Elizabeth Hammond was born in 1909 to Jacob Hammond and Elizabeth Wright. In 1933, Hammond is listed in the Newport News Directory as living with her mother. Her occupation is noted as domestic service. In 1937, she married Scott Willis and in 1939, they are listed as living together in Phoebus. In the 1940 United States Census, however, the entire Willis family, including their daughter, Inez Willis, is living in the household of Gordon B. Welch, a Army Ordnance officer housed in Quarters No. 123 on Ruckman Road. Elizabeth Willis is documented as the servant in the household, with Scott and Inez designated as servant’s husband and servant’s daughter, respectively.
According to the 1948 Post Regulations, a servant’s weekly wage for cooking and general housework was $10.00. Chances are this wage was significantly less in 1940, when the United States was pulling out of the Great Depression and beginning to enter the conflict of World War II. Since the Welch family had no children at home, we can assume Willis would not have been paid for childcare. Her duties most likely included cooking, cleaning of quarters, and laundry, as well as the care of her own young daughter. Scott, on the other hand, walked down Ingalls Road to his own employment at the Chamberlin Hotel each workday.
By 1950, Willis had separated from Scott and moved herself and her daughter to Philadelphia where she continues to do housework for families. She and Inez live with Elizabeth’s older sister, Mary, in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, although we can see that Willis continues to live in Philadelphia for many years, passing away in the early 2000s, we have not been able to locate much more information about her later life.
Elizabeth’s connection to Fort Monroe was located while browsing federal census records of the fort, and though her husband was easy to locate, due to his continued connection to the local community and the Chamberlin Hotel, Elizabeth’s story was more difficult to document. Scott’s obituary acknowledges that his wife and daughter are both of Philadelphia, which helped us to find her in the 1950 federal census in that city. Elizabeth and the entire Willis family give us an interesting vignette through which we have one representation of live-in domestic servants on Fort Monroe. Interestingly enough, since we know Elizabeth and Scott were living in Phoebus in 1939 and the Welch family left Fort Monroe in 1940, it is quite possible that the Willises only lived on post for one year. Did the 1940 federal census capture simply one moment in Elizabeth’s life, or did she continue in service to the next officer’s family that moved in? Did her time living on Fort Monroe have a greater impact than we might think of one year today?
Fort Monroe Authority. “Elizabeth (Hammond) Willis.” Illuminating Shadows, May 10, 2023. [access date]. [URL].