An M. A. C. Legacy, Part 3: Mary Crocker

16 04 2018

 

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America entered into World War I on April 6, 1917 and put out the call for young men to join in the fight.  Michigan Agricultural College, later to be known as Michigan State University, answered this call with its own students who both served and contributed at home.  Of those many, three in particular stand out: the Crocker siblings. Thanks to a collection housed in the MSU Archives building and the correspondence between these three, Mary, Emory, and Martin, we are given a unique look into the life of M.A.C. students who stayed and went “over there.”

Mary Yearbook PhotoMary Crocker graduated in 1918 from the home economics division and wrote avidly to her brothers while they served in France.  While Mary herself did not serve overseas and stayed home to finish her education at Michigan Agricultural College, she is an interesting participant to consider in this trilogy because of her collection of letters and her scrapbook.  Her contribution to the narrative of her family and the college was a quiet but crucial one.

During her education she enjoyed what is assumed to be an active social life, joining the Omicron Nu society while she was at school and attending dances. She kept some of the letters from young men asking if she would like to join them in attending dances or football games.  These all date from 1916, before America would enter the war, but several of them are from young men who would in the next year enlist in the armed services, such as Ralph Johnson, ‘16, A. Hopperstead, ‘18, and Harold Parks, ‘18.

She also enjoyed a constant relationship with her brothers. She exchanged letters with Emory and Martin when they were home just as she did when they were across the ocean. Emory wrote Mary a note about thanksgiving plans and how he had told Martin that he couldn’t get together later that afternoon. He also complained that when he tried to visit Mary at Howard Terrace, he was snubbed by some of the other women who were living there.  He wrote, “I rapped at the door and no-body came so I stepped inside and pushed the button and then some of those girls wouldn’t come and find out what I wanted.” He tells her that he’ll be going on a hike with Ralph Johnson, but then continues venting his irritation with her dorm mates: “If a girl would be in the same position the worst rough-neck in the dorm would be decent to her. If there is anything makes me sore it is to have some girl try to make a fool out of me. They knew I was there so all they did was giggle and whisper. The dickens with them.”

A few weeks before America entered the war, Mary sent her brother some sweets to enjoy, and as a thank you, she received a silly letter filled with flowery language from the men that were lucky enough to have Emory share with them: “Due to the fact that Emory is the only ‘Sir Galahad’ in this ward, the rest being nonchalant Knights of the Loyal Order of Jilted and Disappointed Youths, we must look upon him as our only benefactor and champion of our worthy and uplifted cause…Humbly and Confectionately yours.” The men who signed were Emory, Harry Weckler, Frank Warner, J. E. Foess, Cosmer LeVeaux, K. C. Beake, and Frank E. Hausherr.  Every man who signed his name would enlist in the war, and Cosmer LeVeaux would lose his life in the fighting.

During the war, writing to soldiers was encouraged in order to keep up morale, and Mary wrote to other soldiers besides her brothers. One was a M. A. C. graduate, Corporal John F. Galloway, ‘17. In a show of dark humor, probably in response to a question Mary posed in a previous letter to him, John begins with, “Dead? No, not just yet. Just busy, that’s all.” He goes on to tell her he’s proud of her and her accomplishments at school and the people he’s run into. He tells her a humorous anecdote about searching men for alcohol when he was on guard duty:

“Another time I was corp. of the guard and our post was at the terminal of the car line. Our duty was to search every one for booze. As they got off the car we would line them up and pat them in the chest, and hips, etc to see if there were any bottle on them. Usually there would be a bunch of women and girls there too, and you ought to have seen the expressions on their faces as we looked the men over. Must have thot [sic] their turn was next but we do not search them. It sure was comical to see them.”

After his story, he continues by talking about the football team and why they were doing poorly that year and about a messy training session he had on the rifle range. Overall, his tone is a lighthearted one written to a friend more than a letter of a soldier writing home.

Not all the letters Mary received were from friends or family.  One was marked “Dear friend” and was signed by a Pvt. Ray E. Dulmage. Having most likely already gotten a letter from Mary, Dulmage wrote back, “I suppose you already know much more than I can tell you about this country since you have two brothers here. I may tell you another side of the story, which may be of interest to you.” He goes into detail about the people and how they live, that “the houses are of stone and cement” and “very old and just as odd looking” with “ no furniture to speak of, no carpets only dirt, dirt, dirt.” He talks about the people, how the women “seem to be degenerate” and “all the men I have seen are the older ones,” which would make sense since it would be assumed that any man capable of fighting was fighting. He noticed the children were able to quickly learn english. Many of them would sing “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here” when the soldiers would go back to camp, and Dulmage suspected that the children thought it was their national anthem.

The earlier letters Mary collected show a life expected of young college students, which furthers the understanding of how thoroughly the war would change life for the individuals that are introduced through her photos and correspondences. While only a few letters written by Mary were collected, her contribution is crucial and her viewpoint is more of that of the narrator in this saga.  She herself is silent, and her words are read minimally, but she is the vehicle that allows for a deeper understanding through this intimate look at the life of students, soldiers and how the everyday was changed with America’s entry into the war.

Written by Catharine Neely

Sources:

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 21 November 1915, Box FD, Folder 1, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker, et al. to Mary Crocker, 19 March 1917, Box FD, Folder 1, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

John Galloway to Mary Crocker, 1 December 1917, Box FD, Folder 7, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Ray Dulmage to Mary Crocker, 21 June 1918, Box FD, Folder 7, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Mary Crocker Scrapbook, n. d., Scrapbook #244, Boutell Mary Crocker, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Box FD, Folder 14, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

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