The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) is producing a short documentary on its heroic members who served in World War I and is in need of funding support for the film. The AMWA plans to show the film at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City in September. For further information, visit the AMWA Web page about the documentary.
“…[T]heir souls shine through their eyes.”
—WWI canteen worker Marian Baldwin on U.S. servicemen she encountered in France (Canteening Overseas 78)
Daughter of Elbert Francis Baldwin (1857–1927), editor of the Outlook (read William H. Rowe Jr.’s ode to Baldwin), and resident of Lakewood, NJ, Marian Baldwin (1895–1972) sailed for France in June 1917 on La Touraine, headed for canteen service in Paris with Anne Morgan’s American Fund for French Wounded. In Canteening Overseas, 1917–1919, she refers to “Frank Sayre” on the ship with her; this may be Francis Bowes Sayre, son-in-law of President Wilson, who was en route to France to serve with the YMCA.
Once in Paris, she helped out at a new YMCA canteen operated by Adele Verley of Providence, RI, and Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. A graduate of Miss Porter’s School, Baldwin could speak French and German (although she was not very confident in her French-speaking ability and described herself as “a lady with moods … who has been spoiled all her life” ). She provided reactions from the crew of the Alcedo, who previously had rescued the men of the Finland and the Antilles before a German U-boat torpedoed their ship.
In “Near the Front Lines,” the Duluth News-Tribune highlights the service of Bemidji resident May Olive MacGregor (1889–1980), a nurse at Mobile Hospital No. 1 in France (which worked near Chateau Thierry and in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne areas). In an often harrowing account, nurse Ida M. Anderson stated that during the hospital’s period of active service, it conducted more than 6000 major operations and had 413 deaths.
“Nurse Cared for Wounded as Airplanes Dropped Bombs.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer 16 Apr. 1919.
“Citations Won by Bemidji Nurse on France Battlefields.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer 17 Apr. 1919.
I am on Night Duty again and alone and we get 39 and 49 in a night all to be washed and their dressings done besides treatment for most of them and by morning I am like a ressurected [sic] corpse, I really never was so tired in my life[.]
Born in February 1891 in Wisconsin, Cora Elm was a member of the Oneida Nation and identified herself in her account “Life, Belief, and the War” (1942) as “a very firm Episcopalian” (Oneida Lives  290). Her father, a farmer who understood the benefits of education, first enrolled her in 1906 at the Carlisle Indian School (which athlete Jim Thorpe attended), but she left the school for a time and did not graduate until 1913. With her grandmother well known as a midwife, she trained as a nurse at the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia with the financial help of her father and her wealthy employers. She graduated in 1916 and stayed on as supervisor of wards at the hospital. A March 1917 newspaper item indicates that she participated in a suffrage demonstration at the White House.
It appears that Elm sailed for Liverpool on the Leviathan on December 15, 1917, and reached France on Christmas Day. She and her fellow nurses of Base Hospital No. 34 (aka the Episcopal Unit, as the personnel came from the Episcopal Hospital) first were split among three hospitals as the base hospital was readied; it opened in Nantes in April 1918. The unit history states that the hospital admitted 9100 patients in nine months and had a death rate of 1.3 percent. Elm wrote the section on the YWCA in the unit history. She says laconically in “Life, Belief, and the War,” “My life overseas was not very easy. Although I was in a base hospital, I saw a lot of the horrors of war. I nursed many a soldier with a leg cut off, or an arm” (295).
Her February 1920 passport application indicated that the Red Cross was sending her to Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania for nursing service. In January 1921, the American Journal of Nursing reported that Elm had married James E. Sinnard. Her son, James Jr., was born in 1926. She served as ward supervisor in several veterans hospitals, including Wood Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee. The 1940 census lists her as divorced, nursing in a private hospital, and living with her widowed sister, with her son as residing with her ex-husband. Elm died in June 1949.
Canadian-born musician Daisy May Pratt (1882–1925) married barber Louis Erd and had two children, Norma and Georgia. She enlisted in the Navy in April 1917 and rose to the rank of senior chief yeoman at the Boston Navy Yard, supervising the female workers, attending to welfare needs among the sailors, and establishing the Hingham Naval Training Station Band. She composed the following war-related songs, designating some of her royalties for Naval Relief:
• “The Rear Admiral Wood One-Step” (1918).
• “Welcome Home” (1919). Sheet music
In March 1918, Erd received a gold medal for war service as a personal gesture of recognition by William R. Rush, commandant of the Boston Navy Yard. She was discharged from the Navy in April 1920 and was instrumental in establishing the first female American Legion post in Massachusetts. She supported the payment of a bonus to female veterans. She died of tuberculosis in 1925—a disease, the death certificate stated, that she had contracted during her military service.
In September 1918, Editor & Publisher noted that Elizabeth Ingalls Burt (1889–1973), who had been a Boston Sunday Post reporter, had enlisted as a yeoman (F) and was editing The Salvo, the employee newspaper of the Boston Navy Yard. It stated that Burt was the first female newspaper reporter from Boston to serve in the Navy.
