J. Donald McGhee Papers

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J. Donald McGhee in 1915

Approximately 10 years worth of letters to J. Donald, dating from 19-- to 1922, and other documents (diploma, college textbooks, WWI unit photo) were found in the house.


James Donald McGhee graduated from high school in 1910. We have his diploma.

The Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened in downtown Mason City across from Central Park

Colby Car Company started operation (buildings are still used, until recently by the Associated Milk Producers, Inc. AMPI)


The first airplane flight was made in Mason City

The former fire ‘shed’ was razed, the new fire headquarters was built on the same lot



Shown as freshman at Iowa State College as a member of Kappa Sigma, p300-301 The Bomb


Sophomore in Kappa Sigma, p298-9 The Bomb


Junior in Kappa Sigma, profile on pg 89 The Bomb, nickname "Maggie"


Missing from the Kappa Sigma page, pp 190-1 The Bomb


Junior (!?) in Kappa Sigma, p 252 The Bomb. Graduated from Iowa State College in Animal Husbandry. We have his diploma (on parchment!). We have photos of his fraternity brothers.

J.D.'s father sells the family home to his older sister.


Drafted and served in the 70th Machine Gun company. We have the unit photo.

Leone, J.D.'s sister, is working at a school in Biwabik in far northern Minnesota.

J.D.'s father elected to the state legislature, running unopposed as a Republican.

Minnesota was experiencing it's worst drought on record in this year, a terrible set up for the fires. And the refugees from this fire were left especially vulnerable to the influenza.

Minnesota 1918 book by Curt Brown
John Barry [sic] on the Great Influenza [sic]


  • 1 October 1918 - from Leone McGhee (sister) in Biwabik, MN to Don McGhee, M.G. Co. 70th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kans. - the new school year, missing old friends
  • 3 October 1918 - from Leone - still too many hairs in the food
  • 4 October 1918 - from Leone - adventures of a young teacher in rustic Minnesota
  • 6 October 1918 - from Leone McGhee (sister) by way of the Hotel Holland in Duluth - https://www.perfectduluthday.com/2016/09/04/lobby-hotel-holland/
  • 7 October 1918 - from James McGhee (father) in Mason City, IA - his election news, family financial stuff
  • 9 October 1918 - from friend/family in old hometown of Waukon, IA - discusses influenza
  • 9 October 1918 Mason - from Carlyle Anderson in Mason City, IA - news from high school, football, odd jobs, inquires if Don has the flu
  • 10 October 1918 Waukon - from friend/family in Waukon, IA - discusses family's move to Mason City in 1903, father's election to legislature
  • 10 October 1918 Biwabik - from Leone in Biwabik, MN - more trials of a young teacher
  • 11 October 1918 - from Leone in Biwabik, MN - Army flu quarantine and pyles
  • 13 October 1918 - from Leone in Biwabik, MN - making fudge, social life, feeling left out
  • 14 October 1918 - from Leone in Biwabik, MN - the forest fires and influenza
  • 14 October 1918 Mary - from Mary Ketcham to Leone which Leone enclosed in her 22 October letter, widespread flu in Iowa - schools, etc. closed, no fall teachers conference
  • 14 October 1918 Evalyn - from Evalyn Marston in Mason City - tried to serve in France (nurse?) but was refused because her Lt. Col. father (doctor?) was serving there, asks if Don has had flu
  • 16 October 1918 - from Lela in Arlee, Montana - stars on Baptist service flag, mention of influenza
  • 16 October 1918 Biwabik - from Leone in Biwabik - tales of school illustrated by Edythe
  • 17 October 1918 - from Leone in Biwabik - more on the forest fires
  • 18 October 1918 - from Ruth Bull (sister) in this house (!) - flu in Mason City
  • 18 October 1918 to Leone - from Harold Bull (bro-in-law) to Leone (sister) which she enclosed in her 22 October letter to Don, presumably the letter that Ruth mentioned him writing above 18 Oct. He mentions the M.C. quarantine, canceling the state IOOF convention and undertakers working day and night at Camp Dodge.
  • 21 October 1918 - from Leone - teaching issues, preparing clothes for fire refugees
  • 22 October 1918 - from Leone (enclosed letters from Harold Bull, 18 October above, and Mary Ketcham, 14 October above
  • 22 October 1918 Kae - from Kae in Fairfield, IA - jokes about not having influenza, family doing lots of extra cleaning since people are home with school out, says Evergreen Cemetery is busy but doesn't specify why
  • 25 October 1918 - from James McGhee (father) - worrying about his son, some flu deaths
  • 27 October 1918 - from Carlyle Anderson of Mason City - school closed 2 weeks, working at the sugar beet plant
  • 29 October 1918 - from Bid (apparently Leone's sorority sister?, mentioned in other letters) in Fairfield, IA - brief mention of flu at Ames, news of friends in the war
  • 31 October 1918 - from Leone - Halloween party, snow on the ground


