Hope Gray, reconstruction aide.

Gray

Hope Gray (2nd row, left) and Lena Hitchcock (2nd row, right) with other reconstruction aides, Base Hospital No. 9. Nat. Library of Medicine

 

Hope Gray (1882–1979)—daughter of Boston stockbroker Samuel Shober Gray and Caroline Balch Weld Gray, sister of architect-artist Ralph Weld Gray, and a cousin of actress Tuesday Weld—was a reconstruction aide (RA) in France with the AEF at Base Hospitals No. 9 (Chateauroux), No. 69 (Savenay), and No. 114 (Beau Desert). In July 1918, she sailed on the Walmer Castle to Liverpool and arrived in France on August 11.  Gray worked with wounded servicemen via occupational therapy, a relatively new field at the time (the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy— precursor to the American Occupational Therapy Association—had been established in 1917).

Gray described her experience in The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919 (48–49):

…[U]nder the special wing of the Orthopedic Department, the Surgeon-General sent overseas the first group of thirteen Occupationals (as they were familiarly called) of which I was a member, and to which group were attached fourteen Physio [therapist]s. . . We were given to understand that the future continuance of the work hinged on how we made good, which was rather appalling to six of us who had been ordered overseas when only half way through our training in the Boston School of Occupational Therapy, and who had no hospital experience.

We . . . . found that they neither wanted nor expected us. .. . [We] were reluctantly allowed to begin our own work, I think at that time on the theory that given enough rope we would soon automatically hang ourselves. Though the government had provided for our salaries no such provision had been made for materials with which to teach the various handicrafts, and those first months were a long struggle to make good on a basis of supplies wrested from the Salvage Pile. . . .

There was much to overcome, but once two or three boys had rather sheepishly started on knitting caps, block printing, making of bead chains or any other occupation, first curiosity would attract others to watch, then to try, and . . . they would usually grin and agree to “try anything once,” which was an attitude of mind very typical of the American Army. Within a few days the wish to make something would become epidemic, and a cheerful busy crowd would be getting into difficulties with recalcitrant thread or clamoring for how to get their initials on the leather cigarette case they were making, or joshing each other in place of just thinking desolately or gambling. And they are boys when all is said and done, big overgrown boys, keeping the heart and simple responsibilities of a child, with the extraordinary silent courage which could stand not only the tests of bravery under the excitation of battle, but the long months of blank suffering in hospital where the thrill of emotions and big sacrifice were past, and only the acute consciousness left of a maimed body with which to face the unknown world of the future.  To be truly their friend, their confidant, to know that by ever so little one has been able to help them keep their faith in life is all and more than one would ask. And one must feel that if some such spirit can be kept alive now that the return to peace has come, if some spark of their high purpose remains lighted, the present clouds of class antagonism, suspicion, and unrest (where that unrest is destructive) must finally break away showing a clearer dawn ahead.

Gray’s friend and fellow aide Anna Lena Frances Hitchcock noted that Gray “had been doing eight to nine hours nurse’s aide work in addition to O.T.” (Hitchcock, “A Great Adventure,” p. 72; qtd. in Moloney). She also stated that Gray, to assist a patient who had lost both hands, fashioned “an ingenious leather band with slits to hold paint brush, knife, fork, or spoon, one for each wrist. The change in him is amazing” (Hitchcock, “A Great Adventure,” qtd. in Gavin 112).

Gray was honorably discharged in mid-June 1919. The RAs—appointed by contract with the Surgeon General’s Office—were considered civilian employees and thus did not receive veteran status (see McDaniel, “Occupational Therapists before World War II (1917–40).”

Further reading: Eleanor Rowland Wembridge, “How the Reconstruction Aides Have Proved What They Are For,” Carry On Apr 1919: 10–11.

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