Researching the Homefront

Today’s post is part of the Florida Department of State’s Victory Florida campaign to commemorate the contributions of Floridian men and women to winning World War II. Help us get the word out by sharing this and other related posts on social media using the hashtag #VictoryFL.

Americans nationwide are preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The weekend of August 14-16 will mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s announcement that it would surrender, while September 2nd will be the anniversary of the formal ending of hostilities.

Bird's eye view of the Victory Club of the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, standing in a

Bird’s eye view of the Victory Club of the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, standing in a “V for Victory” formation (1942).

Over 248,000 Floridians, including more than 50,000 African Americans, served in the military during the war, while the state itself served as a year-round training center with over 170 military installations. Florida’s population grew by leaps and bounds during and after the war, as many former military personnel decided to make the Sunshine State their permanent home.

It goes without saying that Florida’s military contributions to the war were vital, but Floridians on the homefront also played an essential role in achieving victory. Citizens from all walks of life – men and women, whites and African Americans, city dwellers and rural folks – poured countless hours into civilian defense programs designed to keep Florida safe and prepared for any possibility. They took stock of food, water, and medicine supplies, organized carpools and child care services for working mothers, planned recreational activities for the men and women in uniform, and even helped watch the skies and seas for signs of the enemy.

Scrap metal collection was a vital homefront program. Seen here are several Floridians in Pensacola with a large collection of scrap metal and rubber (circa 1943).

Scrap metal collection was a vital homefront program. Seen here are several Floridians in Pensacola with a large collection of scrap metal and rubber (circa 1943).

This organizational chart demonstrates the breadth of the projects undertaken by the State Defense Council and its local branches. Shown here are the various state committees, along with the organizations with which they cooperated (Box 14, Series 419 - State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

This organizational chart demonstrates the breadth of the projects undertaken by the State Defense Council and its local branches. Shown here are the various state committees, along with the organizations with which they cooperated (Box 14, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida). Click to enlarge.

Many of these programs were administrated by Florida’s State Defense Council, a state-level counterpart of the national Office of Civilian Defense. Each county had its own defense council, with committees assigned to take on various tasks associated with civilian defense. Because these entities answered to the State Defense Council, many of their records have been preserved at the State Library and Archives in Tallahassee in Record Series 419. For the local historian working on a history of a particular Florida community or county, these records can be invaluable for understanding how local leaders helped meet the serious challenges of World War II. Genealogists may also find it interesting to learn how various relatives participated in civilian defense work. Here are some examples of the kinds of records available:

 

Personnel Lists & Organizational Charts

Each county and many cities had their own defense councils, administrated by community leaders and supported by hundreds of local volunteers. Many of the committee chairpersons were required to submit oaths of allegiance before their appointments to local leadership positions would be confirmed by the state and made official by the Governor. The local council also had to notify the state if there were any changes in personnel as the war progressed. All of this activity was documented through correspondence and lists of essential defense council leaders. Local and family historians can use this information to determine who was in charge of each area of civilian defense work during the war in a given community.

A leadership roster from the Dixie County Defense Council, showing who was in charge of the various committees. This sort of roster is available for most counties in Florida (Box 16, Series 419 - State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

A leadership roster from the Dixie County Defense Council, showing who was in charge of the various committees. This sort of roster is available for most counties in Florida (Box 16, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

Chart suggesting a method for organizing civilian defense volunteers. Note that the chart provides alternative arrangements for areas with varying population density (Box 14. State Defense Council Records - Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

Chart suggesting a method for organizing civilian defense volunteers. Note that the chart provides alternative arrangements for areas with varying population density (Box 14. State Defense Council Records – Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

 

Local Programs & Advertisements

Local defense councils, especially those in Florida’s larger cities, designed intricate programs to handle basic needs like child care for working mothers, transportation, and spreading information about air raid drills, blackouts, and other safety measures. Many of the child care centers, supply distribution points, and other agencies created during the war disappeared quickly after victory, leaving little trace of their existence. The records in Series 419 can help local historians piece together what these entities were doing, where they were doing it, and who was in charge.

Example: Leaflet describing wartime child care services in Duval County established by the local school board and the Duval County Defense Council (Box 16, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.

