Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Marie Duncan Letters, 1919-1921

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, January 2007, and Meg Hixon, May 2012

Summary Information
Title: Marie Duncan letters
Creator: Blanchard, Neal D., b. 1894
Inclusive dates: 1919-1921
Extent: 12 items
Abstract:
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.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, D. N. Diedrich, 2004. M-4399.4.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Marie Duncan letters, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically.


Biography

Arthur Duncan, a native of England, emigrated to the United States in 1879, and became a United States citizen in 1890. Between 1907 and 1921, he worked as an engineer in Ancón, in the Panama Canal Zone. He and his wife Augusta had at least four children: Arthur, Laverne, Marie, and Roy William. Marie ("May") Duncan was born in Colorado around 1902 and lived with her family in Panama until at least 1921. After graduating from a commercial school in 1921, she intended to go to school for the United States Nurse Corps.

Between 1919 and 1921, Marie corresponded with Neal Blanchard (b. 1894), a United States Navy sailor from Montpelier, Vermont. Neal was stationed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and on the USS Oklahoma until his discharge in August 1920. He later moved to Davenport, Iowa, where he married Ruth A. Barber (b. 1901) on October 25, 1922. The Blanchards lived in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1930.


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.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Americans--Panama.
    • Ancon (Ancon, Panama)
    • Canal Zone--Social life and customs.
    • Memorial Day.
    • Sex role.
    • Women--Education.
    Contributors:
    • Duncan, Marie, b. ca. 1902.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Poems.
    • Valentines.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   : D. N. Diedrich Collection  
    Marie Duncan letters [series]:
    Folder   1  
      September 10, 1919-May 23, 1921