Skip to main content
Use the right side menu to identify relevant boxes and place requests.

Correspondence, 1917-1919

 Series 1

Series I consists primarily of letters written by John Turner Whalen to his mother during his service in Maryland, D. C., and Virginia during World War I. Whalen was nineteen when he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard, and although he qualified as a marksman in October 1917, he spent much of the autumn in the hospital ward in Fort Howard, Maryland due to some complications with his flat feet. He provided his mother with news about the weather and the conditions at camp, discussing the tedium of his drills, mosquitoes, and typhoid inoculations. Whalen was also concerned about his family's situation in Howard County and urged his mother repeatedly to "try to arrange to go to Balto. this winter" (September 24, 1917). He continued to advise his family to find an apartment in Baltimore in almost every letter he wrote that autumn. The family finally moved to an apartment on Eutaw Place in December 1917.

Whalen attempted to describe the "real" news of the day, in contrast to newspaper reports. On November 3, 1917, he wrote that his company was moving to Locust Point and urges his family not to "believe the newspaper reports." A few days later, on November 6, he described their living situation at Locust Point - "bunking in [railroad] cars" - and "by the color of the mattresses on which we sleep I judge that there will be plenty of company." The population of the Locust Point area of Baltimore was predominantly German during World War I, and Whalen commented "we may have a little excitement yet. I think they did enough to satisfy themselves when they succeeded in burning Pier No. 9 about a week ago."

At the end of November 1917, Whalen transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D. C. His hospital letters contain news about the operation on his feet and his entertaining hospital companion, Bob Garland, who "is a mighty interesting fellow, having been abroad fourteen different times." Whalen also wrote of his hopes of receiving a furlough after his discharge from the hospital. Whether or not he was successful is not known, but there is a break in the correspondence from December 18, 1917 until January 31, 1918.

In 1918, Whalen returned to Fort Howard, and his letters from there describe the environment and conditions. By July, Whalen had transferred to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Company, and, in response to his brother's questions, he wrote, "Purpose of Anti-Aircraft Co. To shoot crows, turkey-buzzards, etc. coming up the bay. Also sparrows." Whalen spent some time at Sparrows Point, Baltimore and wrote about that neighborhood; ". . .in the fashionable Aethopian [sic] section. The only white persons we see are the carpenters working on some buildings nearby."

Whalen moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, in October 1918 to continue training, where he found himself "rather handicapped by the other men. All of them. . . have been to college. . .." He also voiced frustration with the army: "Tonight at 6:10 p.m we have to go down to the parade ground to sing. Isn't that the most foolish thing you ever heard of. . . What I need now is a little brain culture and not voice culture."

The last wartime letter in the collection is dated November 6, 1918, just a few days before the end of the war. One additional piece of correspondence, dated May 1919, is a bill for a medical operation, the nature of which is unknown, although it may be for appendix removal.

Arrangement is chronological.


  • 1917-1919

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.


50 Items

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742