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Guide to the Grace Avery Lillard Papers
1915-1990
(bulk, 1943-1945)
 MS 3069

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


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 10, 2018
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Grace Avery Lillard was born on 7 June 1919 in McComb, Mississippi, the youngest of three daughters of Lewis Avery and Ada (Albin) Lillard. Her father was a conductor on the Illinois Central Railroad. Her sister Valena (or Lena) married H.R. Parker. Her sister Louise married Charles Saffell. Grace Lillard never married. She graduated in 1937 from McComb High School, and next studied for a year each at Hinds Junior College, in Raymond, Mississippi, and at Southwest Mississippi Junior College, in Summit. In 1941 she completed a bachelor's degree in history and art, at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) in Columbus. The college hired the recent graduate as laboratory assistant to Professor Amie Marietta Bynes in the art department, a position she held through 1942. Lillard retained an interest in art, and painted portraits and landscapes throughout her life.

On 16 January 1943, at Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Grace Lillard enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) as an aviation cadet. As she told an interviewer many years later, "I just wanted to see what the Army life would be like or if I could measure up to it." She went through basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and at Camp Shanks in Orangetown, New York, where she learned how to crawl over a strip of land which might be under fire, how to use a gas mask, and how to abandon ship by climbing down a rope ladder slung off a high platform. She would rise to technician, 5th grade, WAC Detachment, 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional). [After July 1943, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was known as the Women's Army Corps (WAC).]

Lillard was transported to Europe from New York on the troopship Argentina on 3 May 1944, reaching Scotland ten days later. Her tour would bring her to Stanmore, Middlesex, England, where her company did cryptography, message center, teletype, and clerical work dealing with signals. August brought her to Vittel, France, in the northeast corner of the country, where, in their scarce free time, many of the WACs volunteered at a military hospital, visiting patients, "getting them small things they needed such as writing paper, razors, pipes, cigarettes and candy, writing letters for those who could not[,] reading to others, and just doing what they could to lighten the mood of the wounded. Some of the girls were even trusted with the responsibility of feeding the more helpless." May 1945 brought Lillard to Germany, where she remained through the end of the war. The detachment received three combat stars representing Northern France, Central Europe, and the Rhineland Campaigns. Several individual members received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

Back in the United States she was based in Washington D.C., where she worked for a time in the Department of State Library, with that collection's periodicals, and took painting lessons at the Corcoran School of Art. For 31 years she was with the U.S. Information Service, in the motion picture and television branch, where she was responsible for sending film provisions used in public relations activities to different embassies. She retired in 1975 as Field Coordinator Officer for East Asia and the Pacific.

After retirement Grace Lillard returned to her native Misssissippi to be closer to her family. She had an exhibition of her paintings at Methodist Hospital in Hattiesburg in the autumn of 1989. She died in Hattiesburg, age 71, on 19 June 1990.

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This note is based on Lillard's typescript, "This is Your Story! An Account of the WAC Detachment 1st Tactical Air Force (Prov.)" (box 1, folder 20); her scrapbook (box 2); an article from the McComb, Mississippi Enterprise-Journal of 18 March 1948: "Thrilling Career of Grace Lillard of McComb, Former WAC and Now of Washington" (copy in box 1, folder 14); an article in the  Hattiesburg (Mississippi)  American of 18 September 1989: "At 70, Lillard puts her art on display" (copy in box 1, folder 14); and her obituary from the  Hattiesburg American of 21 June 1990: "Artist-writer Grace Lillard dies at 71" (copy in box 1, folder 14).