 

Another example:

Flyer produced by the Dade County Defense Council encouraging citizens to volunteer (Box 12, State Defense Council Records - Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

Flyer produced by the Dade County Defense Council encouraging citizens to volunteer (Box 12, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

 

Correspondence

While much of the correspondence between the State Defense Council and the local defense councils consists of routine business, some of the letters contain excellent descriptions of the work being done, and of the challenges local leaders faced in getting the supplies they needed, the information they wanted, and so on. These letters are a must for anyone working on the history of civilian defense work in a Florida community. Here is an example of one such letter to the State Defense Council from Mrs. C.C. Codrington of Lake City, who had volunteered to chair a local campaign to recruit women into the Women’s Army Corps. She describes speaking to local civic clubs about her work, working with local theater managers to show informative films, and starting work in the local high school library. Mrs. Codrington’s oath of allegiance was enclosed with the letter.

Source: Box 12, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.
These are only a few examples of the many gems to be found in the records of the State Defense Council at the State Archives of Florida. If you or someone you know is working on a history of your Florida community during World War II, visit us and have a look. More information on Series 419 may be obtained from the Archives Online Catalog, or you may contact the State Archives directly by email at Archives@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at (850)-245-6719.

Also, don’t forget to share this post with friends or family who may be interested in learning more about Florida’s World War II contributions. Use the hashtag #VictoryFL to help more people find this and other related posts!

Mary McLeod Bethune Learning Unit

Check out our online learning unit to learn more about educator and civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune. The unit explores the life and legacy of Bethune, using primary source documents from the collections of the State Library and Archives of Florida. Lesson plans included in the unit are correlated to state and national standards.

Mary McLeod Bethune and girls from her school, Daytona Beach, ca. 1910

Mary McLeod Bethune and girls from her school, Daytona Beach, ca. 1910

Black History Month Webinar

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Looking for Black History Month resources? Check out our Florida Electronic Library/Florida Memory webinar to learn more about online resources for the study of African-American history and culture in Florida: http://bit.ly/1jAFz5w.

Abraham, Black Seminole war leader and interpreter, ca. 1838

Abraham, Black Seminole war leader and interpreter, ca. 1838

Florida History Fair: You Have the Right to an Attorney

Every year, staff at the State Archives of Florida gets ready for the Florida History Fair by searching out primary source documents and compiling a list of resources for students and teachers. This year’s theme is “Rights and Responsibilities in History.”

Gideon v. Wainwright: The Right to an Attorney

U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy described  Gideon v. Wainwright as having changed the course of American legal history.

The decision confirmed the right of the individual to legal counsel, even in cases not involving capital offenses.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus submitted by Clarence Earl Gideon

The case began when an obscure inmate in a Florida prison, Clarence Earl Gideon, picked up a pencil and began writing his own lawsuit against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections.

Before the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the Florida Supreme Court heard the appeal of the original conviction.

Clarence Earl Gideon was convicted of robbery after the judge in a circuit court refused his request for counsel and he was forced to defend himself. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The Florida Supreme Court confirmed the circuit court ruling, denying Gideon’s appeal for a writ of habeas corpus, which would have freed him on the grounds that he had been imprisoned illegally.

View Gideon’s historic petition for writ of habeas corpus on Florida Memory.

Portrait of Clarence Earl Gideon (ca. 1961)

Portrait of Clarence Earl Gideon (ca. 1961)

For more resources related to this year’s History Fair theme, see Resources for the 2014 Florida History Fair.

Links to resources related to Gideon include the transcript of State of Florida v. Gideon from the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and oral histories collected by the Georgetown Law Library.

Live Chat with a Professional Librarian

Florida Memory now has a professional librarian living on our Resources for the 2014 Florida History Fair page! Students, teachers, and anyone with a research question are encouraged to drop by.

Try it now!


Sample questions:

  • Can you help me find good examples of how to write essays?
  • I am looking for a website about grammar, for example, conjunctions, verbs, etc.
  • Where do I go for census statistics?

Ask a Librarian is a free online service that allows Florida residents to chat or text with a librarian.

Sunday – Thursday: 10am until midnight ET
Friday – Saturday: 10am until 5pm ET

Get your own Ask a Librarian widget or app.

Resources for the Florida History Fair

Are you a teacher, librarian or student researching topics for the Florida History Fair? Find hundreds of historical photographs, documents, film and audio recordings related to this year’s theme.

History Fair Resources

Resources for the 2012-13 Florida History Fair links to primary and secondary source documents available online from the State Library and Archives of Florida. Primary resources from other institutions and key secondary resources are also identified in a newly expanded section.

Students involved in the History Fair become passionate about their research and interpreting history.

“Students have always told us how much they loved their National History Day experience and how it has changed their life, both in their academics and their careers. History not only teaches students about the stories of our past, but is vital to creating a generation of young people who can apply these lessons to the future.”
Cokie Roberts

I hope these resources will help you share the excitement of discovering history.