|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from New Jersey's 13th district
January 3, 1975 - January 3, 1979
|First Lady of New Jersey|
January 19, 1957 - January 16, 1962
|Governor||Robert B. Meyner|
|Antoinette Ware Tatem Driscoll|
|Elizabeth Sullivan Murphy Hughes|
March 5, 1929
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 2, 1997 (aged 68)|
Fort Myers, Florida, U.S.
Robert B. Meyner
(m. 1957; died 1990)
|Alma mater||Colorado College|
Helen Day Stevenson Meyner, also known as Helen S. Meyner (March 5, 1929 - November 2, 1997), was a Democratic U.S. Representative from New Jersey from 1975 to 1979. As the wife of New Jersey Governor Robert B. Meyner, she was First Lady of New Jersey from 1957 to 1962.
She was born as Helen Stevenson on March 5, 1929 in Queens, New York. Her father was an Olympic gold medal winner and ambassador William Stevenson. She was a distant cousin of Democratic candidate for President Adlai Stevenson.
In 1972, Meyner ran as the Democratic nominee for Representative from New Jersey's newly redistricted 13th Congressional District that included her home in Phillipsburg and included Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren Counties and portions of Mercer and Morris Counties. She lost in the Republican-leaning district, to the Republican candidate, Joseph J. Maraziti. In 1974, with the Watergate scandal leading to Democratic congressional gains throughout the country, Meyner ran for the seat again, this time beating Maraziti. She won a second term in the 1976 elections in a close race against William E. Schluter, but lost her bid for a third term in 1978 to Republican James A. Courter.
Meyner's work before entering politics included a career as a print and television journalist and work for the American Red Cross.
She died on November 2, 1997, in Fort Myers, Florida.
Helen Stevenson Meyner's time as an American Red Cross (A.R.C.) nurse and Clubmobile worker are well documented in her own personal letters, found in the Meyner Papers collection at Lafayette College. In these letters she writes to her family about her time in Japan and Korea during the Korean War, giving a personal account of her duties and experiences working abroad in wartime.
Helen Stevenson Meyner's letters were written from 1950 to 1952 and they describe her time working as a Red Cross nurse in Japan and a Clubmobile "Doughnut Dolly" in Korea. Japan surrendered in 1945, which had seismic impacts on its economy and government system because there was a need for reconstruction after World War II. During the 1950s the United States occupied Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance was created to aid in Japan's economic recovery post-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relationship between the United States and Japan ultimately shifted in the 1950s to allyship because the U.S. noticed that by investing in the reconstruction of Japan, they could eventually benefit from their economic success in the world market. As Japan's national state improved, Koreans in need of medical aid traveled to Japan to be treated by the A.R.C. Helen Stevenson Meyner worked as a nurse for the A.R.C. in Japan where she tended mainly to American troops who had suffered war injuries during the Korean War. A.R.C. nurses stationed in Japan oftentimes struggled due to a lack of resources and understaffed hospital units. The nurses had to work with what little resources they were given to treat a vast amount of patients, which resulted in most patients receiving subpar healthcare. Many of Helen Stevenson Meyner's letters to her parents described some of the difficulties she faced treating patients who faced extremely difficult medical conditions but were unable to get the best treatments due to limited resources.
The Korean War began on June 25th, 1950 when Communist North Korea illegally traveled over the 38th parallel and invaded non-Communist South Korea. The Korean peninsula was split in 1948 when the Soviet Union and the United States created two sovereign nations where the North became Communist while the South was kept non-Communist. Helen Stevenson Meyner served on the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service in Korea, which was founded in World War II as a service that provided soldiers with food, entertainment, and a home away from home. Living conditions for soldiers were described as miserable because there was severe drought and high temperatures, which evidently killed off more Marine personnel than Korean war enemies. The idea of a mobile service club, or "Clubmobile", was devised by Harvey D. Gibson, a retired U.S. Army colonel, a popular New York banker and the American Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain. Clubmobiles traveled throughout Great Britain and Europe between late 1942 and 1946. The work of women on Clubmobiles was considered to be very important because they were in charge of keeping up soldiers' morale during their off time at war and taking care of homesick GIs. The Clubmobile buses were described as "single decker English Green Line buses fitted with coffee and doughnut-making equipment," fitted with small things that soldiers may want during their time away from home, which included "doughnuts, coffee, cigarettes, magazines and newspapers, a phonograph with loudspeakers and records." Meyner was considered a "Doughnut Dolly," who were women that worked on Clubmobiles passing out doughnuts and coffee to Marines. In the novel by Helen Airy, Doughnut Dollies, Airy describes how Meyner was often "swamped by returning first Marine Division men at the airstrip near Pusan, Korea while passing out coffee and doughnuts from an American Red Cross Clubmobile" through her research on Doughnut Dollies and accounts of Meyner's work.
Helen Stevenson Meyner's letters from her time serving in the A.R.C. during the Korean War are found in the Meyner Papers, located in Skillman Library at Lafayette College. Items in this collection were brought to the College in multiple installments, starting with the arrival of Helen Stevenson Meyner's and her husband Robert Meyner's personal papers from their home in Phillipsburg, New Jersey 1992 and 1994. Then, in 1993, Meyner's papers from her time as a New Jersey congresswomen were transferred from the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University after being vetted and selectively weeded. The death of Helen Stevenson Meyner in 1997 brought more documents to the college, namely correspondence and images, in part aided by her sister Priscilla Hunt.
