The audio has been posted from my appearance on the World War I Centennial News podcast, talking about some of the roles of the US women in the war. I’m on at about minute 37.15. There’s also information on an interesting documentary on the Hello Girls (the US switchboard operators who served in France) that will be part of several film festivals. As I am from New Jersey, I was happy to mention Flemington’s own Marjorie Hulsizer Copher.
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New Jersey-born Estelle Dixon Greenawalt (1891–1960) was the daughter of Frank Bridgeman Greenawalt, general baggage master of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and a great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt De Forest, a nephew of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. An ancestor was Col. Philip Lorenzo Greenawalt, who served with Gen. George Washington. She was educated at Moravian Seminary for Girls in Bethlehem, PA, and taught in the Red Bank (NJ) public schools. In 1918-19, she, along with her sister Constance, served as a driver for the Woman’s Motor Unit of Le Bien Etre du Blesse, which was headed by writer and suffragist Grace Thompson Seton and supported by the Women’s City Club of New York. The unit conveyed food to diet kitchens at aid stations in France, as well as transported wounded and personnel.
Seton noted that the hospital where Greenawalt was located cared for 5,000 wounded French servicemen and “a sprinkling” of Americans in a 24-hour period during the German advance. According to Greenawalt’s obituary in the Red Bank Register, she was dubbed “Mlle. Camionette” [Miss Van] by French and US wounded. In a 4 Oct 1918 letter published in the 6 Nov 1918 Red Bank Register, Greenawalt described one long day:
This morning I was detailed to drive an officer who had business up near the front. We started at seven o’clock going straight north, crossing the Marne and still north till we reached the small town which was our destination. He there found it necessary to move nearer the line and asked me if I was afraid. Can you fancy me saying anything but “No!” On we went and crossed the Vesle and up to ten kilometers (about six miles) from the front. Here we found lots of engineers making and repairing roads, putting up temporary bridges to replace those blown up by the Huns in their retreat . . . In one place where the road had been mined there was a hole in the road forty feet deep and 100 feet across. . . I noticed people stared at me somewhat and when we finally reached our destination we learned that the Huns had left there only 48 hours before and I was the first woman to cross the Vesle after they had retreated. . . . .
On our way back we stopped at our once lovely hospital where my ambulance was in use in May. The hospital people had to leave under shell fire and had to burn materials and buildings before leaving. . . . It was pitiful! It had been a 4,000 bed hospital—a model of its kind in France. We passed many once beautiful villages, now nothing but piles of stones. The streets at best are only wide enough for a car to pass, but when they are full of huge shell holes and piles of stones they are nearly impassable. I had great difficulty but my “little jit” stood me in good stead and I got through but did not reach home till 3:00 A.M. That is all in a day’s work. We have long hours but there is lots to do and everybody goes as long as they can. . . .
We are short handed and pretty well rushed just now. I run the kitchen and dining room too, till our dietitian returns. (1)
Greenawalt received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations for her service, and later worked at Watson Laboratories in Eatontown, NJ. She married Asahel “Zale” Stuts Dillon in June 1921; he had served in the AEF’s 112th Trench Mortar Battalion in World War I and reached the rank of colonel in World War II. He also was chief of the sound effects division at NBC. The couple had four children, including David D. Dillon (1932–2007), an insurance executive and actor.
Born in Leipzig, Germany, Mary Katharine Taylor (1887–1981) was the daughter of Joseph Richard Taylor, a professor of Greek at Boston University. She graduated from the university with an AB in 1910, earned a BS in social work from Simmons College in 1918, and received an MA in education from Columbia University in 1934. In 1918–19, she was a canteen worker and Red Cross searcher at Base Hospital No. 31 in Contrexeville, France, and Evacuation Hospital No. 9 in Coblenz, Germany. In the December 1920 issue of the Boston University publication Bostonia, she described her duties:
“Searching” just means trying to find out from each man the exact facts concerning the killed or missing in his company. The picture that comes to mind is very clear—serious, interested faces bending over a map while some one points to the spot where the shell burst. . . “Oh, yes, I saw it happen—he was my buddy, and we were always together.” And the story is told with awful simplicity by a boy into whose eyes creeps the look that one sees only in the eyes of those who have seen unforgettable things.