Born in Boston, Burt enlisted in May 1918. During her term as editor, many of The Salvo’s pieces ran without bylines, thus complicating the question of who wrote what. But Burt definitely wrote this July 1918 article.
An earlier Editor & Publisher article outlined Burt’s tactics in obtaining stories, including “play[ing] the part of shop girl, chorus ‘lady,’ waitress, etc.”
It appears that, after the war, Burt was involved in public relations and became manager of the Handel and Hayden Society in Boston.
Boston-born Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (1888–1984), daughter of Harvard neurologist James Jackson Putnam, graduated from Radcliffe College in 1910 and left for Paris in May 1917.
Her wartime letters to her family, collected in On Duty and Off (1919), discuss her service with the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris (which cared for French soldiers), the AEF’s U.S. Air Service (the precursor to the Air Force), and the Red Cross. For the hospital, she largely worked on patients’ medical histories and leisure activities, and even assisted one patient in obtaining an artificial leg (an expensive proposition at the time). In September 1917, she moved to the Air Service’s production division (responsible, according to Putnam, for “the choosing and training of flyers as well as the decision on types of machines and equipment” ). She first was assigned to “Major G” (hints by Putnam point to Edgar S. Gorrell), whom she stated “swears a good deal in a casual, genial way” (83). She clearly enjoyed her job—”I feel every morning when I set forth as if I personally were going to lick the Germans,” she wrote (88)—and characterized it as “more E. Phillips Oppenheim-y every hour” (84, meaning spy-like). There were difficulties with the switchboard (“It is awfully hard to hear, especially names” ) and filing (“There are millions of papers that may be urgently needed at a moment’s notice and may be demanded under a million different guises. It is really a job” .) Putnam mentioned unannounced inspections by a strict General Pershing—”who left death and destruction in our unmilitary milieu” (102–03). Her sense of humor extended to air raids:
I am getting awfully tired of these air raids! . . . . We sat in our “salon” for an hour and made cocoa and then when two bombs were dropped that really sounded as if they were in our street (they weren’t), we went down to the cave where many of the others were. They say, however, that the second floor, where we are, is the very best place for a bomb striking the top of the house does not usually get as low as that, and a bomb going off in the court or street doesn’t go as high. . . . It certainly gives you a queer feeling to sit conversing in front of the fire awaiting your own special bomb. (146–47)
In June 1918, she helped care for wounded Marines at a hospital in Neuilly after the Chateau Thierry campaign and made some grim observations:
Saturday night turned into Sunday morning with the stream absolutely steady—three or four operations all the time. When at about half-past three in the morning someone drew the curtain and opened the window on a marvellous deep violet-blue sky with the trees coal black against it and a fresh breeze, it was more than one could bear with equanimity—so heavenly outside and so horrible inside—all the blood and the hacked-up flesh, and the thought of how each one is going to suffer when he gets out of ether. (184)
Putnam then was assigned to Base Hospital 24 (aka the Tulane Unit) in Limoges. She became a Red Cross searcher, which involved searching for missing servicemen, interviewing the missing’s fellow soldiers, and writing to families with missing loved ones. She wrote enthusiastically, “The ‘searching’ is quite exciting. The first day I came upon a murder and a desertion!” (188). She also visited with the wounded and facilitated refugee matters.
She sailed for home in September 1918 and returned to the Air Service in late 1918. In 1922, she worked as a secretary to the dean of Harvard Medical School. She married physician Monroe Anderson McIver in 1923; they later had two children, Elizabeth and Marian, and lived in the Cooperstown, NY, area.
Today marks the centenary of the U.S. entry into World War I. Here are a few American women’s reactions at the time about this development.
On a visit to England in 1915, Ohio-born actress Elsie Janis had sung for British wounded. She wrote in The Big Show (xi), “I was never really happy again until April 7, 1917, when America stepped in to take her share of the burden and glory of the world.” She headed off to France in 1918 to entertain the AEF for six months.
Wrote Boston native Amy Owen Bradley, an American Fund for French Wounded motor driver, from Quimper, France, on 8 April 1917:
Above the “Mairie” opposite, a huge French flag flung out. Under it were the flags of all the Allies, and in the middle, taller than all the others, our own beloved stars and stripes, floating in the breeze. . . .[We] asked for the Mayor’s secretary . . . we, as Americans, thanked him, for America, for putting our flag with the others, where for so long we had wanted it to be. (Back of the Front in France 26)
New Jersey-born refugee worker Esther Sayles Root wrote similarly from Paris on the same day:
The long-waited-for news of our actually going to war had rejoiced us all yesterday, but it was more thrilling than we ever could have imagined to drive past the big French Administration Buildings and see the Stars and Stripes waving with the other Allies’ flags in the Easter sunshine! To be one of the Allies at last! To have our flag and the French flag flying side by side as they should be, to have our great country wake up and fight its own fight—it is not only Easter but Thanksgiving to-day. (Over Periscope Pond 131)