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Jul 19 2011

Making an Unexpected Discovery

NC State 4-H Club delegation (including L.R. Harrill far left) being recognized for their contribution to the war effort at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 1943

Contributed by Josh Hager

Archivists are not immune to the excitement of finding an unanticipated item in a collection requested for another use entirely.  Recently a patron in the SCRC conducted research on Frances MacGregor Wall, the State Director of 4-H from 1937 until 1945.  Wall was a fascinating leader in her own right.  Her personal papers, especially her correspondence with John Wall during their courtship, are well worth more research and historical attention.

However, what stood out amongst the interesting 4-H and family records in Frances Wall’s papers was a stamp ration book from World War II (Box 18, Folder 4).  Printed in 1943 under the regulation of the Office of Price Administration, this ration book owned by John Wall was necessary for obtaining sugar, meat, fuel, and other  items that experienced supply shortages due to the war, . While finding a World War II ration book in the 1940s papers of any family should not come as too much of a surprise, it was an unexpected find considering the collection’s primary focus on the affairs of 4-H and its State Extension program.   Interacting with the ration book gives one a sense of life on the home front in 1943,  where  individuals saved excess fats and metals to be repurposed for munitions.  Buying rations was both mandatory and patriotic. Even the instructions in the ration book speak to the mentality of the war effort—what stands out most is the directive, “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”

While John Wall’s ration book is not technically a manuscript, it is a textual artifact that belongs in our manuscript collections.  Amidst a collection on an entirely different (yet still equally engaging) topic, the ration stamps are a great find.   Wall’s ration book proves the old archivist’s slogan that you never know what you will find when you look into a collection.  We encourage you to visit and try to find some hidden gems yourself.

For more information on the NCSU Special Collections Research Center, please visit