The new video series Yale Goes to War focuses on members of the Yale community who served in World War I. One video is on black composer-pianist Helen Hagan (Yale 1912), which mentions my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I.
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)
In honor of Women’s History Month and the April 6 centenary of the US entry into World War I, I’ll be speaking at 2 pm on March 26 at Jarrettsville Library (Jarrettsville, MD) about my anthology In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I. I’m looking forward to it, as I’m told one of the library’s book groups includes female veterans.
Great indignation has been felt for some time among American women because American women physicians are not given commissions by the Government as are the men. The only way a woman physician can go abroad under the Government is as a nurse.
—”Women Physicians Going Abroad for War Service,” Evening Public Ledger, 4 May 1918
After U.S. female doctors offered their professional expertise to the U.S. army during World War I and were rebuffed, they, undaunted, found other ways to serve both at home and abroad. The 10 Apr. 1918 Evening Times Republican reported that 33 percent of practicing U.S. female physicians had registered for war service through the organization American Women’s Hospitals (formed by the War Service Committee of the precursor to the American Medical Women’s Association, or AMWA). The AMWA’s new online exhibition highlights some of these women physicians, such as the following:
Dr. Caroline Sandford Finley (1875–1936). The New York-born Finley graduated from Cornell Medical School in 1901. She was on staff at the Elizabeth Blackwell-founded New York Infirmary for Women and Children. From November 1917 to June 1919, she headed an all-female U.S. hospital unit in France under the auspices of the Women’s Oversea Hospitals (supported by $200,000 from the National American Woman Suffrage Association) and held the rank of lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the French army. At Chateau d’Ognon in summer 1918, German planes bombed her hospital. For her service, she received the Croix de Guerre from the French government, and on November 22, 1919, the Prince of Wales awarded her an MBE on the HMS Renown in recognition of her care in Metz of former British POWs suffering from influenza.
Dr. Rosalie Slaughter Morton (1872–1968). The Lynchburg, VA-born Morton graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and studied in Europe after her residency. After establishing a successful gynecology practice in Washington, DC, and marrying lawyer George Baxter Morton in 1905, she relocated her practice to New York. In 1916, she became the first female faculty member in the surgical department at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She headed the AWH’s War Service Committee, which petitioned the War Department for military commissions for female physicians and attended to the care of civilians affected by war. Although the committee was unsuccessful in its quest for military commissions, it found plenty to do in civilian health care. As Morton wrote in the July 1918 Harper’s Bazar, “Almost at once we were called upon for specialists in pediatrics, psychiatry and tuberculosis, as well as for skilled surgeons.” Morton tended to French wounded; learned about the management of field hospitals; cared for patients in a 3000-bed field hospital in Macedonia; and was decorated by the French, Serbian, and Yugoslav governments for her work. As this newspaper article states, after the American Women’s Hospitals sent U.S. women doctors to Serbia, Serbian officials requested additional female physicians, as they could provide care to Muslim women (unlike male doctors).
WETA’s Boundary Stones blog discusses Hester Marion Chanler Pickman and her husband, Edward Motely Pickman, who elected to spend their honeymoon volunteering for the Red Cross in 1915 France. Hester, daughter of Winthrop Astor Chanler (a Rough Rider during the Spanish American War and a descendant of John Jacob Astor) and Margaret Terry Chanler (author of Roman Spring and a friend of Edith Wharton), was a nurse and Edward a member of the ambulance corps. Hester later translated poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, and Edward taught history at Harvard. Their six children include David Pickman and Martha Pickman Baltzell.
New Haven mayor Toni Harp mentioned Helen Eugenia Hagan—the only black musician sent to play for the AEF in WWI France and 1912 Yale alumnus—in her State of the City address on February 6.
• Read more about Hagan
• Listen to an excerpt from Hagan’s only extant composition, the Concerto in C Minor
Silence is the expression of tragedy . . .
—Princess Alexis Karageorgevich,
For the Better Hour (64)
Myra Abigail Pankhurst Wright Pratt was born in Cleveland in 1859, the daughter of Globe Iron Works vice president John Foster Pankhurst. In December 1877, she married Herbert A. Wright and had a daughter, Harriette, in December 1878. Her great-grandson, writer Michael J. Arlen, reports in Exiles that her husband died in Montana in 1880, although some newspaper accounts list her as divorced. In January 1896, Myra married Thomas Huger Pratt (who seems to have had a brush with the law regarding financial speculation); they lived at 29 Waverly Place in New York. She placed third in ladies’ golf at the 1900 Olympics in Paris (at the time, prizes were only awarded for first and second place, although the IOC has awarded medals for the 1900 Olympics retroactively). The 1908 New York Social Register states that Thomas Huger Pratt died in 1907. In June 1913, Myra married Prince Alexis Karageorgevich, a cousin of King Peter of Serbia, and converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church, taking the name Daria.
