“I have seen people living in quarries”: Dorothy Cordley, relief worker.

Dorothy Cordley, from her
1918 passport application

New Jersey-born Dorothy Cordley (1892–1976) was one of three children of merchant-inventor Henry Greeley Cordley and his wife Alice. She attended Mount Holyoke College as part of the class of 1914. In November 1918, she sailed for France to take up work in Vic-sur-Aisne with Anne Tracy Morgan and Anne Dike’s American Committee for Devastated France. An extract from a letter by Cordley was published in the 16 March 1919 Lima [OH] Daily News:

If any one thinks this life in the region of the Devastees is an easy one tell them to think it over. From 8 o’clock in the morning until 11 at night every one is working and one feels ashamed to take a half hour for oneself, when there is so much to do. I never felt better in my life. I am a bit thin[n]er but never ate so much. A meat and vegetable dinner both non [sic] and evening for we must stoke up for our work. We live out doors and get more exercise than I ever dreamed of in 24 hours, but I love it and what a work it is.

Saturday morning I had a bitter, cold trip delivering supplies and we did no[t] get back until long after 2 o’clock. I never felt anything so cold as those wind swept plateaus where you feel you are above the world. The thermometer must have registered low and there was no sign of thaw in the brilliant sunshine. Just try five minutes in an open Ford with no windshield, curtains or floor board. Today I had on a heavy sweater, heavy wool underwear, wool undervest, shirt wai[st], sleeveles[s] army sweater, leather coat, and I am almost frozen. I never will complain of my cold bedroom at home.

My room is huge and to be sure has a large fireplace but what good does that do when a long French window refuses to close. I don’t blame anyone for not taking baths; anyone doing so should be awarded a Croix de Guerre. (19)

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“The very edge of hell”: Ada Mabel Whyte, nurse.

Ada Mabel Whyte, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Oneonta, NY, Ada Mabel Whyte (1877–1963) trained as a nurse in New York hospitals, serving as head nurse and later matron of Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg, MA. In March 1918, she sailed for France to serve as a Red Cross nurse. A letter published in the December 1918 Public Health Nurse Quarterly to Ella Phillips Crandall, executive secretary of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, provides a glimpse of some of her experiences.

I have been in France nearly seven months . . .

My first two months were spent with the Children’s Bureau, where I helped teach some young French women something about the care of the child or infant . . . .

I was then sent to an American Red Cross hospital to help care for American boys. When you are washing blood stains from the face of an American boy and he looks up and says, “You’re the first American woman I’ve spoken to in six months,” nothing else in the world matters, but just that you are an American woman. After a month with these chaps I had only one ambition, to make them clean and rest their tired backs.

Since the latter part of July I have been in the Service Santé. An American nurse or nurses, with an aid or aids who speak French are sent to French hospitals where there are American soldiers.

My first assignment took me to the very edge of hell. Up near the front an old Chateau had been converted into a hospital. When we arrived there was a constant line of ambulances bringing in French, American and Boche wounded. The building and the yards were crowded. There was our khaki everywhere, our khaki stained with blood.

Everywhere you turned was misery and suffering, and yet you were constantly seeing little acts of consideration which clutched your very heart.

I saw a wounded soldier with his good arm brushing flies from the face of a comrade who lay dying on the stretcher beside him. One plucky little chap with a bad compound fracture of the fore leg said, “Nurse, take these other fellows before you do me. They’re hurt a lot worse.”

Those American doctors, I don’t know their names, but I shall never forget them. Their attitude was “don’t let the boys suffer more than is really necessary.” Some of these nurses had been going thirty-six hours with apparently no thought of stopping. The general regret has been that one could only do one person’s work. We were here only two days, as all the patients were evacuated. We then spent three days in an American field hospital as near to the front as our government permits women to go. This was a very interesting experience. This hospital was equipped with everything except nurses, even patients. I never saw such an appreciative group of surgeons. They all declared it was useless to try to do anything without nurses. “This is Heaven,” they said, the first day they had nurses in the operating room.

Later I spent several days in a French military hospital and for nearly three months I have been in a French mixte [sic] hospital which is under the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul and which receives both civil and miltary patients. We have watched our group of Americans dwindle from thirty-two to six patients. We are hoping they may all be sent to an American hospital very soon, as we are needed elsewhere. . . .

What wonderful news we are receiving, the end is really in sight at last. (337–38)

Whyte later served as a member of New York’s State Tuberculosis Committee and field nurse at the Florida Tuberculosis Sanitorium.

