Wilna and Robert Onthank papers
Scope and Contents
This collection comprises manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and other papers, circa 1910-1995, of Wilna Onthank, who in 1994 wrote Born Gay, an unpublished book based on the diaries of her brother Robert Onthank, a gay World War II veteran. The collection includes family photographs, particularly of Wilna and Robert as children growing up in Chicago, Illinois, and later in Southern California. The collection also includes a biographical leaflet about Wilna, created by Joan Corbin and Joan's partner Gingere Blakely.
- circa 1910-1995
- Onthank, Wilna J., 1921-2004 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the ONE Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
Wilna Jane Onthank was born December 11, 1921 to Fred R. and Grace E. Onthank. She was raised in the middle-class suburbs of Chicago until the Depression forced the Onthank family to travel west. Wilna attended high school in Glendale and then majored in commercial art at Frank Wiggins Trade School, now known as Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Wilna was the first woman employed in the Technical Illustration Department at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, California.
Wilna joined the WWII war effort by enlisting with the Navy Waves and attended the Chicago School of Aircraft Instruments. She was later stationed in San Diego and Hawaii. After being discharged from the Navy, Wilna received her bachelor's degree and acquired teaching credentials at the Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood. Converting to Catholicism, she completed novitiate with the Immaculate Heart Sister, then joined the staff at Immaculate Heart College, where she taught alongside Sister Corita Kent and Sister Magdalen Mary, the head of the Art Department.
In 1955 she enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, and received a master's degree in painting. For 12 years, she was Artist Illustrator and Assistant Supervisor for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory while privately selling her own artwork. She then moved to Desert Hot Springs and opened her own art gallery, Potter's Point. She also contributed art work to the homophile magazines, ONE Magazine, ONE Institute Quarterly, and Tangents, under the pseudonym Dawn Frederic.
Wilna's older brother, Robert Milton Onthank, was born on October 29, 1915. He served in the military and trained in aerial navigation, becoming an airspace captain, and then a PAD sales training supervisor who in 1955 was noted for achievements in the technical training phase at major Pacific stations. In 1948, he wrote about his military experience as a closeted gay man. On August 31, 1957, Robert committed suicide at the age of 42.
In the 1990s, 37 years after her brother's death, Wilna sought to get her brother's writings published, a decision based on political issues regarding gays in the military.
Wilna began her retirement in Mesa, Arizona, then moved to Hemet, California. Wilna passed away July 18, 2004 and is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, where her brother also lays.
Source: Box 1, Folder 4-6, Wilna and Robert Onthank Papers, Coll2015-024, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.
0.6 Linear Feet (2 boxes.)
Language of Materials
Manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and other papers, circa 1910-1995, of Wilna Onthank, who in 1994 wrote Born Gay, an unpublished book based on the diaries of her brother Robert Onthank, a gay World War II veteran.
This collection is arranged alphabetically.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Riley Black, June 4, 2010.
Collection processed by Loni Shibuyama with assistance from Helen Ly, January 2016.
- Finding aid to the Wilna and Robert Onthank papers, circa 1910-1995
- Loni Shibuyama and Helen Ly
- (c) 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.