An Experience I Shall Always Remember: Gwen Boston

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“Being a SPAR was an experience I shall always remember.”

Gwen L. Boone Boston

Gwendolyn Lucile Boone Boston.

Gwen L. Boone Boston, born 19 September 1923, spent her grade school years in Geneva, Ks.  By 7th grade, her family moved to Emporia.  She graduated from Roosevelt High School, located on the campus of the Emporia State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas.

She was profoundly affected by the bombing at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Gwen was 18, and she observed many of her close friends enlist “and disappear for unknown places so far away.” She later recalled that she “wrote many letters keeping in touch with them.”

She applied for a Civil Service job and worked for the U.S. Quartermaster Corps in Wichita, Ks.

As the war continued, she observed that “more and more women enlisting in various branches of service – the thought began to nag at me – why not enlist?” She and a close friend, Betty Greer, began looking at the options open to them.

Gwen recalled:

“The Coast Guard recruiter was exceptional in wining and dining us and won us over. Next step, I had to have my parents approval as I was not yet twenty-one. Reluctantly they did sign and we were on our way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to be sworn in on August 30, 1944.”

There were five girls from Kansas that boarded the train – one from Iola. one from Lindsborg two from Newton – Jane Lair and Barbara Jane (BJ) Durham,Gwen and her friend, Betty.

They arrived at West Palm Beach, Fl for training.  Gwen described the training facility.

“Would you believe a former luxury hotel, the Biltmore…  stripped down to the minimum and wooden bunks installed.”


“It was all very exciting and yet at the same time very frightening as we were not quite sure what to expect.  All of our instructors . . . were male and it soon  became apparent that we were not to be popular since it was obvious that we were qualified for duty only in the shore jobs and this released the male personnel for sea duty. . . . Since I was tall, I was always on the front row whenever we were in marching formation and . . . the first to get our of step . . and the first to be yelled at by the instructor.”

While Gwen was at training the weather was hot and humid.  She experienced a hurricane noting;

 “I can still see the coconuts flying as the men directed we gals to carry all the heavy typewriters and equipment to a room on higher ground.”

While in training, Gwen became sick with pneumonia and was confined to sick bay for about 10 days.

Because of her experience prior to enlisting as a secretary, Gwen was assigned Yeoman 2nd Class and sent to Morale Office at Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Training Station in Brooklyn, New York.

 Gwen L. Boston SPARS uniform, 1941-1946.

Gwen’s Uniform was donated to HCHM last fall.



There was time for fun.  Gwen and a friend took in “the sights of New York City . . . and what fun we had — the Statue of Liberty . . . our first stop.”  Other adventures included trying new foods, like salt water fish and attending stage plays like Oklahoma and South Pacific.

After a time, Gwen was transferred to the Department of Public Relations in the Coast Guard District Office in Philadelphia, PA. Here, she worked with promoting the Coast Guard using the news media.  She recalled that she found “Philadelphia to be a very dull city, so I continued to return to New York by train to join my friends when granted those off duty passes.

Discharged from the Philadelphia base on 4 May 1946 with the rating of Yeoman First Class. She was awarded the American Area Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

While Gwen was in training in West Palm Beach, she met Richard “Dick” S. Boston, Jr.  Dick was stationed at Melbourne, Florida with the Navy Air Force. During the war Dick flew the F6F Hellcaat aircraft aboard carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Gwen and Dick married in Emporia, Ks in 1946.  In 1954, the family moved to Newton, Ks.  Gwen worked as a legal secretary, and Dick as a CPA in Newton.  They had 3 children.

Gwen & Dick

 Semper Paratus-Always Ready.”

Semper ParatusAlways Ready” was the motto for the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as SPARS, which was created 23 November 1942.  Women were trained in many Coast Guard jobs, mostly clerical tasks, so that they  “could release a man to sea.”

Training centers were located Oklahoma A& M, Hunter College, Iowa State Teachers College, and the Bitmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Fl.

Follow the below link for a recruiting film for the SPARS.

“You won’t be an Admiral,but you can be his secretary.

Recruiting film

By the end of the war, there was no long need for SPARS and the program ended.


  • Newton Kansan; 9 April 2002, Gwen Boston Obituary
  • “Gwen L. (Boone) Boston”  in Memories of War Years: Memories of the Veterans of Harvey County, Ks. Curtis Media, Inc. 1995.
  • Lagan, Christopher. “History: The Women’s Reserve, America’s Backbone” 4 April 2010.

A Credit to Any Community: Mabel Banks Fletcher

by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist

This post concludes our three part blog series on the women of the Banks family.  thanks to guest blogger, Jane Jones, for sharing her research into this family. The Archives at HCHM are a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told!

Mabel Banks Fletcher

We are able to follow the life of Mabel Banks in Kansas and Iowa through newspapers from Kingman to Pretty Prairie to Hutchinson to Wichita and to Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was an educated and successful Black woman.  And just like Joan, she had a mother guiding her, Adella Scott Banks.

Mabel Banks was born in August 1896/97. Mystery surrounds her age. Did she lose or gain 3 years somewhere or was she actually born in 1900? All of her graduations would indicate a 1900 birth date, but censuses record her as 3 years older.  

Education & Accomplishments

Mabel attended elementary school in Kingman and a rural school near Pretty Prairie, Kansas (Dist. No. 75). Graduating from Common School (8th grade) in 1913 she headed for high school in Kingman which was about 15 miles from Pretty Prairie. The Hutchinson & Southern Railway moved between Hutchinson and Kingman through Pretty Prairie making commuting easy.  Kingman was the hub to Wichita and was Mabel’s territory as she was growing to adulthood.

