Traveling with Cole Porter

Actress and photographer Jean Howard was a great favorite of Cole Porter, the urbane composer and songwriter known for scoring such successful productions as Kiss Me Kate (1948) and High Society (1956). His numerous hit songs include Begin the Beguine, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and My Heart Belongs to Daddy.

Photograph of Cole Porter by Jean Howard, 1950.
Box 14, Folder 5, Jean Howard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Porter was an avid traveler, even after a serious horseback riding accident in 1937 left him disabled and in constant pain. The travel bug helped bring Cole and wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas together in marriage in 1919. Although he was openly gay, their marriage was a close one as the couple spent the next two decades in lively partying and social traveling, sometimes together, sometimes apart. The Porters bought a home in Hollywood in 1935 and became famous for their lavish parties and the circle of celebrities in which they moved.

Linda Lee Thomas’ passport photo at the time of her marriage to
Cole Porter in 1919.
U.S. Government photograph, Public Domain.

One of those celebrities to whom the Porters became particularly close was a new starlet in town, Jean Howard. Jean arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930s ready to make her mark. She appeared as a glamour girl in a Busby Berkeley musical and in Florenz Ziegfeld’s last Follies. But, before she could launch a serious career, she met and married talent agent-turned-producer Charles K. Feldman in 1934. This led Jean to the role of a high-level film executive’s wife who was expected to frequently entertain, mother-hen new stars, and help ensure that the Feldman’s remained a sought-after Hollywood couple.

From her early days in Hollywood, Jean Howard benefited from her close friendship with Linda Porter. It was from Linda that she learned how to dress, how to serve simple food for small lunches, how to manage giant parties, and how to be a friend to the famous.

After Linda’s death in 1954, Jean became one of Cole Porter’s favorite traveling companions. She joined Porter and other friends on two luxurious trips in 1955 and 1956. No matter where he journeyed, Porter always did it in style. He often traveled on the yacht Eros, owned by Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. When on land, Porter frequently rented private railroad cars for long trips. For shorter jaunts, such as the commute from his suite at the Waldorf Towers to his Massachusetts country home, or for spins around Palermo and Monte Carlo, he used his chauffeured Cadillac limousine.

Cole Porter is served breakfast by his valet while visiting Petra, 1956.
Box 14, Folder 7, Jean Howard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

For an unpublished autobiography, Jean wrote a funny anecdote that occurred on one of her trips with Cole Porter.

Porter, driving through Spain with [me], would sit in the front seat with the driver to compose in his head. Once he leaned over the seat towards me to hum a song he had just though up, True Love, which Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby would sing in High Society. What did she think? [I] said it was as good as anything he had ever written. Porter threw up his hands. “How would you know?” he snapped. “You can’t carry a tune!”

Box 32, Jean Howard Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Jean’s journeys with Cole ultimately resulted in a book titled Travels with Cole Porter (1991). The book is both a travelogue and a memoir of her 33-year friendship with the Porters. So devoted were they to Jean, they left her a fortune in jewels upon Cole’s death in 1964.

Jean Howard with Cole Porter and their friend Howard Sturges in Athens, 1955.
Box 14, Folder 5, Jean Howard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Learn more about Jean’s relationship with Porters, and her wonderful photographs of her travels with Cole Porter, in the Jean Howard papers.

Post submitted by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Composers, Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, Photographic collections, popular culture, Uncategorized, women's history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Aloha Wanderwell – A Well-Wandered Woman

To commemorate March as Women’s History Month, the AHC would like to feature the life of adventurer Idris Galcia Hall (1906-1996) who christened herself “Aloha Wanderwell.” In 1922 at age 16, she answered an ad calling for “a good-looking brainy young woman” willing to “forswear skirts” and “rough it” in an expedition traveling around the world by 1917 Model-T Fords. “Be prepared,” it added, “to learn to work before and behind a movie camera.”

A restless tomboy shuttered away in a French convent school, Idris couldn’t resist the opportunity. One the most amazing things is that her mother actually approved! But then she had seen her daughter travel unaccompanied by rail and ocean liner at age 12 to be with her when her husband (Aloha’s stepfather) Herbert Hall was killed in World War I.

Young Aloha at the beginning of her worldwide adventures, ca. 1922.

