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Harryette Hunter Emmerson: From Kitchen to Bomb Crater

Updated: May 25

Of all the people who passed through Camp Ritchie, Harryette Hunter Emmerson seems to have been the only one assigned to Los Alamos at the time the atomic bomb was being developed for deployment against Japan. For Harryette, this was a remarkable climax to a remarkable career.

She was born on August 29, 1908 in Okarche, a community whose name indicates its location in Oklahoma (O-k), just within the eastern confines of the Arapaho (A-r)  and Cheyenne (C-h-e) reservation. The Cheyenne and Arapaho lands had first been opened to settlement by land run in 1892, followed by settlement there by a good number of German immigrants. German was, in fact, the principal language spoken in the town’s schools and churches until America’s entry into World War I in 1917, so Harryette had ample opportunity to hear and speak German in her early childhood. 1

The town had a population of just over 400 residents and lay in the heart of wheat-growing

Highschool yearbook photo
Harryette Hunter as a high school student

country, where Harryette’s father, Richard Henry (Harry) Hunter, was a successful grain dealer and owner of one of the town’s four grain elevators; he served on the town board for twelve years and held the office of mayor for eight. He and his wife Louise (Eischen) were the parents of three daughters: Kathleen, Harryette, and Maxine. Their only son, who’d been given his father’s name, died at age two. The family was well off, and the activities of Harryette, her siblings, and her mother were documented with some regularity in the social pages of the area newspapers. Harryette’s girlhood activities included bridge parties, attendance at rodeos and basketball games, day visits to Kingfisher, El Reno, and Oklahoma City, overnight stays with relatives, and outings in the countryside with a circle of close friends. Harryette remained deeply attached to her hometown, and returned to visit it whenever she was able. It was where she was born, and where she would die.

Harry and Louise were Roman Catholics who taught their children the values of religious faith and civic responsibility. They also sent all three daughters to study at Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha. This school had originally been founded in 1908 as a vocational institution for girls that put its emphasis on the development of “young women of culture and accomplishments, with a practical training preparing them for the actual duties of home making.”2 It provided them, an early college catalogue explained, with the skills to be “useful, economical, scientific queens of our American homes.”3 By the time Harryette entered the college, the curriculum had broadened significantly; at the time she graduated in 1930, 72% of the students were earning bachelor of arts degrees, with only 10% of the students receiving a bachelor of science degree in home economics.4 Harryette was one of that 10%, and she immediately put that degree to good use, by taking a job as home economics teacher at Yukon High School.

Yukon was a town of 1,455 residents. As one of seven teachers in the high school there, Harryette took on many duties beyond the classroom. First and foremost, though, she taught home economics, where she soon outdid herself. At the end of her first year there, she and her high school juniors prepared an international banquet for the student members of the senior class. The 150 guests at the banquet were treated to a culinary journey, with a program of skits and songs to support it. Harryette’s students prepared a menu including such colorful names as New York cocktail, Shanghai rooster, Irish eyes, Scottish treat, forbidden fruit, French dip, cherry blossoms, and squirrel catchers. She became friends with Helen Hanson, English and girls’ music teacher, and the two of them worked together to prepare a banquet for the high school’s football players. She took on the task of directing

Harryette Hunter
Harryette Hunter, 1934

the school plays: “Daddy Long Legs” one year, “Patsy Steps Out” the next. In her free time she took a course in landscaping, and performed as soloist in concerts offered by Yukon’s Music Lovers

