In 2016, SHSMO began an ambitious project to provide online access to a large manuscript collection of World War II letters written by over 3,000 enlisted men and women from nearly all 50 states. The collection has been widely used by genealogists and historians who visit the Society’s research center in Columbia and now all letters in the collection are available online and for free.
To honor the 75th anniversary of V-E Day on May 8, SHSMO staff, students, and volunteers worked steadily behind the scenes to complete the digital collection of World War II letters now available to the public.
Written by over 3,000 enlisted men and women from nearly all 50 states, the collection is a result of an effort begun in September 1945 by Kansas City radio broadcaster Ted Malone, the host of the nationally syndicated ABC show Between the Bookends. Malone asked listeners to send in wartime correspondence to be considered for a book of war letters edited by University of Missouri professor W. Francis English. People from all over the United States were soon contributing letters written by their loved ones who had served in the war.
Although the book was never finished, the original promise to share these stories is now being fulfilled 75 years later by putting the letters online at digital.shsmo.org.
Visitors to the site can group letters by date, location, and hometown of the service member. Researchers and scholars can tailor their searches to explore how the war impacted families and service members depending on where they were from and when and where they served.
The State Historical Society will continue to add to its World War II Digital Collection from other related manuscript collections. The Jean Schwarting Anderson papers, for example, provide a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day life of a member of the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during the war. The collection contains the correspondence of Jean Schwarting, who wrote letters home to her family in St. Louis and Mexico, Missouri, nearly every day of her training in Massachusetts and her service in Washington, DC, where she worked in communications. The lively and informative letters offer numerous details and insights into her experiences as a WAVE, providing a glimpse into the world of military women during World War II. Letters from family members add further perspective on life for Missourians on the homefront.