Clemmer, Betty Brown and Willis Clemmer Papers, 1920-2015 (bulk 1943-1949) *JMU Alum Papers*

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Summary Information

Repository:
Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University
Creator:
Clemmer, Betty Brown
Creator:
Clemmer, Willis, 1926-2013
Title:
Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer Papers
Collection No.:
SC 0280
Date:
1920-2015 (bulk 1943-1949)
Extent:
5 boxes, 1.72 Cubic Feet
Language of the Material:
English
Abstract:
The Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer Papers, 1920-2015 (bulk 1943-1949), largely comprise correspondence between Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer during their courtship while Betty was a student at Madison College. Other papers relate to Betty's coursework at Madison College, Willis' service in the Army Air Forces, and family biographies.

Preferred Citation

[identification of item], [box #, folder #], Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer Papers, 1920-2015 (bulk 1943-1949), SC 0280, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

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Bio/Historical Note

Betty Brown Clemmer was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia to Ruth Leigh Moseley Brown (1905-1998) and Henry Brown (1906-1985). After graduating as valedictorian from Buckhorn High School, Betty enrolled at Madison College in the fall of 1947 to pursue her studies in home economics education. Betty was a member of the German Club and Granddaughters' Club as her mother also attended the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg. While in Harrisonburg, Betty met Willis Clemmer of Staunton, Virginia and they were engaged in March 1948. She decided to postpone her college career in January 1949 in preparation for marrying Willis in April 1949. She returned to Madison College and graduated in 1966 with a bachelor's degree. Betty went on to teach elementary school for 29 years and volunteered at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Museum and Augusta Health Center.

Willis Clemmer (1926-2013) was born near Fairfield, Virginia to Viola Ralston Clemmer and Alva Lewis Clemmer. During WWII, while attending Lee High School in Staunton, Willis enlisted as a cadet pilot in the Army Air Forces, returning after the war to complete his high school degree. For a short period of time in 1946, Willis also enrolled in Shenandoah College in Dayton, Virginia. After graduating from Dunsmore Business College, Willis worked for Smith's Transfer, Westinghouse, and Staunton's Public Work Department. He had a particular fascination with automobiles and was a member of the Model A Ford Club of American and the Antique Automobile Club of America.

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Scope and Content

The Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer Papers, 1920-2015 (bulk 1943-1949), largely comprise correspondence between Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer during their courtship while Betty was a student at Madison College. Other papers relate to Betty's coursework at Madison College including art drawings and program cards, Willis' service in the Army Air Forces including a patch and correspondence from the Veterans Administration, and family biographies and histories related to Augusta County.

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Arrangement

The collection is arranged into two series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1943-1949

Subseries 1.1: Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, 1943-1949

Subseries 1.2: Willis Clemmer Correspondence, 1944-1949

Series 2: Personal and Biographical Papers, 1920-2015

Series 1: Correspondence is arranged into subseries according to recipient. Each series is arranged chronologically.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection open to research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collections Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (library-special@jmu.edu).

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Betty Brown Clemmer in August 2018.

Processing Information

The Seawright Springs (Augusta County, Virginia) history compiled by Ralph Coffman was originally housed in a three-ring binder with each page in a plastic sleeve. The history was disbound and the plastic sleeves discarded. The pages were foldered together and in their orginal order in an acid-free folder. All pieces of correspondence were removed from their respective envelopes. The letters and envelopes were joined with a slip of acid-free paper and a stainless steel paper clip.

Location

Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University

880 Madison DriveMSC 1704Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807library-special@jmu.eduURL: https://www.lib.jmu.edu/special/

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Related Materials

Separated Material

Two self-published local history publications were removed from the collection and cataloged separately.

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Index Terms

Genre and Form

  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Love letters
  • Drawings (visual works)
  • Biographical sketches
  • Photographs

Subject

  • Madison College -- Students
  • Madison College -- Students -- Social life and customs
  • Madison College -- Alumni and alumnae
  • Madison College -- History
  • James Madison University -- History
  • Harrisonburg (Va.) -- History
  • Augusta County (Va.) -- History

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Bibliography

Obituary of Willis Lee Clemmer, The News Leader, July 12, 2013.