In the summer of 1932 she traveled to Los Angeles on her first major trip away from Oklahoma. She spent several weeks there, touring Hollywood and attending the Summer Olympic Games before returning to Yukon for two more years of teaching. But she also set her sights higher, and, in the summer of 1934 took courses at the Blackwood-Davis Business College in Oklahoma City. This gave her the accreditation necessary to accept a position as stenographer/demonstrator in the offices of the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company in Oklahoma City. Here she rose with incredible speed to the position of regional “Home Service Director”; already in November she was giving two-day cooking demonstrations in the towns around Oklahoma City. These demonstrations were given using the company’s gas fixtures; local dealers in furniture and gas appliances also displayed their wares on these occasions. In December 1934, when she gave her demonstration at Yukon’s Grade School Auditorium, the company included her photo in its advertisements, clearly capitalizing on the fact that Harryette had established a strong reputation there as home economics teacher in its high school. Dealers, the ad declared, would be showing an array of modern heating appliances, ranges, and refrigerators, while Harryette would demonstrate the preparations of “practical, economical, and seasonal foods.”5

Her demonstrations were designed to highlight the advantages of various domestic gas appliances. For instance she used,"the new special broiler featured on the Magic Chef stove” to demonstrate how to best prepare steaks that retained their juices, and “the Detroit Jewell from New State Hardware company” to show an easy method of oven canning. As she worked, she pointed out the unique advantages of each of the two stoves.6

By 1935, Harryette was also offering printed testimony to her company’s products. In April, for example, her photo appeared in its add for the new air-cooled Electrolux refrigerator, “designed by American women for American women,” together with Harryette’s declaration that “the modern housewife should use the ELECTROLUX because of its beauty, its economy of operation, its utter silence and because there are no moving parts.”7 At the same time she was being touted as a “Cooking School Expert.” A day’s cooking program was now attracting anywhere from 150 to 175 attendees, especially when Harryette dealt with a special topic, such as oven baking, or preparation of a Thanksgiving turkey. While the company aimed to encourage the purchase of gas appliances through her demonstrations in a modern gas kitchen, Harryette declared in an interview that “although the advantages of up-to-date cooking and baking methods will be shown, every effort will be made in the four demonstrations to give practical and economical suggestions that should help and interest any housewife, no matter how old her kitchen equipment might be.”8  In addition to the kitchen demonstrations and cooking instruction, the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company also passed out prizes to some of the fortunate participants. Okarche was too small a town for gas dealers to gather, but her parents, friends, cousins, and sister Kathleen traveled to El Reno to participate in Harryette’s classes.

By 1936, Harryette had become a regional celebrity. Her photo regularly appeared with the gas company ads, and local appliance dealers now featured her photo in their own ads. For example, on a single page of The El Reno American that was published a week before her cooking school appearances in El Reno in late February, her photo appeared in three ads, while an additional article described her secrets for preparing lamb roasts. That same page featured “Kitcheneering,” a newspaper column authored by Harryette under the auspices of the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company. It would eventually move as a regular weekly offering from the El Reno American to The Black Dispatch, an African-American publication stationed in Oklahoma City with a broad readership that included many out-of-state subscribers. In one early column, written in her own practical, non-threatening style, Harryette introduced the topic of  how “Left-Overs Can Be Made Delicious.” Typically, she introduced each column with a dilemma. Here, after arguing for preparing good-sized roasts for special occasions, since “there must always be plenty for second helpings, and there must always be a certain leeway for the carver,” she addressed the dilemma of  what to do with the left-overs: “By all means, use them” she advised. “There are dozens of ways of easily making them into tempting dishes for the next meal, sometimes by combining them with other foods, and sometimes by only reheating them in a sauce of one kind or another.” She followed up this advice by giving her readers five different recipes that one could use for left-over beef and ham roasts.9

In another of these columns she addressed the subject of milk going sour: “Don’t be sorry if it’s sour,” she declared. “Sweet to taste are the things made with these delectable dairy products that have ‘soured on the world’!” To prove her point she offered four recipes that called for sour milk or cream: ginger puffs, sour milk waffles, hermits, and sour cream cake. As a general rule, Harryette provided four to five recipes in each of these weekly columns.

