The (Extra)Ordinary Lives of Erma and Arthur Proetz

Arthur Proetz was born in St. Louis in 1888. Dr. Proetz resided in the city until his death in 1966, but he traveled widely in Europe, consulting and giving presentations as part of his work as Professor of Clinical Otolayrngology at the Washington University School of Medicine. WU Archives and Special Collections holds a voluminous cache of his personal papers, including photographs (Proetz was an avid amateur photographer) and correspondence. The bulk of his letters are addressed to his wife Erma, or “Permie” as he called her. Both Proetzs graduated Washington University in 1910.

The Proetz’s letters over the course of two decades are endearing, but mostly quotidian. A few, however, impart contemporary glimpses of the worsening political situation in Europe during the years preceding the second world war.


In a letter from 1938, Arthur, then traveling in England and none too happy about the cuisine, makes a half-joking reference to Adolf Hitler, whose recent belligerence in annexing Austria was making European and American leaders anxious.


“I think there may be something to be said for this man Hitler after all. He seems to have succeeded in driving one or two excellent cooks into England and that’s not to be overlooked. The war scare seems to be over for the moment and I’m still planning to come back Normandie instead of Swedish steerage from Oslo.”


Arthur Proetz to Erma “Permie” Proetz, 6 June 1938. Arthur W. Proetz Papers (WUA00121), Personal Correspondence, Series 06, Box 01, Folder 03

als-19380606-Poetz-pt4A full transcription of the letter can be accessed here.

Erma Proetz was a trailblazer in American advertising; in the 1930s she was an executive for the Gardner Advertising firm and developed a highly successful ad campaign and radio show for PET milk. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame (1952).

Erma's Graduation from Washington University, 1910

Erma’s Graduation from Washington University, 1910. Proetz Papers, University Archives, Special Collections.

More about the Proetz Papers

Proetz’s photographs, some which are digitized and available for viewing on the Missouri History Museum’s website, provide a detailed view of mid-century St. Louis. Additional photographs, memorabilia, and other ephemera relating to Mr. and Mrs. Proetz’s lives and professional activities are available for consultation in the University Archives. Of particular note are Arthur’s sketches and the couple’s Christmas and New Year’s cards which showcase their creativity. (click here for transcription of card lyrics)

Proetz Holiday card, 1924

Proetz Holiday card, 1924


This post is part of an occasional series, “Special Delivery – Letters from the WUSTL Archives and Special Collections.”

For more information about the letters and documents displayed here, or in general about Special Collections please contact us.

About the author

Lisa Lillie is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis.