Category Archives: State Records Blog Posts

- The Conscientious Objector: Desmond T. Doss

President Harry S. Truman presents the Congressional Medal of Honor to Cpl. Desmond T. Doss, 12 October 1945, U.S. Army Photo, Records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Material, Box 1a, Folder 5, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

In keeping with Out of the Box’s recent anniversary theme, today’s post spotlights Lynchburg native Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on Okinawa in May 1945.  Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, objected to killing and refused to carry a weapon.  He served as an Army medical corpsman, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Medical Detachment, 77th Infantry Division.  Doss is credited with saving the lives of at least 75 wounded soldiers.  His Medal of Honor Citation states:

[Doss] was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun [sic] fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly

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- Artists for Victory

No. 23 of the First Series of 50 War Poster Labels sponsored by Artists for Victory, Inc..  Artist - Duane Bryers, 1943, Records of the World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Records, Box 1b, Folder 100, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), marking the end of World War II in Europe.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to spotlight the Artists for Victory war stamps found in the records of Virginia’s World War II History Commission.

Formed during World War II, Artists for Victory, Inc. was a non-profit organization of more than ten thousand artists, united to serve the United States to the full extent of their various talents.  In the fall of 1942, Artists for Victory, Council for Democracy and the Museum of Modern Art sponsored the National War Poster Competition.  Over 2,000 poster entries were submitted focusing on eight war themes:  Production, War Bonds, The Nature of the Enemy, Loose Talk, Slave World or Free World?, The People are on the March, and Deliver Us From Evil.  Artists for Victory selected 50 of the most stimulating and had them reproduced as “war poster labels to carry their vital messages to every person throughout” the country.  Below are some examples of these stamps.

The Virginia World War II History Commission Records, 1941-1950, Accession 27544, are open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivists

 … read more »

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- The Vietnam War and Virginia

Photograph of General Westmoreland Davis, Vietnam Wing Dedication, Virginia War Memorial, 20 November 1981, Records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission, Box 1, Folder 13, Accession 33938, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.  On 30 April 1975, Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese Army.  The few U.S. Marines stationed at the American Embassy were evacuated by helicopter.  Between 1961 and 1975 over 58,000 U.S. service members died in Vietnam.  According to the Library’s Virginia Military Dead Database 1,490 Virginians were killed in the Vietnam conflict.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to highlight items from the state records collection related to Virginia’s role in the war.

The records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission (Accession 33938) contain items related to the construction and dedication of the Vietnam wing.  Included are blueprints, construction records, photographs of the dedication ceremony, program from the 20 November 1981 dedication, Vietnamese money, and a South Vietnamese flag.

Photograph of Bernard Allen Sowder from  Photograph added to site  by Robert Libby on 21 January 2009.

The Department of Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property records contain two very personal collections.  The Papers of Carol A.S. Amos (Accession 43250, Lot 1192872) include correspondence notifying her of the death of her husband, Bernard Allen Sowder, in Vietnam on 4 January 1970.  Sowder was born on 4 October 1947 in Longbranch, West Virginia.  He married Carol Ann Cassell on 9 April 1969 in Amarillo, Texas.  He started his tour in Vietnam on 24 November 1969 and served in the 167th Signal … read more »

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Who is Rusty Shackleford?

This is the eighth in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).

Who is Rusty Shackleford?  This was a question that I asked myself when I conducted an inventory of the email files the Kaine administration transferred to the Library in January 2010.  Rusty’s email box was unusual.  It contained 553 messages from the summer of 2008.  None of the messages had been opened and none were addressed to him personally.  I made a note of this in my spreadsheet and moved on to the next email box.  I had forgotten about Rusty until I processed the email of Paul Brockwell, conflict of interest director in the secretary of the commonwealth’s office, two years later.  I discovered that Kaine administration staffers were also curious about the identity of the mysterious Rusty Shackleford.

The following August 2008 email exchange between Brockwell; David Allen, Northrup Grumman; Amber Amato, director of constituent services; Kate Paris, executive assistant to the chief of staff and counselor to the governor; and Bernard Henderson, deputy secretary of the commonwealth, documents the administration’s search for Rusty.

The Kaine administration never did discover the identity of Rusty Shackleford but the crack staff at the Library of … read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Sterilization Edition

Dr. Charles V. Carrington, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1 November 1911, page one.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.   The genesis of this post came from reading Paul Lombardo’s 2009 book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles:  Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell.  My curiosity about Virginia’s eugenics program (1924-1979) was sparked by legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to compensate victims of this policy, and the Library of Virginia’s collections of archival records from Central Virginia Training Center and Western State Hospital, both including sterilization records.

While reading Lombardo’s book, I was surprised to learn that Dr. Charles Carrington, surgeon to the Virginia State Penitentiary from 1900 to 1911, involuntarily sterilized 12 inmates between 1902 and 1910.  Carrington revealed his “work” in a series of articles in the Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly in 1908, 1909, and 1910.  Carrington’s actions occurred over a decade prior to the passage of the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924.  While Carrington’s articles did not include the names of the prisoners he sterilized, I was able to identify 10 of the 12 using the penitentiary medical records.[1]  Nine of the 10 were black; seven of 10 were admitted to mental hospital while incarcerated.  In 1910 Dr. Carrington asserted that ten of the twelve were “insane, consistent … read more »

- We Know What’s Best For You: The Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship

 Baby Face movie poster, 1933.

