Virginia’s WWI female veteran questionnaires.

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Seal used on the Virginia War History Commission materials

Online at the Library of Virginia are nearly 15,000 questionnaires completed by some of the estimated 100,000 Virginians who served in World War I. They are one result of the work of the Virginia War History Commission (1919–28), which sought “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.” Here is a small sample of female respondents:

Camilla Ruth Atkins (1891–1986) of Blackstone, VA, was an Army Nurse Corps nurse who served at Camp Lee (located between Petersburg and Hopewell, VA) from November 1917 to July 1918 and in Toul, France, from September 1918 to early February 1919. She wrote, “We got our hospital in working order in time for the St. Mihiel drive, then got patients from the Argonne, Th[iau]co[ur]t, etc. During the five months of our actual service we treated over 17,500 boys.” Although she noted that there was a shortage of staff, her pride can be seen in her comment, “…out of several thousand gas patients we treated[,] not one lost his eye sight.” The entry on her in The Final Roster: A Roster of the Soldiers Who Saw Service in the Great War from Nottoway County, VA notes that she also cared for German prisoners and returned American POWs during her overseas war service. The December 1928 issue of the American Journal of Nursing states that Atkins volunteered and was sent by the Red Cross to Puerto Rico to assist with health care in the aftermath of the Okeechobee hurricane. There is no mention of her Army service on her gravestone in Lakeview Cemetery, Blackstone.

Edna Brearley Bishop Myers (1894–1968) of Fredericksburg, VA, was an Army Corps nurse assigned to Toul and cared for those exposed to poison gas. She wrote, “The only thing that hurt was not to be able to do more.” She is buried in Old Saint David’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Cheraw, SC.

Nancy Adah Joynes Thomas (1892–1971) of Nassawadox, VA, enlisted as a Yeoman (F) in September 1918 and worked at the Navy Yard in Norfolk, VA. She wrote, “Until humanity changes, military service is an important and necessary adjunct to civil life” and “I have realized that a well balanced life should contain some interest and goal, which can only be worked out by the person concerned and not decided by others.” In 1932, she inherited the historic property Woodlands Farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

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Sara Mildred Tucker, from the Virginia War History Commission questionnaires.

Sara Mildred Tucker (1888–1952?) of Sandidges, VA, first cared for wounded servicemen at a New York City hospital before she was sent to St. Denis, France. She noted, “…[M]y Army service made me appreciate our boys as never before. . . . We had a fine site for our hospital—good officers, nurses, and splendid boys.”

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The black Navy women of WWI.

The black women who served as Yeomen (F) during World War I. From Kelly Miller, Tk (after p. 512)

The black women who served as Yeomen (F) during World War I. From Kelly Miller, History of the World War for Human Rights (after p. 512). Front row: second from left, “Josie” Washington; fourth from left Armelda H. Greene. Back row: third from left, Catherine E. Finch; fifth from left, Sarah Davis.

In this post on the African American Military History Web site, Richard E. Miller highlights the “Golden Fourteen” African American women who served as Yeomen (F)s during World War I. They worked as clerks in the Navy’s “muster roll section,” which kept records on the assignments and locations of sailors. As Howard University dean Kelly Miller noted in History of the World War for Human Rights (1919, p. 597):

…it is the first time in the history of the navy of the United States that colored women have been employed in any clerical capacity. . . . The[y] are all cool, clear-headed and well-poised, evincing at all times, in the language of a white chief yeowoman: “A tidiness and appropriate demeanor both on and off duty which the girls of the white race might do well to emulate.” The work of this section has proved highly efficient and satisfactory…

These pioneers are the following (with their home states noted):
• Sarah Davis (Maryland)
• Catherine E. Finch (Mississippi)
• Fannie A. Foote (Texas)
• Armelda H. Greene [Vawter] (Mississippi; sister-in-law of John T. Risher, the black chief of the muster roll section)
• Sarah E. Howard (Mississippi)
• Pocahontas A. Jackson (Mississippi)
• Olga F. Jones (Washington, DC)
• Inez B. McIntosh (Mississippi)
• Marie E. Mitchell (Washington, DC)
• Anna G. Smallwood (Washington, DC)
• Carroll E. Washington (Mississippi)
• Joseph (sic) B. Washington (Mississippi)
• Ruth Alma Welborne Osborne Davis (Washington, DC; maternal grandmother of the late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown; buried in Arlington Cemetery)
• Maud C. Williams (Texas)