Marie Duncan letters  1919-1921
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection is comprised of 12 letters (163 pages) that Marie Duncan, a teenager, wrote to Neal Blanchard, a male friend serving in the United States Navy, between September 1919 and May 1921. Duncan lived in Ancón, Panama, with her parents and siblings, and candidly commented on her education, leisure activities, family relationships, and local news.

Marie Duncan's letters provide information on various aspects of the lives of Americans residing in the Canal Zone, particularly related to women. She made remarks about her schoolwork for a local commercial school, which she attended despite her initial desire to become a doctor. She often discussed her emotions and her perceived laziness (despite also expressing a fondness for some physical activities and types of housework). Duncan also provided news of her family and local social events, and occasionally mentioned her strained relationship with her father. Throughout her letters, she explicitly and implicitly commented on differences between men and women and on gender roles; she frequently referred to her own preferences for activities often ascribed primarily to men (chopping wood, playing baseball, hiking, etc.). She also wrote candidly about her friendship with Blanchard, which Duncan wished to keep platonic, and she stressed her opinion that he should not reenlist with the navy.

In addition to her commentary on life in Panama, Duncan provided details about social activities, including a hiking trip to Corozal, Panama (March 24, 1920), Memorial Day celebrations for fallen soldiers (May 31, 1920), and a wedding (April 14, 1920). Two letters enclose additional items: a valentine (February 7, 1920) and a 3-page poem entitled "The Land of Beginning Again" (August 25, 1920). In her final letter, dated May 23, 1921, she responded to a letter from Neal after a lapse in correspondence. She described recent political changes, which resulted in her father losing his job, and congratulated Neal on finding a girlfriend.

Duncan addressed 5 letters to Neal while he was stationed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; 5 while he served onboard the USS Oklahoma ; and 2 when he lived in Montpelier, Vermont, and Davenport, Iowa.

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