”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Melina Adam


Signal Corps "Hello Girl"
Signal Corps Overseas Female Telephone Unit

Documentary materials provided in part by
Candace McCorkell, granddaughter of Jack Converse

Background

  • Grandmother of Candace McCorkell (Candace's husband is Pete McCorkell) and Penelope Soresen (Penelope's husband is Randy Sorensen)
  • Melina was born September 15, 1896 in Fall River, MA [Office of the City Clerk, City of Fall River, Massachusetts, document, 10 April 1942]
  • Melina's adult height was 5'1", weight about 112 lb; blue eyes; passport indicates hair is "light chestnut" [Similar information in Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • While serving in the Signal Corps, Melina acquired the nickname "Addie"; typically, women in the Signal Corps had nicknames, derived from their last names.
  • Note—Melina's letters are all written in purple ink, a "personal quirk" according to her granddaughter Candace McCorkell.

Background

  • French Canadian family moved to Fall River, MA, and then to Swansea, MA
  • Melina was the eldest of nine children; father was a farmer, "root vegetables and hay mostly, whatever they could coax out of the rocky soil." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
  • "The family also took in boarders and made pickles in barrels in the basement—anything to get by." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
  • Only eight survived childhood. When the family lived in Fall River, Charlie, one of her younger brothers, drowned in an abandoned quarry across the road from the family farm [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 17 August 2009]. As a result, "she had a lifelong fear of water." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
  • Graduated from B. M. C. Durfee High School in Fall River, MA, June 30, 1916 ["Graduation Exercises," program document, B. M. C. Durfee High School, 30 June 1916].
    • Note—The name of the school is that of a "grieving family of a local young man who died tragically." The family "donated the land and building as a monument to him." Lizzie Borden graduated from the school and was a Fall River resident. "The old, granite pile is now condos," but there is a new B. M. C. Durfee High School. [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
  • After graduation from high school Melina worked for the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company ["Telephone Girl Going to France," newspaper clipping, nd, family papers]

Enlistment in Signal Corps

  • In 1918 Melina enlisted in the Signal Corps and was "later promoted to supervisor" [War Department, letter to Mrs. Jack Converse, 26 October 1943]
    • Note-She was fluent in French, a prerequisite for the Signal Corps, and had worked as a telephone operator, valuable experience for Signal Corps applicants.
    • She was "a civilian employee of the Army of the United States. . . ." [War Department Certificate of Identity, 2 March 1918]
  • Enlisted at age 21 (?) in Signal Corps and was "later promoted to supervisor" [War Department, letter to Mrs. Jack Converse, 26 October 1943]
  • Appointed telephone operator on January 10, 1918, "at $60 per month, with allowances of rations, quarters and medical attendance accorded Army Nurses by Army Regulations. . . ." [War Department , Appointment Letter, Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 10 January 1918]; served overseas from March 5, 1918 to December 1, 1918; discharged on June 10, 1919 [War Department document, 31 October 1919; War Department, letter to Mrs. Jack Converse, 8 July 1941]
  • Nickname "Addie". Signal Corps girls gave each other nicknames based on their last names; Adie's best friend was "Frankie"
    • Note—According to Melina's granddaughter Candace McCorkell, "family lore" is that Melina lied about her age (stating she was twenty-one) when, in January 1918, she enlisted in the Army Signal Corps.
    • Family suspicion is that she was twenty in January 1918, and would not be twenty-one for eight more months.
    • Note-Our research thus far has not produced a birth certificate, though a Fall River document completed in 1942, apparently at the request of Melina, states that her birth date was in 1896, making her three months shy of twenty years of age when she graduated from high school and twenty-one, the necessary minimum age, when she enlisted in the Signal Corps. [Office of the City Clerk, City of Fall River, Massachusetts, document, 10 April 1942]

