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Dorothy C. Putnam and Lois Mercer papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Coll2008-038

Scope and Content of Collection

This collection comprises scrapbooks, photographs, typescripts, clippings, miscellaneous material and a trophy from Dorothy C. Putnam and Lois Mercer. Each of the scrapbooks includes photographs, clippings, correspondence, notes and miscellaneous typescripts documenting Putnam and Mercer's lives from the 1910s through the mid-1980s. Materials document Putnam's ancestry; her career as the first licensed female chauffeur and mechanic in California and her subsequent service as an Air Force lieutenant; her participation in driving contests; Mercer's contribution to ONE, Inc.; her involvement in the Republican Party; their shared community activism; and their 50-year partnership, which began in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Also included is a trophy Putnam won in the Ladies Driving Contest organized by the Motor Car Dealers Association of Los Angeles in 1922.

Note: Scrapbooks should be handled with care as the glue holding the photographs to the pages has become brittle and many of the photographs are loose.


  • Creation: 1914-1988



The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.

Publication Rights

Researchers wishing to publish materials must obtain permission in writing from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives as the physical owner. Researchers must also obtain clearance from the holder(s) of any copyrights in the materials. Note that ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives can grant copyright clearance only for those materials for which we hold the copyright. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain copyright clearance for all other materials directly from the copyright holder(s).


Dorothy "Dot" Crocker Putnam was born in Massachusetts on October 15, 1895, the daughter of Frank Wright Putnam and Elle Crocker Putnam. She is a descendant of American Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam, and claimed to be a cousin of Amelia Earhart (although the relationship may have been to Earhart's husband, George Putnam). As a young woman, Putnam was a horseback mail carrier in Oregon. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she developed an interest in automobiles. In 1918, she became the first licensed female chauffeur in California, her clients including Carole Lombard, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. In addition, she also won a number of driving contests in Los Angeles during the 1920s. During World War II, she served in the Women's Ambulance and Transport Corps of California (W.A.T.C.C.), and later the Air Force, rising to the rank of First Lieutenant. After retiring from the Air Force, she became the first female senior truck driver for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Lois Mercer was born in California on February 12, 1894. In 1928, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a bookkeeper for an insurance company. In the 1930s, she met Dorothy Putnam, who was her partner for over 50 years. During World War II, Mercer, with Putnam, joined the W.A.T.C.C., and later the Air Force, rising to the rank of Corporal. In 1953, Mercer became bookkeeper at ONE, Inc., where she continued to work part-time until she retired in 1986 at the age of 92.

Putnam and Mercer lived in Los Angeles throughout their 50-year partnership. Lois Mercer died on January 6, 1989, Dorothy Putnam in March 1991.

Source: Dorothy C. Putnam and Lois Mercer Papers, Coll2008-038, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California


3.9 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Photographs, correspondence, typescripts, newspaper clippings, a trophy and scrapbooks relating to Dorothy C. Putnam (1895-1991) and her partner of 50 years, Lois Mercer (1894-1989), bookkeeper for ONE, Inc. The majority of the materials document Putnam's life and family from her adolescence as a horseback mail carrier in Oregon; her activities as the first licensed female chauffeur in California; her wins in economy-run driving races in the 1920s; and her service in the Women's Ambulance and Transport Corps of California (W.A.T.C.C.) and U.S. Air Force during World War II. Materials also document Lois Mercer's service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II; her contribution to ONE, Inc., from 1953; Putnam and Mercer's community activism; and their 50 years of life together in Los Angeles.

Acquisition Information

Donation of Dorothy Putnam and Lois Mercer, date unknown.

Related Material

A VHS videotape of an interview by Dorr Legg with Lois Mercer and Lt. Dorothy Putnam, April 27, 1986, is currently (June 2008) deposited with the Outfest Legacy Project at the University of California at Los Angeles.

General Physical Description note

1 archive carton + 1 archive box + 2 flat archive cartons + 1 trophy.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Loni Shibuyama, June 20, 2008.

Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Finding aid of the Dorothy C. Putnam and Lois Mercer Papers
Loni Shibuyama
© 2008
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 ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, University of Southern California Repository

909 West Adams Boulevard
Los Angeles California 90007 United States
(213) 821-2771