“Answering hospital inquiries” was another duty the thought of which brings back the registrar’s office at night—blinds tightly closed, for fear of air raids, and noisy typewriters pounding out the new lists of wounded. I search through thousands of cards in the files, looking to see if any of the hundreds of names on the daily list sent out by the Red Cross are among the hospital records. These names all represent anguished appeals to the Red Cross for news of men who have been reported wounded or killed. (“The American Red Cross” 108–09)
Taylor provides illuminating excerpts about her job from her “four worn notebooks full of strange little scribbles” (108):
“Bed 31, Ward E-2, wants razor blades.”
“New man in end bed, surgical 3, wants letter written. Urgent.”
“Ask Red Cross Captain whether to give writing-paper to wounded Germans.”
“Nurse in pneumonia ward wants Blackjack gum.”
“Tell Major Black New Orleans Red Cross has just cabled that his wife is dead.”
“Y. M. C. A. man in officers’ ward wants long distance call sent to Colombey to find out whether doctor at Field Hospital knows where his trousers are.”
“John McCarthy’s last words: ‘Tell mother the weather is fine, and I will be home soon.'”
Taylor’s 29 Oct. 1918 letter to the mother of Edward Grant Holt, who died after being gassed, can be found on Cow Hampshire, a New Hampshire history blog. She wrote:
My dear Mrs. Holt . . . You have undoubtedly received by this time the sad news of your son’s death . . . He was badly gassed and immediately developed broncho-pneumonia . . . he was very patient and was anxious not to give trouble to anyone. . . he spoke once of wanting to see his brother, but talked very little and was unconscious at the end . . . you may be sure that every possible effort was made to save your son’s life.
After returning to the United States in summer 1919, Taylor served as associate field director of medical social work at the Army Hospital of Camp Devens (MA). The Red Cross sent her to France and Britain in 1921. She later headed the social service department at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, served as director of the social service department of the Washington University Clinics of St. Louis, and was active in the journal Medical Social Work.
Manchester, MA-born Charlotte Louise Read (1892–1970) was the sister of geologist and mountaineer Norman Hatfield Read, who endowed the Norman H. Read Trust in Salem, MA, which supports science education initiatives in the town. It appears from her 1918 passport application that she originally intended to work with the American Women’s Oversea Hospitals (given a telegram from Dr. Alice Gregory). Instead, in World War I France and Germany, she worked in YMCA entertainment as well as the British Hackett Lowther Unit (an all-female relief unit established by journalist Norah Desmond Hackett and fencer/tennis player May “Toupie” Lowther, which included US drivers and was attached to the French Third Army). In The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she described some harrowing experiences:
We drove our ambulances (Fords) up at 8 am. We were within a mile of the Germans with only a small hill between the French trenches and us. Our poste (P.S. 112) was at — (Longeuil Annel), on a cross road in the direction of — (Ribecourt), in a ramshackle farmhouse where the wounded were brought in by stretcher-bearers over the hill from the trenches, given first aid in the cellar, which served as a dressing station, and then put in our ambulances for us to rush back to a first line dressing station, where they were changed into other ambulances, to be sent still further back.
The poste, at our arrival, was under heavy fire, the Boche having discovered our battery and tanks in the woods back of us. It was the most continual and deafening noise you can imagine. We were too new and ignorant to be afraid. The boom and scream of the shells overhead didn’t even make us realize that we could very easily be hit.
They kept it up all morning, and at about noon, while we were eating our usual mid-day meal of canned sardines, horse meat, and French war bread, there was a terrific crash and the whole corner of the house went down.
. . . . I never knew that anyone could run as fast and steadily as we did. . . . I went flat three times but save for a couple of scratches on my tin hat, I wasn’t touched.
It was not until I was in the middle of nowhere . . . that I realized they were shelling what I was running for—The Red Cross Dressing Station. In cold blood they aimed and one after the other hit its mark.
There were fifty yards of open space between where they were shelling and me. I hesitated for one second, took a deep breath and made one wild, desperate dash across that open space and slid on my stomach into our hole under the bricks as a shell hit outside the entrance—missed by less than a second. (82–83)
The members of the Hackett Lowther Unit received the Croix de Guerre. Read returned to the United States in May 1919. After meeting American Ambulance Field Service driver Henry Hollingsworth Stringham during her service abroad, she married him in New York on July 4, 1922. The marriage ended in divorce, as Read had returned to using her maiden name by 1936, and Stringham remarried that same year.
“Un oeuvre de preservation morale au front” [work to preserve morale at the front], Le Monde Illustre 7 Sept. 1918: 78. Article in French on the Hackett Lowther unit.
In the Soldier’s Service: War Experiences of Mary Dexter—England, Belgium, France 1914–1918. Dexter was a member of the Hackett Lowther Unit.
