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WWI at Sea

We recently digitized the Photograph collection of Walter Timothy, Jr., an African American from Philadelphia who served in the United States Navy from 1911 to 1919. The collection consists of photos mainly from Timothy’s years in the Navy, but includes a few earlier photos as well.

Walter Timothy, Jr., was born on November 12, 1894 to Walter Timothy, Sr., and Rosa Timothy. The collection includes 2 photos of Timothy Jr. as a 16-month-old toddler. A few other uncaptioned portraits may depict family members.

The bulk of the photos document Timothy’s time as an enlisted sailor in the United States Navy. Timothy enlisted in April 1911 and was honorably discharged in February 1919. While in the Navy, he served as a mess attendant and cook on several different ships. (The U.S. armed services were racially segregated until the latter half of the 20th century, with African Americans often relegated to support roles, such as stewards and mess workers.) The ships on which Timothy served were primarily assigned to convoy duties.

Photos of Navy life include several of Timothy’s shipmates, some in silly poses. There are also numerous photos of different kinds of ships, including several in “dazzle camouflage,” a technique in which ships were painted in bold geometric patterns in order to make them more difficult targets. Airships, airplanes, and submarines are depicted a few times as well. There are also a few photos of shipboard pets or mascots, including a cat, a dog, and a goat.

After the war, Timothy worked as a letter carrier. He married Laura Christine Ford in the 1920s and they do not appear to have had any children. Timothy died in May 1985.

Further reading:

A Short History on Segregation in the Navy: From the War of 1812 through World War II, U.S. Naval Institute blog, February 26, 2019. https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/02/26/a-short-history-on-segregation-in-the-navy-from-the-war-of-1812-through-world-war-ii

General Mess Manual and Cook Book, U.S. Navy, 1902. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/g/general-mess-manual-and-cook-book.html


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Last Modified: December 12, 2019