What Rhymes with Hungry?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Marie Adams in 1941, Life Without Lipstick, Hoover Institution Library

Too often, the experiences and accomplishments of women in wartime remain hidden between the lines of diaries and letters or behind the shining medals of decorated generals. I was fortunate to learn the story of one such amazing woman when I processed the Marie Adams papers.

Marie Adams arrived in Manila in 1941 as a field director for the American Red Cross. Soon afterward, the war reached the shores of the Philippines, meaning that Adams and thousands of civilians became prisoners of war of the Japanese at Santo Tomás Internment Camp.

According to the letters she received from friends and family, Adams was loved by many and dedicated to her work with the Red Cross. As an internee, she suffered from both hunger and disease; however, she bravely put her pain aside to tend to the physical and psychological wounds of her fellow internees.

With limited access to food or communication with the outside world, Adams used poetry to document her experiences at the internment camp and relieve her suffering. Her poems capture her resiliency and sense of humor, even in the face of starvation. In January 1945, Marie Adams wrote one of her final poems at Santo Tomás, not knowing she was only days away from liberation. Below is an excerpt from this poem, titled "Life Without Lipstick."

I've gone without lipstick,
I'm always un-rouged,
I've lacked every comfort
To which I've been used.
 
I've gone without beefsteak,
Without even beans,
There's no coffee, no sugar,
I know what it means
 
To go to bed hungry
To awake just the same,
With the old sense of humor,
In this internment game.
 
The poem ends with the following verse:
 
But when it's all over
And we're out once again
I hope I can smile and say--
"Remember back--when!"
 

Marie Adams's book of poems, Life Without Lipstick, is available at the Hoover Institution Library; her personal papers are in the Hoover Institution Archives.