The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
Thomas R. Henry was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 17, 1893. The often frigid New England winters must have had quite an impact on Thomas, who was raised in nearby Sterling. As a young boy, Thomas became fascinated by the pictures included in the journals of Elisha Kent Kane, the arctic explorer who served as the surgeon on the First Grinnell Expedition, and commanded the Second Grinnell Expedition to the North Pole.
Receiving his A.B. degree from Clark College in 1914, Thomas began his career as a journalist, becoming a reporter for the Worcester Telegram. Shortly thereafter, he joined the American military effort, serving in France during World War I. This experience hardened Thomas, and would not be his last among brothers in arms. During World War II, Thomas became a war correspondent with the North American Newspaper Alliance (1939-1945), serving with the First Army in England, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France. He also received his first taste of the arctic, accompanying U.S. Marines to Iceland. Upon the conclusion of World War II, Thomas Henry was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
Thomas furthered his journalism career during the 1920's, serving as the Science Editor for The Washington Evening Star. He joined the staff of the Smithsonian in 1931 as a press writer, a position he held into the 1960's. In 1933, he received a Pulitzer Prize Honorable Mention for his accounts of the "bonus army." His writing skills becoming further honed, Thomas would author countless columns and press releases for The Washington Evening Star, and the Smithsonian Institution, respectively. Furthermore, he penned articles for the Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic, among others.
Thomas kept detailed journals during his World War II experience; these journals served as the foundation of his unpublished manuscript "Pale, Green Horses." Perhaps Henry's most well-known work is The White Continent: The Story of Antarctica (William Sloane, New York, 1950) in which he recounts his experience as a member of "Operation High Jump," a 1946 U. S. Naval expedition to Antarctica led by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd Jr. and Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, respectively.
Record Unit 7347: Thomas R. Henry Papers, 1933-1967, captures Henry's career as a journalist, and includes scientific articles, unpublished manuscripts, materials related to his tenure as a war correspondent, scrapbooks, and press releases produced for the Smithsonian. Additionally, and perhaps of greatest interest personally, are the countless typed pages of Henry's World War II journals. The careful, detailed accounts demonstrate the author’s genius as a writer, and present an engrossing depiction of war. There is a particular passage in which Henry pines on the physical and psychological effects of hunger, a dilemma shared by both soldier and civilian. This passage reveals the painful inequities of warfare, while also conveying the depths of compassion experienced among strangers engrossed in conflict.
Thomas R. Henry quietly lived a fascinating life; World War I and World War II veteran, arctic explorer, scientist, journalist, author. His ability to transcend experiences and observations, and keen articulation of the human spirit are reflected among his writings, and demonstrate his brilliance as a wordsmith.
- Record Unit 7347: Thomas R. Henry Papers, 1933-1967, Smithsonian Institution Archives