In preparation for the Model T expedition, Idris took on her childhood nickname, Aloha, and tacked it onto the expedition leader’s surname. Aloha Wanderwell was her name from that time on. At 6 feet tall, blond and attractive, she became the face of the expedition, which captured her adventures in a series of movie travelogues. Newspapers began calling her “the Amelia Earhart of the open road.”

The trip was led by “Captain” Walter Wanderwell (born Valerian Johannes Pieczynski in Poland). During the five year expedition, he and Aloha fell in love, although Walter was still married. Upon returning to the United States, Walter divorced his wife. Walter was a controversial figure who had been arrested under suspicion of being a German Spy during World War I. Marrying Aloha in 1926 foiled an FBI plan to arrest him under the Mann Act which prohibits transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes.”

Aloha Wanderwell in Japan during an expedition with Captain Walter Wanderwell. He can be seen behind the car. Photo:

The couple created a career out of leading competing teams on world tours, where the team that traveled the most miles would win a cash prize. The couple would film their adventures and became known for screening them to audiences in the U.S. while describing the events of the journey.

In 1930, the couple’s plane crashed in the Amazon, According to Aloha, she was left with the Bororo tribe while Walter hiked back through the jungle to buy replacement parts and lived with the tribe for several months. She documented the Bororo’s on camera, and the resulting film became an important anthropological resource.

By 1932 Aloha had become estranged from the Captain, who had proved to be a philanderer. They lived separately, Aloha in Los Angeles and her husband on his schooner in Long Beach. On December 5, 1932, Walter Wanderwell was aboard the schooner when he was fatally shot in the back by an unknown assailant, a crime that remains unsolved. Aloha’s detached reaction to his death and her marriage the next year to another Walter–Walter Nicholas Baker (eight years her junior)–were found suspect by media observers who christened her the “Rhinestone Widow.”

Aloha shown in a photo taken by her new husband Walter Baker, 1933.
Box 1, Walter Nicholas Baker papers, Collection No. 10417, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Her new husband Walter Baker (1915-1995) was born in Jireh, Wyoming. He was an 18-year-old gas station attendant in 1933 when he met Aloha in Laramie during one of her lecture tours. Walter joined her crew as a driver and mechanic, and the two married two months later. Together, they toured the world and filmed their experiences.

One of their film collaborations was Explorers of the Purple Sage (1945) which features the flora and fauna of Wyoming with sequences of ranching, horseback riding, and a wild horse round up. In the horse round up, they captured the only known footage of the stallion known as “Desert Dust.” 

Reel #2 of the silent film Explorers of the Purple Sage showing Aloha and others on a camp trip and
the wild horse roundup with Desert Dust. Aloha would have lectured to audiences alongside the film.
Box 2, Walter Nicholas Baker papers, Collection No. 10417, American Heritage Center.

In the post-war period, Aloha and Walter continued filmmaking and touring. Aloha lectured alongside their films while wearing her complete expedition costume. She died in 1996 not long after the death of her second husband. Her life and career endure as a remarkable, if complex, example of the power of a woman who defied the limitations of her era.

The American Heritage Center holds the papers of Aloha’s second husband Walter N. Baker which includes biographical information and photographs as well as the couple’s 1945 silent movie Explorers of the Purple Sage.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in aviation history, Explorers, popular culture, Uncategorized, women's history, World exploration | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reluctant Taxer Stan Hathaway

In February 1969, Wyoming Governor Stan Hathaway took pen in hand to enact a 1% severance tax rate on all mineral production. Wyoming had levied no severance taxes on minerals from the time of statehood in 1890 until that time. Legislative rumblings for a severance tax had occurred in past years, most significantly in 1889 and 1924, but with no results.

Why 1969? The drumbeat for a severance tax began with the 1966 gubernatorial contest between Hathaway, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent Ernest Wilkerson. Campaigning with the slogan, “Wyoming’s Wealth for Wyoming’s People,” Wilkerson referred to “the quiet siphoning of Wyoming’s wealth” and foresaw the potential of mineral/energy development in the state.

Page 1 of brochure created for the 1966 gubernatorial campaign of Ernest Wilkerson.
Box 11, Stanley K. Hathaway papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

During the campaign, Democrats proposed measures that included a tax on crude oil exported from Wyoming; a preferential assignment of state mineral leases to companies processing their product in Wyoming; a severance tax, with revenue earmarked to permanent funds and investments for education and other governmental functions; and a study of taxing minerals-in-place as a means of stimulating production.

