Florence Moss Smith papers, 1916-1973

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Smith, Florence Moss
4 Linear Feet
circa 3,840 items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Florence Moss Smith Papers span the period 1916 to 1973 and consist almost entirely of correspondence. The bulk of the collection consists of letters exchanged between Florence and Frank Smith during their courtship and after their marriage between 1942 and 1945 when Frank Smith was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. While this World War II correspondence forms the crux of the collection, the papers also chronicle Florence Smith's life from her undergraduate days at Duke University until the marriage of her children more than three decades later. One of the greatest research values of the collection, is its depiction of the impact World War II had upon families.

A theme running throughout Frank and Florence Smith's correspondence from 1942 to 1945 was that of forced separation brought on by the war. Their letters document the difficulties presented to both Florence Smith, who is without "masculine support", and her husband, who was far removed from the circle of family and the births and rearing of their two sons, Frank Jr. and Howard. In addition, one sees the importance of the letter as the principal, often sole, method of communication during the war which "made the waiting endurable."

Frank Smith trained at the U.S. Naval Training School (Indoctrination) at the University of Arizona in Tucson and also near Boston, before being assigned to overseas duty. He was commissioned as a lieutenant and served primarily in the South Pacific, the Philippines, and Japan, before he returned to the states after the war in late 1945. There is a lengthy letter from him dated Sept. 28, 1945, describing how his ship took occupation troops into Japan. He described the port city of Wakayama, his opinion of the Japanese people, and the effects of the B-29 bombings on the area.

Two of Florence's brothers, Howard and John Moss, also served in World War II. Howard Moss, who was in the Army, was stationed in the European theater and John Moss, a doctor in the U.S. Navy, served in a military hospital on Guam in 1945. Several of their letters, chiefly to their parents, are included in the collection.

The legacy of war shadowed the next generation of Florence Smith's family after her son Howard joined the U.S. Army. Eventually obtaining the rank of captain, he served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. There are similarities in the war experiences of both generations of the family. A letter dated Aug. 15, 1968, from Frank Smith to his son Howard, who is grieving over the death of a friend killed in action in the Vietnam War, relates a similar experience during World War II when a friend of his was killed.

The early correspondence, 1928-1941, consists chiefly of exchanges between Florence Smith and her parents while she was an undergraduate at Duke University and later while she was employed at Duke. Her correspondence with Frank Ferrell Smith, also a Duke graduate, began around 1938 while he was working for the Soil Conservation Service in Arkansas. The letters became more frequent and intimate after their engagement, particularly between April and May of 1941 shortly before their marriage.

There is a gap in the correspondence from 1949 to 1958. In 1960, soon after the correspondence begins again, there are several letters of sympathy to Frank and Florence Smith. The letters were occasioned by the death of the Smith's eldest son, Frank, in an automobile accident in March 1960. The later correspondence is mostly among Florence and Frank Smith, their parents, their two other sons, and their daughters-in-law.

While correspondence comprises the bulk of the collection, there are also a few miscellaneous items, including a small group of unidentified photographs and a few printed materials.

Biographical / historical:

Florence Moss Smith was born in 1911. While she was an undergraduate student at Duke University from 1928 to 1932, her parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Moss, lived in Mobile, Ala. As an undergraduate at Duke, she was active in the Y.W.C.A., took part in the Woman's Athletic Association, and belonged to the White Duchy.

Receiving her undergraduate degree in 1932, she returned to Duke periodically to pursue graduate studies. She worked at the Duke University Press from 1937 to 1938 and on Oct. 1, 1938, was appointed general personnel worker and counselor-at-large in the Woman's College at Duke University. The Woman's College Student Handbook indicates that by 1939 she held the position of Director of Religious Activities. She held this position until 1941 when she married Frank Ferrell Smith, also a Duke alumnus, who was with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service at that time. From the time her husband joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 until his discharge in 1945, Smith stayed with her parents who still resided in Mobile, Ala. During the war she was the primary person responsible for rearing their two sons, Frank Jr., born in 1942, and Howard, born in 1944.

After World War II, the Smith family settled in Alabama. By 1959, they were living in Loxley, Ala., and a third son James (Jim) had been born.

Three generations of Florence Moss Smith's family are represented in the collection, which ends in 1973. At that time, her son Jim had just competed law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and Howard, having completed a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1971, was just getting out of the U.S. Army. By 1973, both of them had married. Frank Smith, Jr. died in March of 1960. When Ms. Smith gave the collection to the Rubenstein Library, she was living in Elberta, Ala.

Acquisition information:
The Smith Papers were given to Duke University Library in 1989.
Processing information:

Encoded by Alvin Pollock

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

United States. Navy -- Officers -- Correspondence
World War, 1939-1945
Husband and wife
Duke University -- Religious activities
Duke University. Woman's College -- Students
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
Parent and child
Smith, Florence Moss


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All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Florence Moss Smith Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.