Meyner's serving papers take the form of either letters or postcards written to her family during her time in the Korean War. These documents contain her experiences as a hospital nurse in Japan from 1950-1951 and a clubmobile worker in Pusan, Korea from 1951-1952, detailing her everyday responsibilities, her interactions with soldiers, and her thoughts about her work and the war overall. Throughout her time at the A.R.C., Meyner continuously expressed her discontent with the administration and the mistreatment of the volunteers. She discusses how highly qualified her fellow co-workers were and yet they were constantly disrespected by their superiors in the A.R.C.
"I went to Headquarters (Red Cross) I shouldn't have because it ruined my day. Boy they give me pain. I have never seen such a place. They treat you as if you-- a mere insect of a hospital worker-- were a dirt under their feet. Personnel there is especially bad it seems to me.... At headquarters they very obviously resent club workers (they are mostly hospital there of course) and they make it pretty obvious that they do too" (December 17th 1950).
During her time in Japan, Meyner worked as a nurse in an American military hospital. As the hospital was severely understaffed and under-equipped, soldiers did not receive the health care that they needed, especially with regard to their mental wellbeing. Through her patients, Meyner learned of the chaos that was taking place happening in Korea. She emphasized that the western media coverage of the war was not reflecting the actual situation.
"There is little fighting going on in Korea right now. We don't know that from reading the papers or listening to the radio, we can tell by the number of wounded we are getting into the hospital... They [the soldiers] are not proud of anything and they certainly are not fighting for anything, not even their outfits" (January, 5th, 1951).
In April 1951, Meyner arrived in Pusan, Korea, as a clubmobile. She served coffee and donuts to soldiers who were returning to the base. She describes Korea as "dirty" and "extremely impoverished" in comparison to Japan.
"There is such poverty here among the poor Koreans who are very different from the Japanese. And how different this is from Japan! Such dirt! We are always dirty but we make a mighty effort to stay neat and groomed, not only for G.I morale but for our own too" (April 13th, 1951).
Although her work was in recreational services, she was able to collect information about the war from soldiers. Meyner specifically reflected on her role as a white woman, often soldiers enjoyed her company due to the lack of American women serving in Korea.
"It was the first time we had visited them [Marines] and they were so cute and excited. They have absolutely nothing in the way of recreation out there and they could hardly believe their eyes when they saw a white woman. They took a million pictures of me and made such a fuss over me that you might have thought I was Lana Turner. I guess I seemed like Lana to them" (April 30th, 1951).
She indicates the diversity of the troops including soldiers from Sweden, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey, and Puerto Rico. However, the hierarchy within the military prioritized White American soldiers over other nationalities.
"... I must say that the foreign troops are ever so much more polite and appreciate, on the whole, more than our own G.I's. American soldiers are treated better than any soldiers in the world " (April 30th, 1951).
Overall, she recognized some of the problems associated with United States actions including racial discrimination, disorganization, and lack of transparency with the American public. Meyner seems to have used her correspondence as a surrogate diary, and as such many letters contain multiple days' worth of experiences. There is a combination of written and typed letters, and in some instances there are written and typed versions of the same letter, is currently in the process of digitizing them The Special Collections staff at Skillman Library. Images of Meyner from this time period are not available in their physical form, but they are accessible in the online exhibit "Coffee, Doughnuts, and a Witty Line of Chatter."
These documents have been used in several academic projects in order to expand research on the Korean War and women in war overall. Kathleen Stewart, a graduate student at Lehigh University, used Meyner's letters to write her master's thesis in 1998. She focused on Helen Stevenson Meyner's A.R.C experience to tell a larger historical narrative about "the roles of women recreational workers played in sustaining the morale of soldiers in the war theater," eventually earning her Master of Arts in history because of her work. Recently in February 2019, Kara Dixon Vuic wrote the book The Girls Next Door: Bringing the Home Front to the Front Lines, which pulls from Helen Stevenson Meyner's letters as well as other women's writings in similar lines of wartime work to explore gender roles in the war environment. Vuic highlights Helen Stevenson Meyner in the chapter "Dancing for Democracy," where she puts the work of wartime entertainers in the context of the early Cold War and the Korean War and discusses the way sexuality was looked at during this time.
Aside from Helen Stevenson Meyner's own papers, her family's documents are available for those who wish to learn more about her life and the people in it. Robert Meyner's papers are available in two places: Skillman Library and the New Jersey State Archives located in Trenton, New Jersey. The former has documents ranging from personal papers to office records to images, while the latter has solely his gubernatorial papers from Robert Meyner's time as governor of New Jersey. These papers were used in the third volume of Statesmen and Mischief Makers, a series dedicated to telling the stories of government officials who made history in their respective sphere of influence, where there is a chapter about Robert's gubernatorial tenure and attempt at a Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. The collection of Helen Stevenson Meyner's parents, William and Eleanor Stevenson, are located at Oberlin College, and includes their personal correspondences, papers from their individual careers, and images. Eleanor's letters from her time as a Red Cross worker in World War II have been featured on the website Digitizing American Feminisms, a project run by Oberlin College that compiles student-written articles on specific documents that highlight elements of feminism through history. Her article uses twelve of her letters to showcase her advocacy and tie it to the Second Wave of feminism in America, specifically among white women. Eleanor herself also wrote a book, I Knew Your Soldier: an Intimate Picture of our Boys Overseas, by the Red Cross Girls Who Knew the GI Best, documenting her own experience with the A.R.C. during World War II.