The Schoolma'am, 1948. Harrisonburg (Va.): Madison College.

The Schoolma'am, 1949. Harrisonburg (Va.): Madison College.

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1943-1949

Series 1: Correspondence, 1943-1949, largely comprises love letters between Betty Brown Clemmer and Willis Clemmer during their courtship and subsequent engagement when Betty was a student at Madison College. They are sentimental and endearing overall, but are also gossipy and newsy in nature, providing updates on family members, community happenings, and each other's social life.

Correspondence to Betty primarily comprises letters from Willis written during their courtship and are, as a result, affectionate and longing in nature. In writing to Betty, Willis also describes his daily activities of playing sports, driving cars, and seeing movies, in addition to providing updates on family and neighbors. Letters to Betty also include early love letters from gentleman callers other than Willis. She received letters from boys who were attending Virginia Tech, Randolph Macon, and Fork Union Military Academy. Letters presumably from high school beaus are also included. Other correspondents include Betty's mother Ruth Moseley Brown, Betty's grandmother Nannie Clay Brown, and fellow Madison College students. A March 15, 1949 from one of Betty's former classmates, Bunny Maifield, describes the goings-on at Madison College including girls getting caught by the watchmen "night riding" as well as a "bunch of drunk Virginia boys came over and took over the place."

Willis' letters are primarily from Betty, but also include letters from friends and family. A selection of 1945 letters were written to Willis while he was stationed at Keesler Field in Mississippi. The content of these letters describe tales of escapades back home and friends going to Madison College on dates. While Betty's letters to Willis are mostly affectionate and playful in nature, they also document her school and home life. Of particular interest is an August 11, 1948 letter from Betty to Willis while she is home in Baskerville for the summer. She describes an incident with an African-American child stepping on a nail and not receiving proper medical care. In describing this incident, Betty uses racist language and characterizations of the child's family.

Beyond their overall sentiments of affection, Betty's letters to Willis provide insight into her life as a student at Madison College. Betty comments on her schoolwork, exams, studying, social life, entertainment, going downtown (buying food, going to the movies, going to Friddles), and rules and regulations (March 23, 1948: "All my plans for going home have gone 'hay-wire.' Dr. Duke said today that we had to have a chaperone and at this late date we can't find anyone. I could cuss him - wonder what he thinks a busload of girls are going to do in broad open daylight - must think we are terrible"). Betty frequently mentions her dissatisfaction with school and refers to Madison College as Hell or a hell-hole. Additionally, in several letters to Willis (December 4, 1947; September 28, 1948; etc.), Betty describes her presumed struggles with an apparent eating disorder.

A selection of "special letters" (as designated by the donor) concern Betty's engagement announcement, upcoming wedding, and Ruth Moseley Brown's visit to Chicago, etc. These letters are interfiled according to date and include Betty to Willis, April 13, 1949; Ruth Brown to Betty, September 17, 1947; Ruth Brown to Betty, September 15, 1947; Ruth Brown to Betty, April 8, 1948 ("hoping you'd set the world on fire before getting married"); Willis to Betty, April 11, 1949; Nannie Clay Brown to Betty, January 14, 1949 (letter after quitting school to get married); Nannie Clay Brown to Betty, May 3, 1948; Rev. Claude Moseley (uncle) to Betty, March 31, 1949; Ruth Brown to Betty, March 9, 1948.

