A couple of years ago I began researching York County during the World War II years. I had thought that I was the first one interested in this particular subject. I found out that Helen Jones Campbell had taken on this exact subject sixty years ago. I found out that she had a written manuscript on York's World War II history. I knew that I had to see this document and set out to find it. Through the magic of the Internet I was able to locate Helen Campbell's grandchildren.
I was able to contact Chuck, Robert and Rev. Marguerite Alley. They were not familiar with the manuscript that I sought, but they gave me an idea of just how remarkable a woman Helen Jones Campbell was. Here is a brief biography of Mrs. Campbell.
Helen Jones was born in 1894 in Bluegrass Iowa. She was educated at Iowa Normal School, which is now the University of Northern Iowa. After graduation, she became a journalist. She moved to Washington D.C. during World War I. She was one of the few female journalists in the area at the time.
After the war, she met a returning soldier named Robert Campbell. They married and lived in Hagerstown Maryland. In 1926, Robert and Helen had their only child, Mary Janet.
Helen and Robert were deeply interesting in history and that was one the reasons that they were drawn to the Peninsula. They moved to Hampton in the mid-1930s.
While in Hampton, she helped found the Hampton Little Theater and was the first president of this group. She also wrote a series of articles for the William and Mary Quarterly entitled " First History of Free School System in Virginia" and "The Sims-Eaton Schools and Their Successor".
It was while she was in Hampton when she made the acquaintance of Mrs. Edward Semple. Mrs. Semple told Helen many stories of her late husband Captain Edward Semple.
Captain Semple was a Confederate prisoner in the old Capitol Prison the same time that Mary Surratt and her daughter were imprisoned there.
Mary Surratt was one of those implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She was found guilty and executed.
Helen Campbell became interested in Mrs. Surratt's story and spent many years trying to prove her innocence. Helen later wrote " The Case for Mary Surratt" in 1943. In this book, Helen states the case that Mary Surratt is indeed not guilty.
Helen moved to Williamsburg and lived in the restored section. She worked as a hostess for Colonial Williamsburg and her experiences there served as the basis of her first book. " Diary of a Williamsburg Hostess".
In the early 1940s, Robert and Helen buy a house in Yorktown near the Moore House.
While living in Yorktown, Helen wrote for the Daily Press. She also wrote for the Richmond Times- Dispatch and the Williamsburg Gazette.
She has also written for radio.
It was at this time, World War II began. Helen got involved in York County's war effort. She served as president of county's ration board and later clerk of the York County Selective Service Board.
Helen Campbell was active in the York County Red Cross. She served as a caseworker and assistant to the Executive Secretary.
In 1945, she received specialized training in helping servicemen adjust to returning home.
After the war, Virginia formed the Virginia World War II History Commission. Helen Jones Campbell was chosen to write York County's World War II history.
She spent many hours doing research on York County's World War II years. She collected many documents and statistics about this time in our history. Included in these records were a complete list of York County men who served in the war and what branch of service in which they served. She also had a Gold Star list of York men who died in the war.
These documents as well as the rest of Helen Jones Campbell’s material are in the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. For some reason the book was never published.
Helen Campbell loved York County history and much research of this history. She spent many hours searching for the seal of the Borough of York. She sent many inquiries of various museums, libraries and colleges across the nation.
She also had put together lists of York County residents who were served in the various wars from the Revolution to World War II.
In 1964, she wrote another book, “Confederate Courier”. This was about another member of the Surratt family who served in the Confederate Signal Corps.
She continued to live in Yorktown until the mid-seventies when she moved in with her daughter in Chester Virginia. She passed away in February of 1979.
Frank Green will be giving a program on York County and Poquoson during the World War II years at the March meeting of the York County Historical Society. The meeting will be on the first Monday of that month at Providence Methodist Church at 113 Old Dare Road at 7:00pm and can be reached at email@example.com