“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)

Continue reading

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).

Aftermath: Nell Whaley, reconstruction aide.

Kentucky-born Nell Whaley (1885–1946) graduated from Transylvania University in 1906 and taught Latin at the all-female Hamilton College in Lexington, KY (which eventually merged with Transylvania University). In 1919, she taught mathematics and English to disabled service members and was appointed assistant to the head reconstruction aide at Camp Upton’s hospital on Long Island. On June 8, she wrote to her sisters about her experiences at the hospital (published in the 24 June 1919 Bourbon [KY] News).

Nell Whaley, from Transylvania University’s The Crimson (1906)

Last week we had a visit and a most inspiring talk from Major [Horace M.] Evans, of Washington, the man who is at the head of the Reconstruction Service. He gave us some interesting statistics. During one week of April, in 38 military hospitals, 88,000 treatments were given by the 700 Physio therapy aides for nerve injuries. During the month of April, in 43 hospitals, there were working 2,034 Occ[u]pational-Therapy Aides, teaching the wounded soldiers to regain the use of their muscles in the making of baskets, bead-chains, carved boxes, woven rugs and mats, belts, neck-ties, bags, and so on. In addition, this work helps wonderfully to keep up their spirits, and so is of double curative value. . . . .Major Evans stated that the women workers were up to the highest standard and graded 100 per cent, and that they, more than any other class of people, could put “pep” and the proper spirit for the future into the wounded soldiers. He said the boys should be encouraged to quit thinking and talking about the “dreadful affair,” and not let their interests in life end with their war experiences, as the majority of Civil War veterans did.

. . . . At our hospital there are about 60 Reconstruction Aides at work, teaching the boys in the wards, many of whom are flat on their backs or so injured they cannot work. It is wonderful to see the work they do with the left hand. The ambulatory patients go to K-12, the big school building, where they are taught anything from English to auto-mechanics, telegraphy, typewriting, mechanical drawing, clay-moulding, advanced English and Mathematics, Science, Psychology, in fact, any study they call for. It is interesting to note that nearly all the boys are ambitious to learn something new, or if they do go back to their old “job” they want to be ready for an advancement. They have a wonderfully cheerful and independent spirit—they object to pity and charity and there’s not one I’ve talked with who is expecting a job just because he is a returned soldier. They are having time now to do more reading and more thinking than ever in their lives before, and I think their hospital experience, where they are surrounded by companions and attended with excellent care, is the best thing possible to bridge over the gap between the horrors of war and the return to civilian life.

The hospital population here, perhaps 2,500, has plenty of amusement and attention from the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., and K[nights] of C[olumbus]. There are good picture shows, lectures, vaudeville, athletic meets, baseball, and so on. On Sundays there are Protestant and Catholic services. The Educational Services gives a “party” at K-12 every Wednesday night, where the patients who can come (and some come on crutches and in wheelchairs) are entertained with games, plays, music, (they sing every word of every popular song that is going), and “eats.” The boys who have to stay in bed are entertained by different artists who come from New York. The Red Cross has a traveling piano set up on wheels—it goes the rounds of the wards. I have had the pleasure of playing for these boys, and you should hear them whistle and sing from their beds; they like ragtime, but best of all, the old songs. I played also at the Y. M. C. A. movies, and over at one of the Camp Hostess House. The Hostess in charge told us about how the boys amuse themselves with the Ouija Board. Their three favorite questions are: How long before I get out? Is my job waiting for me? Is my girl true to me? (1–2)

Whaley later worked for the educational division of the Red Cross and the Kentucky Unemployment Compensation Department.

A glimpse of the Smith College Relief Unit.

Michigan-born Edna Miriam True (1888–1988) played basketball at Smith College and graduated in 1909. She sailed for France in June 1918. The following letter from True reprinted in the November 1918 Smith Alumnae Quarterly provides a snapshot of the range of duties taken on by the Smith College Relief Unit in World War I France:

Edna True, from her 1921 passport application

Early Sunday morning an S O S came from the hospital for as many of the girls as possible. I was tremendously interested and impressed by the quiet, very quick, and efficient way in which the girls rose to the occasion, for in less than an hour from the time the message was sent us, which found us all in bed, the girls were each at some important post in the hospital. Three of us had to stay out, however, Marie Wolfs to attend to the club, which suddenly was busier than it had been for several days; Cath[a]rine Hooper to look after the canteen, which not only had had two evacuating trains that day, but one of them the largest the girls had ever fed; and myself to drive the truck and keep up the necessary connection between them all.

Rotating constantly all day between hospital and club and canteen, I had an excellent chance to watch the activities in each and were I to relate in detail all the things accomplished, I am sure it would all seem too exaggerated to be true. At the hospital two of the girls were put in as nurses, doing everything from bringing men out of ether to helping in severe dressings. Another two alternated in taking histories for four surgeons; all were on duty in the operating room from eight in the morning until ten at night. Mrs. [Hannah] Andrews stepped right into a whole department in itself and brought order out of chaos by sorting the men who, as they came in from the ambulances, were just deposited anywhere around on the benches or in the first floor rooms and by keeping the order in which they were to go in to be bathed, examined by the radio[logist], and finally to be operated upon. This was not an easy task in all the confusion, and she had also to find those most in need of immediate attention and to keep the men as comfortable as possible while they waited to be taken care of. Most of the poor fellows had been wounded on the 18th (this was the 21st) and had had little or nothing to eat and practically no attention, and you can imagine that this last weary day of waiting would have seemed endless but for Mrs. Andrews. Miss [Lucy] Mather went into one of the French hospitals and remained on twenty-four hour duty, having an entire ward of Americans under her care all night.

. . . .Having taken literally a truck load of bread to the canteen in the morning, I was surprised to have more ordered in the afternoon, but when I helped Catharine [Hooper] with her train later on, I understood why there had been such a demand on supplies. Over 600 men were being evacuated on that one train and they represented practically all of the Allies and even a few Boches! . . . I was very much impressed by the efficiency and dispatch with which those train loads of men were served a good dinner followed by cigarettes which Catharine and I distributed to them.

Ten-thirty saw all our little household in bed, but I noticed as the girls returned no one seemed especially wearied or in the least depressed by the very strenuous day and the contact it had brought them into with the cruel realities of the war. (52–53)

True came down with influenza but remained in France until December 1919. She returned to France in February 1921 to assist the American Committee for Devastated France with reconstruction work, returning to the United States in December. She later established a travel agency and became active as a leader in the Baha’i Faith.

Further reading:Edna True,” Bahaipedia

Members of the Smith College Relief Unit, 1918. From left, standing: Edna True, Elizabeth Bliss, Agnes Hopkins, Anna Perit Rochester, Hannah Andrews, Dorothy Brown, and Ruth Hill Arnold. Sitting in the truck, from left: Mary Goodman Stevenson, Anne Chapin, and Marie Wolf. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.