Local dealers loved her, since prospective customers were otherwise leery of buying modern appliances that they did not know how to use. By emphasizing “simplified cooking in the modern gas kitchen” she helped convince Oklahomans to replace their old appliances with new ones. At her programs the local gas appliance dealers created special model kitchens in which Harryette did her demonstrations, often using three to four ranges at a time. These demonstrations were designed “to show the best and most efficient uses of every phase of gas service in the home.”10

Newspaper Clipping of Broom  advertisement featuring Harryette Hunter
A typical Harryette Hunter product endorsement

The Black Dispatch, the African-American weekly published in Oklahoma City, now held its own annual cooking school with Harryette at its director. The ads in the paper featured Harryette’s recommendations for products other than gas appliances: “Harryette Hunter recommends Clorox” for laundry, kitchen, and bathroom use, one ad proclaimed. Indeed, Harryette felt so strongly about Clorox that she gave a demonstration of its cleaning power at The Black Dispatch cooking school, by pouring red coloring onto a wooden breadboard, and then removing it “without scrubbing.” “To use Clorox provides greater home hygiene,” Harryette told her public. “Remember that Clorox disinfects […] And since Clorox is pure, non-poisonous disinfectant, suitable for disinfecting tile, porcelain, enamel, linoleum as well as wood, china, glass and crockery, it is especially valuable in kitchen cleaning.” 11

Over the years Harryette’s product endorsements in The Black Dispatch and in The Norman Transcript would, in fact, multiply. They would cover, in addition to aluminum cooking ware and brands of milk, flour, bread, and baking power, such items as brooms, bedspreads, wallpaper, and cosmetics. A French-designed girdle was “recommended by Miss Harryette Hunter, Lecturer at the Cooking School.” She offered a special endorsement for Pontiac cars after one dealership lent her a Pontiac for her travels. And she even recommended two ice companies for those not yet able to afford gas refrigeration, telling readers of The Black Dispatch that these plants “furnish good jobs to 18 colored people. When you buy Cary Ice you are furnishing jobs to men of your race.”12

The key to Harryette’s success appears to have been her ability to calm those women—especially newlyweds—who were unsure of themselves in the kitchen and to build up their confidence by offering creative economic solutions to any kitchen problem at hand. But she did not neglect their husbands, either. In one of her June columns, she announced that, “While so much attention is usually directed toward the June bride, in my column today I’m going to turn the tables and […] dedicate my talk to ‘grooms’.”13

Soon enough, Harryette would turn her own private attention to weddings and to one particular groom. The first public notice came when it was reported in The Okarche Times on July 31st, 1936 that “Miss Harryette Hunter and Frederick Anderson of Oklahoma City spent Sunday in Okarche at the home [of] Miss Hunter’s parents.” The paper always reported every two weeks or so that Harryette was at home visiting her parents, but this was the first indication that she was dating a man. The report was incorrect, however, in stating that this groom-to-be was named “Anderson”; he was, instead Frederick (Fritz) Emmerson, a native of Cushing, Oklahoma and an employee at the Globe Pipe Line Company. The paper reported, three weeks later, that Harryette and Fritz had paid another, week-long visit to Harryette’s parents. And not long after that her engagement was announced in a novel fashion. Her mother and sister Kathleen hosted a luncheon and bridge party at which crossword puzzles were distributed and a prize promised to the first who solved it. Harryette’s friend Helen Hanson was the first to find the solution; it read “Harryette Hunter - Frederick Emmerson, September third.”

The wedding took place in Oklahoma City at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, with the bride “smartly gowned in tobacco brown, with a corsage of Souvenir roses.”14 The couple then departed on a three-week honeymoon to Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) before setting up residence in one of the new homes that had just been constructed on Carey Place, Oklahoma City, a street that has now been designated a historic district.