As for Hathaway, he judged the idea behind the study as unconstitutional and just ignored the rest of the ideas. But as T.A. Larson notes in his History of Wyoming (p. 563), “In 1969 the pressure for a severance tax became so great that one per cent had to be conceded. State government had to have more revenue, and the alternatives, higher sales tax or an income tax, were even more dangerous politically. Some observers suggested that Ernest Wilkerson’s advocacy of severance taxation in 1966 had educated the public and made severance taxation possible.”

Besides, at this time Wyoming’s economy was still largely tied to agriculture, and it just wasn’t paying the bills. As the story goes, Hathaway found $80 in the general fund and figured he better act before the state went completely broke.

Soon after the tax was enacted, the national energy crisis of the 1970s spurred oil drilling that triggered a massive and memorable Wyoming boom. Wyoming was transferred from the Cowboy State into the Energy State. By the time Hathaway retired in 1974, he had also overseen establishment of the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to hold a percentage of severance tax revenues inviolate.

Wyoming became reliant on mineral revenues for a significant part of its budget—a situation that has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. In one of his last interviews before he died in 2005, Hathaway told journalist Sam Western: “I passed the first severance tax. I got the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, and they’ve carried Wyoming’s expenses very well.” But, he added, it bothered him that most people in Wyoming believed they were getting “a free ride.” “The truth is,” he said, “we all should pay our share of government costs.”

Stan Hathaway about the time he was running for Wyoming Governor, 1966.
Box 14, Stanley K. Hathaway papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Learn more in the Stanley K. Hathaway papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Economic History, energy resources, Political history, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Wyoming Valentine in Pictures

If one is searching for Wyoming photographs that celebrate the holidays, look no further than the Ludwig & Svenson Studio Collection. A close second for holiday photos is the photographic collection of Lora Webb Nichols.

Henning Svenson arrived in the frontier town of Laramie in September 1905 with one dollar in his pocket and an ambition to open a photography studio. By the next month, he was already advertising his new business. Henning passed away in 1932 at age 53 and his daughters continued to operate the studio. In 1943, the business went under the name of Walter “Doc” Ludwig, a chiropodist who married one of Svenson’s daughters. More than 110 years later the studio is still in the family at the same location. The family generously donated a large portion the studio’s historic images to the American Heritage Center.

One hundred years ago, Henning, or perhaps one of his daughters, was invited to the home of prominent Laramie businessman Henry Neale “Neal” Roach for some Valentine cheer. If I were a judge for the costume contest, the woman on the far left would win hands down. Love the shoes. Like us today, these folks had recently been through a pandemic, in their case the Spanish Flu which lasted from 1918 to 1920. It must have felt good to celebrate in-person with family and friends.

Valentine’s Day costume party at the home of Neal Roach, 1921.
Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Box 3, Negative No. 8545, Scan No. ah300502.

Twenty years later in 1941, Home Bakery went all out on a Valentine’s week window display featuring sweetheart cakes made from a Betty Crocker recipe. During the early 1940s, surveys showed that the name Betty Crocker was known to nine out of 10 American homemakers. The fictitious Betty Crocker was the “First Lady of Food.” Putting the brand name on the cakes must have been a seal of reliable good flavor. Home Bakery was a Laramie fixture from the time it opened in 1898 to its closure in 2010. I still miss it.

A night time photo of Home Bakery’s Valentine’s week window display of Betty Crocker sweetheart cakes, February 1941. Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Box 24, Negative No. 33857.1, Scan No, ah302994
Close-up of cake in Home Bakery’s Valentine’s week window display, February 1941.
Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Box 24, Negative No. 33857.1, Scan No, ah302994

Lora Webb Nichols was born and raised in Encampment, Wyoming, and spent most of her life there. She called herself “Snapshot Sal.” Indeed, she was rarely without a camera around her neck. After all, she said, “You never know when there’ll be an elephant down the street.” She captured life in Encampment and Saratoga from the time she picked up a camera in 1899 at age 16 to her death in 1962.

On Valentine’s Day in 1958, Lora Webb Nichols sports a new dress and samples a treat from a box of Valentine candy given to her by youngest child Dick (born 1921). She and Dick were quite close. He often traveled with her on hunting and fishing outings.

Lora Webb Nichols enjoying her Valentine’s Day candy, February 14, 1958.
Lora Webb Nichols Papers, Collection No. 1005, Box 16, Photo No. 17443, Scan No. ah01005_17443.

