Archive of African American Women Soldiers’ Letters Donated to Harvard University
Filed in African-American History on August 5, 2015
Maryline Morris Whitaker is the founder of the Sister Soldier Project, a grassroots organization that provides hair care products to African American women soldiers to help them comply with the militaries requirements for hair. “If hair is longer than your ears, it has to be pulled back and tucked under, and as a Black woman I just don’t understand how that happens without the right product,” Whitaker says.
In 2008, Whitaker raised enough money and donations to send 1,000 packages of hair care products to African American women serving in combat areas overseas. She received a large number of thank you letters from the women soldiers. “These women never complained,” said Whitaker, commenting on the letters she received. “They just talked about their lives in the service. They were happy to be there. They talked about the families they left behind, and they’d send pictures of their children.”
Whitaker realized that she had a treasure trove of letters documenting the experiences of African American women serving overseas in the armed forces. She volunteered to donate the archive to the Smithsonian museum but the museum was not interested.
But Whitaker found a home for her archive at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. The Schlesinger Library holdings date from the founding of the United States to the present and include more than 3,200 manuscript collections, 100,000 volumes of books and periodicals, and films, photos, and audiovisual material. The library holds many collections from African American women including Mildred Jefferson, the first Black woman graduate of Harvard Medical School, author June Jordan, civil rights activist Pauli Murray, and author Dorothy West.