Women in LOC’s exhibition on WWI American artists.

World War I: American Artists View the Great War,” the Library of Congress’ exhibition on view until 6 May 2017, includes women such as:

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Eugenie De Land works on her Liberty Bond poster. From The Poster. War Souvenir Ed. 1919

Eugenie De Land (Saugstad, 1872–1961). A student of American illustrator Howard Pyle, De Land taught at DC’s Corcoran School of Art and McKinley Technical High School. She married artist Olaf Saugstad, and her works include a portrait of Kate Waller Barrett (on display at William & Mary’s Botetourt Gallery), a mural at the DC headquarters of the Order of the Eastern Star, a portrait of Declaration of Independence signer George Wythe at the Virginia Historical Society, and a painting of Abraham Lincoln at the battle of Fort Stevens donated by the artist to the Lincoln Museum (now under the aegis of Ford’s Theatre). The LOC exhibition features her 1917 Liberty Bond poster.

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Helen Warner Johns Kirtland, from her 1917 passport application

Helen Johns Kirtland (1890–1979). Daughter of the founder of Johns-Manville, Kirtland photographed the war on assignments with Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, the Red Cross, and the YMCA. The LOC exhibition features a photo of her at the front dated 1917–18.

Mrs. A. Taylor, a nurse with Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike’s American Fund for French Wounded.

Edna M. Walker, Red Cross worker and furniture designer.

Further reading:
Profile of Helen Johns Kirtland, Brooklyn Eagle, 18 Sept. 1927

• “A Woman on the Battle Front” [photos by Helen Johns Kirtland], Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 24 Aug. 1918. Repr. Around the World with a Camera, New York, 1919.

• List of Eugenie De Land Saugstad’s public artworks

• View illustrations by Eugenie De Land (“Bertha and Laura”; “‘This be a case where history repeats itself'”; “‘Naow, when I wuz in Californy,’ said Farmer Squires to Mrs. Simpson”) in Deborah Gray by Frances C. Ingraham (pseud. of Clara Ingraham Bell), New York, 1903.

 

The Black Female Drivers of the Hayward Unit.

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Mae Kemp, 1913. J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs,  Univ of Washington

The Hayward Unit of the National League for Women’s Service at 200 W. 139th St. in New York City opened a club for black soldiers and sailors in August 1918, providing a canteen, games and reading/writing rooms, accommodations, dances, and musical performances. The unit was named for Colonel William “Bill” Hayward, commander of the 369th Colored Regiment (aka the “Harlem Hellfighters“) that saw extensive combat in France and received the Croix de Guerre (Hayward’s son was Hollywood agent-producer Leland Hayward). What New York Did for Fighting Men states that between August 1918 and September 1919, the club entertained 40,000 men, with 5015 eating in the canteen, 11,527 using the dormitory facilities, and 6464 attending dances. Jobs were found for 883 discharged black servicemen.

Part of this unit was the “only colored women’s motor corps in the world,” according to a 1919 article by Frances Tilghman, NLWS publication secretary. Tilghman stated that the motor corps was composed of 40 women, three ambulances, two buses, and 12 cars. The women of the motor corps visited hospitalized African American service members and took convalescing black patients on outings such as sightseeing, ballgames, picnics, and carnivals. They also transported elderly people to church and orphans to amusement parks. Their service during the influenza epidemic was especially lauded.

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Poster for the Hayward Unit. Univ of Minnesota Libraries

The motor corps was credited with greeting 100,000 men. Tilghman lists the following women as its leaders:

• Captain Sadie Leavelle

Lt. Mae Kemp (c. 1877–1926): a vaudeville performer who later appeared in the film The Call of His People (1921), which focused on a man passing for white. Kemp was involved with fundraising for and purchasing an ambulance that was sent to France. After she became ill with cancer, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson organized a benefit performance for her.

• Sergeant Pearl Murray
• Sergeant Anna Reid

In addition, Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era states that Lelia Walker Robinson, the daughter of black millionaire Madam C. J. Walker, volunteered with the unit for formal events and parades for the troops.