Meeting Jack Converse in Nevers, France

  • In summer 1918 met Jack Converse in Nevers. In February 1919 Melina wrote Jack' mother, "Jack and I met early last summer in Nevers." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]. Apparently referring to Signal Corps telephone operators, Addie wrote, "When we moved from one house to another Jack was detailed to move our trunks and that is how we met." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
    • Note—Nevers was a very important logistical base, a warehousing and rail center. Converse seems almost certainly to have been attached to the Services of Supply. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 23 March 2009]
  • Addie and Jack "spent a very happy summer in Nevers," but Addie received orders requiring her transfer to Tours on September 8, 1918. Addie explains that "the reason for transferring me was because … the Signal Corps officers … suspected I cared too much for Jack." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • At that time Jack was the driver for Major Henry Opdycke. Opdycke, was an important officer in the Signal Corps. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 23 March 2009] Major Opdycke drove Melina to Tours so she would not have to take the train. Melina writes that she had always "hated" Tours and now she had to go back and without Jack. "For two weeks I cried myself to sleep every night." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • Jack received orders transferring him to Tours, though he also despised Tours [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • Three days after Jack's arrival in Tours, Addie was transferred to Paris. In Paris, "we were very fortunate in being able to spend a few evenings and Christmas and New Years together." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • Melina's address on envelope of Jack's letter to Melina on December 19, 1918, is Operator A. J. Adam, Telephone Operators Unit, Hotel Oxford and Cambridge, 13 Rue D'Alger, Paris, France [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 19 December 1918]
  • Melina's address given on January 13, 1919, letter to Jack and February 10, 1919 letter to Jack's mother Mrs. C. H. Beddome is Telephone Unit, Signal Corps, Hotel Crillon, Paris, France. But she works about ten miles from Paris in the town of La Belle Epine, which is, for Signal Corps lines, "the long distance toll centre of France." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]. Melina is one of two supervisors there.

Marriage to Jack Converse

  • Melina married Jack in Paris on February 4, 1919 [Marriage document, February 4, 1919, République Française]. Converse obtained permission to marry in France [P. A. Poirier, 1st Lt., M.T.C., Commanding Co., letter to Motor Car Co. #302 M.T.C., Hqs. Garage. Hqs. S. O. S., 1 February 1919]
  • Melina referred to it as "our unusual marriage…." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]. Melina writes, "It is against our rules and regulations to marry over here so I still go under the name Adam. The rule reads, 'Any member of the telephone unit in the A.E.F. contracting marriage shall be relieved from further duty.' I do not want to go back until Jack does so as much as I am anxious to tell everyone of my great happiness I have to keep still. You have no idea how difficult it is." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • Of her marriage she wrote poetically, "I often fly away up beyond the clouds of ordinary, everyday life to the land of imagination and see our Hope of Happiness." [Melina Adam, letter to Jack Converse, 12 February 1919]
  • Almost three months later Jack wrote that their marriage was no longer a secret. "Everybody knows we are married now and although she isn't allowed to live with me, I have a room right across the street and she is known as Mrs., or Madame Converse. . . ." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 25 April 1919]
    • Note—Jack and Melina were married on February 4, 1919, but two letters written by Jack to Melina before that date suggest they were already married:
      1. In a letter dated September 15, 1918, he begins by writing "Dearest little girl wife. . . ." In the body of the letter he writes, "if all the girls in the world were lined up the only one for me is my own true pure sweet little wife." He ends this letter writing, "all the love in the world for my own little wife from her lover Jack." [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 15 September 1918]
      2. In a letter dated November 13, 1918, he assures Melina that he is "trying to help my little girl wife." [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 13 November 1918]
    • Note—Granddaughter Candace McCorkell believes those early references to Melina as "wife" "were probably more a cultural/vernacular gesture of the times—life was so uncertain, and once betrothed, I suspect the emotional aspects of 'marriage' were entered into before actual weddings. Remember, they have gone through the flu epidemic, as well as war, etc." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 26 April 2009]