From 1922 to 1966, the Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship was responsible for reviewing all motion picture films and their associated advertising materials– banners, posters, newspaper and magazine ads– to determine if the content was obscene or bereft of good morals. First established as the Board of Censors, but later reorganized as a division within the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law, the body licensed those films that passed review and collected fees for those licenses.

One movie that came under the division’s scrutiny was Baby Face. Produced by Warner Brothers in 1933, the film featured Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. The plot followed Stanwyck as Lily “Baby Face” Powers, a young woman whose early life included a stint as a barmaid in her father’s saloon.  In this decidedly sordid atmosphere, Lily constantly fights off the advances of much older men. Upon her father’s death, she takes the opportunity to leave the small mining community and head to the big city via boxcar.  As a way to better her station in life, she pursues nearly every man she meets in an effort to climb the social ladder.  She finds employment at a bank and seduces a young bank clerk (played by John Wayne), then moves on to his supervisor. He is followed by a bank vice president and, finally, she marries … read more »

- “We want the machine to work…not as an office ornament” – Charles Keiley vs. the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Company

Hooven Automatic Typewriter, ca. 1923 (image from Branford House Antiques -

One of my Sunday pleasures is reading David Segal’s bi-weekly “The Haggler” column in the New York Times.  “The Haggler” tries to resolve reader-submitted 21st century horror stories of bad customer service.  Virginia’s War History Commission could have used “The Haggler” in 1920 as they battled the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Company to repair their machine.

Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the Virginia War History Commission’s goal was “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.”  The Commission consisted of sixteen leading citizens appointed by the governor including:  Reverend Collins Denny; Brigadier General Jo Lane Stern, Adjutant General of Virginia; Douglas Southall Freeman, editor of the Richmond News-Leader; State Librarian Henry R. McIlwaine; and Colonel Charles R. Keiley, Executive Secretary of the Second Virginia Council of Defense.  Arthur Kyle Davis, president of Southern Female College in Petersburg, was named chairman of the commission.  Local branches were created to collect records of their community’s military and civilian activities. The commission needed a machine to create form letters for all of their correspondence with branch members.  However, they wanted each letter to appear to be an “original” – not a mimeograph or carbon.  After witnessing a demonstration of such a machine, Keiley purchased a Hooven Automatic Typewriter in February 1920 for … read more »

- Season’s Greetings, We Will Be Back in January 2015!

Christmas Menu, 25 December 1918, Second Company, First Battalion, 155th Depot Brigade Training Center, Camp Lee, Virginia, Virginia War History Commission, Series IV. Virginia Camps and Cantonments, Subseries C. Camp Lee, Box 44, Folder 1, Accession 37219, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Christmas Menu, 25 December 1918, page two and three.

These are some examples of how soldiers at Camp Lee, Virginia, celebrated Christmas in 1918.  The records of the Virginia War History Commission have been processed and are open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist… read more »

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- The Asylum Poisonings: Death, Politics, and “Low Cussedness” in Staunton

Western State Hospital, ca. 1838.

In 1883, the year when Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solved the case of the Speckled Band, an equally baffling real-life killing drew another noted team of detectives to the Western Lunatic Asylum (later renamed the Western State Hospital) in Staunton, Virginia.

On the morning of 24 February 1883, just after receiving their regular liquid medications, seven male patients lost consciousness.  Four died almost immediately, two died in the next three days, and one recovered.  An eighth patient vomited and experienced other ill effects, but recovered in a few days.  A coroner’s inquest concluded that the victims’ cups of medicine must have been poisoned while sitting in an unlocked hall cabinet the previous evening.  Other patients, taking the same medicine which had not been left in the cabinet, had no problems.  Dr. W.W.S. Butler, head pharmacist at the asylum, testified that no poisons were missing from the dispensary.  Autopsies were performed, and University of Virginia chemistry professor John W. Mallet used the latest forensic techniques to analyze three of the victims’ stomachs and their contents.  Mallet concluded that the poison used was aconitia (also known as aconitine), an extremely toxic extract of the aconite or monkshood plant, and the coroner’s jury agreed.  The asylum pharmacy had a bottle of highly diluted “tincture of aconite,” but Mallet thought it was not strong enough to … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685

Photograph of Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 32, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, the subject of this week’s post, was tried for performing abortions on three women between 1927 and 1937.  All three died as a result of Fitzgerald’s “illegal operation.”

Melva Victoria Royal was in trouble.  The unmarried 18-year-old North Carolinian King’s College student learned in the fall of 1927 that she was pregnant.  Melva wanted to terminate her pregnancy but didn’t know how.  A North Carolina physician provided James Royal, Melva’s father, with a name of someone who could perform the operation:  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald of Richmond, Virginia.  On 10 October, Melva and her father arrived in Richmond and made an appointment to see Dr. Fitzgerald.  After examining Melva, Dr. Fitzgerald, according to James Royal’s later court testimony, said he would not take the case for less than $200.  Royal obtained the money from a local bank, returned to Fitzgerald’s office at 6 p.m., and paid him.  Fitzgerald told James Royal take a walk for about half an hour.  When he returned, Melva was asleep.  At 8:30 p.m. the Royals  took a cab to their place of lodging.  Melva complained that she did not feel well.  At 9 a.m. on 11 October, Royal entered his … read more »