The year 1946 marked the beginning of the “baby boom,” a dramatic increase in the U.S. birth rate following the Depression and World War II. Signs of what was to come, however, had appeared at the outbreak of war, when many couples hastily married and conceived their first child before the husband shipped out for military duty. Afterward, there was always the opportunity for “furlough babies” to enter the world.
During the war, the question of pregnancy was challenging and complicated, as shown by collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. For example, family planning was on the mind of James C. Browning, an Edmonson County, Kentucky teacher who joined the Army in 1941. A year earlier, “J.C.” had married his wife Lila and they had recently become the parents of a daughter. Lila, however, had suffered health problems after the birth and was anxious about another pregnancy. In letters from training camp in Arkansas, J.C. was equally anxious to reassure her, for among the many dreams he shared with his much-loved wife—of paying off their debts, buying a small farm and building a life for themselves after the war—was the prospect of “a good time” with her when he made his scheduled return to Fort Knox. If she didn’t want more children, he assured her, “we will try our best and use the best remedies available.” She should go to the doctor and arrange to be fitted with a diaphragm, he instructed; then “[m]aybe you won’t be scared all the time.” Inquiring about her progress in successive letters, he even offered to “get the diaphragm for you if you don’t want to get it.” He finally advocated a “double preventative”—diaphragm plus condom—as the solution to their problem: then “surely there won’t be anything wrong.” The young husband trying to avoid “anything wrong,” however, couldn’t plan for the attack on his ship off the coast of North Africa that took his life in 1942.
Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections. For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
J. C. Browning
In thousands of World War II soldiers’ letters in the collections of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, servicemen express their patriotism, love of family, apprehension, boredom, determination, and a host of other emotions. Reading of a man’s hopes for the future, however, is especially moving if we know that he didn’t make it home to realize those hopes and dreams.
Edmonson County, Kentucky native James “J.C.” Browning left his teaching job, wife Lila and infant daughter for service with the U.S. Army at Fort Knox in August 1941. He trained in Ireland, then embarked for North Africa, where he was killed in November 1942 during the Allied invasion campaign known as Operation Torch. But J.C.’s letters to Lila rarely dwelt upon the threats he faced (he seemed more worried about what would happen to their baby if Lila died while he was overseas!) Instead, he returned time and again to one of his fondest wishes: that after the war they would purchase a home. As these excerpts from his letters show, J.C.’s dream was vivid, and no doubt sustained him until his death:
If we really save while I am in the army this year we can make a down payment on our home somewhere. . . . We would admire it and love it as we made it better and better. I’m really looking forward to that.
I would like to buy a home as quickly as we can. . . . It takes an awful long time to build up a farm home that we would be proud of. That is what I want and I will never be satisfied until we get started on it.
We want a very fertile farm close to town. It should contain about 80 or 90 acres and have the modern conveniences of town. In other words we want a town home out in the country.
Remember that we have a home to establish and it is a semi-country home. It should contain about a hundred acres of good land and a tenant house because most of our work will be done for the public.
We must select a good location, one that we would like when we are old as well as now. We should know what we are going to be doing 10, 20 or more years from now. We must think and plan things to the best of our ability.
Click here to access a finding aid for J. C. Browning’s letters to his wife Lila. For other World War II collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.