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Mae Kemp, far left, and Sadie Leavelle with black servicemen on a sightseeing outing. From the New York Age, 30 Aug 1919: 1.

 

The Female Camouflagers of World War I.

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Marguerite Carmel Becht (later Wilson), artist and member of the Camouflage Reserve Corps. Image from her 1918 passport application.

The National Archives’ Unwritten Record blog highlights World War I’s Camouflage Reserve Corps of the National League for Women’s Service, including cool photos of the women in training and painting the U.S.S. Recruit (a recruitment station built in the shape of a ship in New York City’s Union Square). The 30 Nov 1918 issue of American Rifleman notes that four women from the corps visited the Navy rifle range in Caldwell, NJ, and “made good at whatever they tried. And they tried practically everything in the way of marksmanship that we had to offer—from the short course to the machine gun” (197).

For a closer look at the camouflaging of the U.S.S. Recruit, visit the blog Camoupedia. One corps member who worked on the Recruit was artist Marguerite Carmel Becht (later Wilson), who went on to serve for nine months in YMCA canteens in Great Britain and France before her assignment to the YMCA facility at Walter Reed in 1919.

“The Wounded Were Alive with Vermin”: Pauline Jordan (Rankin).

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Pauline Jordan, ca. 1917

Born in Auburn, ME, in 1892, Pauline Jordan earned her nursing credentials from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses and sailed in October 1915 to serve with the American Ambulance Hospital at Neuilly, France (Dr. Hugh Auchincloss of Columbia University was involved in recruiting medical personnel for the hospital). In September 1916, she headed to Romania as anesthetist for a medical mission with French surgeon Alexis Carrel (who had pioneered with British chemist Henry Dakin a live-saving method for treating wounds). In April 1917 she wrote to Jane Delano, the head of Red Cross nursing, about the conditions she encountered:

During the six weeks that we were in the Roumanian Hospital at Jassy, we did most of the dressings under great difficulty. The dressing room was crowded with Sisters of Charity, boy scouts, medical students and many young girls. As we had over six hundred patients and about four sets of instruments and only one alcohol stove, the work was never completely finished.

There was no heat and the food was very poor. Our principal diet was corn meal mush and goats’ cheese, black bread, and occasionally beans. Once a day we had tea and twice a week meat. During the winter we cared for patients whose feet had been completely frozen while lying in bed.

[At another hospital] . . . . The wounded were alive with vermin and we had no supplies. When the severely wounded came in we had almost nothing to work with. They lay on straw mattresses without rubber sheets and the straw quickly became contaminated with pus and blood, but we had no fresh straw. A great many of them died from exposure and septic infection.

. . . .The Queen [Marie of Romania] sent us some rice, macaroni, sugar and tea and the American Legation has been very kind to us indeed so we have managed to live through the winter. The patients are all suffering from malnutrition.

No doubt you have read of the frightful typhus epidemic. . . . .People have died by the thousands and all the hospitals are overcrowded. . . .
(Qtd. in The History of American Red Cross Nursing, [1922], pp. 879–80)

According to an April 1917 article in the Harrisburg Telegraph, Jordan escaped the bombardment of Bucharest in December 1916, heading for Russian territory, but was imprisoned by the Germans in a basement with very little food. The Red Cross sent her to Italy in December 1917.

Jordan received five decorations for her war service, including the Order of the Cross of Queen Marie from the Romanian government.

In 1920 she set sail on the S.S. Amerika for assignments with Near East Relief in Constantinople and the Caucasus region. In 1923 Jordan worked for Near East Relief in Armenia and is credited with starting the first school for the blind in that country. She met Near East engineer Karl Lott Rankin and married him in 1925. Her husband joined the Foreign Commerce Service, and the Rankins journeyed to postings in Prague, Athens, Tirana, Albania,  Brussels, and Belgrade. The Rankins were en route to a posting in Egypt when the Japanese interned them in Manila (which lasted for 21 months). Thus Jordan was imprisoned during both world wars.