Speaking of Lora’s Valentine’s Day candy, three days later her cat claimed it by laying on the box.

Lora Webb Nichols’ cat claims the remainder of the Valentine’s Day candy, February 17, 1958.
Lora Webb Nichols Papers, Collection No. 1005, Box 16, Photo No. 17446, Scan No. ah01005_17446.

We wish you a fun and happy Valentine’s Day full of costumes, candy, cake, and even cats.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in community collections, Current events, Holidays, Photographic collections, Uncategorized, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wyoming’s China Mary

In celebration of Chinese New Year on February 12, we’re featuring the life of Wyoming’s China Mary, a longtime resident of Evanston. Most Americans opted to call the Chinese living among them “John” or “Mary” in lieu of learning their Chinese names. For example, there was also a “China Mary” who thrived in Tombstone, Arizona, as a “godfather” in that town’s Chinese community.

Most likely there were other women in the American West with the moniker “China Mary” but finding accounts of them can be difficult. Racist biases in the 19th century and into the 20th century meant that Chinese were often excluded or unnamed in newspaper or written accounts. Chinese women are even more invisible in the historical record.

We do know that Evanston’s China Mary was also identified as Ah Yuen. Yuen is a Cantonese Chinese surname. Because of the Chinese practice of putting the surname before the given name, Chinese migrants’ surnames were often incorrectly listed as their first names on official documents. “Ah” is a Chinese prefix used with a shortened form of peoples’ names to express familiarity, roughly equivalent to Mister or Miss. Based on this, Ah Yuen is most likely not her given name.

Studio portrait of Ah Yuen known as “China Mary,” ca. 1930.
Photo file: China Mary, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

As Christopher Merritt of the Utah Division of State History explains in a short biography of Ah Yuen, U.S. Federal Census Bureau records show that she arrived in the United States sometime around 1863.  She was likely born in southern China between 1848 and 1854. This would make her quite young when she made the long trip to the United States.

Ah Yuen’s voyage to America was most likely not a pleasant one. Chinese immigrants generally rode in steerage, which is the lower deck of a ship where the cargo is stored. These passengers were often placed by the hundreds in a single large hold. Beds were routinely long rows of large, shared bunks with straw mattresses and no bed linens. Travelers dealt with limited privacy and security, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor food. The voyage could take several weeks.

Why she came to the U.S. is not known. We do know that people living in China between the 1840s and 1860s were facing violence from a civil war, rampant unemployment, dispossession of land and wealth, famine, and overpopulation of coastal cities. Girls in China were at a further disadvantage.

Because daughters could not provide hard manual labor needed to support the family or carry on the ancestral name, they were considered inferior to sons and therefore expendable. As more and more Chinese men immigrated to the US without their wives, a natural market for prostitution was created. Families in China facing economic hardship and starvation often decided to sell their daughters overseas not only to survive, but in hope of giving them the chance at a better life. Most girls in such circumstances accepted their family’s decision out of filial loyalty and allowed themselves to be sold to “labor contractors” in China. Maybe Ah Yuen was one of these girls? Her birth and emigration dates coincide with the time period.

Instead of forced prostitution, some of the more attractive girls were “lucky” enough to become the concubines of wealthy owners, who might treat them decently, although if they failed to please, their masters could return them to the auction block. However, most of the girls did endure prostitution, ending up in high-class brothels reserved for Chinese men or in “cribs” where they serviced anyone from sailors to teen boys to drunks for 25 to 50 cents. Ah Yuen may have been one of the lucky ones. According to a Works Progress Administration-era biography in the Wyoming State Archives, she had been a woman of unusual beauty.

Photograph reportedly of Ah Yuen. Location and date not known. Image from collection held at the Uinta County Museum, Evanston, Wyoming.

Ah Yuen’s own stories about her life indicate that, like many Chinese immigrants, she started her American journey in San Francisco. At some point she was in Denver, but that part of her history is still a mystery. By 1868, she turns up as a cook in Bear River City, Wyoming Territory. She may have been married by this time, possibly to a railroad worker since Bear River was an end-of-track town during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. She recalled witnessing what is now known as the “Bear River City Riot” on November 19, 1868, that began after the vigilante lynching of a murder suspect who worked for the railroad. Friends of the lynched man revolted against the vigilantes and the town erupted in violence. Sixteen people were killed. Later in life she would show interested parties a long trench where bodies were buried.