Toupie Lowther: Her Life by Val Brown
Emma Sterling Lansing (1872–1956) and Katherine Ten Eyck Lansing (1875–1933), sisters of President Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, left for Red Cross canteen service in France in September 1917. According to Jefferson County in the World War (1920, 192–93), the Lansing sisters worked in canteens at Epernay, Sezanne, and St. Remy-sur-Bussy. In August 1918, they were assigned to the American Hospital at Neuilly as nurse’s aides, then placed in charge of the canteen at Brest before assignment to Glorieux-Verdun. They then were sent back to Epernay as directors of the canteen.
Some experiences of the Lansing sisters appeared in “Canteen Work Abroad” (Alexandria Gazette, 29 July 1918: 1), which provided excerpts of their spring 1918 letters to Robert and Eleanor Lansing:
Thirty bombs were dropped here last night. Those of us who were not on duty at the canteen last night sat in a cave belonging to the Sisters of Mercy listening to the popping of the mitrailleuse [machine gun], the roaring of the cannon, and the bursting of bombs, but feeling pretty safe so far underground.
. . . . I had only four hours of sleep last night as we had an alerte and had to stay dressed, fearing our evening visitors, who are frequent. They come about the same hour each night—a little before 9. Our orders are never to go out after the alerte sounds, except to get to a cellar. Very near the canteen the French have built an abri [shelter] for us which will hold about fifty persons…
I am on the shift from midnight to 7 o’clock. . . . In front of me a group of French infantry with one Zouave is playing cards. . . . An American ambulance man is playing the piano; an Italian is sitting at a table eating bread and cheese; and the whole large salle is filled with soldiers sleeping, talking, or listening to the music. My letter has been interrupted a number of times; once by an American soldier who wanted to tell me how he happened to enlist, all about his family, and “the girl,” and he wished to show me their photographs; and again by a French soldier, who wanted to tell about his family.
. . . . Last week I went all over the hospital here. It is wonderfully well equipped and has accommodation for 1,000 beds. There is a fine corps of surgeons in charge who all use the new apparatus of the war. I have done a good deal of visiting in the hospital in my spare moments and I love it. The soldiers are so happy to see us and so grateful for every little gift of paper, a flower, or a cigarette. One of the doctors I found carefully cherishing a post card picture of President Wilson and he is anxious for a better picture. Will you get one for me to give to him? Another surgeon wanted a map of the United States. He says he meets many doctors who tell him where they live in America and he would like to study a map.
The Lansing sisters received the Medal of French Gratitude (bronze level) in April 1919 in recognition of the bravery displayed during their work “often under bombardment, at Epernay” (“France Honors Americans,” Washington Post 19 May 1919: 6). According to Jefferson County in the World War, they also received the Croix de Guerre. The Lansing sisters returned to the United States in early September 1919 and were active in the local Democratic Party near their hometown of Watertown, NY.
A film and an exhibition trace the story of Irish immigrant Josephine E. Heffernan (ca. 1880–1962), who trained as a nurse at Blackwell’s Island and served as chief nurse at U.S. Base Hospital No. 59 in Rimaucourt, France, from September to December 1918 (coping with an average of 1,060 patients per week and only 50 nurses to care for them; see History of Base Hospital No. 59 ). A naturalized American citizen, she remained in the Army Nurse Corps after the war—serving in posts in the United States, the Philippines, and China—and returned to Ireland in the 1950s. A child found her lost identity bracelet in a Rimaucourt garden in 2002, and the film provides a moving account of its journey back to her grateful Irish family.
“Then came the morning of Nov the 11th….By two o’clock the streets were swarming with men, women and children, marching aimlessly back and forth, hugging and kissing each other and sometimes trying to sing the Marseillaise.
” With friends of the Marine Corps I drove down to the Place de la Concorde through the Champs Elysee and into the Bois. . . . ephemeral things, such as war, and immortal things, such as love, seemed once again, after four years of nightmare, to slip into their rightful proportions to each other.”
—US playwright Margaret Mayo, who witnessed the Armistice in Paris, 1918.
From Trouping for the Troops 145–47
On November 13 at 7 pm at the Lyceum in Alexandria, I’ll be speaking on “‘The Glorious Undying Spirit of Pluck’: Alexandria Women in World War I.” I also will be signing copies of my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (sold by Alexandria’s bookstore Hooray for Books). Tickets are $10 (including wine/dessert reception), available here.