“Bring Your Battalion to Jersey”: Ethel A. Grosscup.

Ethel Grosscup

Born to New Jersey treasurer and Democratic Party chair Edward Everett Grosscup and his wife Annie, Ethel Amanda Grosscup (1891–1949) graduated from Goucher College in 1914 and attended the New Haven Normal School of Gymnastics (now part of the University of Bridgeport). She was director of physical education at the female-only Hollins College (now Hollins University) in 1917. According to the 3 May 1917 Bridgeton [NJ] Pioneer, she was training 200 Hollins students according to military and Red Cross manuals, and, via her politically connected father, offered the services of her group as coast watchers to New Jersey governor Walter Edge. The 29 June 1917 Toms River New Jersey Courier reported that she was directing the Hiawatha Training Camp for Girls in Seaside Park (NJ) that was preparing young women for Red Cross war work (7). The Bridgeton Pioneer article indicated that the Hollins women were at the camp.

Grosscup later was a member of the New Jersey State Board of Education and an adviser on child health for the National Tuberculosis Association.

Film with WWI’s Joy Bright Hancock.

C-Span has posted the 1974 Navy film Ladies Wear the Blue, which features an interview with Joy Bright Hancock (1898–1986), a veteran of both World Wars. Hancock was a Yeoman (F) in World War I.

Joy Bright Hancock, ca. 1918.
Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division.

Further reading:

Hancock, Joy Bright. Lady in the Navy. 1972. Annapolis: Naval Institute P, 2013.

Joy Bright Hancock Papers. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia.

Joy Bright Hancock.” Naval History and Heritage Command.

Leadership at Its Best: Captain Joy Bright Hancock.” Naval History and Heritage Command.

Rose Saltonstall Peabody, nurse and Red Cross searcher.

We are still shaken with that same vibration of the shock and hideousness of it all.

—Rose Peabody Parsons, “Have We Kept the Faith?,” Atlantic Monthly, Nov. 1923, p. 671.

Rose Saltonstall Peabody (1891–1985) was the daughter of famed educator and minister Endicott Peabody and his wife, Fanny, and a cousin of future Massachusetts governor and US senator Leverett Saltonstall. She attended a nurse’s aide course at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital before sailing for France in May 1917. Peabody first managed an orphanage in Etretat of 250 children, who often required medical attention. She then served as a Red Cross searcher for Mobile Hospital No. 2 of the AEF, liasing with families of US servicemembers (particularly when the servicemembers were killed or missing in action) .

Rose S. Peabody, ca. 1916.

A book of family war letters privately printed in 1921 and edited by Peabody’s sister-in-law Sylvia Parsons Weld provides illumination about Peabody’s war experiences (such as a close encounter with Lady Louise Mountbatten, a future queen of Sweden). Her sense of humor also is featured (in one letter, she tells her parents that her “hair is falling out by the handful. . . You mustn’t be surprised to have a happy but bald daughter arrive from the scenes of the Great War” [497]). Her letter to her parents dated 20 July 1918 from Mobile Hospital No. 2 at Vatry paints a harrowing picture:

At 12:10 a.m we were awakened by a whistling through the air and a loud explosion. It sounded very near. . . . . Happily an officer came around and said it was not gas, but to dress at once and go down to the dugout. There were about a hundred patients in the hospital (sick and accidents), and they were all down there, and all the personnel. . . . We got some hot coffee which I passed around in a pail . . ., and there we stayed for about two hours. . . .

We came up as patients started to come in. . . . . The wounded were coming in in a regular stream, some of them terribly bad. I wandered around a bit helping here and there; then they seemed to need help more in the resuscitation ward, so I stayed there doing odd jobs. The worst cases came in there and it was a heartrending sight. Each patient needed special care, and so we were kept busy flying from one to another. Their clothes had to be cut off—most of them, and debris around the ward added to the ghastliness. . . . . [E]very one was going at top speed, and perfectly calm with the roar of the guns and shells landing in nearby fields.

Then they started in with whizz-bangs which don’t even given you a chance to duck. . . . Three fell around us very near, and then three right on top of us. . . . . The next one crashed through the ward next to the one I had been in and killed two patients, and the next through another ward. They brought all the patients down into the dugout after this, and they had to stop operating and decided to evacuate at once. There were a few candles here and there in the dugout and rows of stretchers. The men, having just come in, were in agonies, and there was a rumble of groans and moans, which was really like a bad nightmare. We stepped gingerly, trying to avoid stepping on heads and trying to make them a bit more comfortable, propping them up, changing pillows, but it was sort of hopeless. Two or three died down there. (War Letters 463–65)

The following is an 11 October 1918 letter written by Peabody to the mother of a deceased soldier:

My Dear Mrs. Reynolds:

I was in the hospital in which your son died and I know you would like to hear the details. I know about him [;] he came to us on Sept. 29 after having been hit in the chest by a piece of schrapnel [sic] in this last great battle.