Soldier's Christmas card from Waukon
  • 1 November 1918 - from Lela in Arlee, Montana - barn fire back home, family sick but not sure it was flu since not sick enough to call a doctor
  • 5 November 1918 - from Leone (sister) in Biwabik, MN - bad influenza up north, school close and turned into a hospital, teachers working as nurses
  • Blue Ink Letter - letter without date/envelop from Leone in Biwabik, MN to ibid.- tending Edythe who has been bedridden with the flu
  • 17 November 1918 - from Leone - Edythe taken to Duluth for treatment of her flu, "hospital" still going
  • 19 November 1918 - from Leone - Edythe going home to Fargo to recover
  • 20 November 1918 - from Leone - a bit of despondency and a whiff of scandal
  • 21 November 1918 - from Aunt Luna in Waukon, IA - Armistice celebrations and flu news
  • 23 November 1918 - from Sgt. James A. Cruickshank in Camp Wadsworth, S.C. to Corporal McGhee - transitioning to peace time, mentions a couple deaths (flu?)
  • late November 1918 - from Leone - letter for Thanksgiving, Edythe wheelchair-bound recovering from flu in Fargo, life getting back to normal in Biwabik - hospital closed but school still out
  • 24 November 1918 - from Elizabeth in Mason City - taking care of two flu patients, Don's teaching career, brother recovering from war wound
  • 28 November 1918 - from Leone - Thanksgiving Day, everything still closed from flu but school to resume Monday
  • 29 November 1918 - from Ruth (sister) in this house - Armistice celebration, school still closed, names flu deaths


Christmas card from Elizabeth
  • 6 December 1918 - from J.H. McGhee (father) in Mason City, IA - farming, legislature, flu news
  • 12 December 1918 - from Leone (sister) in Biwabik, MN - war news, some flu returning
  • 16 December 1918 - from Ruth (sister) in this house - flu innoculation and deaths
  • 16 December 1918 Biwabik - from Leone - Christmas plans, another flu death
  • 18 December 1918 - from Leone - flu is "raging" and another death but school is in session
  • 19 December 1918 - from Aunt Lida in Waukon, IA - school has licensed nurse to send pupils home if any sign of sickness
  • 20 December 1918 - Christmas card with no notes postmarked Waukon, IA
  • 21 December 1918 - from Aunt Lela in Arlee, Montana - Christmas box, flu seems to have passed by
  • 24 December 1918 - from Leone - life insurance arrangements, Christmas greetings
  • 24 December 1918 - from Elizabeth in Mason City - Christmas card with no notes other than name



  • 3 January 1919 - from Leone (sister) in Biwabik, MN - Christmas wrap-up
  • 5 January 1919 - from Billie in Des Moines to Leone - family recovering, took serum, pregnant school friend and other deaths of flu, deployment news
  • early January 1919 - from Leone, includes above letter from Billie - "all the teachers have a head ache or fever or sore throat...", more Christmas news, insurance questions
  • mid January 1919 - on YMCA stationary from Harold in Manhattan, KS at school - news of Aggies vs K.U. basketball games
  • 19 January 1919 - from E. Morrissy from Mason City - news of Mason City
  • 20 January 1919 - from Leone - 7 teachers sick with flu but not seriously, Leone healthy
  • 21 January 1919 - from H.W. Orr (fraternity brother) in Mason City, IA - work plans, news of Ames
  • 24 January 1919 - from Leone - Leone in bed with flu "temp. is only 99", forced to write in pencil lest the nurse catch her, other teachers sick, "practical nurse" coming tomorrow
  • 24 January 1919 France - from Lt. J.M. Chipman, U.S. Army - news from France, flu deaths back home
  • 25 January 1919 - postcard from Leone - mild fever, Edythe sick but stable, practical nurse tending them
  • 26 January 1919 - from Leone - practical nurse called away for family illness, hasn't used up her 10 days paid leave yet, sent Dad a card
  • late January 1919 - from Leone - feeling better but still cold, no nurse, one teacher still can't get out of bed, can't afford a relapse or pay would be docked
  • 28 January 1919 Des Moines - from Dad in Des Moines for legislative term - war death in the family (Jim McGhee?), got Leone's card about the flu
  • 28 January 1919 - from Leone - Dr. allowing her to move around a bit since temp normal 2-3 days, found out fevers had actually been up to 102, finally got home things from Ruth, sickest teacher has a special nurse
  • 30 January 1919 - postcard from Leone - well enough to go downstairs, 3 teachers up, but sickest one is still in bed


  • 2 February 1919 - letter from Vina [sic] B. in Iowa City - school struggles
  • 6 February 1919 - Letter from Ruth (sister) in this house - Deckers living next door, Betty sick but apparently not flu
  • 8 February 1919 - letter from E. (fraternity brother) addressed to this house - in the Great Lakes navy service, photo of unknown naval officers
  • mid February 1919 - letter from Leone (sister) in Biwabik addressed to this house so Don is apparently final home from the service - still a little deaf from the flu, says flu hospital was open 3 weeks, 31 out of 36 teachers got it, finally got out of running the teacher's club
  • 21 February 1919 - letter from E. - briefly mentions Don an "attack of the flu or whatever it was"
  • 23 February 1919 - letter from E. - possible job for Don


  • 11 March 1919 - letter from J.M. Chipman in France - update on service, heading for Germany soon
  • 14 April 1919 - letter from Leone in Biwabik - night school, summer school, looking for a new position
  • 10 May 1919 - letter from Leone in Biwabik - encloses Home Talent Concert program and two interesting (?) letters from their father
  • 22 May 1919 - letter from Mickey (family friend?) in Ladysmith, WI - catching up
  • 26 May 1919 - letter from Leone in Biwabik (envelope lost) - school almost done, summer plans


The census reported Mason City’s population at 20,065 and was ranked as Iowa’s 11th largest city, and shows J.D. living in the family home with his sister's family.

James H. McGhee (father) elected to second term in state legislature



James H. McGhee (father) starts service as mayor of Mason City