Undiscovered for decades, cache of WW2 letters tells story of leadership, character
The 2008 discovery of 1,300 World War II-era letters written by Bryant alumni to members of the Bryant Service Club unleashed a flood of memories and produced a new book that highlights essential Bryant characteristics of character, leadership, ingenuity, and enterprise.
Bryant College Goes to War, published by the University in recognition of its 150th anniversary, was written by Professor Judy Barrett Litoff, Ph.D., a leading authority on the history of American women and World War II. The book features firsthand accounts of wartime as illustrated in thank you letters to the Bryant Service Club.
Founded on March 27, 1942, the student-run club sent cigarettes, candy, cookies, letters, and knitted articles to boost the morale of Bryant alumni stationed in every major theater of war. The club united the student body as never before. By the war’s end, approximately 500 Bryant women and men had received letters and packages from the club, which, in turn, received the letters of thanks. During the war, the letters were posted on bulletin boards for all to read, then found their way into scrapbooks that made the move from Bryant’s East Side campus to Smithfield and were forgotten.
Mary Moroney, director of library services, and a student stumbled upon the scrapbooks while doing research for an unrelated project. “Out of curiosity, the pair perused the pages of aged, crisp letters and realized they were holding something untouched for decades,” the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in a July 2009 article. Moroney immediately alerted Litoff, who then engaged students in a research project that helped to digitize the entire collection and interview some of the letter writers.
Many of the letters are reproduced in the pages of Bryant College Goes to War, which was launched Nov. 20 at an event featuring Litoff, President Ronald K. Machtley, Vice President for Academic Affairs José-Marie Griffiths, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Lux. Bryant students, including some wearing their Reserve Officers’ Training Corps uniforms, read excerpts from a selection of the letters to an audience that included faculty, staff, and students, as well as family members of the soldiers whose letters were read.