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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project


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Journalist Katharine Wolcott Toll (b. 1913) of Amherst, Massachusetts, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II.


The Katharine W. Toll Papers span from 1929 to the 1980s and primarily documents Katharine Toll's service in the WAVES during World War II. Correspondence, newsletters, and V-Mail provide personal insights into the lives of WAVES and the Toll family. Military papers, journals, and handbooks give details on proper conduct, lifestyle, uniform specifications, educational options and requirements, and duties for WAVES. Formats in this collection include correspondence, photographs, personal journals, military papers, handbooks, newsletters and other publications, official reports, and newspapers. Publications document Toll's involvement with the Shore Salt, a WAVES newspaper that highlighted military news effecting WAVES and special interest topics. Toll also collected other WAVES and Naval publications such as The Watch and the Junior Post. There are also several 1940s era posters including U.S. Navy and WAVES recruiting and European promotional skiing posters. Post-war materials reflect Katharine Toll's literary and professional pursuits and research projects. Topics include the Gloucester Fisherman's Museum, ocean conservation, and Dr. Maria Telkes and solar energy.

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Katharine Wolcott Toll was born on 6 May 1913 and was raised in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Wellesley College and graduated in 1935 with a degree in English. Toll attended the Katherine Gibb Secretarial School in 1936 and also took feature writing courses in Boston. From 1939 to 1942, she worked as a feature staff writer for the Boston Post.

Toll joined the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1942. She attended midshipman's school at Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts, as a member of the first graduating class and was appointed to the rank of midshipman on 6 November 1942. Toll reported for active duty in January 1943. Her WAVES duties included helping pass clearance to water craft along the Eastern Seaboard, as well as writing naval reports for the District Historical Office Ship Decommissioning Program and staff narratives. She was also involved with the production of the WAVES newsletter, Shore Salt. During her time in the service, Toll advanced to the rank of lieutenant and was discharged on 26 June 1946.

After the war Toll was recruited by the United Council of Churches to work with refugees in Germany. She also returned to journalism and displayed a strong interest in oceanographic environmental issues and solar energy. Toll undertook several literary ventures, which included trying to get a book of her brother's illustrated V-Mail published; writing a book about WAVES in service; and research on the World War II civil service of Gloucester, Massachusetts's fisherman. During the 1950s Toll began to work on a research project detailing the life of environmentalist Dr. Maria Telkes, a researcher on solar energy. She also earned a master's degree in Social Work from Boston University in 1958 and founded the Boston Social Services Exchange.