Born July 25, 1927, Irene Marion Conole (1927-1954) grew up on Glenwood Avenue, on the northwest side of Rochester. She attended elementary school at Holy Rosary and graduated from Nazareth Academy in 1945. She worked as a solderer at Bausch & Lomb Optical Company, then as a long-distance operator for the New York Telephone Company before enlisting in the United States Navy in 1952.
Like many young people, Conole joined the military because she wanted more out of life. Ambitious and self-reliant, she left home at a time when many of her friends were settling into more traditional roles as wives and mothers. Her story offers a compelling contrast to the prevailing image of the 1950s housewife, shedding light on the opportunities—and limitations—women faced in the postwar era. Tragically, Conole was drowned on May 29, 1954, near Maryland’s Patuxent Naval base, where she was stationed. Carl Willis Strickland, a fellow Seaman, was charged with her death.
While away from home, Conole wrote weekly letters to her parents that chronicle her life at boot camp and the Patuxent Naval Base. These letters reveal the realities of daily life on a Naval base as well as the rewards and challenges of being a woman in the Armed Forces. The Irene M. Conole Collection contains these letters, family photos, newspaper clippings, and items from Conole’s childhood. Most of the articles, some of which are highly sensationalized, detail Conole’s death and Strickland’s trial for her murder.
Explore the stories, letters, newspaper articles, and other materials presented here and discover Irene Conole’s life for yourself!
Note: some of the items in this collection contain content that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.