By the 1880s she was in Park City, Utah, which had a Chinatown created when the first railroads into the city were constructed in part by Chinese labor. Ah Yuen and a husband opened a shop selling Chinese wares to local laborers and European-Americans alike. Life there may have been uneasy for the couple. According to an article in the Utah History Encyclopedia, the Chinese in Park City were victims of sporadic, racially inspired difficulties well into the first decade of the 1900s.

After the death of this husband, Ah Yuen moved about 65 miles east to Evanston, Wyoming, around 1900. By now she would have been in her late 40s or early 50s. Why Evanston? Perhaps opportunity beckoned. The town had lost its wild edge. By the time Ah Yuen arrived, the Union Pacific, in partnership with Pacific Fruit Company, had developed an icing station between the railroad tracks and the Bear River. The UP had also constructed a brick depot to replace the first wooden one. Soon after, Evanston could boast of a federal courthouse and a post office. The town even had one of the few Chinese temples in the United States, which were known as Joss Houses. It was built in 1894. When Evanston’s Chinatown burned in 1922, the fire took the Joss House with it. Many Chinese had already left Evanston by this time; others left after the fire. Ah Yuen was one of the few who stayed.

Once moving to Evanston, Wyoming, she would marry twice more. Her final husband was a gardener referred to as “Mormon Charlie” who she may have married in the late 1920s. His name was recorded as Lock Long Choong (or Chung) and his birth year as 1862. According to an entry in the Findagrave website, he was given the nickname “because he assimilated well with the locals.” The entry also notes that he migrated to the US in 1881. He was described as a small man who was remembered for carrying large amounts of vegetables around town using two baskets supported by a long pole. Sometimes he would give children rides in the basket. He was well-liked and trusted, to the point that he was allowed to enter people’s homes to leave vegetables while they were out for the evening.

Ah Yuen with her third husband, ca. 1930.
Photo file: China Mary, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

As for Ah Yuen, the WPA biography notes that she had a cheerful spirit, spoke English fluently, and would regale those who listened about her time in San Francisco, Denver, and Park City. She became one of Evanston’s town characters. Tourists asked to take her picture, for which she charged ten cents. She in turn paid Evanston children a dime for bringing her fish from the Bear River. She loved to gamble, to the point she was forced to go on county assistance for many years before her death. The biography states that she had three children, although their names or whereabouts were not mentioned.

Someone most likely paid 10 cents for taking this photo of China Mary.
Photo file: China Mary, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ah Yuen spent the rest of her life in Evanston, until she died in her small house on January 13, 1939. That she was a loved figure in Evanston is seen by her memorial service that was attended by a number of town residents and overseen by a Presbyterian minister. Although her burial site is in the pauper section of Evanston’s cemetery, her grave is marked, courtesy of the city. There is even a “China Mary Road” today in the town.

Ah Yuen’s story, while mysterious in so many ways, is an example of the grit and endurance of Chinese women in the United States. It is hard to imagine the hardships Ah Yuen must have endured in her home country and then in her adopted country. Somehow, she made the journey in good spirits and with an apparent zest for life.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Asian American history, Chinese Americans, Holidays, Immigration, Uncategorized, Under-documented communities, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2021 MLK Days of Dialogue – Black Lives Matter: Strides Toward Freedom & Justice

The University of Wyoming is hosting its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Days of Dialogue from February 8 to 12. It’s a virtual event this year, as many are nowadays. Nevertheless, there is an impressive slate of presenters as well as other activities.

Keynote speaker Dr. Yusef Salaam served nearly seven years for a crime he did not commit as one of the since-exonerated “Central Park Five.” He will discuss his story and the need for justice reform on February 9 at 5:30 p.m. Zoom registration for his talk is at

On February 11 at 5:30 p.m. there is a “Conversation with Donna Brazile and Ana Navarro.” Former Democratic National Committee Interim Chair Donna Brazile and former Republican strategist and political contributor Ana Navarro will discuss today’s political landscape virtually with the University’s community. You can submit questions for a Q&A that will follow the conversation. Send questions to the School of Culture, Gender & Social Justice ( by Sunday, Feb. 7. Zoom registration is at 

The Willena Stanford Award program is occurring February 8 at 7:00 p.m. Stanford was a former UW instructor in African American and Diaspora Studies. She was known for her firm commitment to equitable education for all UW students. The award honors UW students nominated for their strong commitment to diversity. Zoom registration is at

This year MLK DOD is focused on exploring the historic Civil Rights Movements—past and present—that have shaped America and analyzing our paths toward freedom.