During World War I, Prince Alexis served as president of the Serbian Red Cross. The princess’s For the Better Hour (1917) describes the effects of the war on Serbia and its people, including the care of the wounded:
Medical and hospital supplies were lacking also, but this fact did not deter those brave, splendid men from undergoing the necessary operations; they endured their enforced suffering silently and stoically, since no anaesthetics could be had. (28)
A Nation at Bay by Ruth Stanley Farnam (later Baroness de Luze) shows the princess grappling with a grim typhus epidemic. For the Better Hour lists the number of victims at more than 70,000. Equally harrowing is the 56-year-old princess’s account (echoed in newspapers) of the 1915–16 Serbian retreat from the advancing enemy, involving treacherous bridges, rivers, and mountain roads; mud; snow; travel by oxcart, by pony, and on foot; and a lack of food. Wrote the princess in For the Better Hour (122):
One of the most pathetic sights, and the one which tugged the hardest at my heart-strings, was to see the poor wounded soldiers, weak and helpless, climbing these mountains, exposed to the elements day and night, with nothing but bread to eat, and very little of that.
The horses had now been led far down the river bank to find a safe fording place, as the current was swift and strong. We, walking through the deep snow, at last reached the bridge, which had been almost totally destroyed. The gradual approach to it was missing, which necessitated climbing to a great height up a roughly made ladder, which, when surmounted, brought us in face of another danger, for the only foothold was a single beam, from which one false step would have precipitated us into the river below.
The prince and princess managed to reach Brindisi, Italy. Prince Alexis died in 1920 and the princess in 1938 near Cannes. Her granddaughter, Atalanta Mercati, wed author Michael Arlen (The Green Hat, etc.) in 1928. Her great-great granddaughters include NYU Norma Z. Paige Professor of Law Jennifer H. Arlen and writer Caroline Arlen.
(Below: Princess [Alexis] Karageorgevich drives off at Mont Angel golf course, Monte Carlo, 1 Mar. 1921)
Shortly after hostilities broke out in August 1914, a group of American women married to British men met to discuss how they might assist the war effort in Britain.
The organization they formed, the American Women’s War Relief Fund, sent seven ambulances to the front (priced at about $20,000 each) as well as established two hospitals for wounded (the American Women’s Hospital for Officers in London and a hospital at Oldway House in Paignton, Devon, which converted the residence of Paris Eugene Singer, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune). The hospitals were turned over to the Red Cross in January 1918. By the time the Devon hospital closed in March 1919, it had cared for 7000 servicemen. The American Women’s Hospital for Officers became Red Cross Hospital No. 22 and also closed in 1919.
In addition, the fund’s Economic Relief Committee helped women and girls facing hardship because of job loss or family members serving in the war. The committee established workrooms that produced clothing and socks for residents and staff of hospitals and other institutions.
The U.S.-Born Organizers
Ava Willing Astor (first wife of John Jacob Astor; later married Lord Ribbesdale)
Lady Randolph Churchill (aka Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill)
Viscountess Harcourt (aka Mary Ethel Burns, a niece of J. P. Morgan). She also organized and ran two London clubs for American Army and Red Cross nurses. Her brother, Walter S. M. Burns, served as treasurer of the fund.
Lady Henry (aka Julia Lewisohn). Lady Henry lost her only son in the war. Her 1927 will provided a $1M bequest to provide scholarships for Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge University exchange students.
Lou Henry Hoover (future First Lady)
Lady Lowther (aka Alice Blight). Lady Lowther was also involved in an effort to assist women who found themselves stateless as a result of the war.
Duchess of Marlborough (aka Consuelo Vanderbilt; niece by marriage of Lady Randolph Churchill, above)
Ruth Bryan Owen (daughter of William Jennings Bryan, later Florida congresswoman as well as the first female U.S. ambassador, who served in Denmark and Iceland). Nurse and organizer of troop entertainment events in Egypt-Palestine Campaign, 1915–18.
Willa Alice Wilson Page (wife of Walter Hines Page, U.S. ambassador to Britain)
Lady Paget (aka Mary “Minnie” Stevens, daughter of hotelier Paran Stevens). An AP article in 1917 credits Lady Paget with raising £250,000 for British wounded, £35,000 for Russian wounded, £32,000 for French wounded, and £25,000 for U.S. hospitals in Britain. Toting up the amounts and converting to present-day values equates to approximately $21.5M.
