Crouter, Natalie (Corona) Stark

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CROUTER, Natalie (Corona) Stark

Born 30 October 1898, Dorchester, Massachusetts; died October 1985

Daughter of Frederick J. and Bertha Scott Stark; married Erroll E.Crouter, 1927 (died 1951); children: two

Natalie Stark Crouter grew up in a comfortable household of a Boston suburb. Her early experiences as a polio victim (which began at nine and left her mildly crippled) and later as a participant in the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti endowed her with considerable moral and physical fortitude. These qualities, plus her strong sense of social commitment and her enduring curiosity about human nature, prepared her well for her internment in a Japanese civilian camp in Baguio, Philippine Islands. Along with her husband, an American businessman in the Philippines, and their two children, Crouter was confined in the camp with 500 American and British citizens throughout World War II. After the war, widowed since 1951, she lived in the Midwest and remained active in liberal, social, and political causes. Her activism led to friendships with Mme Sun Yat-sen and journalist Edgar Snow, and to worldwide travel, including trips to China and to many African countries.

Crouter's A Diary of Internment, 1941-45 (1979), her only published book, is not a narrative of horror and torture, but a daily account of courage, grace, and ingenuity under the pressures of privation. The Diary, begun by coincidence two days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and kept for three-and-a-half years, was originally written in microscopic script on scraps of paper, carefully concealed from her captors. The complete version, which took Crouter two postwar years to transcribe, totaled 5,000 pages. The published edition, about one-tenth of the original, retains Crouter's perceptive understanding of her milieu, as it chronicles the daily activities, occupations and preoccupations, hopes and fears of the captives and their Japanese captors. The diary emphasizes the social organization and humanity of the people involved, captors and captives alike. Except for the bombing of Manila (the internees had been moved to Manila at the war's end), major battles are subordinate, atrocities almost nonexistent.

The Diary, laced with its author's wit, New England morality, social philosophy, and realistic pragmatism, comments on the immediate: the issues and problems of family and communal living, marriage, child rearing, work and play; the surroundings, vast mountain and ocean beauty juxtaposed with crowded barracks and regimented activities; precious food, precarious health, rumors about the war, longings for freedom and for communication with the outer world, whether "liberated" Filipino friends, American GIs, or stateside relatives. Like so many prison diaries, this work was written to maintain the author's mental agility and sense of self; yet it avoids the self-pity, religious zeal, or despondent fatalism characterizing many such works. Paramount are Crouter's common sense and identification of the revealing minutiae as well as the human universals.


American Heritage (April/May 1979).