned by Steven Moore, in the winter of 1778. The fort was crucial in defending New York, the Hudson River, and the lines of communication to the northeastern states. The new American government continued to lease the property from Moore after the Revolutionary War.

During the First Congress, the House of Representatives received a petition, the fourth sent by Moore, to receive compensation for damages to his property. The House forwarded the claim to the Treasury Department. On June 10, 1790, the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, reported back to the House that a permanent military post should be established at West Point. Hamilton believed this purchase was “expedient and necessary,” as guarding the Hudson River was essential to the “public safety.” On June 15, a committee appointed to look into the matter reported out HR 76, which authorized the purchase of the land from Moore.

Page one of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page one of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page two of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page two of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page three of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page three of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hamilton, as well as Secretary of War Henry Knox, emphasized West Point’s strategic importance, while others in Congress argued that passing HR 76 was important in order to rightfully compensate Moore. The bill passed, the land was appraised by a commission, and on November 22, 1790, the government paid Moore $6,576 for the property.

The idea for a national military school had been discussed at various times since the Revolutionary War, and the establishment of West Point as a military academy in 1802 came only after many years of debate. Thomas Jefferson, who eventually signed the legislation to create the school, argued that a military academy could not be established because there was no provision for it in the Constitution. Many members of Congress were worried about the aristocratic overtones of such a school and the implications of a “professional military.” The War of 1812 brought attention to the importance of funding and organizing the United States Military Academy, but graduation numbers were low. By 1830, the House was listening to arguments for its termination.

On January 21, 1830, a resolution was introduced in the House that would require the Military Academy to report to Congress detailed information about the Academy, including the names of all applicants and graduates, and if their fathers or guardians were part of the federal or state governments. The following day, Representative Davy Crockett of Tennessee argued against an amendment that was introduced to strike out the familial information requirement, and in doing so expressed both his and his state’s objection to the institution.

In fact, on February 25, 1830 Crockett submitted a bill calling for the abolition of West Point on the grounds that it was only a school for the “sons of the noble and wealthy,” complicating a larger problem that “no man could get a commission in the Army unless he had been educated at West Point.”

Page one of Congressman Davy Crockett’s resolution to abolish the military academy at West Point, February 25, 1830; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier 2173241

Page one of Congressman Davy Crockett’s resolution to abolish the military academy at West Point, February 25, 1830; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier 2173241

The resolution said:

Resolved further that the military academy at West Point is subject to the foregoing objections—in as much as those who are educated there, receive their instruction at the public expense and are generally the sons of the rich and influential who are able to educate their own children while the sons of the poor for want of active friends are often neglected…

Crockett’s resolution was ultimately tabled.

West Point’s fame came from the success of its graduates in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. It was accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in 1928. Moore’s 1,617-acre tract at West Point is now the oldest continually occupied American military post.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.