MLK DOD is for everyone. The program seeks to engage students, staff, faculty, and community members through its programming and dialogue.

The core goals of MLK DOD are:

  • Provide a positive environment for Black identified students to celebrate their culture and collective history in community.
  • Facilitate community-based, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed learning experiences focused on racial justice and improving campus climate.
  • Empower and encourage individuals to engage with racial justice issues in their communities.

Events are captioned. If you need assistance accessing any of the programs, contact the program organizers at

Post submitted by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in announcements, Current events | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Senator Gale McGee Buttonholed by Mom and Dad

The presidential inauguration last week brings to mind a couple of fun stories told by former U.S. Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming. In 1982, an oral history was conducted with McGee for placement in the John F. Kennedy Library. McGee and Kennedy bonded as young senators and were even considered lookalikes. McGee had a hand in cementing Kennedy’s nomination for the presidential ticket during the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

Once JFK was president, his relationship with McGee remained friendly. That cordiality extended to McGee’s parents. Unlike Kennedy, who was both a Democrat and a Catholic, McGee’s father and mother were stalwart Republicans and staunch Protestants. Each year President Kennedy offered birthday congratulations to Gale and his father, who shared a birthday. In 1961, the birthday greeting was a personal one from the President himself. But I’ll let Gale McGee continue the story.

[President Kennedy’s personal secretary] Evelyn Lincoln set that up, bless her heart. My father is forty years older than I am, but he was born on March 17th and I was born on March 17th and his grandfather was born on March 17th…Yes, it was a fine occasion. Dad was just carried away with it. Both parents were, but Dad let the cat out of the bag, too, while he was there. He confessed to the President, in public, that we really weren’t Irish, we were Scotch-Irish. We’d come from the Orange and he made that as a real point, ’cause he had had to….Well, neither Mother nor Dad voted for Kennedy, but my mother always reminisced with me about how she felt guilty about that, because she really felt it was prejudice—not her Republican party affiliation—but her prejudice that had finally dominated and she said she felt that she had done wrong.

Gale McGee, President Kennedy, and McGee’s parents, 1961.
Box 12, Folder 3, Gale W. McGee papers, Collection No. 9800, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

McGee goes on to relate another story involving his parents.

When my mother and father came back from my inauguration in January 1959 that was when CBS invented the new show which they run every two years, called “Meet the New Senators.” We got together in the Carlton Hotel—they had eighteen of them at that time—and then each senator would get four minutes to tell how he was going to save the world and the whole world would hear about it…I had my mother and father there with us and my kids…[A]fter they got through [Eugene J. McCarthy] alphabetically, why McGee was next. And so, [the announcer] said, “Now we have a very interesting new senator coming up here. He’s a liberal Democrat from Wyoming, a professor, yet, for many years. And his mother and father are with him and there is where the interest lies. They are both Nebraska Republicans. And with that, Senator McGee, tell us how you’re going to save world.” He said, “First, before putting the senator on, I want to ask a question of his mother.” And my mother had never made a speech, has never been on radio or TV. She’s a button-holer and a doorbell ringer and a stamp-licker, you know, all that. She’s a fanatic, but she’s never opened her mouth in public. And [the announcer] turned to her and said, “Mrs. McGee, you’re a Republican. Gale’s a liberal Democrat. What happened to Gale?” That was his question and she—without batting an eye, or flinching or tightening up—she said, “Well, Daddy and I have often talked about that and we decided that we made our mistake when we sent him to college.” And it just brought down the show, you know. I mean, it was a phenomenon. But that’s how they always rationalized me. They hadn’t planned it that way, but she concluded saying, “We have a two-party system, but the Democrats really have to have a few good people,” she said to him. So, they made missionary’s sacrifice.

Gale McGee learning the ropes in 1958 from senior senators Joseph C. O’Mahoney of Wyoming and Carl Hayden of Arizona. Former U.S. Senator John B. Kendrick of Wyoming is shown in the portrait.
Box 390, Folder 33, Joseph C. O’Mahoney papers, Collection No. 275, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

McGee represented Wyoming in the U.S. Senate from 1959 until 1977. To date, he remains the last Democrat to have served Wyoming in the Senate.