Karl Rankin later became the U.S. ambassador to Taiwan and Yugoslavia. Jordan died in 1976.

U.S. female casualties of WWI.

If I had to swim to get there I would go to France to serve the soldiers.

—Winona Caroline Martin, YMCA worker

A common cause of death for the U.S. women who passed away during their World War I service was influenza or its complications (such as pneumonia or meningitis). There were some, however, who were killed:

Edith Ayers and Helen Burnett Wood, army nurses from the Chicago area. Killed on 20 May 1917 en route to France by a projectile when their ship, the USS Mongolia, was conducting target practice. Resulted in a congressional inquiry.

Winona Caroline Martin (b. 1882), YMCA canteen worker. A Long Island librarian who had worked industriously to be sent abroad with the YMCA, Martin was being treated for scarlet fever at Paris’ Claude Bernard Hospital. In a 11 Mar. 1918 German air raid on the hospital, Martin was killed. She is considered the first American woman to die in the war due to enemy action. As noted in this report in the Salt Lake Herald, Martin had declared, “I would go just the same if I knew the boat I went on would be torpedoed,” and provided an account of an earlier air raid on the hospital. Sadly, this marked the third death in the family for Martin’s physician brother, Captain Arthur Chalmers Martin, as he had previously lost his parents. The women’s auxiliary of the J. Franklin Bell VFW post in Rockville Centre, NY, was named in his sister’s honor in 1921.

Marion G. Crandell (b. 1872), Iowa-born YMCA canteen worker educated at the Sorbonne. Killed on 27 Mar. 1918 by an enemy shell in Ste. Menehould, France.

Ruth Landon (b. 1888), Red Cross worker from New York and a great-niece of Vice President Levi P. Morton. Killed by a German shell on 29 Mar. 1918 in St. Gervais Church in Paris. As this account from the Evening Star reports, her mother and sister also died in the attack.

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Winona Caroline Martin, from her 1918 passport application

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Marion G. Crandell, from her 1918 passport application

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Ruth Landon, from her 1916 passport application

Velona Pilcher: WWI worker, playwright of “female Journey’s End “

Later, when the camp was asleep, I knew I should be able to hear the hammering of the barrage . . .
— Velona Pilcher, 1919

The blog on playwright, author, and screenwriter R. C. Sherriff (best known for his World War I play Journey’s End, 1928) discusses Sherriff’s acquaintance with Velona Bissell Pilcher (1894–1952), including a May 1929 letter from Pilcher to Sherriff that comments on Journey’s End and her play, The Searcher (1929), which has been described as a “female Journey’s End” in its depiction of a Red Cross worker assigned to track missing soldiers. The Searcher was produced at Yale University in March 1930 (with set design by future Tony winner Donald Oenslager) and at London’s Grafton Theatre in May 1930 (the Times of London reviewer called it “a pretentiously empty piece of expressionism”). Edmund Rubbra composed incidental music for the play, and Blair Hughes-Stanton created stark wood engravings for the published version of the play. In 2008 The Searcher was staged at London’s Greenwich Theatre.

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Image of Julia Bissell from the San Francisco Call, 7 Feb. 1892

Pilcher’s mother, Julia Velona Bissell, was born in Ohio, and her lawyer father, William Pilcher, was British; the couple married in San Francisco in November 1892. After her parents died, Pilcher was raised in the United States by her aunt, Elise Robinson Townsend. Her great-uncle, George Ellis Pugh, was a lawyer and US senator from Ohio; her cousin, Ada Chalfant Robinson, was an artist. Pilcher seems to have been a writer of early promise, because this issue of St. Nicholas magazine records her winning a $5 first prize in a writing competition at age 16. During World War I Pilcher was a member of the Stanford Women’s Relief Unit, working at the AEF hospital facility at Bazeilles-sur-Meuse. Following initial studies at Mills College, she graduated from Stanford in 1919 with a degree in English.