Harryette Hunter at work in a model gas kitchen
Harryette Hunter at work in a model gas kitchen

Although she returned to Oklahoma City as a young bride, Harryette did not falter in her work for the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company; if anything, she increased her activities. An announcement appeared in The Daily Oklahoman on October 16th declaring that “Harryette Hunter […] is at your service the year ‘round to advise and assist you with cooking and home making problems.” She was available during working hours for telephone consultation and for home visits; she was also producing a “recipe of the month” that people could request by phoning the company. That October, at the fourth annual Black Dispatch cooking school, “over 6000 of Oklahoma City’s housewives packed and jammed Slaughter’s auditorium last week to witness the booth displays and the free demonstrations of food prepared by Miss Harryette Hunter. […] The hundreds of spectators that were unable to gain admittance to the auditorium on the final night of the school stood in the halls and some even stood on the sidewalks completely blocking the passageways.”15

Her cooking schools took on new dimensions. In the spring of 1937 she was presenting “Cook’s Tours.” “This year we are offering additional features never before attempted,” Harryette declared. School participants received a passport that they filled out before embarking on “an imaginary adventure,” that added a travel flair to her usual program of demonstrating newer methods of cooking and short cuts to household routines. 16 Later that year Harryette began serving as judge in teen bake-offs, and in 1938 she conducted nutrition classes for the Red Cross. And she also began writing a new column for The Oklahoma City Advertiser called “The Menu Maker,” whose purpose was to present different menus that one could prepare for breakfast and dinner every day of the week.

In early April, 1939, however, Harryette suddenly announced her retirement. She was doing it, she said, so that she might practice the very things she been teaching. At one of her last lectures she stressed the importance of the role of cook and homemaker and told the women in her audience not to sell themselves short. “Remember,” she said, “you are in the biggest business in the world, you carry on projects, just like businesses, deal with marketing, purchasing, selling and competition.” 17

She could have retired because of career burnout, but one motivating factor was that she and Fritz were relocating to Chicago, where he had been hired to be superintendent of the Western Pipeline Company. And, after settling in in Chicago in 1940, she indeed came out of retirement long enough to present six three-day cooking classes that summer and fall for the Monarch Gas Company in St. Elmo, Illinois, this time using her full name Harryette Hunter Emmerson.

The approaching war may have put a damper on her continuing her cooking classes, since America would begin to focus its energy and attention on wartime production rather than to the production of domestic cooking items. On the other hand, she may have taken a break so that she and Fritz could try to establish a family.

But the war intervened. In October 1940 Fritz registered for the draft; in November 1942 he enlisted in the Navy, with a rating of shipfitter, first class, in the Navy’s construction battalions commonly known as Seabees. He would eventually be called to active duty, serving with the regiments building important Naval bases outside the continental United States. First, though, he was sent to the Marine Base at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina, where he graduated from the Infantry Weapons Course of the Rifle Range Battalion. In addition, he received instruction in the mechanics, maintenance and employment of infantry weapons and qualified as an instructor. He was still at Fort Le Jeune when Harryette enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps on March 9, 1943. Later he would be deployed to Papua, New Guinea and to Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands as part of the Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 621.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps or WAAC was less than a year old when Harryette joined it. Its mission was to draw on women who were already experienced typists, stenographers, and telephone operators and to have them take over many of the administrative duties held by army men and thereby free the men for active service at the front. The WAAC advertising slogan was “Release a man for service!” Not all GIs were enthusiastic about the idea. But, after the first auxiliary contingent had been sent overseas to Algiers in January 1943, the women had proved to be so valuable in their overseas work that, on July 1, 1943 they were fully incorporated into the Army as the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC. This change meant that the women would no longer be working for the Army, but would instead be part of it. This change would now provide the women with salaries equal to their male counterparts, full access to Army veteran health services, death benefits, and protection if captured by the enemy. When the women who had been serving in the auxiliary were given the choice of either joining the new WAC or returning to civilian life, 75% of the women decided to remain. Harryette was one of them.