He was operated on and got on very well for a little while but he could not eat anything. Everything he ate made him sick. Everything was done to help him but he grew weaker and weaker and finally lost consciousness and died Oct. 9. I was very fond of him and talked to him every day and gave him cigarettes which he enjoyed right up to the last. He did not suffer very much, and the last few days did not know very much what was going on. He was buried beside the American boys who had so bravely given their lives for their country. I deeply sympathize with you in your loss. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.

I am Sincerely Yours

Rose Peabody (“From Those in the Service of Our Country,” 13 Dec 1918 La Plata [MO] Republican, p. 9)

Mobile Hospital No. 2 was cited by General Pershing for its “fine courage” under shellfire (War Letters 493).

After Peabody’s time in France, she served for a brief period in occupied Germany. She returned to the United States in February 1919. In March 1919, she married surgeon William Barclay Parsons Jr., whom she had known since her Presbyterian Hospital days and with whom she had served in France. They had two daughters. The 2 April 1937 Washington Post noted that Peabody attended a performance of Hoofprints at Fort Myer with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (her father, an influential mentor of FDR, had officiated at the Roosevelt wedding). She went on to work with Red Cross volunteers during World War II and establish Women United for the United Nations in 1946. Peabody was vice president of the International Council of Women in 1954 and president of the National Council of Women in 1956.

“Imperturbable sangfroid”: Florence Church Bullard, decorated WWI nurse.

Florence Church Bullard, ca. 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Florence Church Bullard (1879–1967) earned her nursing credentials at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN, in 1913. In November 1916, she sailed for France. Bullard cared for more than 1,000 French wounded each day at the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly. In February 1918, she went to Vauxbain to care for wounded US servicemen and eventually was sent to Soissons. She recounted the background to the transfer and what she encountered once she arrived:

On the afternoon of March 22 I was in my barracks when I was called to the office of the medical chief. He had just received a telephone message that I was to be transferred at once (within half an hour) to this place where I now am.

. . . I had no time to say good-by to my patients, and there was no explanation why the other two American nurses were not to be sent.

. . . . I arrived here in this deserted village in due time. Everything in the place was evacuated except the hospital where I am, and we are installed in the cellar. It is a sort of coal-cellar, completely underground. The Army is only twelve miles away from us and only the wounded that are too severely injured to live to be carried a little farther are brought here.

I found on my arrival that my duties were to be interpreter for the English-speaking ones and the care of them. I have not seen daylight for eight days now . . . ; no air, artificial light, and the cots are so close together you can just get between them.

Side by side I have Americans, English, Scotch, Irish, and French, and a part in the corners are Boche. They have to watch each other die side by side. . . . . I wonder if it will ever end and if we will live a life other than one of confusion and tragedy. (“Letters from the Front to the Folks at Home,” Literary Digest, 22 June 1918, 51)

A 13 April 1918 letter to her sister Maude published in Iowa’s 24 July 1918 Vindicator and Republican provides further insight into her environment:

. . . I have been three weeks now in this cave. It’s a dark, damp, foul-smelling place, but there is help to give and one must not complain, but it is terribly depressing and I, for the first time, find myself in a bit of a nervous state. The roaring of the cannon and the constant whizzing through the air of these terrible “obus” [artillery shells] with never a thing to change the tension, is terrible.

Last night I felt I must sleep above ground, so I did. And I would be awakened as fast as I went to sleep by the red flashing across my eyes, and I would raise up and thru the windows would be the blazing flashes in the sky; and the things on my table just danced from the jar, the door rattled and my bed shook, so I got no sleep to speak of. . . .

Just before dinner at 7 p.m. a man was brought in who had to have both legs and an arm amputated. We were no sooner through with him than a woman was brought in, nearly burned to death. Another French nurse and I dressed every inch of her with sterile hosaline gauze. She had been doing a washing in a little house made of wood and an obus exploded nearby, and some of the “Eclat” which contain some of their terrible explosives hit her house, or a little shed, and it was like touching a match to kerosene. Of course she ran, but every inch of her body was like an apple that had been baked too hard, and the skin all separated from the apple. That was all I could compare it to. You can imagine what she suffered until midnight, and then she died.