Pilcher also wrote frequently about the theater, and this 1927 article reported that she was a co-manager of London’s Gate Theatre with Peter Godfrey. This chapter by Charlotte Purkis covers Pilcher’s relationship with famed actress Ellen Terry. The Theatres Trust notes Pilcher’s involvement in establishing an experimental theater club in London’s Watergate Theatre in 1949 that featured two Marc Chagall paintings on the walls (which he donated to the Tate in Pilcher’s memory in 1953).

Further reading:
Velona Pilcher, “A Regular Day at a Red Cross Hut,Stanford Illustrated Review, Mar 1919

Velona Pilcher, “Men Worship Me” (poem about a pine tree), 1917

Charlotte Purkis, “The Mediation of Constructions of Pacifism in Journey’s End and The Searcher, two Contrasting Dramatic Memorials from the Late 1920s,” Journalism Studies 17 (2016), 502–16.

 

Frances Gordon Smith: General’s daughter, WWI dietitian.

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Frances Gordon Smith, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Atlanta in August 1872, Frances Gordon was a daughter of Fanny Haralson Gordon and John Brown Gordon—Confederate general, Georgia governor, and U.S. senator. Her sister, Caroline Lewis Gordon Brown, became active in civic affairs in Berlin, NH. Her brother, Frank, served as a major in the Spanish American War. Her nephew, Kilbourn Gordon, was a Broadway writer, producer, and director (his works include the play Kongo, aka the Lon Chaney film West of Zanzibar).

In June 1888 she married lawyer R. Burton Smith, a brother of Georgia senator Hoke Smith. They had two children: a daughter, Hildreth (who married Caroline’s brother-in-law), and a son, Gordon (who drowned at age 20 in 1909 while on an engineering assignment in Panama). Dewey Grantham’s Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South reports that Burton Smith had problems with alcohol, and Frances Gordon Smith referred to him in her 1918 passport application as her “former husband” and stated that she had not known his whereabouts for four years. (He apparently had gone overseas a year before her as a YMCA worker.)

Gordon Smith earned a credential in dietetics from the University of Chicago (she was listed as a student there in 1908). She gave lectures (such as this one in New York in 1916).
From late 1917 to February 1918, she served as a speaker for the Food Administration (headed by Herbert Hoover) on conserving food, reducing food waste, and addressing food shortages among the Allied nations. As this December 1917 Richmond Times-Dispatch article reports, she asserted that “the stark wolf of hunger is at the door of the world. . . . while conditions are bad in England, they are unspeakable in France.”

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Frances Mildred Smith, 1919 YMCA worker.

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Frances Mildred Smith, from her Nov 1918 passport application

A blog reader asks about Frances Mildred Smith, as this lucky person has been given a scrapbook with photos from Smith’s 1919 service with the YMCA in France.

Smith (1886–1972) was born in New York City. Her father was realtor E. DuBois Smith, and her mother was Fannie Elsworth Smith, who was descended from a Revolutionary War soldier. Her neurologist uncle, Graeme Monroe Hammond, competed in the 1912 Olympics as a fencer, served in the Army Medical Corps in WWI, and supported the idea of women serving in combat roles. She had two brothers and two sisters. The October 2015 issue of Our Town St. James shows Smith as a child (see p. 42) and discusses her historic family homestead, Mills Pond House.

Her November 1918 passport application indicates that she was appointed a secretary of the YMCA’s National War Work Committee for a one-year term in France and Great Britain. The application also reveals that she had to name her male relatives in the war (her brother Edmund is listed as wounded, but he survived his injuries and was treasurer of the Smithtown American Legion post in 1919); she also had to attest that she did not intend to marry an AEF serviceman while in France. (One does not see male volunteers having to swear that they will not marry a war worker during their service.) She was back in the United States by November 1919 for her sister Dorothy’s wedding.

A founder of the Smithtown Historical Society, she is buried in St. James Episcopal Church Cemetery in St. James, NY (the same cemetery where architect Stanford White is buried). Her great-niece is Rev. Dorothy Miller Borden.