A Girl the Wildcats Left Behind: Irene Pierce and Tallassee’s Doughboys of World War I

In most American wars, groups of soldiers from common locales entered the ranks together, stripping families, neighborhoods, and towns of young men. Young women who remained behind corresponded with their faraway friends and, during World War I, new pen pals were assigned to training camps far from their own homes.

From Tallassee, Alabama, a group of men from interconnected families were drafted into the 81st Infantry Division, the "Wildcats," in 1918. One woman they left behind was Irene Pierce, an unmarried seventeen-year-old mill worker who corresponded with her deployed family and friends — as well as at least one wartime pen pal.

This presentation examines the long-distance correspondence and confirms well-known dynamics found in soldiers' letters home, but we’ll go beyond the domestic affairs of husbands and wives to get a rarer glimpse of how one group of young Alabamians navigated war, separation, and the changing dynamics of courtship at the cusp of the modern era.