Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong

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Samuel Chapman Armstrong, 1904. Edith Armstrong Talbot (1904)
Samuel Chapman Armstrong: A Biographical Study,
New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, p. 254.

Samuel Chapman Armstrong was the founder of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University). A native of Hawaii, he fought with the Union army during the Civil War. Eventually, Armstrong was brevetted brigadier general. After working for the Freedmen’s Bureau, he recognized that African Americans needed greater educational opportunities, which prompted him to establish Hampton Institute. Among its most noted graduates are Booker T. Washington and Thomas Calhoun Walker.

His Younger Years

Armstrong was born on January 30, 1839, on the island of Maui in the kingdom of Hawaii. His parents, Richard and Clarissa Chapman Armstrong, were Protestant missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Armstrongs arrived in 1832 and began establishing churches. In 1840 Richard Armstrong was appointed Kahus (Senior Pastor) of Kawaiaha’o Church in Honolulu. The church was made of coral and served as the national church of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Armstrong also served on the kingdom’s privy council and the House of Nobles. King Kamehameha III appointed Armstrong as Minister of Public Instruction in 1847, and, in 1855, he became President of the Board of Education. The educational model he established taught students faith-based citizenship. His teaching activities made him known as “the father of American education in Hawaii.”   Read more

HRPE in WWII: Hawaii comes to Hampton Roads!

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Left: Corporal Bernalda N. Paragoso, Right Corporal Edwina Cluney, showing off their new Transportation Corps shoulder badge.

For Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, we are going to highlight two members of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) who served right here in Hampton Roads during World War II: Corporal Bernalda N. Paragoso and Corporal Edwina Cluney. Both women were from Honolulu, Hawaii, and after basic training were stationed together at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. Fortunately for us, the Honolulu Star Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser reported regular updates about their “Island Girls” who had joined the military, so we know a bit about their lives! 

While the Women’s Army Corps was founded on May 15, 1942 (then the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) they did not recruit women living in Hawaii until October of 1944. This was because Hawaii was technically still a territory, and did not become a state until 1959. All women from Hawaii were recruited to the WACs from October-December of 1944, and trained together in one unit at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Because Hawaii was already quite diverse, this made the Hawaii unit possibly the most diverse training unit in the WAC, with women of Japanese, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Irish, and English descent. Both Corporal Bernalda N. Paragoso and Corporal Edwina Cluney trained in this unit as privates.    Read more

Naval Intelligence in Hampton Roads: 1861-1862

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CSS Virginia.
The Mariners’ Museum.

There was no formal naval intelligence system established during the American Civil War. While a few examples exist of Northern sympathizers, free Blacks, like Mary Louvestre of Portsmouth, sent messages to various Union commanders about the Confederate ironclad construction effort. These links were unofficial and were generally between one Union officer and an individual. The Union nor the Confederacy needed to rely on such clandestine methods since Northern and Southern newspapers provided ample information, usually in a boastful manner. Each antagonist simply needed to obtain a copy of The New York Times or Mobile Register to gather all they needed to know about ironclad development. 

Union intelligence was able to receive valuable knowledge about the construction and impending attack of CSS Virginia. The information appeared to flow back and forth across Hampton Roads. On October 6, 1861, Major General John Ellis Wool, stationed at Fort Monroe as commander of the Union Department of Virginia, wrote to Lieutenant General Winfield Scott:   Read more

PRIDE of the WACs: Sex and Sexuality during WWII

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Officers and enlisted women of 3rd WAC Co. are shown in front of company area. Accession Number P0003/01-#F-10899

Changing Perspectives during WWII

As mentioned in some previous blogs, World War II was the first time in US history that women were allowed to officially enter the military in any major capacity, outside of Nursing. This change brought many white, middle-class women into the labor force for the first time and opened up opportunities to women and people of color in jobs that would otherwise be denied to them. The Women’s Army Corps or WAC (originally the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) was the only one of these groups to integrate women into its corresponding military branch fully. However, in the 1940s, there were much stricter ideas of gender norms, gender expression, and heteronormativity. This meant there was significant pushback against the idea of women joining the military, as this was viewed as the epitome of masculine spaces. As a result, many suggested that women did not belong in the military, despite many women joining the WAC (and other groups) and excelling in their new roles.

The Slander Campaign

There was a lot of concern about what women joining the military might mean. A slander campaign arose between 1943-1944, about 1-2 years after the forming of WAC/WAAC, which claimed that women who joined the WAC were either promiscuous or lesbians. These rumors were sourced from several places. One is a prominent newspaper article on the WACs claiming that WACs would receive free prophylactic equipment, just as the male GIs did. However, this was inherently false, one of the many double standards that women in the military were held to.    Read more

Hidden Histories: The Quest to Put Names to Our Past

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Construction on the arcade of the Library wing, February 1935.

It began a few years ago with a handful of old, unlabeled photos. Images of workers who placed the bricks and the cinder blocks for the Museum’s walls and also installed the statues on Lions Bridge and in the Park. They were literally part of the very foundation of our Museum. Then the questions began. What were their names and their stories? Why were they so important to our Museum, but we didn’t know who they were? What we found, and are still finding, has evolved into one of the most interesting, impactful, heartbreaking, joyous, and eye opening projects we have ever worked on. A project we named “Hidden Histories.”

The earliest beginnings of the project actually started from several other initiatives. A quest to gather as much information about our Park and grounds as possible, and a look forward to our 100th Anniversary coming up in 2030. The emphasis on our Park is part of a long term project focused on issues like conservation, sustainability, ecology, preservation and the history of the area. This work has helped with the formation of our new Park Department which was announced earlier this month. The 100th Anniversary project is taking a look back at our history and also a look forward to see where we are headed in the future.

Both projects led to the discovery of photos showing the men who did the construction on our Museum and Park. As well as a number of images showing members of our Museum team dating from the 1930s and beyond. The photos are part of our Institutional Collection that documents what happens here. They include famous visitors, parties, exhibitions, large artifacts arriving, personnel photos, and just about anything else related to our day to day activities. While we knew what types of photos we would find in the collection, we didn’t anticipate finding out what we didn’t have. The men’s identities and a realization that despite our Museum’s focus on inclusion and connections within our community, we hadn’t made a connection with ourselves. In the 91 years since the first of those photos were taken, we hadn’t made a connection with the men who were the very foundation of our success. And the hard truth is that because of who they were, no one in the 1930s thought it important enough to label these images and ensure they would be known by their names and faces. The time was way overdue to correct this.   Read more