The Lansing sisters, WWI canteen workers.

Lansingsisters

Emma Sterling Lansing, left, and Katherine Ten Eyck Lansing, 1918. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Emma Sterling Lansing (1872–1956) and Katherine Ten Eyck Lansing (1875–1933), sisters of President Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, left for Red Cross canteen service in France in September 1917. According to Jefferson County in the World War (1920, 192–93), the Lansing sisters worked in canteens at Epernay, Sezanne, and St. Remy-sur-Bussy. In August 1918, they were assigned to the American Hospital at Neuilly as nurse’s aides, then placed in charge of the canteen at Brest before assignment to Glorieux-Verdun. They then were sent back to Epernay as directors of the canteen.

Some experiences of the Lansing sisters appeared in “Canteen Work Abroad” (Alexandria Gazette, 29 July 1918: 1), which provided excerpts of their spring 1918 letters to Robert and Eleanor Lansing:

Thirty bombs were dropped here last night. Those of us who were not on duty at the canteen last night sat in a cave belonging to the Sisters of Mercy listening to the popping of the mitrailleuse [machine gun], the roaring of the cannon, and the bursting of bombs, but feeling pretty safe so far underground.

. . . . I had only four hours of sleep last night as we had an alerte and had to stay dressed, fearing our evening visitors, who are frequent. They come about the same hour each night—a little before 9. Our orders are never to go out after the alerte sounds, except to get to a cellar. Very near the canteen the French have built an abri [shelter] for us which will hold about fifty persons…

I am on the shift from midnight to 7 o’clock. . . . In front of me a group of French infantry with one Zouave is playing cards. . . . An American ambulance man is playing the piano; an Italian is sitting at a table eating bread and cheese; and the whole large salle is filled with soldiers sleeping, talking, or listening to the music. My letter has been interrupted a number of times; once by an American soldier who wanted to tell me how he happened to enlist, all about his family, and “the girl,” and he wished to show me their photographs; and again by a French soldier, who wanted to tell about his family.

. . . . Last week I went all over the hospital here. It is wonderfully well equipped and has accommodation for 1,000 beds. There is a fine corps of surgeons in charge who all use the new apparatus of the war. I have done a good deal of visiting in the hospital in my spare moments and I love it. The soldiers are so happy to see us and so grateful for every little gift of paper, a flower, or a cigarette. One of the doctors I found carefully cherishing a post card picture of President Wilson and he is anxious for a better picture. Will you get one for me to give to him? Another surgeon wanted a map of the United States. He says he meets many doctors who tell him where they live in America and he would like to study a map.

The Lansing sisters received the Medal of French Gratitude (bronze level) in April 1919 in recognition of the bravery displayed during their work “often under bombardment, at Epernay”  (“France Honors Americans,” Washington Post 19 May 1919: 6). According to Jefferson County in the World War, they also received the Croix de Guerre. The Lansing sisters returned to the United States in early September 1919 and were active in the local Democratic Party near their hometown of Watertown, NY.

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