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Guide to the Halbreich Papers
1941-1946 (bulk 1944-1945)
 MS 2959

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Megan Dolan

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 14, 2014
Description is in English

Container List

Series II: Letters from Shirley to Lester, 1943 - 1945

Scope and Contents note

The majority of Shirley’s letters reflect on their relationship and her love for Lester and their new born baby, Jeffrey Neal. She talks about her friend’s husbands who are also away at war and wonders whether they are being faithful to their wives. Shirley tells how many women are seeing other men while their husbands are away. Both Shirley and Lester repeatedly reassure one another of their fidelity.

Much of the correspondence concern plans for their future; where they will live after the war is over, whether they will rent or buy a premises and where Lester will set up a practice. Shirley describes the level of inflation that has taken place since the beginning of the war and how there is a serious housing crisis in New York due to the influx of men returning. She talks about the elections for mayor in NYC between Morris, Goldstein and O’Dwyer and remarks on what she feels is a comedic element of the elections as, she claims, the ‘Jews are voting for O’Dwyer and the Catholics for Goldstein’. She writes a poem in which she mentions Tammany Hall.

A recurring theme throughout Shirley’s letters is motherhood. Throughout all of Shirley’s letters she provides detailed descriptions of their son, Jeffrey, as he goes through the various stages of infancy. Her accounts of daily life with Jeff provide an interesting insight into motherhood in the 1940s, for example how rationing affected items such as children’s shoes. In a letter dated March 24, 1945, when complaining of how Jeff cries when in the stroller and is not pushed, she gives an example of ‘leaving him outside a store’ while she went inside to buy groceries and tells how other women kept coming in to tell her that her baby was crying. This was apparently a very common practice during this period.

Shirley’s letters give the reader a good sense of what it was like for the average female in the US while their husband/boyfriend was away at war. During the war Shirley lived with her parents. She gives an insight into her family life, telling how she attended Broadway shows, plays at Madison Square Garden, and dined with them at upscale restaurants, such as Arnold Rothstein's ‘Longchamps.' She also mentions having maids, one in particular, Nora, who she described as ‘their colored girl’. Shirley talks extensively about her female friends and describes how they regularly called to each other’s houses and socialized with each other. She gives accounts of many of the conversations had at these social gatherings, providing an interesting insight into what other women were experiencing during this time. She speaks of many of her friend’s relationships and how they were managing life without their husbands/partners/family members who are away at war. She remarks on how her sister Elaine reacted to her 21 year-old boyfriend returning from the war and describes how her sister was a little disappointed in him as she had built him up in her head to be more mature. She was surprised to find he was just as immature as he was when he left, a poignant reminder of the youth of some of the men who were at war and the many who did not return. In another letter, written in April 1945, Shirley informs Lester that a friend of theirs was killed in Leyte, Philippines. This man was due to wed Shirley’s close friend Gloria, who is frequently mentioned throughout the letters. Shirley describes the emotions Gloria went through after she received the news and how she was coping with the death of her fiancé. She also tells how Gloria received back over a hundred letters she sent her fiancé that he had never received and describes the level of Gloria’s distress at this information.

Shirley's own frustration with the mail is another frequent theme of her letters. There were chronic mail delays, both from the US to soldiers and from soldiers to the US, and Shirley could go weeks without hearing from Lester. The letters also provide insight into the difficulty of communicating in the pre-digital world. For example, Shirley describes organizing a trip to San Francisco to see Lester after receiving a letter from him in Manila telling her to meet him in San Francisco on August 5, 1945. She explains how she communicated with various people and hotels to organize the trip through letters and telegrams and outlines the difficulties in organizing this trip due to being unsure as to when he was actually arriving in San Francisco.

Shirley’s letters provide an interesting insight into how the people of New York reacted to details that were emerging about the war. In a letter dated April 14, 1945, she describes a tribute paid to Roosevelt before a show she attended at Radio City and tells how sobbing could be heard throughout the audience. In a letter dated May 1, 1945 she describes the emotions she felt about hearing of the death of Hitler and tells how the news showed ‘atrocity pictures of the German concentration camps’. In a letter dated May 7th she discusses the unconditional surrender of the Germans and describes the reactions of people she knows who have lost loved ones. She describes the general feeling in New York concerning the victory in Europe and explains how it is quieter than expected as many of the New York troops were still stationed in the South Pacific, and for those men and their families, the war was not yet over.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 11 Letters, August 1942
1942 August 28
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Letters, September & October 1943
1943 September 7- October 26
Box: 3 Folder : 13 Letters; October, November, December 1944, & January 1945

Scope and Contents note

Includes newspaper clippings that Shirley included in her letters to Lester.

1944 October 13 -1945 January 18
Box: 3 Folder : 14 Letters, February & March 1945
1945 February 1 - March 26
Box: 4 Folder : 1 Letters, April 1945
1945 April 6-30
Box: 4 Folder : 2 Letters, May & June 1945
1945 May 1 - June 25
Box: 4 Folder : 3 Letters, July & August 1945
1945 July 1 - August 29th
Box: 4 Folder : 4 Letters, October 1945
1945 October 4-31
Box: 4 Folder : 5 Letters, November 1945
1945 November 1-8

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