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Navy Wives: Frances Smalley Mitscher (1890-1982) and Mary Alger Smith (1892-1987)

Based on two interviews of Frances Smalley Mitscher (1890-1982) conducted by Commander Etta-Belle Kitchen, USN (Ret.) in January 1971, and two interviews of Mary T. Alger Smith (1892-1987) conducted by Dr. John T. Mason Jr. in March and October 1978, the volume contains 227 pages of interview transcript (63 for Mrs. Mitscher and 164 for Mrs. Smith). The transcripts are copyright 1986 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewees placed no restrictions on their use.

Both Frances Smalley Mitscher and Mary Alger Smith married ensigns from the Naval Academy class of 1910, but they describe in strikingly different tones the lives they led in the demanding and important role of Navy wives. Mrs. Mitscher's perspective of her famous husband, Admiral Marc Mitscher (1887-1947), offers glimpses of a public figure that only a wife can see.

Through her discussion of Admiral Mitscher's habits and idiosyncrasies, she presents a picture of his private side that greatly shaped her own life. Both Commander Roy C. Smith (1888-1946) and Mrs. Smith were Navy juniors whose family lines are punctuated with illustrious naval figures. In a feisty style, Mrs. Smith recalls her childhood spent on the Naval Academy grounds at the turn of the century, being courted by midshipmen in her teens, and 35 years of moving her family from place to place to follow her husband. Her account of living in China in the mid-1920s while Commander Smith served in the USS Noa (DD-343) is both frightening and hilarious.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).


In this clip from her first interview with Commander Kitchen, Mrs. Mitscher speaks of her husband, Admiral Marc Mitcher, and his keen sense of humor.

Mrs. Mitscher: In those early days of aviation, there were so few of us, and so few aviators, that we all wandered around together in Washington or out here, so there was a group that knew each other very well.

Commander Kitchen: Were you able to be with him much after Pensacola?

Mrs. Mitscher: Yes, except in the Second World War. He went first on the San Diego. I think, on a convoy, but when he came back he was ordered down to command the training station in Miami, Florida.

Commander Kitchen: Let me go back a bit. What number was he, in aviation?

Mrs. Mitscher: Thirty-three.

Commander Kitchen: Can you describe the life around Pensacola at that time?

Mrs. Mitscher: It was a very pleasant life, very attractive people, and the sort of life that you would live in a small town and in a navy yard. We really enjoyed ourselves very much. Of course, he learned to fly, and he was busy. We were together for that whole year and a half.

Commander Kitchen: Did he seem to love aviation, flying?

Mrs. Mitscher: He was very dedicated, but again I say he was not a man who talked about himself or what went on. He wasn't that sort of person.

Commander Kitchen: What did you talk about when you were together?

Mrs. Mitscher: Many things. I became the talker of the family, really, which I hadn't been too good at. He was a man who liked his close friends and small parties. He was a very good host.

We had a very close association. We didn't quarrel, except for the small quarrels that I suppose any married couple has, but I don't think we did have any. I would have quarreled, but he never would.

Commander Kitchen: He sounds as though he were an easy man to live with.

Mrs. Mitscher: Very, a very gentle man and very generous. It's hard to describe him, because I was a little while understanding him. Whether I did or not, I can't answer. We became very close. And he became a wonderful person to me. It always seemed to me that I really grew up under him. I had such a wonderful feeling of respect for him. He could be lots of fun. I never knew when he was teasing me. He could tell me something with a completely straight face.

Commander Kitchen: Do you have any recollection of any of those instances?

Mrs. Mitscher: Yes, I have one. When the Akron crashed, we were packing up to come out here on sea duty, and so were the Cecils.[*] Then, of course, he was killed on the Akron. We motored out, and I was very tired when we left Washington. We were not talking very much, either one of us. We finally were going through Kansas.

He said, "We have to get through Kansas in one day." I thought I won't ask him, I'm too tired, why he has to get through Kansas in one day. Then he said, "If a tremendous black cloud comes up over there, it's probably a cyclone. If we stop the car, just lie down and grab hold of something." And I didn't see anything out there to take hold of. We got into Colorado late that night.

The next day I said, "Why did we have to get through Kansas in one day?"

And he said, "Why, no beer." I could have strangled him. He had a great keen sense of humor, very puckish sense of humor, too. He could be a lot of fun.

[*]The rigid airship Akron (ZRS-4) crashed in a storm off Barnegat Light, New Jersey, on 4 April 1933. Among the 73 fatalities were Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, USN, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and Commander Henry B. Cecil, USN.



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