The American Heritage Center holds about 597 cubic feet (1088 boxes!) of Gale McGee’s papers that includes materials about his time in the Senate, his career at the University of Wyoming, his service with the Organization of American States, and his personal life.

Post contributed by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Political history, Politics, Post World War II, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Carrie Burton Overton, UW’s First African American Female Student

Author, Wyoming historian, and sixth generation Laramie native Kim Viner wrote a wonderful article in about Carrie Burton Overton, the University of Wyoming’s first African American female student. In this post I’d like to spotlight information that Kim discovered. I encourage you to read Kim’s article for a more complete account of this most interesting woman.

Carrie Burton (1888-1975) prospered despite the odds stacked against her as a young African American woman growing up in Laramie, Wyoming. Her mother, Katie, was born into slavery in Missouri. Katie married three times and had two children, Benny and Carrie. Misfortune marked her first two marriages with the death of her first husband and imprisonment for burglary and attempted rape of her second. Her third marriage to Thomas Price was more long lasting and provided Carrie with a father figure and a mentor as she developed into a piano prodigy.

Carrie Burton, February 11, 1904.
Item 44, Box 11, B.C. Buffum papers, Acc. No. 400055, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Painful experiences marked Carrie’s early life, including molestation, Benny’s accidental drowning, and an impulsive runaway attempt. Then there were her experiences with racism. In a 1969 oral history interview Carrie remembered being taunted by other children. “They just called me ‘black.’ They’d call me ‘nigger’—some of those kids—and I’d call them any name that I could find to call them and we’d be friends.” Carrie also recalled that after playing piano for Laramie leader Jane Ivinson, the housekeeper would wipe off the keys.

Article regarding a man’s molestation of Carrie Burton, Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader, March 27, 1900.

At age 15, Carrie entered UW Preparatory School where she became a certified stenographer and honed her piano skills. After graduation, President Aven Nelson was among those at UW who encouraged her to apply to Howard University in Washington, DC. Their glowing recommendations and Carrie’s own acumen gained her acceptance to Howard. Jane Ivinson and others sponsored a 1908 fundraising concert to help pay her college expenses. In the 1969 oral history, Carrie recalled, “I have found there is no place like Laramie for good people. Everybody helped. Everybody in town felt we were family.” (Emphasis in original transcript.)

Life in Washington was initially challenging for Carrie. Her letter (below) to the Laramie Boomerang mentions illness and hard work in her new environment. “I … worried myself sick and was under the doctor’s care for three weeks,” she wrote.

Carrie Burton’s letter, Laramie Boomerang, March 26, 1909.

Carrie eventually found happiness. After receiving a music diploma from Howard in 1913, she married George Overton, principal of the “colored schools” in Cumberland, Maryland. They moved to New York City in the early 1920s where Carrie did stenography work. Her education continued. She attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music from 1932 to 1941 where, in 1940, her original work—unfortunately, now lost—based on African folk songs was performed to acclaim. She continued her academic studies by entering Columbia University where she was earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Despite a demanding schedule, Carrie never forgot her Laramie roots. She returned in 1921 and again in 1960 for that year’s homecoming festivities. In 1972, she assisted in fundraising efforts to turn the Ivinson Mansion into a Laramie museum by writing an account of her association with the Ivinsons. Her story, published in the Laramie Boomerang, fondly referred to Jane Ivinson as the “Lady in the Mansion” and recalled her employment as a stenographer and musician. An effort by UW Professor Robert Burns to secure an honorary degree for Carrie, although met with polite answers from the UW President and Board of Trustees, was never acted upon.

Carrie Burton Overton died in New York City in December 1975 after a long illness. She persevered in the face of early poverty and discrimination. She tied her accomplishments to her upbringing in Laramie. In a 1942 letter to the Laramie paper, she put it this way, “In all these things I have tried to repay the good people of Laramie for the faith they had in me.”

A personal thanks to Kim for allowing me to post from his article, and for all the well-researched and informative historical information he has provided to us through the years.

Post contributed by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in African American history, Uncategorized, Under-documented communities, University of Wyoming history, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Marguerite Shepherd: Assistant to “Ace of Aces” Eddie Rickenbacker

Marguerite “Sheppy” Shepherd (1894-1983) was the longtime personal assistant to ‘Ace of Aces’ Eddie Rickenbacker (1890-1973), a World War I fighter pilot, race car driver, automotive designer, government consultant in military matters, air transport pioneer, and longtime head of Eastern Air Lines.

