University of Chicago Library

Guide to the John Brownson Watkins Papers 1895-1919

© 2012 University of Chicago Library

Descriptive Summary


Watkins, John Brownson. Papers




2 linear feet (2 boxes)


Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


John B. Watkins was an alumnus of the University of Chicago. He drove an ambulance for several years in France during WWI. The collection contains his letters home during that time, as well as news clippings and a few items of personal ephemera.

Information on Use


The collection is open for research.


When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Watkins, John Brownson. Papers [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Biographical Note

John Brownson Watkins was born June 20, 1899 in Kankakee, IL. He entered the University of Chicago in1916 but left to be a volunteer ambulance driver in France in 1917. When American troops arrived in Europe, Watkins joined the Army. Between 1917 and 1919, he wrote letters to his parents in Kankakee, IL, as well as to other family members. Some of the letters were excerpted for local papers, and were written with this in mind.

Upon returning to the States, Watkins completed his bachelor's degree in political economy in 1921. He went on to receive both a Master's degree (in 1924) and PhD (in 1929) from the University of Chicago's School of Commerce and Administration. His thesis dealt with transportation issues, and his expertise in this area provided cover in future military intelligence work.

After WWI, Watkins stayed in the reserves. He became active again in 1940, where he carried out various intelligence operations and participated in the de-Nazification of German rocket scientists in Belgium. He was re-activated during the Korean War and became one of the founders of the CIA's Strategic Intelligence Research unit. Watkins retired from the army in 1959 at the rank of Colonel.

In addition to his military career, Watkins worked for Illinois energy company Commonwealth Edison, conducted research at Northwestern University, and taught at Roosevelt University. He retired from teaching at age 70.

Watkins was married in 1923 to Mildred W. Miller; they had a son, John M. Watkins, and a daughter, Jean Watkins Thornburg. Watkins died on November 18, 1974.

Scope Note

The collection is divided into two series. Series I, Papers, consists mainly of correspondence from Watkins to his parents, though there are also letters to other relatives. Of particular interest is a letter describing a victory parade in Paris at the end of the war. There are a few newspaper clippings, one which contains excerpts from Watkins' letters. There are also a few letters to Watkins' mother from a French woman who received assistance from the Kankakee Women's Committee. There are a few pieces of family ephemera at the end of the series. Series II, Oversize, contains a small flag. The bulk of the material dates from 1917 to 1919.

Related Resources

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:


Watkins, John Brownson

University of Chicago. Office of the Registrar. World War I Service. Records, 1917-1919

University of Chicago. World War I Ephemera. Collection, 1917-1922

Subject Headings


Series I: Papers

This series contains correspondence, news clippings, and ephemera.

Box 1   Folder 1

Correspondence – Letter Home, March, 1915

Box 1   Folder 2

Correspondence – Letters Home, February-March, 1917

Box 1   Folder 3

Correspondence – Letters Home, April, and Clipping, 1917

Box 1   Folder 4

Correspondence – Letters Home, May, 1917

Box 1   Folder 5

Correspondence – Letters Home, June, 1917

Box 1   Folder 6

Clippings – Sir Douglas Haig's Despatch, June 1917

Box 1   Folder 7

Correspondence – Letters Home, July, 1917

Box 1   Folder 8

Correspondence – Letters Home, August, 1917

Box 1   Folder 9

Correspondence – Letters Home, September, 1917

Box 1   Folder 10

Correspondence – Letters Home, October, 1917

Box 1   Folder 11

Correspondence – Letters Home, November, 1917

Box 1   Folder 12

Correspondence – Letters Home, December, 1917

Box 1   Folder 13

Correspondence – Letters Home, January, 1918

Box 1   Folder 14

Correspondence – Letters Home, February, 1918

Box 1   Folder 15

Correspondence – Letters Home, March-April, 1918

Box 1   Folder 16

Correspondence – Letters Home, May-June, 1918

Box 1   Folder 17

Correspondence – Letters Home, July, 1918

Box 1   Folder 18

Correspondence – Letters Home, August, 1918

Box 1   Folder 19

Correspondence – Letters Home, September-October, 1918

Box 1   Folder 20

Correspondence – Letters Home, November, 1918

Box 1   Folder 21

Correspondence – Letters Home, December, 1918

Box 1   Folder 22

Correspondence – Letters Home, January-February, 1919

Box 1   Folder 23

Correspondence – Letters Home, March, 1919

Box 1   Folder 24

Correspondence – Letters Home, April-May, 1919

Box 1   Folder 25

Correspondence – Letters Home, June, 1919

Box 1   Folder 26

Correspondence – Letters Home, July, 1919

Box 1   Folder 27

Correspondence – L. Charon to N. Watkins, 1918, undated

Box 1   Folder 28

Ambulance Field Service Newsletter, circa 1916

Box 1   Folder 29

Commencement Program, Postcard, 1895, 1905

Series II: Oversize

This series contains oversize material consisting of a flag that was hung in Watkins' parents' window while he was in France.

Box 2

Flag, circa 1917