Music & Oratorical Contests

Music lessons and solo performances were encouraged.  Her music teacher in Kingman and Pretty Prairie was Kitty Rayls.  Mabel, also a talented writer, and took to journalism. She wrote for  the Route 3 column for the Pretty Prairie Times beginning in 1913.  She also tried her hand at poetry and in 1920 was labelled the “Poetic Queen.” At Kingman High School Mabel belonged to a Literary Society, as well as, participating in Oratorical Contests with the speech, “The Need of the Negro.”  In 1914, she placed second using that speech in the Cragun Oratorical Contest in Kingman. From Kingman High School, she went to Winfield High School where she graduated in 1917 from the Commercial Course of Study.

Mabel L. Banks Diploma, Winfield High School.

By 1921, she had graduated from the Business College in Winfield.  Mabel then moved to Hutchinson (217 East F St.) and became very active in the Bethel A.M.E. Church.  She worked at a newspaper as a stenographer, taught Commercial classes to students and did sewing to augment her income.  

Professional Life

Mabel was no “shrinking violet.” She wrote a play, “A Corner of the Campus,” a sketch of college life featuring Black actors.  She gave an oration to the Charity Board of Colored Women and was head of the A.C. E. L. (Allen Christian Endeavor League of the African Methodist Episcopal Church)in Hutchinson.  In June of 1921, Mabel was a representative for The Ideal Sales Company in Wichita.

Miss Banks is a real live wire and a credit to any firm or community.”

Mabel married Russell Fletcher in Kingman March 4, 1924.  There was one reference to a two-week trip she took to Iowa and Nebraska in the summer of 1923. Is that when she met Russell or had she met him before? Family acquaintance?  After the marriage they lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Their daughter Joan was born in 1925. While in Council Bluffs, Mabel was very active in the Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Colored Republican Party of the 1930s.  But the marriage was falling apart and she took Russell to task in 1935 divorcing and accusing him of cruelty to herself and Joan.

She requested custody of their daughter, Joan, 9, title to the home at 1128 Eighteenth Avenue and $35 a month alimony.”  

This is recorded in the newspaper.

The Return to Kansas

Not as much is known about her time in Harvey County.  She guided Joan (see previous blog on Joan B. Fletcher) and they lived with her siblings, Fred and Nellie.  Mabel died in 1961 at a hospital in Kansas City. She was living with her daughter in Junction City who was working there as a Supervisor of a VA Blood Bank.

Family Research

The Banks/Fletcher families were respected African Americans.  The women – Adella, Mary (Lewis’s wife),  Mabel and Joan – were especially strong and active in their communities.  

Family and family stories were important to them, which probably encouraged Joan to join MAGIC (Midwest Afro-American Genealogical Interest Coalition) in Kansas City.  She even was President of the group in the late 90s.

Joan found out through researching her family history that a great-grandfather, Thomas Scott, was a member of the U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops) from Illinois, killed at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864 and was eligible to be part of a monument to those Colored Troops in Washington, D.C. The Colored Troops were led by white officers.  Remember the movie “Glory” with Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington? That followed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry lead by Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick).

“Despite his Handicap of Race and Color”

Did Banks and Fletchers experience racism?  Most likely they did. There is a quote from the Kingman newspaper that speaks to this issue at the death of Lewis Banks in 1912.  

From his obituary:

Lewis Edward Banks, one of the oldest and best known colored men of this county died at his home in Kingman Kansas on Friday, March 8, 1912..commendation as to his character as an upright citizen, despite his handicap of race and color…”


  1. Council Bluffs, Iowa City Directories. City Directory Collection
  2. Newspapers consulted through subscriptions to and GenealogyBank
    1. Council Bluffs Nonpareil Feb 14,1945 p. 5
    2. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. Aug 15, 1935 p 7
    3. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil Mar 21, 1935 p 3      
    4. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS July 26,1918 p 1
    5. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 16, 1905 p 3
    6. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 12, 1914 p 4
    7. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18,1921 p 1
    8. The Hutchinson Blade Oct 23, 1920 p 4
    9. The Hutchinson Blade Jan 22, 1921 p 1
    10. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18 1921 p 1
    11. Hutchinson News Apr 21, 1921 p 6
    12. Pretty Prairie Record Feb 23, 1906 p 8
    13. The Kingman Journal Apr 28, 1899 p 4
    14. Pretty Prairie Times Feb 20, 1913 p 8
  3. Harvey County Register of Deeds. Margaret Hermstein.
    1. General Warranty Deed Record No. 68. Mary K. Babb et al to Joseph C.    Banks.
  4. Special thanks to David W. Jackson, a family historian and Archives Consultant who researched Joan’s African/American family and sought a “home” for her materials.  We received the Joan B. Fletcher Collection at HCHM in Dec, 2018 along with Joan’s Scrapbook, some family pictures and the following:
  5.    Register of Colored Persons of Roanoke County, State of Virginia Cohabiting Together As Husband And Wife on February 27, 1866. Library of Virginia.
  6.    Death Certificates for Joseph, Adella, Lewis and Mary Banks
  7.    Census Research for Joseph and Lewis Banks families.
  8.    Charcoal drawings of Nellie, Florence and Fred
  9.    Kansas City Star. February 22, 1998
  10.    Delayed Birth Certificate for Joan Fletcher
  11.    Letter from African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation
  12. May 30, 1996
  13.    Civil War Pension Record for Thomas Scott (National Archives)
  14.  Federal Censuses ( 1870, 1880, 1900, 1940