Dorothy Wright Simes reflects on World War II

January 7th, 2014 by Ann Morrissey

The Maine Women Writers Collection is pleased to announce the addition of the Dorothy Wright Simes Papers which include diaries that cover 33 years of her life.  Dorothy Wright Simes lived from 1886 to 1974 and was the daughter of Augustus R. Wright who founded the A. R. Wright Company in the late 1880s and which still exists in Maine today as WEX (Wright Express).  She married Charles F. Simes in 1923 and lived in Portland on Bowdoin Street and summered regularly in Cape Elizabeth on her Father’s waterfront estate which is still in the family.

Many of the diaries skip through the young school and married lives of her two daughters, and follow her domestic concerns about the upkeep of her two houses but Simes also pays attention to the events of the Second World War.  She made almost 50 notations about the war starting as early as 1939 and continuing through 1945.

Her very earliest notations about the war were about helping out with “Friends of France” and the British Relief.  In June 18, 1940 the war hits close to home: “C telephoned they had ruled the company was not a public utility.”  C was her husband Charles who ran A. R. Wright during and after the war.  The company started as a coal delivery business and became a home heating fuel business.  During the War apparently many Bauxite deliveries came and needed to be repackaged as quickly as possible as Bauxite was a necessary ingredient in the making of aluminum.  There were many notations about Bauxite:  “C was late coming home as they were beginning to unload the Boxite [sic],” and “C is trying to arrange a priority so that he can get a machine for trimming out the Boxite [sic].”

The most fascinating entries are the more personal notations:

  •      Sun, Dec 7, 1941:  ” I had gone up to my room to rest, when Vicky called to me that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour at Honolulu.  Later we learned that had bombed Manella [sic] too, and we are in for it.  Even Sen. Wheeler says “we must beat hell out of them.”  C is at the plant, as they are putting up a new tower.  I don’t know if he even knows it yet,”
  •      Thurs, April 12, 1945: “President Roosevelt died very suddenly at Warm Springs of a cerebral hemorrhage.”
  •      Tues, Aug 14, 1945: “Am sitting waiting to hear official announcement of Japan’s surrender. … we got the news on the radio (7 p. m.) of the unconditional surrender of Japan.  The Star-Spangled was played and the feelings that surged up in us, were something I shall never forget.”

These six years of war diaries are spectacular resources and immediately available to staff or students (perhaps Historians or English majors) who want to understand more closely what happened in the United States during the Second World War.

Barbara Banker Kamar collection

September 18th, 2012 by Ann Morrissey

Barbara Banker was a 17 year old girl from Newton Highlands, Massachusetts who corresponded (sometimes daily) with her family when she began attending Mount Holyoke College in 1935.  The Maine Women Writers Collection has obtained almost 200 letters between Barbara and her family from the years 1935 through 1939 when she graduated.  The letters cover her concerns with clothes, boyfriends and expenses.  Even in the late 1930s, college expenses were difficult to meet.

Included in her materials is an information sheet from Mount Holyoke that explained available scholarships, loans, and various jobs that students could expect to find while attending Mount Holyoke.  It is sobering to see that unskilled work was paid at thirty cents and hour with typing work ranging “as high as fifty cents and hour.”

MWWC has an equally large collection of letters from Barbara Banker’s war years.  She joined the WACs in 1943 and was commissioned later that same year.  The WACs captivated the interest of our country at war and included in Banker’s materials is a Christmas Card printed especially for women in the WACs.  (Note that the card carried the original name of the WACs (The Women’s Army Corp) which was first known as the WAACs (The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp) until it was integrated into the regular Army in 1943.)

When the young recruits were first sent to Fort Devens in Massachusetts they were given a pre-filled post card to send home to their family.  It told them that the recruit had arrived in good health and that their first days in training would be very busy.  It then allowed the recruit to fill in their new address for letters from home.  Banker’s letters from her years in the WACs are full of her discovery of new places and new people.  She is very open about her fellow recruits and about the almost maddening Army procedures, the movies provided for them, and the array of social life that that the WACs had available to them.

Banker marries in 1946 to a career Army officer and the remaining letters in their collection are from her husband while stationed both in Korea and later back in Massachusetts.  Included below is a letter from her husband to their son.

Most summers were spent either in Maine and references to Maine are sprinkled through the entire 400 letters.  You are welcome to visit these facinating letters here at the MWWC.

Talking animals, wartime love letters, the DAR and murder…

December 23rd, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

All that in one post, you wonder? Well, yes, if it’s a post about the Clifford-Flanders Family Collection. We’ve just put the finishing touches on processing this intriguing array of materials from three generations of women, spanning the dates 1865-1989, and thought we’d share a few highlights.

Imagine a lonely little girl growing up in the 1860s on Londoner’s Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. Roaming the beaches alone, save for the company of shore birds and sea creatures, Mollie Lee Clifford had the good fortune to receive the attentions and encouragement of the poet Celia Thaxter who lived on the neighboring island of Appledore. She inspired little Mollie to learn to read and write and it was to good end as Mollie went on to write a host of poems, author numerous plays and publish two full-length novels in an animal autobiography series, “Yoppy: Autobiography of a Monkey,” and “Polly: Autobiography of a Parrot.”

The quiet Isles of Shoals drew great attention when, in 1873, a horrific double-murder took place on the island of Smuttynose. Though she and her family had moved to Dover, NH, the previous year, Mollie Lee had been acquainted with both the Norwegian-born victims and their Prussian killer. (At one point her descendants owned the murder weapon, an axe.) Mollie’s 1901 handwritten account of the tragedy is chilling, and excerpted here:

After marrying Henry H. Clifford of Dover, NH, Mollie Lee gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, in 1894. Margaret grew up to become a teacher and later gathered enough genealogical research to qualify her as a Daughter of the American Revolution. She married Earl Flanders of Dover, a mathematics teacher, and they spent many summers playing at York Beach before the birth of their daughter, Marion, in 1920. Throughout the 1930s the family spent summers at their camp on Lake Nippo in Barrington, NH.

During WWII, Marion worked as a clerk for the War Department at Camp Langdon, NH. This collection is thick with Marion’s love letters from various soldiers, which both illuminate the wartime experience and cause one to wonder why, with so many suitors, did Marion consciously decide not to marry?

A self-educated writer, a DAR, a wartime sweetheart — three generations of Clifford-Flanders women in one fascinating collection.