Author Dorothy Canfield Fisher in WWI.

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Dorothy Canfield, from the 1899 Ohio State U yearbook The Makio

The online diary for WWI general John J. Pershing indicates for June 21, 1917, “[b]reakfasted at the [Paris Hotel de] Crillon with Dorothy Canfield.” According to the 9 Aug. 1917 Norwich Bulletin, Pershing “had been [Canfield’s] instructor in mathematics in her girlhood in Lawrence, Kan.”(4). This is not precisely accurate; Pershing taught Canfield in Lincoln, NE, when her father was chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (see Pershing’s My Life Before the World War).

Canfield (1879–1958; author, The Bent TwigUnderstood Betsy, etc.) wrote in a 4 Mar 1916 letter to poet Sarah Cleghorn, well before the official US entry into WWI, “John [Redwood Fisher, her husband] and I have been feeling more and more dissatisfied with what we are doing to help out in the war, and that we have decided to do further.” Thus Fisher served in the American Voluntary Ambulance Corps in France while Canfield lived there with their two children and became involved in a range of relief activities. These included work to print books and magazines in braille for blind servicemen (Her July 1918 story “The First Time After” features a blind soldier). She noted in “Americans Working for French Blind Soldiers” (Fair Play, 3 Feb. 1917):

This is an American machine, the only electric press which prints books for the blind in France. By the time this article appears the first issue of a monthly magazine for the blind will have been issued from this press . . . The magazine is under the direction of a blind editor, who with a corps of seeing assistants (volunteers) will also . . . arrange for the publication by this press of a series of manuals in raised type, which will help the blind in their re-education. (1)

The Feb. 1919 Red Cross Magazine lists the following as wartime activities of Canfield:

She took a family of refugee children under her charge to the Pyrenees; she helped establish two hospitals for children under the Red Cross, one specially devoted to tuberculous children. Her ardent activities included a home for the children of munition workers near Paris. (11)

Canfield’s article “The Refugee: A Narrative of the Sufferings of Invaded France” (The Outlook, 19 Sept. 1917) focuses on the experiences of an older female refugee, who states, . . .”we could not believe at first that war was there, the stupid, imbecile anachronism we had thought buried with astrology and feudalism. For me it was like an unimaginably huge roller advancing slowly, heavily, steadily, to crush out our lives” (88).

Other wartime articles of Canfield (collected in The Day of Glory, 1919) are “France’s Fighting Woman Doctor” (on Dr. Nicole Girard-Mangin, who served at Verdun, Vadelaincourt, and the Somme, and was wounded) and “Some Confused Impressions” (regarding her interaction with servicemen involved in the Chateau Thierry campaign, which concludes, “young men, crowned with the splendor of their strength, going out gloriously through the darkness to sacrifice”).

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Finally: A grave marker for AEF pianist Helen Hagan.

hehagan-markerThe grave marker for composer and AEF pianist Helen Eugenia Hagan—supported by a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1600—was unveiled on September 29 at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. As the organizer of the campaign, I was a speaker at the event. New Haven mayor Toni Harp declared the day “Women Making Music Day” in honor of Hagan (read the official proclamation).

Read articles on the unveiling (which also offer photos and some video):

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
New Haven Register
New Haven Independent
WNPR
Yale School of Music

Hagan was the only African American female musician to entertain the AEF in France (as part of the “Proctor Party” formed at the request of General John J. Pershing).

More on Hagan’s life and work
Listen to Hagan’s Concerto in C Minor, her only extant composition