I do not know what is to become of everyone if this war does not end pretty soon. . . . . I think I shall always, in time to come, hear these ear-splitting screeches of the obus rushing through the air, and then that awful explosion. (1)

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An award for Helen Hagan.

A follow-up to the crowdfunding campaign I spearheaded in 2016 to obtain a grave marker for Black composer-pianist and World War I entertainer Helen Eugenia Hagan in New Haven: the New Haven Symphony (with which Hagan performed) honored Hagan with its History Award on February 6. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–CT) also inserted an item in the Congressional Record saluting Hagan’s achievements.

Helen Eugenia Hagan, from her 1918 passport application

Nurse Anna K. Westman, Base Hospital No. 21, Rouen.

Westman, ca. 1917.

Kansas-born Anna Katherine Westman (1880–1970) was the daughter of Swedish immigrants John and Matilda Westman and one of seven siblings. She earned her nursing credential at the Kansas City Research Hospital. Westman joined the Army Nurse Corps in May 1917, heading to US Base Hospital No. 21 (the unit from Washington University in St. Louis) at the former Champs des Courses racetrack in Rouen, France, that was led by Julia C. Stimson as chief nurse. In May 1918, she wrote a letter to her friend Grace Donnell in Twin Falls, ID:

We are not so busy as we were the latter part of March and the first of April. For two weeks we worked from 7:30 until late at night. It seems there were convoys in and out every half hour. Everything was surgical at that time, even turned medical lines into surgical. It was dreadful—one lot would come in on stretchers with their khaki on. It would take quite a while to get it off and get their dry dressing caked with mud, soaked off, after they had been fed, cleaned up and rested a little they would be sent on, and we would get another lot perhaps worse than the lot before them, with more holes and pieces of shrapnel to take out and this went on for two weeks. I had three wards, fourteen beds in each ward. Of course all one can do, is to do dressings all day long over those low beds and the anxiety was great and it seemed the Boches kept on coming nearer. How I despise even the sound of a German name. But how splendid the British stemmed the tide, and held the mean things back . . .

I am on a medical line now where we have a number of gas cases, it is worse than being wounded. We had a good many come in over two weeks ago. Eight were put on the dangerously ill list at once. The M. O. said they would not any of them recover. There is one left and he does not seem like he can last much longer. Their lungs seem to liquify and they cough up large wash pans full of pus. . . . .

A few days ago a lot of Australians came in. They had all been gassed and had bad eyes but they were a jolly lot. . . .

The best thing about this kind of work is the appreciation. . . .

I believe nothing will ever seem hard to me after this and being on a line without a drop of running water and no sewerage and yet we do all of this with perfect ease. (“Re[d] Cross Nurse in Letter from France,” Greensburg [IN] Daily News, 26 July 1918, p. 8).

Westman returned to the United States in April 1919. In July 1919, she spoke in Ottawa, KS, of her war experiences, stating that US Base Hospital No. 21 had cared for 60,428 patients. She said, “Such a life either makes or breaks . . . I’m all right but very tired and I mean to rest now for a while” (“Nursed Heroes in France,” The Ottawa Herald, 7 July 1919, p. 1)

In 1920–21, she worked for the Red Cross as a public health nurse in Cass County (MO). In 1926, she was the nurse at Stafford (KS) High School. The 1930 census in Kansas City listed her as a public health nurse.

The Over There Theatre League: Louise Wright Coffey.

Louise Wright Coffey, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Terre Haute, IN, Alice Louise Wright (1887–1961) was the granddaughter of Terre Haute grocer E. R. Wright. In 1907, she married electrician Robert Wallace Coffey. She studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught art. She and her husband divorced in 1916. She became a member of the YMCA-affiliated Over There Theatre League, first singing at Camp Mills in New York and Camp Dix in New Jersey. In October 1918, she traveled to France to entertain the troops with other members of the league. According to the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator of 16 August 1919, her group of five was dubbed the “Yankee Girls,” and the group performed in Belgium; Germany; Lorraine; Switzerland, and the environs of Bordeaux, Dijon, La Rochelle, and Paris in France. She mostly sang ballads at Red Cross huts and larger venues but did give some hospital performances (the flu patients attended wearing masks). One somewhat comical episode occurred when the piano used by her troupe only had four working keys; Coffey managed to cope, and the service members still enjoyed the performance.

