Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Published on October 15, 2021

The Helena Miller Collection

Helena Miller

During World War II, a number of students attending what was then the Willimantic State Teachers College (WSTC) left campus to join the Armed Forces. While the students were away at war, professor Helena Miller, who later served as WSTC’s dean of women, decided to do something to help bring smiles to the students who were now soldiers.

Miller began writing to the students through a newsletter titled “The Dean’s Den.” Published from 1943-1945, the newsletter became a regular source of information about life back home. For instance, in August 1943, Miller notified the soldiers that the campus administration building had burned down. “The flames rose 40 or 50 feet. Nothing is left but the walls, which are licked almost perfectly clean.”

Charles Backus 

“The Dean’s Den” updated the soldiers on the fast-changing whereabouts of their fellow service men and women; published news of engagements, weddings and new-born babies; announced dinners and dances; noted where people were traveling; shared information on WSTC students, faculty and staff; and reported on the WSTC convocation and commencement, including the keynote speakers.

The newsletter offered much more — local election results; Town of Windham anniversaries; local hurricanes and concerts; awards and travels; who had a new dog; illnesses and deaths; what the Campus Lantern was publishing; alumni on the move; and even where people had lunch!

Touched by this news, the servicemen and women began responding to Miller, letting her know how much they appreciated the newsletter and sending her Christmas cards. One observer described “The Dean’s Den” as publishing “astonishing details of people’s lives.”

George Bergeron 

After being stationed in Chicago and Arkansas, Charles Backus ’43 wrote Miller from the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Corpus Christi, TX, that he had been to Mexico twice, had heard from Professor (“Mr. Science”) Robert Wickware, and was studying to be an aviation radio technician. “I want to thank you for your little paper. I look forward to it and enjoy it very much.”

Writing from her marine base in Cherry Point, NC, Ruth Jones ’42 asked, “How on earth did you remember my birthday? Mom sent me a cake and we had a party.” In a later letter Jones wrote, “It’s hard to take orders, but I was told, ‘It is not yours to reason why, but to do or die.’ Never a dull moment.”

Writing from Nashville, TN, George Bergeron ’43 said he had finished training in Wilkes Barre, PA, had moved to Newport, and was now training to be a pilot at Maxwell Field in Alabama. “The Dean’s Den proves to be very interesting, and I hope they keep coming.”

Janette Wibberly 

Janette Wibberly ’43, writing from Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, said, “This is a wonderful place to live. So many adventures, meeting people. I drive anything and everything — staff cars and buses, taking busloads of patients to New York City. In New York, I got to see ‘Oklahoma!”’

Ernest Dickson ’43 wrote several letters that arrived from military post offices in Camp Park, CA, the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego and San Francisco. He said he was training to be a pharmacist mate “taking care of the wounded and sick.” He noted in one letter that he was “somewhere in the Pacific.” Another time he said he was “under constant bombardment... buried in my foxhole,” concluding, “I can hardly wait to see the Golden Gate Bridge again.”

Richard Congdon 

Richard Congdon ’43, known at WSTC as being “jive and half of Abbott and Costello,” wrote from Solomon’s Brand on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where he was studying to be a landing ship officer. Later he wrote from England, “I have seen some of the bombing ruins of London, but the spirit of the people is wonderful. They continue with their daily routine as if nothing happened.”

Joseph Goodrich ’44 wrote from the U.S. Naval Air Station at Quonset Point in Rhode Island: “You cannot realize how much I look forward to reading that sheet of paper (“The Dean’s Den”) written in such a friendly, down-to-earth manner.”

Howard Schepart

Raymond Houle ’36 wrote to Miller, “So many people remember you! When I see people from back in the day, the first person we mention is none other than Dr. Miller! We enjoy ‘The Dean’s Den’ immensely!”

Howard Schepart ’42 wrote to Miller about balding, while Jack Selavkla ’45 said he missed snowball fights on campus. John Patrus ’45 said it best. Writing from Greeley, CO, he said, “Being so far away from the old school, it seems I am at the other end of the earth, but after receiving the letters in ‘The Dean’s Den,’ it sort of brings me right back home.”

By any measure, Miller was an accomplished woman. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Later, while working full time for the Connecticut State Board of Education, she earned a doctorate at Yale University. In 1933, she began working at WSTC as a professor, later serving as dean of women.

“The Dean’s Den” continued as “The Ex-Dean’s Den” in her retired years; Miller passed away in 1959. For the WSTC students fighting in the global war, her uplifting letters made life easier and told them that someone from home cared about them.

* * * * * 

Editor’s Note:  The Helena Miller Collection was digitized this past spring by History Major Claire Lavarreda ’21 during her internship, and is now available in the J. Eugene Smith Library’s online archives at We appreciate her work on this project and that she identified this unique and interesting collection held within Eastern’s Center for Connecticut Studies.    

Lavarreda is now a graduate student at Northeastern University where she is in the Public History program. She was a recipient of two academic excellence awards at Eastern and received a Phi Alpha Theta (PAT) scholarship for a prize-winning paper presented at the PAT New England Regional Conference.  Read Lavarreda’s essay on the Helena Miller Collection at

Written by Dwight Bachman