WAC Woman in  Uniform
Harryette Emmerson in her WAC uniform, 1945

She began her WAAC service at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, where she underwent basic training; this included rigorous physical training, since all WAACs were being prepared for possible deployment to Europe and Asia. But already in April 1943 Harryette and four other WAACs from her company were chosen to train as officers. She was immediately transferred to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, which was the only school in the country for training WAAC officers. She received her commission on June 1, and was promoted to second lieutenant. In August she was sent back to Fort Oglethorpe to select eight enlisted women there for service at Camp Ritchie. They arrived at Camp Ritchie on September 21st, 1943. There nine new buildings had just been erected for the WACs on the far side of Lake Royer, well removed from the men’s barracks. The WAC arrivals were soon at work putting the finishing touches on their spacious new administration building, waxing floors and hanging curtains.

Harryette had been brought to Ritchie to serve as the WAC’s Mess and Supply Officer. She was not given completely free rein in this position, however; she had to cooperate with the men’s mess officer, since both women and men received the same food despite the fact that the WACs had their own mess hall. As the WAC commander at Ritchie noted, “The girls would like salads and lighter entrees, but all [men and women] are treated alike. In spite of all the marching, waist lines increase.”18 Harryette’s creativity showed through the best in a Thanksgiving dinner served during her stay at Ritchie. For her 1937 Cook’s Tours and for the international dinner she had once organized at Yukon High School, she had given food items names of exotic sites. Now the 1943 Thanksgiving menu at Camp Ritchie gave both wartime and geographic emphasis to the foods served on that special day: the menu boasted “Roast Turkey à la United Nations,” with “Guadalcanal Dressing,” “Attu Cranberry Sauce,” “Sicilian Gravy,” and salad described as “New Guinea Lettuce and Tomatoes with Russian Dressing.” Given Harryette’s dramatic talent, and her singing and speaking skills, it is also not unlikely that she joined some of the other talented WACs who performed in skits and other entertainments that were staged in the Ritchie theater.

Then, one day in December 1944, Harryette received orders to put on her dress uniform and wait for a driver who would pick her up and take her to the Pentagon. There she was questioned exhaustively about her family, friends, and life experiences. At the end of the interview she was given top secret (QI) clearance, and returned to Camp Ritchie to await further orders. When these orders arrived she found instructions to take the train to Chicago and, once there, to call a phone number for further instructions. It was “scary,” she said, as she had no idea where she was going. When she left Ritchie, she was directed to a private train car that was held for her alone. She was told that meals would be brought to her, but that she could not leave the car. In Chicago she made her call and was directed to a taxi that took her to another station, where she boarded the Santa Fe Chief to Lamy, New Mexico. She now learned that, because the Chicago train had been running late, the Santa Fe Chief had been held up for two hours until she boarded it.“I didn’t believe it,” she remembered, “but it is true.”19

Once she left the train, her preferential treatment ended. She arrived in Lamy on a rainy Christmas Eve 1944, and there was no one there to meet her. She finally went to talk to the ticket agent, who made a phone call, and then told her to take the bus into Santa Fe to La Fonda Hotel, where someone would meet her. Once there, she had to wait for two hours with several other WACs and one WAC officer before a driver came to pick them up.

It was only then that she learned that she had been assigned to serve as dietician at the 100-bed hospital in Los Alamos. This secret city had been built around a former boys’ school on top of a mesa high in the Jemez Mountains outside Sante Fe; there it provided housing and support for all the scientists, mathematicians, and support staff involved in developing the Atomic Bomb. Many of the WACs and civilians who worked at Los Alamos had no notion of the purpose behind their assignments there. What they did know was that they must keep complete secrecy regarding their location and their work. “It was a very trying time,” Harryette recalled. “We couldn’t talk very loud[ly] because we never knew who was listening or who was an FBI agent. People were always trying to get you to talk. We were living under a cloak of fear.”20 The people stationed there could not utter the name Los Alamos even among themselves; they could only refer to the site as the “Hill.” But they all could see that it was not a typical site: army and naval men were stationed together there and mingled with civilian scientists and mathematicians.

