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Samuel Leyens Switzer Papers

Collection ID: MG 37

Scope and Contents

The collection contains the correspondence, publications, photographs, maps, and memorability of Samuel Leyens Switzer, a soldier who fought in World War I as well as a merchant in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The bulk of the material details Switzer's time as a Lieutenant in World War I. Some of the highlights of the collector include letters chronically the daily life of soldiers, photographs of Switzer and fellow officers, and maps containing detailed battle positions and troop movements.


  • circa 1910-1985, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 03/20/1980



13.2 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

Samuel Leyens Switzer was born into a prominent family in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on November 26, 1896. He was a son of Simon and Flora Leyens Switzer. In 1902, Sam's father died, leaving his widow Flora with four children: Louis, Minette, Barbara and Samuel. Samuel Switzer's correspondence begins when he journeyed North in 1911 to complete his secondary education at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. After Exeter, Sam entered Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a member of the class of 1918. Sam's letters home during this period reveal that he was a typical college student interested in fashions, football, girls and grades. While attending college Samuel Switzer joined Harvard University's Military Reserve Unit. After his sophomore year, in the summer of 1916, Sam attended and successfully completed a United States Army training camp in Plattsburgh, New York. Sam returned to Harvard University in the fall of 1916, continuing both his studies and his military training. The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Sam spent the summer of his junior year, from May 7 to August 15, 1917, in a military instruction camp of the War Department of the United States at Harvard University. Throughout the summer of 1917, the situation in Europe worsened for the Allies and Sam decided to sacrifice his senior year at Harvard University for his country. In August 1917 Sam Switzer entered Officer's Training Camp at Leon Springs, Texas. On November 27, 1917, he was commissioned a First Lieutenant in Field Artillery. Lieutenant Switzer completed his military training with the Tenth Field Artillery, Third Division, at Camp Douglas, Douglas, Arizona. Sam drilled throughout the winter of 1918. On April 23, 1918, Lieutenant Samuel Switzer sailed with his Division for France. After a field artillery course at Coetquidau, France, Sam Switzer participated in the Champagne-Marne defensive (July 15, 1918), the Marne-Aisne offensive (July 18 - August 2, 1918), the Saint-Mihiel offensive (September 12 - 14, 1918), and the Meuse-Argonne offensive (September 26 - November 11, 1918). Lieutenant Switzer was cited in the General Orders Headquarters of the Third Division, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action. His " brave work in defending a position near a bridge in the vicinity East of Chateau Thierry on July 14, 1918 " entitled him to wear the Distinguished Service Cross. Lieutenant Switzer's bravery so impressed the staff of the United States Field Artillery Journal that they requested an account of his experience defending the gun at Mezy Bridge. Unfortunately, Mr. Switzer never found the time to fulfill their request. After the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Lieutenant Switzer traveled through Luxembourg and into Germany. He remained in Kretz and Kruft, Germany, with the American Army of Occupation. In March 1919 he was detailed to the American Expeditionary Forces University at Beaune, Cote d'Or, France. Lieutenant Switzer was " relieved from assignment and further duty in the Army " while a student at the American Expeditionary Forces University. At Beaune University he studied French, political science and business law. In May 1919, while still in France, Sam Switzer was awarded his A.B. degree in absentia from Harvard University. He was awarded this degree as a student who had completed three-fourths of the requirements but was unable to complete the entire course due to military service. On June 15, 1919, Sam Switzer sailed for home with the St. Aignan Special (Beaune University) Casual Company Number 6438. After his arrival in New York City, Lieutenant Switzer proceeded to Fort Shelby, Mississippi, where he was formally discharged from the United States Army on July 29, 1919. As a civilian, Sam Switzer entered the family business in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Switzer family owned The Valley Dry Goods Company, the largest department store in the Mississippi Valley. As president of The Valley, Samuel Switzer remained one of Vicksburg's most eminent businessmen. He was active in all phases of civic life and was a devoted member of Anshe Chesed congregation, having served as congregation president and for a number of years as president of the Young Men's Hebrew Association. He was former chairman of the Jewish Welfare Federation and was a member of B'nai B'rith. Sam Switzer was also a member of the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and the board of directors of the Vicksburg Country Club. In addition, Mr. Switzer was a member of the American Legion and the Vicksburg Library Board. After World War I, Sam Switzer maintained contact with his military comrades through correspondence and attendance at the Tenth Field Artillery's reunion conventions. He also indulged his passion for travel. In the summer of 1937 he took a trip around the world. He also made numerous trips to Europe and Iceland. He was an enthusiastic philatelist and amateur photographer. A lifelong bachelor, Samuel Leyens Switzer died on April 14, 1960, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His family remembered him as being " fervently American as a nationality and Jewish as a religion. "

Note written by Special Collections Staff

Language of Materials



Department store owner in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Includes correspondence, literary productions, legal documents, newspaper and magazine clippings, maps, memorabilia and photographs. Collection documents his service as an artillery officer in World War I. Of note are maps of Europe detailing battle positions and troop movements in World War I.

Arrangement Note

The collection is divided into six series: Series I: Correspondence; Series II: Literary Productions; Series III: Printed Material; Series IV: Maps; Series V: Photographic Material; and Series VI: Memorabilia.

Source of Acquisition

Mrs. Bettie Minette Cooper

Method of Acquisition

Loan. Accession #A80-19

Accruals and Additions

Last accession August 15, 2005.

A Guide to the Samuel Leyens Switzer Papers
Special Collections Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US