Rickenbacker featured on the cover of Knights Templar magazine four years after his death in 1973.
Box 2, Marguerite Shepherd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ms. Shepherd was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and, in 1923, became Rickenbacker’s secretary at the Rickenbacker Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan. In later years, she became his executive secretary at Cadillac Motor Company, Fokker Aircraft Company, American Airways, and Eastern Air Lines. Shepherd was for many years a member of the Seraphic Secretaries of America and the Women’s Traffic Club of Greater New York.

Sheppy Shepherd (left) with Amelia Earhart at the Pittsburgh airport en route to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 500 Mile Race, May 29, 1935.
Box 2, Marguerite Shepherd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Group of newspapermen, broadcasters, and others en route to Indianapolis Motor Speedway 500 Mile Race, May 29, 1935. Amelia Earhart just below Dick Merrill, pilot. Sheppy Shepherd is third from right in front row.
Box 2, Marguerite Shepherd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By the time Ms. Shepherd became Rickenbacker’s secretary, he was already had a well-established reputation as daredevil par none, but he was also on his way to going bankrupt. He had started the Rickenbacker Motor Company in 1920, selling technologically advanced cars incorporating innovations from auto racing. Probably due to bad publicity from other car manufacturers who feared the competition for their inventory of two-wheel braking autos, the company had trouble selling its cars and eventually went bankrupt in 1927. Rickenbacker went into massive debt but was determined to pay back the $250,000 he owed, despite personally going bankrupt. Eventually, all vehicles manufactured in the U.S. incorporated his four-wheel braking.

Rickenbacker’s career did not want for adventure with at least two near death mishaps, the bold purchase of Eastern Airlines for $3.5 million in 1938 (also $60M in today’s dollars), and a World-War II era fact-finding trip into Russia for the U.S. War Department, and more. Ms. Shepherd was with him during the ups and the downs of his career.

Eddie Rickenbacker with wife Adelaide and sons William and David taken at LaGuardia Airport, December 1942.
Box 1, Marguerite Shepherd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shepherd’s papers contain Rickenbacker’s business correspondence; photographs of Shepherd, Rickenbacker, Eastern Air Lines events and personnel, and tributes to Rickenbacker; and programs, speeches, newspaper clippings, and other printed material about Eastern Air Lines. There are also books and magazines by and about Rickenbacker and scripts for radio interviews with Shepherd regarding her secretarial career and her membership in the Seraphic Secretaries of America.

Post submitted by AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in aviation history, popular culture, World War I | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Check Out the American Heritage Center’s Virtual Exhibits!

2020 was a banner year for new American Heritage Center virtual exhibits. Take a look this selection of what we’ve been working on this past year.

“Stampede” by Jerry Palen

During the course of its 43 year run, “Stampede” became the largest weekly syndicated cartoon feature in the agriculture sector of both the United States and Canada, reaching a weekly audience of more than 2 million readers. You can explore a selection of some of Jerry Palen’s best comics.

“Which One is Dotty?” Jerry Palen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Souvenirs of War

This exhibit offers a variety of images taken by professional and snapshot photographers during the Vietnam War provide an interesting visual portrait of America’s involvement in Vietnam. This exhibit includes images from renowned war correspondent Richard Tregaskis as well as from the personal collection of war veteran Craig Tiernan.

Soldiers on Ground Patrol, 1962-1963. Photograph by Richard Tregaskis. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Richard Tregaskis papers.

More Pronghorn Than People

The story of the pronghorn in Wyoming is a story of abundance. This exhibit shows some of the many ways that people and the pronghorn have interacted and highlights the important role the pronghorn maintains in this state as well as around the world.

Boy feeding pronghorn, ca. 1930s. Charles J. Belden photographs, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

University of Wyoming: A Brief History of Campus

The University of Wyoming was opened in Laramie, WY in 1886. A university built on a land grant, it has come a long way from its debut to present day. While many of the original buildings still stand, the infrastructure of the University continues to grow. 

Old Main, 1905. Samuel H. Knight papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

And that’s not all. There are other exhibits available for your viewing pleasure. Check back again as more are being created!

Post submitted by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in announcements, cartoons, Digital collections, exhibits, found in the archive, Photographic collections, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment