Minerva Crowell, suffragist/WWI reconstruction aide.


Minerva Crowell, from Smith Class of 1901 Classbook

Update: Dennis Historical Society Archive links seem to be back up.

In the digital archive of Cape Cod’s Dennis Historical Society is correspondence from Minerva Evelyn Crowell (later Wexler, 1877–1966), a reconstruction aide with the AEF who served at Base Hospital 114 (Beau Desert, France)—”a camp in the rough,” as she wrote to her brother, Edwin, in July 1918. A 1901 Smith College graduate, she was active in the suffrage movement, participating in a 1912–13 march to Washington, DC, and the turbulent March 1913 suffrage parade that followed. She earned a physiotherapy credential from the Posse Gymnasium in Boston (a school founded by Swedish baron Nils Posse and his wife, Rose, that offered a progressive approach to physical education, prepared teachers and masseurs, and taught gymnastics to adults and children).

Crowell wrote to her mother in July 1918:

“We do most of our work early—starting before six, regular time, or eight as they reckon it. We have a free hour while the boys eat & after our own lunch we work for an hour or two. At first it seemed light but after a while find we need the afternoon to relax in. . . .Yesterday Miss MacDonald gave a birthday party to one of her boys. He has his leg hung up on pulleys as a shell drove his jacknife into his hip in 13 pieces. It is a double ward of 48 patients some bedridden & some hobble around. She made an immense cake & we made a quantity of fudge in the hospital kitchen. You see She can always get anything she wants anywhere. We made iced tea. The boys sang a little which was very touching. Then a few came in in wheelchairs to bring congratulations, & two friends ready for the Front came in to tell him goodbye. . . . Our unit serves to furnish a little entertainment, for the boys as well as treatment. I have the bone ward —broken legs etc. The girl who had it was the first one set to work & when she got sore throat she asked if I could take it for her. Now she is going away and I am to keep it. I like the work & it is all easy except hurting them & keeping all kinds of records. When we get to our own hospital next Fall we shall have books etc for it.”

Her schedule changed in Oct 1918:

…a couple weeks or so ago we left working on the wards & started a clinic & have been getting it going. Now we drop all orthopedic work for a time to do emergency nursing work. My hours were 8 to 5 but now will be 4 hrs on 4 off & 4 on so I shall get resting or play time sometimes during the day & we can take walks to the store . . . .The girls call me Nervie . . . but sometimes amuse themselves by calling me Minnie. Every thing I say & do amuses them . . .

On the flu epidemic, she wrote to her mother in Nov 1918:

“I am so glad you are to stay home during the Flue [sic]. It is abating here perhaps on account of better weather lately. this hospital has the best record on it but we certainly have had a stack of cases sent us. We get many convoys of all kinds because we have buildings ready so rapidly. The hospital staffs don’t arrive as fast as the wards so we have to cover the work as we can & all but one other of us are still working as nurses. It is nice the massage fell to me tho I enjoyed the other work while in it.”

US Army Hospital Center, Beau Desert, France, 1918–19


This photo from the 4 Feb 1919 Evening World shows Minerva Crowell with other returned female war workers

In Feb 1919, Crowell was assigned to Hospital No. 2 at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, and discharged in Aug 1919. In 1921, she was working at the veterans’ hospital in Boston’s Parker Hill area.

She married Isadore Wexler in May 1923 and is buried in Quivet Neck Cemetery in East Dennis, MA. There is no mention of her war service on her tombstone.

Further reading:

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