Marion Skeen Coleman Peck

Written by Evan Spencer, Graduate Assistant

Over the past weeks, the AGRC Graduate Assistants have been working to produce two new exhibits for the research room. The first of those exhibits, “Veterans History: Global Service, Individual Titles,” draws from the rich pool of oral histories held at the Albert Gore Research Center. This exhibit is on display now, and the oral histories it utilizes are open for research.

The second exhibit, “Warriors with Words and Faith: Marion Skeen Coleman Peck and Donald A. Price,” opens next Thursday, December 11th with a reception at 1:00 PM. I worked on the Marion Skeen Coleman Peck portion of the exhibit, so I’m taking this opportunity to introduce her to the world.

Marion S. Coleman at the Tennessee Maneuvers. Her "C" civilian armband will be on display in the exhibit!
Marion S. Coleman at the Tennessee Maneuvers. Her “C” civilian armband will be on display in the exhibit!

Marion Skeen Coleman Peck is important for several reasons. She was born in 1913 in Arkansas, but she came of age in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a secretary for the Cadek Music Conservatory, Marion (then Coleman) began to write a weekly news bulletin. Her knack for writing and her attention to detail quickly gained the attention of the local press, and Coleman was hired by the Chattanooga Evening Times to write for their Society page.

This is where things get really interesting. At the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. military began to prepare for their possible involvement by conducting “war games” known as Maneuvers. In 1941, the first military maneuvers took place at Camp Polk in Louisiana. Coleman went to the Louisiana Maneuvers as a war correspondent, becoming the first woman to cover the military. There are several allusions to Coleman’s involvement in landing the job, including one letter that implies that she only signed applications with “M. Coleman,” so that the powers that be wouldn’t know she was a woman. It appears that Coleman got the job, went to Louisiana on a vacation from her Chattanooga Times job, and showed up relatively unannounced in Louisiana.

This telegram illustrates some of the issues Coleman faced as a "girl reporter" at the front.
This telegram illustrates some of the issues Coleman faced as a “girl reporter” at the front.

Although there were some problems at first, Coleman quickly proved that her brand of journalism was exactly what the readers wanted. She wrote stories that focused on the people at the front, not the “straight news” of what happened. After the Louisiana Maneuvers concluded, Peck came back to Chattanooga. When the Tennessee Maneuvers began in 1943, Coleman was the natural choice for war correspondent. Her coverage of the Tennessee Maneuvers garnered national attention as she continued writing stories with heart and emotion. Below is an example of Coleman’s “Snapshots from a typewriter,” or short, episodic narratives about happenings at the front lines.

Article on Peck_BOX 12_Scrapbook
Click on this article to enlarge it

Due to her success covering the military maneuvers, Coleman was hired by the Associated Press and eventually went on to a career overseas. Marion Coleman Peck’s story shows how women entered into previously male-dominated fields and also illuminates the civilian experience during World War II.

I am currently processing the Marion Skeen Coleman Peck Papers, and they are open for research. In the interest of time (and dramatic effect), I’m cutting off Peck’s story here. Come see the rest of the exhibit next Thursday!

Did Marion Peck:

  1. Work for the Office of War Information in London during WWII?
  2. Work for the Office of Military Government in Berlin?
  3. Cover the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” Speech?
  4. Own and operate an independent fire department?

The answer, of course, is all of the above! Come see the exhibit next Thursday to see how all of this makes sense!




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