Anita Berwind Strawbridge (daughter-in-law of Justus C. Strawbridge, co-founder of the department store Strawbridge & Clothier)
Lady Ward (aka Jean Templeton Reid, daughter of former U.S. ambassador Whitelaw Reid)
• The American Women’s War Hospital at Ordway
• (BBC audio) “Paignton, Devon: The Singer Palace Becomes a Hospital”
• Report of the American Women’s War Relief Fund, 1914–15
• “Work of American Women’s War Relief Fund in London,” The [NY] Sun, 31 Dec. 1916
A longtime resident of the Philippines, Rosina Marguerite Wolfson (1887–1965) worked for Belgian Relief (chaired by Herbert Hoover) in London from 1914 to 1916. Although the bio notes on Wolfson from Harvard’s Schlesinger Library state that she led a Red Cross ambulance unit during World War I, her 1917 passport application indicates that she left New York in November 1917 for Red Cross canteen service in France. The Louisiana-born daughter of attorney and Spanish-American War veteran Joseph N. Wolfson and niece of Louisiana Court of Appeal judge Max Dinkelspiel, she is identified as Jewish by the B’nai B’rith Messenger.
This item from the 8 June 1918 Journal des réfugiés du nord refers to Marguerite’s work with refugees (see also this reference from the 2000 Bulletin de la Société archéologique et historique de l’Orléanais mentioning Marguerite and the Red Cross role in giving refugees land to cultivate). She later was honored for her WWI service. According to the February 1919 Bulletin of the Commercial Law League of America, she was granted honorary citizenship by the French city of Orléans and presented with a statue of Joan of Arc. In the article, Marguerite describes the ceremony:
The mayor [of Orléans] made a very touching speech, stating his pleasure in granting this honor to me in my own capacity, as well as that of a daughter of New Orleans, the young and splendid sister of their own historic town. Then the parchment was handed to me and the superb bronze statue of Jean[n]e d’Arc produced. . . . After my health had been drunk in champagne, [Lt.] Colonel [William H.] Bishop, the American Commanding Officer [of Base Hospital 202], and my very dear friends, took me over to the Red Cross recreation room, where another reception was held, this time by the officers who had known me, before the whole Red Cross personnel and my dearest friends and volunteer nurses (82).
She returned to the United States in December 1918. In April 1919, she traveled on the Empress of Russia to take up a Red Cross position in Siberia, which was facing a typhus epidemic as well as inadequate care for refugees and Czech soldiers. In 1936, she was elected to the Republican National Committee. She assisted refugees from China in 1937 as head of the Red Cross Emergency Committee in Manila. In early 1943, Marguerite’s lawyer brother, Julian, was interned in the Philippines by the Japanese; by early 1944, they both were in the Santo Tomas internment camp near Manila. Their parents died in February 1944, and Marguerite and Julian were not liberated until 1946.
Marguerite passed away in San Francisco in 1965. Her will provided a $132,000 bequest to Julian’s alma mater, the University of Michigan law school.
• “. . . a bond . . . being forged of love and understanding that would stand the test of time”: Rosina Marguerite Wolfson’s account of celebrations in France for July 4, 1918, repr. Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 1918.
• Marguerite Wolfson, “Shanghai’s Refugees Descend Upon Manila,” Red Cross Courier, 1938
• Rosina Marguerite Wolfson, World War II reminiscences, Schlesinger Library.
Mary Lucile Pepoon was born on 8 Aug. 1887 in Illinois, the daughter of physician and botanist Herman Silas Pepoon. After graduating from Chicago’s Lake View High School and obtaining her nursing credentials in 1909 from the city’s German American Hospital (later renamed Grant Hospital), she was a school nurse for Chicago’s Department of Health for seven years (writing a short statement about ethics for the school nurse). She headed for France on 19 May 1917 on the SS Mongolia but when the Mongolia‘s guns misfired and killed two nurses, the ship turned back to New York to make provisions for the dead and send injured nurse Emma Matzen to the hospital. It re-embarked on May 22, was attacked by a submarine on June 1, arrived in Cornwall on June 2, and was greeted by King George V and Queen Mary. The personnel set off for France on June 11.
In Etaples, Pepoon served at Base Hospital No. 12 (dubbed “the Northwestern Unit,” as many of the medical officers and enlisted men were from Northwestern University). It was reported that her dedication to her nursing duties continued even while she was running a temperature, until she became more seriously ill in June 1918. In November 1918 she died (attributed variously to trench fever, septicemia, and endocarditis) and was buried with full military honors in Somme American Cemetery. She received a posthumous Red Cross Medal (accepted by her father). In 1921, a tablet was placed in her memory in Chicago’s Independence Park (located near her family home). As the Chicago Tribune notes, the memorial boulder to Pepoon was rededicated in May 1966 at Graceland Cemetery (see this photo of the Pepoon memorial boulder, ca. 1956).
As this National Park Service report in the National Archives makes clear, the Independence Park District purchased Herman Silas Pepoon’s property on West Byron Street in 1930 to enlarge Independence Park.