As February moves on towards Valentine’s Day, one’s thoughts turn to expressions of affection and love – flowers, cards, gifts, decorations, etc. In thinking about the season, I am reminded of letters in the Stanley Marcus Papers between him and his wife. Marcus married the former Mary “Billie” Cantrell in 1932. During World War II, Stanley Marcus, then executive vice president of the Neiman Marcus company in Dallas, was called to assist in the war effort in Washington, D.C. In January, 1942, it was announced he would undertake the job in the Office of Production Management (O.P.M.) as Chairman of the Apparel Division, War Production Board. The purpose of his position was to assist in establishing wartime guidelines for fabric conservation and style simplification work. Knowing the fashion industry as he did, Marcus was perfectly suited to the position and willingly moved to Washington to serve his country.
Although they had been married ten years, the letters between Stanley and Billie are filled with love and longing to be together again. Stanley starts a letter soon after leaving Dallas, in mid January 1942: “Darling, I’ve been homesick & lonesome as hell all weekend. I feel so cut off from all the things & people I want to be with and close to. Your voice a little while ago sounded the same note that my inner voice feels. Every time I get in the real depths, I just ask myself ‘What if you were in Australia, or Bataan, or Iceland, or Panama?’ And then my questions sink into their relative position of importance. If I am helping the national effort I have not cause for personal complaint. Wars never bring with them joy. Wars aren’t meant to be easy. Wars mean only sacrifice of one kind or another by all persons involved. And if mine were the greatest sacrifice, we wouldn’t have much to sacrifice at all. The people who are really sacrificing are those who are paying with their lives, their arms, their eyes, their faces. These are the answers I keep giving myself.” He closes the eight page letter with, “All in all – a dull, depressing, and boring weekend. But maybe the sun will shine this week, but whether it does or not I’ll be thinking of you. Your, Stanley.”
At about the same time, Billie begins a letter to Stanley, “My darling, You have decided and rightly so. Today and tonight were hard and I know there will be others like them. And while I won’t promise not to indulge in a few, I do promise you I’ll remember every word we both said about what we would be to each other this coming year – Friday night before you left. Do you recall? I know you do. There are so many words I want to write you darling, now all this has become a reality but they are still jumbling out of my mind and I can’t spin them together.” She ends her long letter with, “I love you more than I can tell you. Always, Billie.”
Duty in D.C. was shorter than expected, and Stanley returned to Dallas and his beloved wife in June, 1942.
By Anne E. Peterson, Curator of Photographs, DeGolyer Library, SMU