An 8 February 1919 article from the Saturday Spectator furnishes a glimpse of her Christmas Day 1918 via quotes from her letters:

We were taken to the big embarkation camp at noon, and had a big dinner. A band of thirty pieces played during our meal. Then I sang a few songs and Miss [Blanche] Savoy danced. The band ate while we entertained. Then the tables were cleared away and we danced for an hour. Then we were driven 25 miles to an artillery camp, and had another dinner with the officers there. . . .

Our evening Christmas dinner was in an unique chateau. Everything was lighted with tall white candles and the holly was everywhere. Big grate fires were burning. Of course, being a French home, the silver, china, and service were lovely, and it was beautifully decorated with holly and mistletoe. At the “Yankee Girls” places were exquisite corsages, boxes of candy, etc. During the meal we were given toys, etc., by Santa Claus, and it was a delightful affair. (16–17)

The 8 February 1919 Saturday Spectator article provides further insight into her experiences:

We are going out to a balloon station this time. We shall have mess with the officers and give our show and return . . .

Yesterday we went to a big naval air station. . . . . Up to the present time it is the biggest theatre we have played in. It was a real theatre, seating between three and four thousand, and it was packed.

Our unit usually dances with the boys awhile after each performance and we talk with them. That is what they like. I met a few Terre Haute men lately. . . . .

Today I sang for a Y. M. C. A. banquet, and was the only one in the unit asked. I sang “The Star” and “A Bowl of Roses” and an officer down in front cried. That is the reason I object to singing the pathetic songs.

A few days ago we were sent to one of the Armour refrigerator camps on request. One of the Chicago Armours is major there and it is one of four camps receiving and storing food for the United States boys in France. A wonderful place! . . . .

We are on a southern circuit now, and shall be here for a month. We shall either go into Germany or to Nice in southeastern France. . . . .We are having a marvelous trip now. Most of our work is in the logging camps. We are also working in Canadian camps, for their entertainment department doesn’t get to them often. These Canadians are wonderful men, and hosts. They have never let anything undone for our comfort while with them. . . . .

We go this afternoon to Ponseux, about twelve miles away, and will be in and out of there for five days. On Jan. 20 and 22 we go to Bayonne and will be near Biarri[t]z. (16–17)

Wright was back in the United States by July 1919. According to the 23 February 1921 New York Clipper, she sailed to Panama in mid-February 1921 to work as an entertainer and a performer in government-sponsored films. Sometime in 1921, she married engineer James Janney Lippincott, who was working in Panama, and the couple returned to the United States in May 1923. According to the 1944 lawsuit Lippincott v. Lippincott, James Lippincott abandoned his wife in 1928. John Oliphant’s Brother Twelve indicated that he had become involved with the Aquarian Foundation, a New Age religion. The 1930 census listed Alice Louise Lippincott as an artist living in Los Angeles.

On the Armistice: Harriet May Macdonald, physical therapy nurse.

Scottish-born Cleveland resident Harriet May Macdonald (1876–?) was a physical therapy nurse in Orthopedic Unit 14 who worked in Bordeaux and Paris in 1918. In Letters from the Front (1920), she described the reaction to the armistice:

Harriet Macdonald, from her 1923 passport application

MONDAY, Nov. 11. Germany has signed! It isn’t possible to tell you how the boys have taken the news. All thoughts are turned homewards and many a tear has been shed at the thought of getting home. The wildest excitement reigns everywhere. “Vive l’Amerique!” is heard everywhere; flags have appeared as if by magic. Those sirens and whistles which used to tell of a coming air-raid are now blowing and screaming that all is over and we need have no fear now. It is all so wonderful to think that last convoy of wounded is in. Tears splash down as I remember some of my boys who have gone over in every sense of the word.

. . . . Dec. 20, 1918 . . . . Paris has been celebrating more or less since November eleventh, and that was the most wonderful day of all. None of us will ever forget that morning when the bells rang out the news of the signing of the Armistice and the French people in the hospital, from the scrub-woman in the corridor to the old French priest in the little chapel, wept tears of joy. It meant a lot to us, but very much more to them, and very soon smiles took the place of tears and many began planning to return to what once was home. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and I do not know what we would have done in these awful days of darkness and pain if we had not had both Hope and Faith. (36, 39)

In 1923, Macdonald became a US citizen. In 1932, a bill was passed in Congress granting her compensation for her World War I service and other veteran’s benefits (as she had not been a US citizen at the time of her service).