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Ramsey family letters


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Ramsey family was a Black family who lived in Philadelphia and who served in the military during the First and Second World Wars. William B. Ramsey, Jr. (born 1891) served in the 368th Infantry Regiment in World War I and his three sons, William Ramsey (1919-2001), John T. Ramsey (1922-2009), and Ted Ramsey (1925-2019) all served in World War II.

William B. (Beale) Ramsey, Jr. served in the 368th Infantry Regiment which was part of the all African American 92nd Division in World War I. He was inducted into service on October 27, 1917, promoted to sergeant on December 1, 1917, promoted to 2nd lieutenant on August 26, 1918, and honorably discharged from service on December 24, 1918. Letters indicate that he was recommended for Officer's Training Camp by both his captain and his first lieutenant. It does not appear that he served overseas.

Following his discharge from the service, Ramsey married Hazel M. Townsend (who served as a state-side YMCA hostess during the War) in 1918, and they became the parents of four sons, William B., John T., Pierce T., and Donald P. Ramsey. The family lived in Philadelphia and, according to census records, Ramsey worked as a clerk for the United States Postal Service in 1920 and as a pharmacist in 1930. He co-founded an organization called the Commissioners made up of a group of African American men who wanted to host social events, but were limited due to segregation precluding their access to public venues.

William Ramsey, III, was born on September 27, 1919. He appears to have been a student at Lincoln University at the time of his enlistment on July 21, 1942. During World War II, he served as a military policeman before attending Officer Training School and becoming a Quartermaster Officer. He was stationed domestically from August 4, 1942 to August 2, 1945. He served overseas from August 3, 1945 to March 2, 1946 and was separated from active service on May 10, 1945, at Fort Dix. He married Constance Fletcher and died on June 18, 2001.

John Townsend "Jack" Ramsey was born on September 9, 1922 and was educated at Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. During World War II, he served as an enlisted aviation technician, domestically from September 10, 1943, to December 18, 1944. He served overseas, in the Pacific Theater, from December 19, 1944 to March 1946. He was separated from active service on March 19, 1946. Following his honorable discharge, he married Barbara Taylor and he owned a tailoring school prior to working for the City of Philadelphia. He died on July 5, 2009.

Pierce Theodore "Ted" Ramsey was born on August 7, 1925 and was educated at Temple High School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied accounting and finance. During World War II, he served within the United States Army Air Force, training as a B-25 twin-engine light bomber at Morton Field on the grounds of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, from December 20, 1943 to February 28, 1946. He did not serve overseas and was separated from active service on February 28, 1946. Following his service, Ramsey worked as a real estate agent, owning his own office in West Philadelphia. He married Harriett Vawter (1929-2012) and they were the parents of two sons, Theodore, Jr. and Brian (died 2021). They divorced, and in 1985, Ramsey married Ruth Scarborough, his fourth whife, with whom he lived in Philadelphia until his death. Ramsey served as president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. He died on June 15, 2019.

This collection consists of a small number of letters home from William B. Ramsey, Jr. during his service in World War I; and from his sons, William; John or "Jack;" and Pierce or "Ted" during their service in World War II. All letters are written state-side and describe, in varying degrees of detail, life in the military during the first and second World Wars.

The three letters from William B. Ramsey, Jr. to his future wife, Hazel Townsend, were written from September to November, 1917, all from Camp Meade, in Maryland. Ramsey's letters are full of concern for Hazel's financial well-being, in particular, related to his own income which he directs to her and his mother; describe the need for clothing and shoes; express his pleasure at receiving news from her; and informs her that he was recommended for promotion by both his captain and first lieutenant. In his November 11, 1917, letter, Ramsey describes his life, saying, "It's getting so now that like the rest of men, I take it like being in jail—I have to stay, so I give the very best there is in me and take things philosophically."

Two letters from William Ramsey, III, were written from Presidio, in San Francisco, California, in January 1944 and from Camp Lee, Virginia, in 1945, to his parents. In 1944, William was a private, first class, and his letter is full of news—responding to his parents news as well as supplying his own, expressing his homesickness for his family, and describing his relationships with women. He states that "all the big Colored outfits that were here are gone," and it seems that he is indicating that there are only 3 other African Americans on the base. His letter expresses hope that his parents will visit him in California, a visit that would include attending a concert of Marian Anderson, whose music gave him "a lump in [his] throat." In 1945, Ramsey was an officer candidate at quartermaster school and his letter describes the types of training they underwent, including navigation, orientation, and range practice. At the time of writing the letter, Ramsey was about to be made lieutenant and the family was considering attending the bar pinning ceremony; however Ramsey was concerned about them traveling in the South and mentioned racial tensions in the region.

John (who signs his name "Jack"), wrote to his mother, Hazel, on December 14, 1943, from Kessler Field, Mississippi, where he was part of the 55th Training Group, Squadron 265. This single letter from Jack mentions, on several occasions, that he wished to hear more from his family, discusses family acquaintances he has run into in Mississippi, and informs her that his brother Ted, is about to arrive at Kessler Field by December 24. It appears that the family would not be united for Christmas—Jack states, "Well as far as Christmas is concerned, things look bad. Don't think we'll be able to get even a three day pass … Mom I know you'll have a sad Christmas this year and I feel very bad about it, but maybe by this time in 44, we'll all be back together again." It is clear from this letter that the family looked out for each other and that they were especially concerned about Ted, the youngest son serving in the War.

A single letter from Pierce Theodore Ramsey (who signed his name "Ted") was written from Tuskegee, Alabama, to his parents on June 19, 1944. Ted was part of the Corps of Aviation Cadets, Class 45 B. This letter is full of news of family and friends, and there is very little mention of military life, other than frequent visits to the dentist.

Sold by Read 'Em Again Books, 2019.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Holly Mengel
Finding Aid Date
2020 August 21
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This collection is open for research use.

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Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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William B. Ramsey Jr., letters to Miss Hazel Townsend, 1917 September-November.
Box 1 Folder 1
John T. Ramsey, letter to "Mom", 1943 December 14.
Box 1 Folder 2
Ted Ramsey, letter to "Folks", 1944 June 19.
Box 1 Folder 3
William Ramsey, III, letters to "Mother and Dad" and "Family", 1944-1945.
Box 1 Folder 4

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