Disapproval of Jack's mother

  • Melina may sense disapproval of Jack's mother. On Easter Sunday 1919 she wrote to Jack's mother, "Jack has received no mail since arriving in Paris." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, Easter Sunday 1919]
  • Jack may wonder if his mother disapproves of Melina. In October 1918, which is after the enjoyable summer Jack and Melina spent in Nevers, Jack wrote to his mother, "Got what I thought was going to be a nice letter from you the other day but which turned out to be nothing but a bunch of clippings. Have a heart mother of mine—the disappointment was great." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 October 1918]. In a letter to his mother, dated January 27, 1919, he expresses his happiness in receiving on that day two letters from his mother, one dated November 16, 1918, and the other dated January 1, 1919. [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 October 1918]. These letters may have been written in response to his.
    • Note—According to Jack's and Melina's granddaughter Candace McCorkell, Jack's mother did disapprove of Melina, and her opinion never changed. Jack's mother, who was on the social register, "was horrified that her only child, The Golden Boy," had "married down" to a "farm girl" with no family connections. Some of the apparent disapproval was assuaged in February 1921 when a daughter, Patricia, was born to Jack and Melina. Patricia (Candace McCorkell's mother) "took center stage ever after in Jack's mother's life. [Candace McCorkell, telephone interview by Frank Mazzi, 9 April 2009; Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009
    • As Jack's and Melina's granddaughter notes, Jack's mother was 6' tall, but Melina, only 5'1", was a "spitfire who grew up as the leader of 8 kids in a farming family! Don't mess with Addie! Subservient she was not." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009]
    • In her May 28, 1919, letter to Jack's mother, a letter written a day after her return to the U.S., Melina seems to make a point of saying that upon her discharge she will return to Swansea, MA. No mention is made of making arrangements to see her mother-in-law in Seattle. [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 28 May 1919] As Jack's and Melina's granddaughter notes, meeting Jack's mother would be less stressful on Melina if she were to wait until Jack was discharged later that summer so that Melina and Jack could make the journey to face Jack's mother together. [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009]

Abner Doble and his Steam Car

  • Jack and Melina became friends in Paris of Mr. and Mrs. Abner Doble. Jack noted that Abner "invented the Doble Steam Car. . . ." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 25 April 1919]

Return to U. S.

  • Melina receives orders to return to U.S. Jack accompanies her to Brest by train, first class on the American Special, leaving Gare Montparnasse on May 14, 1919 [A. C. Smith, Captain, Casual Company No. 2, Headquarters, District of Paris, Memorandum, 14 May 1919]
  • "We went to Brest's best hotel for our meals—they were abominable." [Melina Adam, letter to her mother and father, 25 May 1919]
  • Discriminatory attitude evident—On their second evening in Brest they heard some music, followed it, and came upon "a little gypsy fair." "There were so many negroes and Jack insisted upon calling them my affinities that we did not stay. I have spanked Jack several times for saying that but it does no good. There were not very many in Paris but if there was one he was sure to see him—usually long before I did. Of course, he is quite a bit taller than I am and that may account for it." [Melina Adam, letter to her mother and father, 25 May 1919]
    • Note—Jack's and Melina's granddaughter notes that Melina "fought discrimination and racism her entire life; my grandfather was unwilling to change. I think her attitude came from the persecution her family experienced when she was young, and French Canadians were sometimes harassed to the point they had to pack up and leave town in the middle of the night to survive. My grandfather was from upper class Chicago and Seattle society, where there were very few people, even servants, of other ethnicities. I know there were Irish employees over the years, and later in his teen years, a Puerto Rican 'house boy,' but that's it." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009]
  • Melina and two other Signal Corps women learned from the base signal officer that they had been "booked for the zeppelin. . . ." Because they would be the only women on the zeppelin they were held over, and would have to leave by ship. [Melina Adam, letter to her mother and father, 25 May 1919]
  • Ship is Prinz Frederick Wilhelm, "a German liner." In addition to a crew of 200 the ship will transport 5,000 troops and 200 officers, 240 nurses, 20 "ordinance girls," 3 Red Cross "girls,"3 Signal Corps "girls," and "3 or 4" YMCA and "3 or 4" YWCA "workers." [Melina Adam, letter to her mother and father, 25 May 1919]