On June 2, 1945 Harryette was, in addition to her hospital duties, named Commander of the entire detachment of 300 WACs at Los Alamos and promoted to first lieutenant. A high percentage of the WACs under her command worked in scientific areas, although most provided administrative, technical, intelligence, and service support. One of Harryette’s regular duties was to formally inspect the WAC premises every Saturday morning and to address the WACs when they fell out at 6:45 a.m. for daily roll call. Another, more important part of her assignment involved flying to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, to interview new recruits for positions at Los Alamos. There, of course, the assignment site was never revealed to anyone.

Then, in July, Harryette was given a unique opportunity: as WAC commander, she was invited to witness the test firing of the “gadget”: an implosion-design plutonium bomb designed for use in the war against Japan. This test, code-named “Trinity,” was being conducted in a remote, unpopulated area of the New Mexico desert. Harryette was, of course, fascinated by this culmination of the Manhattan Project’s nuclear bomb program but, when she learned that no non-commissioned WACs would be allowed to view the test, she declined the invitation. “I didn’t think it was fair that some of the women who had worked so

Harryette Emmerson at Los Alamos, holding the Meritorious Service Plaque awarded to the WAC detachment, 1945.

closely with the project wouldn’t be allowed to witness the test, so I decided to go see the site the day before and the day after,” Harryette said.21Actually, in the early morning of July 16 even those WACs in Los Alamos were partial witnesses of the world’s first nuclear bomb detonation, for the sky was lit up all the way to Los Alamos, over 200 miles from the test site. Those closer to the site had an almost apocalyptic vision. Brigadier General T. F. Farrell witnessed the explosion close at hand through government-issued welder’s glasses; he remarked: “The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined..”22Harryette did not have Farrell’s “unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying” view of the blast, but on the very next day she visited the site with a geiger counter and expressed her amazement at how the sand there had been transformed into slightly radioactive glass, most of it green, but also with a variety of other colors determined by sand impurities.23

After the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, Japan signed a formal document of surrender on September 2, 1945, bringing a conclusion to the war in the Pacific. Four days later, the Los Alamos WACs received a letter from WAC headquarters on War Department stationery that praised their work. It read, in part: “The security measures that still involve the Manhattan District Project, the great responsibility that each one of you will always have, set you apart as very special and honored heroines in World War II. Your devotion to duty, the sacrifices you have made, the daily soldier privileges that you have forfeited, and your loyalty to the security measures necessary will be proudly recorded in the history of the Women’s Army Corps.”24And, on September 7th, the Los Alamos weekly Bulletin informed residents that a Military Review would be held east of the boundary of the post at a baseball diamond known as Bradley Field. The occasion was to confer Meritorious Service Unit plaques on each of the military detachments on the post. Harryette remembers this as her most memorable WAC experience: “The WAC detachment and I were honored by a parade with the Washington brass in attendance and the presentation of the Meritorious Service Plaque.” As to the service of the WACs under her command, she stated that she was proud of the women and the work they had done, adding “They were the cream of the crop.” 25

Harryette also stated that, if she had been single, she would have continued her Army service and made it her career. But now she opted for civilian life. On November 15, 1945, she was discharged from the Army with the rank of Captain. Her husband Fritz was discharged from the Navy at about the same time (November 26). They returned to Oklahoma, settled down in Okarche, and made a home there. Fritz became co-owner of a lumberyard, while Harryette became a full-time homemaker. And, in the spring of 1947, she and Fritz adopted a month-old girl, Susan Emily, and a one-year-old boy, Frederick Kent.

Both Fritz and Harryette served their community of Okarche and were active in the Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic) Church and in service to the community. Fritz was a charter member of the local Lions Club, while Harryette served in 1953 as chairperson for the Mothers March on Polio and the following year for the Red Cross drive. In addition, she worked in church bazaars, served as judge at the local fairs, and chaperoned boy scouts at scout camp.

