Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell Letters, 1943-1945: Finding Aid
Published in May 2008
- Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
- Publisher Address:
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
- Call number: MS 263
- Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
- Title: Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell Letters
- Dates: 1943-1945
- Size: 0.63 linear feet
- Container Summary: 1 manuscript box, 1 half-manuscript box containing 214 items
- Creator: Cornwell, Ida Emilie Cornwell, Wilna J.
- Language(s) of material: English
- Abstract: The Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters span the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) careers of sisters Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell, from 1943 to 1945.
Biography of Ida Emilie Cornwell
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Cornwell of Alhambra, California, Ida Emilie Cornwell enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in September 1943. Upon enlisting she was sent, along with her sister, Wilna J. Cornwell, to the U.S. Naval Training School, located on the Bronx, New York campus of Hunter College.
In November 1943, following the completion of basic training, Ida Emilie was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Link Instrument Training Instructors School for training to become a Link flight simulator operator. Following a brief stay in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Ida Emilie was transferred to Naval Air Navigation School in Hollywood, Florida in January 1944. Three month later, Ida Emilie was transferred to the Ground School at Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida, where she taught beginner Link work to servicemen attending gunnery school, and advanced carrier navigation to Navy pilots. While at Cecil Field, Ida Emilie received promotion to the rank of Specialist Teacher Second Class.
After signing up for overseas duty in November of 1944, and a subsequent promotion to the rank of Specialist Teacher First Class in February of 1945, Ida Emilie was transferred to Shoemaker, California in July for preparation for overseas duty. Later that same month, she was transferred to Kaneohe, Hawaii for additional Link operation duties. In September 1945, Ida Emilie was transferred for a final time to Ford Island, Hawaii, before being discharged from the WAVES in December 1945.
Biography of Wilna J. Cornwell
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Cornwell of Alhambra, California, Wilna J. Cornwell enlisted in the WAVES in September 1943. Upon enlisting she was sent, along with her sister, Ida Emilie Cornwell, to the U.S. Naval Training School, located on the Bronx, New York campus of Hunter College. By late October, Wilna J. received her first promotion to Second Class as part of a work company.
In November 1943, Wilna J. was sent to Aerographers School Training Unit at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey, where she trained to be an aerographer's mate. Upon completion of her training there, Wilna J. transferred to the Naval Air Station, San Pedro, California on Terminal Island.
Following signing up for overseas duty in November 1944, Wilna J. was transferred to Hawaii ca. March 1945 and presumably was discharged around the same time as her sister, Ida Emilie.
Description of Contents
The Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters, comprising 0.63 linear feet of documents, span the WAVES careers of sisters Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell, from 1943 to 1945. The letters document various aspects of WAVES service, including basic and specialty training, housing, food and food quality, job responsibilities, interactions with servicemen, leave and recreation, acquaintances, and comparisons between different duty stations.
The collection is composed primarily of letters written by the two sisters to their parents and each other, but also includes other types of correspondence, such as form letters, postcards and greeting cards. Also included in the collection are several photographs, insignia badges, and publications.
The Cornwell letters are arranged by author, thereunder chronologically, with no series or sub-series divisions. The letters penned by Ida Emilie, comprising two-thirds of the collection, are addressed primarily to her parents, with several letters and postcards addressed to her sister Wilna. In addition to addressing the basic routines and the specifics of various duties of WAVES service, including lengthy descriptions of leave, Ida Emilie’s letters offer occasional candid opinions of Navy servicemen, including viewpoints on Navy pilots (April 13, 1944), Marines (April 26, 1944), and a group of French pilots (May 28-29, 1944), as well as a constant critique on the Navy’s methods and procedures, and a general feeling of inadequacy regarding her part in the war effort (January 7, 1944). Also among Ida Emilie’s letters are a Christmas dinner menu, her notice of promotion to First Class (February 1945), and a letter of appreciation from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal (December 1945).
The letters written by Wilna J., comprising less than one-third of the collection, are addressed to her parents, with a single postcard addressed to her sister, Ida Emilie. Included with Wilna J’s letters are a Thanksgiving dinner menu from 1943, a U.S. Naval Training School Letter Booklet (October 1943), and Aerography striker’s badge (enclosure of November 3, 1943).
The remainder of the collection, filed after the correspondence, consists of several miscellaneous items, including blank postcards, a copy of How to Serve Your Country in the WAVES or SPARS, and a WAVES insignia badge, as well as several photographs, including a WAVES group photograph, and several small portraits of Ida Emilie Cornwell.
Research topics illuminated by the collection revolve around the role of women and reservists in World War II, including details on the tasks and duties performed by women, women's reaction to their role in the war effort, interactions between women and regular servicemen, and the Navy's estimation of the utility of WAVES in certain roles. The collection also serves as an example of the general nature of correspondence between service members and their families.
The Cornwell letters are arranged by author, thereunder chronologically, with no series or sub-series divisions.
Access and Use
Access is unrestricted.
Copyright and Permission
The Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell Letters are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.
Acquisition and Appraisal
Provenance and Acquisition
Purchased from Charles Apfelbaum Rare Books and Collections in 1989.
Processing and Other Information
Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell Letters, MS 263
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in May 2008. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in May 2008 Original guide by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1991.
Name and Subject Terms
- United States. Naval Reserve. Women's Reserve -- History -- World War, 1939-1945
- United States. Navy -- Women
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Female
Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, 1943 September-October
Arrival at U.S. Naval Training School (Women's Reserve), Bronx, NY with descriptions including mess, housing, physicals, classes, uniforms, salary, treatment by officers, service selection as Link operator, and duty as Mustering Section Leader.
Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, 1943 November-December
Arrival at Link Instrument Training Instructors School, U.S. Naval Station, Atlanta, GA, with descriptions of training, studies and exams, recreation and leave, introduction of night shift for classes, and a plane crash at the field.
Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, 1944 January
Link school to no longer train WAVES as operators after Ida Emilie's class, replacing WAVES with "cadets who washed out of the Air Corps," (January 2, 1944). Transfer to Green Cove Springs and Hollywood, FL, with descriptions of air navigation courses as member of first class of WAVES at Naval Air Navigation School.
Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, 1944 April-May
Transfer to Ground School, U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field, Jacksonville, FL, with descriptions of housing, mess, work schedule, duties teaching Link work to Gunnery School students and French pilots, and opinions of Marines and Navy Pilots.