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Guide to the Grace Avery Lillard Papers
(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

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Lillard, Grace Avery, 1919-1990
Title: Grace Avery Lillard papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1915-1990 (bulk, 1943-1945)
Abstract: A small collection documenting the World War II military experiences of Grace Avery Lillard (1919-1990), technician, 5th grade, Women's Army Corps (WAC) Detachment, 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional), who served in England, France, and Germany, doing cryptography and clerical work dealing with signals. Includes her pocket Bible, some letters sent home from Europe, a detailed scrapbook of photographs and ephemera, and Lillard's typed account of the activities of her detachment between 1944 and 1945.
Quantity: 1.25 Linear Feet (in 1 half-document box and 1 flat box)
Call Phrase: MS 3069

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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.


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).

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Scope and Contents

The strength of the collection stems from its items documenting Grace Avery Lillard's World War II military experiences as technician, 5th grade, Women's Army Corps (WAC) Detachment, 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional). These include her pocket Bible, letters sent home to her parents, and 9-page typescript account of her time in service—"This is Your Story! An Account of the WAC Detachment 1st Tactical Air Force (Prov.)"—written while stationed in Ansbach, Germany, near the end of the war in 1945. Lillard describes her basic training, her transport by troopship, accommodations in Europe, air-raid warnings, bombings, cryptographic work, and voluntary nursing at a military hospital. Lillard's scrapbook contains hundreds of photographs, virtually all of them identified, and many accompanied by ephemera, tickets, programs, newspaper clippings, maps, and receipts.

The collection also contains scattered material from Grace Lillard's civilian life, both before and after her WAC service, such as her 12th grade report card (1936–1937), a program signed by actress Jeannette MacDonald (1939), a chapbook of poems she wrote and self-published for friends (circa 1964), two passports with travel stamps for Croatia, Greece, and other European countries, and assorted photographs of family, friends, and Lillard herself, ranging in date from World War I to 1960.


The Grace Avery Lillard Papers are organized in two series:

Series I. Personal papers, 1915-1990
Series II. Women's Army Corps service, circa 1941-1945

The material is generally filed in chronological order within each series, except for the photographs in Series I, which are grouped at the end. Similarly, because of its size, the scrapbook in Series II is filed out of chronological order, at the end of that series.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Ephemera.
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Scrapbooks.

Subject Organizations

  • United States. Army. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps
  • United States. Army. Women's Army Corps

Subject Topics

  • Women soldiers -- United States
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Female

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.)

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is owned by the New-York Historical Society. The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before 1 January 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Grace Avery Lillard Papers, MS 3069, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Materials

The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library holds forty letters written by Martha L. Mills, a private in the WAC, dated August-December 1943 (see the Martha L. Mills Papers), and several WAAC recruitment posters in the New-York Historical Society Collection of World War II Posters, PR 55-8.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, David M. Lesser, Fine Antiquarian Books, LLC, 2017.

Processing Information

Archivist Joseph Ditta processed this collection in September-October 2018.

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Container List

Series I. Personal papers, 1915-1990

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Birth certificate (1919) certified copies and affidavit of birth record
1919, 1942, 1961
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Obituaries

Scope and Contents

Contains undated newspaper obituaries for relatives Emma Caroline (Draughon) Lillard (1860-1931), Lester B. (or D.) Lillard (1901-1937), Reuben Malcolm Albin (1901-1966), and Valena (Lillard) Moffitt (1883-1972).

Box: 1 Folder : 3 High school report card

Scope and Contents

Lillard's grade 12a report card for the spring semester of the 1936-1937 school year, McComb City Schools, McComb, Mississippi.

Box: 1 Folder : 4 Ephemera & clippings

Scope and Contents

Contains undated clippings of poems (2), a list of six things to do each day, and a program autographed by singer and actress Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965) from her appearance at the Muncipal Auditorium, Jackson, Mississippi, 29 March 1939.

1939, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Correspondence

Scope and Contents

Contains a letter on Mississippi State College for Women stationery, dated 5 August 1942, from President B.L. Parkinson, requesting Grace A. Lillard to occupy rooms in a campus dormitory, where she would provide an "adult point of view" to the students. With a draft of Lillard's refusal to abandon her quieter quarters elsewhere.

Also includes a postcard view of "Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery, Stratford-Upon-Avon," mailed 30 June 1961 by Grace Lillard and her sister, Louise (Lillard) Saffell, to their sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Parker, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

1942, 1961
Box: 1 Folder : 6 How Lasting Is Beauty? Poems by Grace Avery Lillard

Scope and Contents

Chapbook of poetry printed privately for friends. The poems range in composition date from 1943 to 1964. Most were published previously in Federal Poets Magazine.

circa 1964
Box: 1 Folder : 7 U.S. Passports

Scope and Contents

With visa stamps for Croatia, Greece, and other European and Middle Eastern locations.

