Mary Shotwell Ingraham

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Mary Ingraham

Mary Shotwell Ingraham (January 5, 1887 – April 16, 1981) was an American social reformer and the founder of the United Service Organizations (USO). She was the first woman to receive the Medal for Merit award.

Early life[edit]

Ingraham was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 5, 1887.[1] She was daughter of Henry Titus Shotwell and Alice Wyman (Gardner) Shotwell.[2]

Mid life and education[edit]

Ingraham attended and graduated from Vassar College in 1908 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Wesleyan University in 1958 and also from Columbia University in 1961.[2]


Ingraham was the president of the Brooklyn Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) from 1922 to 1939. She was president of the National Board of the YWCA from 1940 to 1946 and involved with the YWCA's war work and interracial efforts.[3] Ingraham was founder in 1941 of the United Service Organizations, more often referred to as the USO.[1] She inspired and promoted USO shows and entertainment for service people during World War II.[4] She was given the United States Medal for Merit in 1946 by President Harry Truman for her work,[5][6] the first woman to receive this award. The award is the highest Presidential award given to civilians for outstanding service related to the military.[2][7]


Ingraham married Henry Andrews Ingraham, a lawyer, on October 28, 1908. They lived in Brooklyn, New York. One of their children was Mary Alice Ingraham Bunting-Smith (1910–1998), also known as "Polly", the first woman to be appointed to serve on the United States Atomic Energy Commission.[8] The other children were Henry Gardner Ingraham, Winifred Andrews Ingraham and David Ingraham.[3]


Ingraham was a Quaker from an ancestral line of Quakers.[1]


Ingraham died in Huntington, Long Island, New York, on April 16, 1981.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Sherrow 1996, p. 153.
  2. ^ a b c d "Ingraham, Mary T. Shotwell, 1887–1981. Papers, 1904-ca.1970: A Finding Aid". Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Harvard University. July 1986. Retrieved January 13, 2016. During World War II, she was vice-president of the United Service Organization, and advisor to Oveta Culp Hobby, Director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, on the recruitment of women officers to the WAAC.
  3. ^ a b Robertson 2007, p. 236.
  4. ^ "Ingraham, Mary Shotwell (1887–1981)". Cengage Learning. Retrieved January 16, 2016. Founder of United Service Organizations (USO), spent early career with Brooklyn's Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), serving as its president (1922–39), then president of national board (1940–45); along with Dorothy Height and others, was instrumental in bringing about the endorsement of the "Interracial Charter," mandating desegregation, at YWCA National Convention (1946); founded USO (1940), which supplied social, recreational and welfare services to armed services during WWII.
  5. ^ Read 1992, p. 227.
  6. ^ Engel & Smiley 2013, p. 140.
  7. ^ "Miscellany News, Number 9, 6 November 1946 Edition 01". Retrieved January 13, 2016. Mrs. Ingraham Gets Medal For USO Activities – Mrs. Mary Shotwell Ingraham, recently received the Medal for Merit, highest Presidential award given to civilians, for her outstanding service as one of the founders and original directors of the USO. As former President of the Y.W.C.A., Mrs Ingraham was instrumental in mobilizing that organization in response to the war effort. Mrs. Ingraham is honored by being the first woman to receive this award.
  8. ^ Engel & Smiley 2013, p. 141.