By Cathi Taylor, ALA National Headquarters Archivist
Ledgers, cards, lists, and applications – unit history tracking before computers.
When a family with children relocates to another town, it usually means changing schools. My family’s move from Tennessee to Indiana in the summer of 1965 meant exactly that for me and two of my siblings. I remember Mom driving me to what would be my new school, Douglas MacArthur Elementary. Naturally, I asked who MacArthur was and why the school was named for him. Fortunately, she was able to address my curiosity.
According to The Galvanizing Group, a company that develops programs to help businesses grow, an organization’s name is the first touchpoint with potential members. A good name should “energize and inspire people to learn more.” I don’t know if MacArthur inspired me to learn more, but when it came time for class visits to the school library, I was the only one who headed over to the biography and American history sections.
Just like schools and other organizations, our American Legion posts have names which are determined by their members. It might be the name of the town in which it is located, or the name of someone who means something to the post. As stated in the American Legion Auxiliary’s national Constitution & Bylaws, the Auxiliary unit takes on the same name as the post to which it is attached.
While Auxiliary members may not be involved in the naming process, that does not preclude us from knowing the importance of that name. That’s because it’s as much a part of the unit’s identity as it is the post’s. Therefore, we should own it, just like we own the name our parents gave us at birth.
For some time now, I have been building a spreadsheet that lists every unit ever formed under and chartered by the American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters. It contains the names, numbers, locations, as well as charter and cancellation dates — a compilation coming from items in our collection — ledger books, charter applications, charter cancelation lists, and index cards. And when those haven’t proffered the answer, our National Headquarters Membership Division and ALA department secretaries have come to my rescue.
What I have uncovered is an interesting little factoid. Some posts/units haven’t changed their name at all, others have changed names once or twice, and there are those that have changed their name three or four times. It’s interesting to see these changes, whether the name changed from a person to the town name, or vice versa, or if starting off with a person’s name and adding additional names over the years, going from one name to two, to three, or to four.
Based only on the current active units today, the Department of Wisconsin witnessed more than a 38% change in names from 1946-1950. It’s probably a safe bet these changes were the result of the ultimate sacrifice made by servicemembers from that state during World War II.
But who were these people? Who were their families? What military branch did they serve under? Where did they serve? And for those posts/units chartered under just last names, what were the fallen heroes’ first names? In other words, what is the story behind the name? There definitely is a story — just like there’s one behind the name of a school — and it deserves to be told.
So, if you don’t already know the name or names your post/unit has been under — or you do but not the story behind it — take time to ask. If no one knows, be willing to do the research. Not only will you learn something, but you will have two stories to tell — one about the impact the Legion Family makes in the community, and the other about the person or persons behind the name. Not only will you provide interesting and important information to the current member, you just might inspire a potential member to join!