1969-1974, 1978-1983
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Last will and testament, with codicil
1976/78, 1990
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Photographs | World War I

Scope and Contents

Fourteen photographs of World War I soldiers and their camp, only three of which are dated (1915, 1916, and 1918) and identified. It is unclear how these men relate to Grace Lillard or her family.

1915-1918, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Photographs | People

Scope and Contents

Assorted photographs, presumably of family members, friends, and Grace A. Lillard herself. Just one is dated (24 March 1934). A number are identified as "Lena" or "Louise" for Lillard's sisters Valena (Lillard) Parker and Louise (Lillard) Saffell.

1934, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Photographs | Bush Hill School, Alexandria, Virginia

Scope and Contents

Photographs of an elementary school class outside the Bush Hill School, 5927 Westchester Street, Alexandria, Virginia. In one shot the class is posed with a female teacher or school official, who might possibly be Louise (Lillard) Saffel, sister of Grace Avery Lillard, who was an educator who lived with her husband in Alexandria.

[1960?] June
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Photographs | Cruise on SS Evangeline

Scope and Contents

The SS Evangeline was rechristened the  Yarmouth Castle in 1964. She caught fire and sank in 1965 en route from Miami to the Bahamas.

1960 August
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Photographs | Unidentified places
Box: 1 Folder : 14 [Research on Lillard]

Scope and Contents

Notes on Grace A. Lillard apparently compiled by David M. Lesser, Fine Antiquarian Books LLC, who sold the collection to the New-York Historical Society in 2017. Includes several newspaper accounts of Lillard's life, painting, and military career, and her obituary from the Hattiesburg American, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 21 June 1990.


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Series II. Women's Army Corps (WAC) service, circa 1941-1945

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 15 New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Scope and Contents

Pocket Bible printed by the American Bible Society and designed for wartime use. With a preprinted message from Franklin D. Roosevelt "commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States." Grace Lillard's name, address, and nearest relative are recorded inside the front cover.

[circa 1941-1945]
Box: 1 Folder : 16 A Report on the WAC by Lieutenant George W. Casey

Scope and Contents

Casey was chaplain of the Second WAC Training Center.

1943 July 4
Box: 1 Folder : 17 American Red Cross Map of Paris
Box: 1 Folder : 18 Triplicate Authorization of Class B Allotment for Purchase of War Savings Bonds

Scope and Contents

Made out in the name of Grace A. Lillard, "T/5 WAC Det Boston AAA Reg," listing her sister, Louise Lillard, as co-owner of a $50.00 bond.

1944 [June?]
Box: 1 Folder : 19 Correspondence

Scope and Contents

Letters and some ephemera sent home to her parents and sisters by Grace A. Lillard when stationed in England, France, and Germany, during her WAC service. In her final letter, dated 16 September 1945 and sent from Washington, D.C., she is "walking on air" because she became a "free woman" on the previous Friday. "It is a grand feeling being a civilian again -- in Louise's [her sister's] clothes." Includes an additional letter (September 1945), from Grace Lillard's sister, Lena Parker, to their mother, regarding Grace's return to civilian life. With two undated German postcards, one showing Heidelberg, and the other Hirschhorn (Neckar), a health resort.

Box: 1 Folder : 20 "This is Your Story! An Account of the WAC Detachment 1st Tactical Air Force (Prov.)"

Scope and Contents

Prepared by T/5 Grace A. Lillard, printed Ansbach, Germany, 1945. A 9-page typescript account of Lillard's induction (March 1944), ship transport to Europe (May 1944), experiences in England (May-August 1944), France (August 1944-May 1945), and Germany (May 1945). Includes a roster of her fellow members of the WAC Detachment 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional).

Conditions Governing Access

This item is in fragile condition. Researchers should consult the transcription provided in Box 1, Folder 21.

Box: 1 Folder : 21 "This is Your Story!" [transcription]
Box: 2 Scrapbook

Scope and Contents

Scrapbook documenting Grace A. Lillard's time in the Women's Army Corps (WACs). Includes letters, official orders, ephemera, tickets, programs, newspaper clippings, maps, receipts, and many photographs of Lillard and her colleagues in Boston, New York, England, France, Germany, and upon their return to the United States. Most images are labeled and/or dated, especially shots of the group Lillard refers to as the "Holy Family," which included Lillard, Margaret Blasko, Nelda Little, Adele Luderowski, Mary E. Gerchman, and Helen D. Kosakowski. The "Holy Family" nickname probably came from a similarly-named room in the Villa Finck, in Vittel, France, which had previously been used as a school by nuns, but which quartered the WACs between October 1944 and May 1945.


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