But she never forgot her years of army service, and, when several former Ritchie WACs planned a three-day, tenth-year reunion in the summer of 1954 at the Hotel Alexander in Hagerstown, she eagerly accepted and took the train to Kansas City, Nebraska. There she met former Ritchie WAC Bernice Green, and the two of them drove to Hagerstown together. All in all 35 Ritchie WACs convened for this reunion and all agreed that the highlight of the reunion was touring the old grounds and barracks. Harryette and Bernice visited friends in New Jersey and in Washington D.C. on the trip home.

In 1960 Okarche was booming and there was a spurt of new homes and businesses. Fritz and Harryette now had a house built in the new hospital addition section of town—a three-bedroom brick home with fireplace and an attached two-car garage. They could both be proud of how their two children were developing. Harryette and Fritz had instilled in both children a desire to play an active role in the community, from taking part in school and church activities and in Future Farmers of America, and to making contributions to the oxygen fund of the local hospital. Frederick served as altar boy at the Holy Trinity Church, and both were involved in Sodalist activities through the church.

Harryette holding medals
Harryette Emmerson with her war medals and with glass pieces she gathered at the Trinity Test Site. 1994.

Both were also active in the arts. Susan won first prize in several poetry contests when she was in high school. In one, she recites the rosary as her thoughts revolve around her parents and matters of war and peace: “As the beads slip through my hand, / I pray that war will never come,/ That mom and dad will see life long,/ That peace will rule o’er all the land.”26After high school Susan went off to Oklahoma State University and graduated from the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing before joining the Army Nursing Corps and serving as a 1st lieutenant in Hawaii. Frederick developed a fine singing voice; already at nine years of age he sang several solos at a Christmas meeting of the Lions Club and at age 11 performed a vocal solo on a local TV show. In addition to singing, he acted in a high school production of Julius Caesar. He graduated from St. Gregory’s Junior College in Shawnee, then became a photographer at Meacham’s Photography Studio in the nearby town of Kingfisher.

In the 1960s, Harriette went back to school to earn a teaching certificate, then taught third and fourth grades for six years at the Peter and Paul Catholic School in Kingfisher, and third grade for another six years at the Holy Trinity School in Okarche. She especially enjoyed teaching children in these grades because at that age “they’re most eager to learn.” She took pride in her work, saying: “One of the greatest things about teaching is that you help mold good discipline and study habits.” She took special pride in helping the slow learners in her classes and described her teaching as one more life experience that helped make her a better person.27

But tragedy struck the family in 1967 when Frederick, having completed a job as wedding photographer, was driving home shortly after midnight on September 5, and crashed into a guard rail and bridge bannister. He was killed instantly. Highway patrol determined that he had not been drinking; he had simply fallen asleep at the wheel. He left behind a wife, Carolyn, and two sons, David and Michael.

A happier event occurred in November 1972, when Susan married a Naval sonar technician whom she had met in Hawaii.

As for Fritz and Harryette, they enjoyed a long and happy life together. Both were passionate antique collectors, both were subscribers to the University of Oklahoma football games. Harryette believed that she and her husband were “blessed to find each other,” and that the best thing they ever did in their lives was to adopt Susan and Frederick. When he was 71 Fritz retired from the lumber business; two years later, he died, on September 12, 1982. Harryette said that she had been “lucky in love” because she had had “the greatest husband in the world.”28 His obituary quoted a verse that seemed to fit his personality: “His thoughts were good / His words were few and never formed to glisten. / But he was a joy to all his friends. / You should have heard him listen.”29 Fritz and Harryette had been married for 46 years.

Harryette remained active with her hobbies: antiquing, gardening, quilting, doing needlepoint, and baking. She also became a trustee of the local bank, where her sister Kathleen was president.