    The crowded conditions of the ship were explained to the passengers. "This is a United States Naval Vessel, manned by a U.S. Navy crew and is running for the purpose of taking the maximum number of persons in the quickest possible time from France to America, keeping them in good health and with a reasonable amount of comfort. Under these circumstances it is impossible to give passengers the service found on passenger ships, but all details are worked out for the good of the greatest number." [U.S.S. Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm, "Information for Passengers" (document)]
  • A day after arriving in New York, Melina wrote about her arrival in the U.S. "Three boats came out to welcome us home." Cigarettes, candy, and newspapers were thrown aboard the Prinz Frederick Wilhelm; a band played "Home Sweet Home," "How Dry I Am," "and such things as 'rubbed it in' as the boys said." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 28 May 1919]
    • Note—the Eighteenth Amendment, the "Prohibition Amendment," was ratified in January 1919, and many returning doughboys hearing "How Dry I Am" understood the unpleasant news.
  • In the same letter she notes to Jack's mother that she will return to Swansea as soon as she is discharged.
  • She received an Army citation for "exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous services," dated June 20, 1919, signed by Pershing.

Move to Oregon

  • Moved to Oregon in 1929; thereafter volunteered for the Red Cross Motor Corps; she was also a "Gray Lady" with the Veterans Administration Volunteer Service ["Death Takes War Veteran," The Oregonian, 20 November 1967]

Purple Heart

  • In response to Melina Converse's June 16, 1941, application for a Purple Heart decoration, the War Department responded, "the award is confined to those persons who, as members of the Army, were awarded the Meritorious Services Citation Certificate by the Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces; were authorized in orders to wear a wound chevron, or received a wound in action for which medical treatment was given. . . . The members of the signal Corps Overseas Female Telephone Unit did not possess military status, but were civilian employees. Inasmuch as you were not a bonafide [sic]member of the Army of the United States during the period of the World War, but served in the capacity o a civilian employee, I regret that you re not eligible for the award of the Purple Heart." [War Department, letter to Mrs. Jack Converse, 8 July1941]
    • Note—Purple Heart may later have been awarded A newspaper article about her death states that she received Purple Heart. "She stayed at her post in Paris during shelling by Big Bertha." ["Death Takes War Veteran," The Oregonian, 20 November 1967]

Victory Medal

  • In response to Melina Adam's application for award of a Victory Medal, the War Department responded, "The members of the Signal Corps Overseas Female Telephone Unit did not possess military status, but were civilian employees. Inasmuch as nothing has been found to show that you acquired a military status by reason of such service, a certificate of discharge from the Army cannot be furnished. However, a citation for MERITORIOUS AND CONSPICUOUS SERVICES at Paris, France is being forwarded to you." [War Department, letter to Mrs. Jack Converse, 26 October 1943]
    • Note—During WWI Army nurses and Signal Corps volunteers were the only women wearing Army uniforms, but when the war ended the U. S. government did not recognize Signal Corps service as being part of the U. S. Army. The government argument was that they were civilians who had been employed on a temporary basis by the Army. Despite being sworn into the Army, despite being required to wear an Army uniform, and despite having to follow Army regulations, the women of the Signal Corps were not recognized as Army veterans until 1978, sixty years after the war had ended. The seventy WWI "Hello Girls" who were still alive received honorable discharges, veterans' benefits, and WWI Victory Medals.

Death

  • Melina died in November 1967 at age 71 ["Death Takes War Veteran," The Oregonian, 20 November 1967]; she was survived by Jack, who died seven years later at age 82.

Addresses

Address penciled on documents dated January 10, 1918 and January 17, 1919—
Mrs. Jack Converse
1606 Boyer Avenue
Seattle, Washington
Address on Veterans Bureau letter, December 24, 1930—
Mrs. Melina J. Converse
685 East 59th St. North
Portland, Oregon
(Still at that address on August 28, 1931, date noted on newspaper photo of Converse children and other children)
Address on War Department letter of July 8, 1941—
Mrs. Jack Converse
c/o Forrest O. Woods
3908 N. E. 35th Avenue
Portland, Oregon
Address on War Department letter of October 26, 1943, and envelope postmarked May 19, 1952, (and still address at time of her death in November 1967)–
Mrs. Jack Converse
3105 N. E. 60th Avenue
Portland 13, Oregon
(rev.6.12.09)