As the Oral History Coordinator of the Ohio History Connection I’m responsible for collecting new oral histories and making them available to the public, but that’s only part of my job. I’m also responsible for finding the stories that exist in our own collection, a collection that has been growing since 1885, and making them accessible. Several months ago I stumble on a tape simply labeled “Fawley.” The tape contained the amazing story of Florence Fawley, who talked about her experiences as a female Marine during WWII and her life after. Wonderful surprises like this are part of what makes my job so rewarding.
Florence Jelsma Cunningham Fawley was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1923. After hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor she left nursing school and began studying metallurgy while working at a Curtiss-Wright propellor factory. At the age of 19, Fawley enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve where she became a Drill Sergeant. Her military ID photo was hung in a Philadelphia recruiting office gaining her attention in Washington D.C. She was ordered to D.C. for a photo shoot. Afterward many of these photos were used to create military recruiting posters. During the war she was the "mascot" for the USS Renshaw, and the namesake, nose art, for a B-17 named the "Blonde Bomber."
She went on to do other modeling work for the military and later for the private sector in advertisements, modeling for illustrations, and runway modeling. Fawley was even a stand-in for actresses Marilyn Maxwell and Jane Russell. Later in life she began coaching the Buckeye Track Club where she discovered her love for running setting records for Women's Masters, and running a marathon at the age of 61.
Her interview was conducted back in 2001 after she saw herself in a poster on display at the Ohio History Connection that was part of the “Kilroy was Here!” exhibit. A part of our ongoing work the Ohio History Connection is digitizing and making available these amazing stories of Ohioans that are part of our physical, analog, collections. To improve the story our staff reached out to Mrs. Fawley’s children for images of her during WWII, her modeling career, and the Buckeye Track Club. Her family has made many images of Florence available, all of which are part of her oral history. Special Thanks to Robert B. Fawley, Edward Fawley, Rena Fawley, and Mary Clough for sharing their mother with all of us.