Archival collections are funny things, sometimes. Some people collect papers about themselves, such as diaries, business records, and news clippings about their accomplishments. Others collect documents about the people and events around them, documenting their own lives largely indirectly, through the words and actions of others. One of the latter types of collections is that of Clara Gibson, a Louisville, Kentucky native and World War I volunteer at Camp Zachary Taylor.
Gibson, likely a nurse at Camp Taylor, corresponded with several soldiers in the United States Army, primarily A. C. “Cliff” Carbery and Richard B. Harris. While the collection does not contain Gibson’s outgoing mail, the letters and documents people sent to Gibson which she collected offer a glimpse of a young woman who loved to dance, was active in the theater, and served her country admirably. These documents also describe the home front during this period in history, and provide insight into both military life and social issues such as courtship and segregation.
Gibson was an active student at Louisville Girls High School, and her papers document classes, readings, and school theater productions. Gibson also collected material related to Macauley’s Theatre, including theater programs and promotional materials. In the below photo Gibson (bottom left) is shown with friends, likely from a production of “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines.”
Unfortunately, Gibson’s work at Camp Taylor put her in close proximity to many people suffering from the Spanish Influenza outbreak. Gibson contracted the horrible disease a few months after graduating high school, and died in late February or early March of 1919. While we have very few documents with Gibson’s own words, the documents she collected show how others viewed her: As an active student, passionate volunteer, and patriotic young woman who died far too early.