Subseries 1.1: Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, 1943-1949

Title/Description Instances
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, 1943 box 1 folder 1
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, 1944 box 1 folder 2
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, January 1945 box 1 folder 3
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, February 1945 box 1 folder 4
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, March 1945 box 1 folder 5
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, April 1945 box 1 folder 6
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, May 1945 box 1 folder 7
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, June 1945 box 1 folder 8
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, July 1945 box 1 folder 9
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, August 1945 box 1 folder 10
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, September-November 1945 box 1 folder 11
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, January-September 1946 box 1 folder 12
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, October 1946 box 1 folder 13
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, November 1946 box 1 folder 14
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, December 1946 box 1 folder 15
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, January 1947 box 1 folder 16
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, February 1947 box 1 folder 17
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, March 1947 box 1 folder 18
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, April 1947 box 2 folder 1
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, May 1947 box 2 folder 2
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, July-August 1947 box 2 folder 3
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, September 1947 box 2 folder 4
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, October 1947 box 2 folder 5
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, November 1947 box 2 folder 6
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, December 1947 box 2 folder 7
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, January 1948 box 2 folder 8
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, February 1948 box 2 folder 9
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, March 1948 box 2 folder 10
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, April 1948 box 2 folder 11
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, May 1948 box 2 folder 12
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, June 1948 box 2 folder 13
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, July 1948 box 3 folder 1
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, August 1948 box 3 folder 2
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, September 1948 box 3 folder 3
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, October-November 1948 box 3 folder 4
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, December 1948 box 3 folder 5
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, January 1949 box 3 folder 6
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, February 1949 box 3 folder 7
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, March 1949 box 3 folder 8
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence, April 1949 box 3 folder 9
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence (folder 1 of 2), undated box 3 folder 10
Betty Brown Clemmer Correspondence (folder 2 of 2), undated box 3 folder 11

Subseries 1.2: Willis Clemmer Correspondence, 1944-1949

Title/Description Instances
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, 1944 box 4 folder 1
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, March 1945 box 4 folder 2
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, April 1945 box 4 folder 3
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, May-August 1945 box 4 folder 4
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, 1946 box 4 folder 5
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, 1947 box 4 folder 6
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, January 1948 box 4 folder 7
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, February 1948 box 4 folder 8
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, March 1948 box 4 folder 9
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, April 1948 box 4 folder 10
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, May 1948 box 4 folder 11
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, June 1948 box 4 folder 12
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, July 1948 box 4 folder 13
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, August 1948 box 5 folder 1
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, September 1948 box 5 folder 2
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, October-December 1948 box 5 folder 3
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, January 1949 box 5 folder 4
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, February 1949 box 5 folder 5
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, March 1949 box 5 folder 6
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, April 1949 box 5 folder 7
Willis Clemmer Correspondence, undated box 5 folder 8

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Series 2: Personal and Biographical Papers, 1920-2015

Series 2: Personal and Biographical Papers, 1920-2015, comprise personal papers belonging to Betty and Willis Clemmer as well as personal and family biographies. Materials also relate to Augusta County history.

This series includes photographs - originals and facsimiles - of the Clemmers as well as Ruth Moseley Brown during her high school and college years.

The Clemmers' personal papers include materials and coursework from Betty's time at Madison College, specifically drawings from Basic Art 2 in which she was assigned to draw home furnishings and clothing. Alimae Aiken was Betty's instructor. Willis' transcripts from Lee High School and documents from the Veterans Administration are included.

The series also comprises several Clemmer family biographies, autobiographies, and histories related to Augusta County, Virginia. Willis' reminiscences, written in 1993-1994, document his memories of growing up in Augusta County. A history of Seawright Springs (Mt. Solon) compiled by Augusta County historian Ralph Coffman includes photographs and other materials related to the resort. The Seawright Springs history includes a partial transcript of Alexander Stuart Coffman's 1864 diary and a transcript of a March 26, 1907 letter from Charles Curry (a lawyer in Staunton) to an A. C. Gorden regarding the geography and folklore of specific Augusta County locations.

Title/Description Instances
Photographs, 1920-2013 box 5 folder 9
Willis Clemmer personal papers, 1944-1948 box 5 folder 10
Betty Brown Clemmer Madison College Art 2 drawings, ca. 1947-1949 box 5 folder 11
Betty Brown Clemmer Madison College grade report, program cards, and The Breeze clipping, 1948-1949 box 5 folder 12
"I Remember" by Willis Clemmer, 1993-1994 box 5 folder 13
Betty Brown Clemmer biographies, 1997, 2015 box 5 folder 14
Seawright Springs (Augusta County, Virginia) history compiled by Ralph Coffman, March 2002 box 5 folder 15
"The Big Depression" Remembered by Betty Brown Clemmer, Willis Clemmer, and Nancy Brown Latham. Told to Susan Wayne, September 2005 box 5 folder 16
Ruth Leigh Moseley Brown biography, undated box 5 folder 17

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