Papers of Ruth Thompson Peirce, 1902-1993
Correspondence, photographs, clippings, etc., documenting Ruth Thompson Peirce's service as a member of the Women's Army Corps (WACs) during World War II.
Language of Materials
Materials in English.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright. The donor has transferred any copyright she held in these papers to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
Extent1.04 linear feet ((2+1/2 file boxes) plus 7 photograph folders)
The bulk of the collection, dating from the war years, consists of correspondence, photographs, and clippings documenting Peirce's experiences as a WAC. Extensive notes by her suggest some biographical details. While there is some material pertaining to Peirce's life before and after her service in the military, information about those years is scanty.
Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-18) is divided into two major sections: biographical and correspondence. Biographical consists of autobiographical notes, clippings, photographs, etc. Photocopies of published works, with manuscript annotations by Peirce, where she is portrayed as a character are filed here along with notes and clippings found inside these works. Works that do not include Peirce are filed in Series II, Post-war employment (see #33-35). Correspondence includes letters primarily from her years in the WACs, with her mother, husband, and with WAC friends. The folder entitled "Autobiography" (#1) was designated by Peirce as such; other autobiographical notes scattered throughout the collection were brought together in 3 folders and called Autobiographical notes (#2-4).
Series II, Professional (#19-44) is divided into three major sections: Women's Army Corps, which includes a diary (1943), clippings, correspondence, photographs of Peirce and friends, and some professional material such as flight maps, military orders, regulations, etc.; Women in the military subject files; and Post-war employment, which includes professional correspondence, letters of reference, etc. The diary (#20v) contains short daily entries, while "My Service Diary" (#21), a pre-printed service notebook (disbound), contains general information regarding Peirce's service as a WAC, bases she was stationed at, ranks attained, names and addresses of friends, etc. Peirce kept clippings and photographs of her WAC friends throughout her life; these have been gathered together in #29-31.
Folder titles in quotation marks are those of Peirce; others were supplied by the processor.
Ruth Milne (Thompson) Peirce was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on June 24, 1911, to Daniel and Mary (Finnerty) Thompson. The fifth of eight daughters, she grew up in Jamaica Plain and Brighton, Massachusetts. She worked in admissions for Brigham Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital (1932-1935), and as the assistant manager at the Café Rouge, Statler Hotel, Boston, Mass. (1935-1942). In 1941, Peirce was recruited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to work as an undercover agent at the Boston Intercept Command, and in other secret operations.
Peirce and her younger sister Edith joined the Women's Army Corps (WACs) in August 1942. Both sisters trained at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. In November 1942, they were sent to the Boston Intercept Command, where they became two of the first women intercept operators in the WAC, ordering planes into the air to look at unidentified aircraft that had been sighted. In March 1943 the sisters were transferred Fort Polk, Louisiana, for overseas training.
In April 1943, Peirce was sent to Dow Field, in Bangor, Maine, where she became one of the first female flight dispatchers in the WAC. Later that year she was transferred to Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island, New York, serving there until 1945. According to the Newton Tab, Peirce became the first woman corporal T/5, a high-ranking intelligence officer. Peirce is a subject of two books regarding the WAC: she appears as "Sue" in Fjeril Hess's WACs at Work: the Story of the Three B's of the AAF (1945); and as a minor figure in Deborah Lewis's Duty, A Living Memorial (1992).
Discharged from the military in 1945, Peirce unsuccessfully sought employment as a flight dispatcher with a commercial airline. She worked in various hotels in Boston and Miami; as social secretary for Catherine "Kay" Falvey, a fellow WAC and former Massachusetts state legislator, in Washington, D.C. (1947); and as a manufacturer's representative for Sculpture Curler, a hair product (1947-1948).
Returning to Boston in 1948, Peirce married John Peirce, an Air Force officer whom she had met at Mitchell Air Force Base. She was recalled for three months of intelligence work in 1949, after which she studied Hotel Management at Boston University. From 1953 to 1956, the Peirces lived outside Casablanca, Morocco, where John was stationed. Returning to the United States, they were at air force bases in New Jersey, Texas, and Massachusetts.
In 1963, the couple settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Peirce worked in various Boston hospitals and libraries. The Peirces separated in 1970 and were divorced in 1975; they had no children. Peirce remained in Brookline until her death in 1994. Throughout her life she retained an avid interest in women in the military, collecting clippings and other documents on the subject.
The collection is arranged in two series:
- Series I. Personal and biographical
- Series II. Professional
Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Accession numbers: 93-M64
The papers of Ruth Thompson Peirce were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ruth Thompson Peirce in April 1993.
Donors: Ruth (Thompson) Peirce
Accession number: 93-M64
Processed by: Kendra Van Cleave
The following duplicate items have been removed from the collection and were sold in the Schlesinger Library book sale, April 1999:
- Julia Edwards. Women of the World: The Great Foreign Correspondents. New London, Conn.: Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
- June A. Willenz. Women Veterans: America's Forgotten Heroines. New York: Continuum, 1983.
- Mattie E. Treadwell. The Women's Army Corps. Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1954.
The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library book department:
- Deborah A. Lewis. Duty, A Living Memorial. Piedmont, Ala.: Mother Ram Pub., c1992.
- Fjeril Hess. WACs at Work: The Story of the "Three B's" of the AAF. New York: Macmillan, 1945.
- Box 1: 1-13
- Box 2: 14-16, 19-32
- Box 3: 33-39
Processed: June 1999
By: Kendra Van Cleave, Glynn Edwards
- Peirce, Ruth Thompson, 1911-1994. Papers of Ruth Thompson Peirce, 1902-1993: A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository
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