Alumni Papers – Mary Catherine Lyne

by Joel Webster, Special Collections Student Assistant

The history of the Second World War is filled with heroes, despair, and tragedy. Much has been written on those trying times and yet there are many tales yet to be told. One is the story of Mary Catherine Lyne, a 1940 graduate of Madison College. This was decades before Madison became James Madison University and a co-educational institution. JMU’s Special Collections holds a small collection of her papers, consisting mainly of photographs from her years of military service from 1943-1947.

IMG_1256For more 1939 yearbook photos of Lyne please visit our online collection:

Mary Lyne was born in Charles Town, West Virginia on December 10, 1916, and entered Madison College in 1936. During the next four years, she became deeply involved in many of the available clubs and organizations. Her Senior Year she served as editor-in-chief of The Breeze. She was also member of the Cotillion Club and the Lee Literary Society, played saxophone in The Lost Chords, and was president of Kappa Delta Pi. Mary even won a fencing competition  in the school’s first year (1940) with the “gentlemen’s sport.” She went by the nickname “Mike” and wrote under that name in The Breeze. You can read her last college piece from the May 24, 1940 edition here: Though she graduated with a degree in High School Education, she immediately began her writing career as an editorial assistance for a monthly trade magazine.

IMG_1252Mary Catherine Lyne is seated in the middle playing the saxophone. For more 1940 yearbook photos of Lyne please visit our online collection:

Lyne’s World War II service began in 1943 when she volunteered as a member of the initial class recruited for SPARS or United States Coast Guard (USCG) Women’s Reserve. She was assigned to a unit in New York City that was designed to sell the idea of this new women’s unit to the American people, particularly through national magazine coverage. This work in public relations would prepare her for her post-war career. She served until 1947 when she was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant.

In front of poster

Upon leaving the military she resumed her writing career as an information specialist, first working at the U.S. Public Health Service and then with the State Department. Over the next 20 years, she worked as a news writer in the Near Eastern, South Asian and African branches of the United States Information Agency (USIA). She retired as the chief of the Publication Section of the International Press Service Africa Branch.

Mary was a 50-year member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and served as an officer and board member. She was also co-author of several books, most famously, Three Years Behind The Mast (1946), which is a history of the US Coast Guard SPARS.

Lyne never married and lived most of her adult life in Silver Spring, Maryland. She moved to Charlottesville, Virginia in 1993 and lived there until her death in 2001.

SPAR Song Book

Come visit Special Collections and see more of these amazing photographs and newspaper clippings for yourself from alumnae Mary Catherine Lyne’s years of service to our great nation.


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