Like so many women of her era, Harryette had been a chain smoker her entire life; she died of complications due to lung cancer and COPD on February 23, 1997. She was 88 years old.


Beverley Driver Eddy

May 2024

  1. Okarche, Oklahoma.,_Oklahoma Citing Richard C. Rohrs, The Germans in Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

  2. "Oklahoma's Only Exclusive Women's College" Harlow's Weekly, February 6, 1915, 97. Cited in , Cynthis Savage, “Oklahoma College for Women: Oklahoma’s Only State-Supported Women’s School,” n02_a04.pdf, 198.

  3. First Catalogue and Second Annual Announcement of the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls (Chickasha, Oklahoma: n.p., 1910- 1911), 6. Cited in Cynthia Savage, “Oklahoma College for Women,” 198.

  4. Cynthia Savage, “Oklahoma College for Women,” 199.

  5. The Yukon Oklahoma Sun, 29 Nov. 1934, p. 6.

  6. “Women Shown Canning Steps,” The Daily Ardmoreite, 21 Mar. 1935, 3.

  7. The El Reno American, 4 April, 1935, 6.

  8. “Cooking School Sponsored by Gas Appliance Dealers to Open Tuesday, The El Reno American, 28 8 Mar. 1935, 1; “Gas Company to Hold Cooking School, The Healdton Herald, 28 Feb. 1935, 1. 27 Feb. 1936, 4.

  9. “Simplified Cooking in Modern Gas Kitchen,” The Shawnee American, 24 April 1936, 4. 1

  10. “Told How To Shorten Kitchen Cleaning,” The Black Dispatch, 5 Nov. 1936, 5.

  11. Advertisement in The Black Dispatch, 29 Oct. 1938, 11.

  12. “Kitcheneering,” The El Reno American, 18 June, 1936, 8.

  13. “Miss Harryette Hunter Weds Frederick W. Emmerson,” The Okarche Times, 11 Sept. 1936, 5.

  14. “Over 6000 Housewives Witness Exhibits and Demonstrations at Dispatch Cooking School, The Black Dispatch, 29 Oct. 1936, 1.

  15. “Okla. Natural Gas Company Cooking School Apr. 6, 7, 8,” The Edmond Sun, 1 Apr. 1937, 1.

  16. “Fashion Show Presented To Homemakers, The Norman Transcript, 2 Apr. 1939.

  17. Ruth Mills Bradley. Cited in Beverley Driver Eddy, Ritchie Boy Secrets, Guilford CT: Stackpole Books, 2021.

  18. Iris Bell, Los Alamos WAACs/WACs, World War II 1943-1946. Sarasota, FL: Coastal Printing Incorporated, 1993, 21. This page includes the full story of Harryette’s travel to Los Alamos.

  19. Evelyn Schaefer, “This teacher got her education as WAC company commander.” Newspaper clipping from 1980, courtesy of Michael Emmerson.

  20. Dee Kraus, “Okarche’s Harryette Emmerson lives life with ‘star-spangled heart’; Army honor tops,” The Kingfisher Times & Free Press, 18 Sept. 1994, 8.

  21. “Chronology on Decision to Bomb Hiroshima and Negasaki,” Project of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

  22. She reported this to the authors Ruth H. Howes and Caroline L. Herzenberg in a questionaire that she filled out in 1991. See Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991, 151.

  23. from Sharon Snyder, “Los Alamos—September 1945,” Los Alamos History.

  24. Iris Bell, Los Alamos WAACs/WACs, 15.

  25. “Holy Trinity News: Poetry Contest Winners,” The Okarche Chieftain, 4 Apr. 1963, 4.

  26. Evelyn Schaefer, “This teacher got her education as WAC company commander.”

  27. Evelyn Schaefer, “This teacher got her education as WAC company commander.”

  28. The Daily Oklahoman, 14 Sept. 1982.

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