Wisconsin-born Samantha Minerva “Minnie” Saunders (1867–1934) married Floyd O. Burdick in December 1884, and she and her husband had three children. She was the first female matron of the Harris County (TX) jail and established the first free medical dispensary in Houston (San Antonio Express, 3 May 1919, 5).
After the Burdicks worked for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City, Lake Charles, Port Arthur, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, San Angelo, Fort Worth, and Dallas, they sailed for France in November 1917. At age 50 (although her age was constantly listed as 60 in newspapers) and an unprepossessing 5-foot-3, Minnie Burdick was called the oldest Salvation Army worker overseas but had no problem matching the stamina or grit of younger colleagues. In a letter published in the 7 Mar 1918 [North Dakota] Weekly Times Record (but was probably written in Dec 1917, as Christmas is mentioned), “Ma” or “Mother” Burdick described some of her activities:
Last night the officers of the regiment gave a Christmas dinner and presents to all of the refugee children, and all of the children of the town were in our Hut.
After that was over the soldiers had an entertainment in our Hut. We helped in both, and you would be surprised to see how glad the soldiers are to see an American woman. Some shook hands with me and said that I was the first American woman they had talked to since they had been in France. I am glad we came.
The first Hut we went to, I went to cooking pies and cakes, with the help of the ensign in charge, and we made 50 pies, 800 doughnuts, and 18 cakes, and not a piece left by 8 o’clock that night. The next morning it was the same thing over again. . . . .
You would be surprised if you could see how I can make things and cook in tin pans and baking powder cans. I have a milk can for a doughnut cutter, and a smaller one to cut out the hole in the middle. I use a bottle for a rolling pin and fry eggs on a pie plate. . . .
We have been working pretty hard but if you could only see how the boys appreciate it all, you would know that it is time and strength well spent. . . . .
We have . . . a lot of pleasure doing things for the boys, sewing on buttons and lining in the coats, and mending gloves, and then once in a while, one of them is sick, and doesn’t want to go to the doctor, so a cup of hot water and a little home remedy and sympathy helps him out. Sometimes they get homesick and like to come down to the house and tell me their story of mother and sweetheart at home, and go away feeling better. (“Mother Burdick among the Boys in France” 12)
An account in the 7 May 1919 Washington Times credited her with producing 324 pies in 12 hours, setting a new record (“Pie Baker” 8). The article “Mother Burdick Stopped an Army” in the 28 Oct 1918 Carson City [NV] Daily Appeal (1) discussed Burdick’s “all night chocolate service” that involved her informing a general, “Those boys should never go to the front without each one having a cup of hot chocolate. I want to stop them in companies just long enough to fill their cups as they go by the hut down the road.” United Press reporter Frank J. Taylor noted, “The new general was not used to being talked to that way,” but he gave the order for the troops to stop and even had a cup of hot chocolate himself. Taylor stated, “They worked all night at ‘Mother’ Burdick’s hut and two other huts nearby assisted so that more than 15,000 cups of chocolate were given to the boys that night.”
Burdick returned to the United States in May 1919, with the 3 May 1919 Syracuse Journal noting that she had been gassed during her service “but continued working in her little shack until carried to a hospital” (“Premier Pie Producer Returns from War” 8). Shortly after her return, the French government awarded her the Croix de Guerre. She was the first Salvation Army worker so honored. In January 1922, the Oak Creek [CO] Times reported her involvement in hospital relief work with disabled veterans and her service as the first national chaplain of the American Legion auxiliary (“Legion Men Know Her Well” 3). She died in 1934 and lies in an unmarked grave in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston. Her great-great nephew is the artist David Bigelow.
Doman, Robert S. “Chicago Girls Serve Coffee and Pie.” [Fort Collins, CO] Weekly Courier, 28 Jun 1918: 2. Discussion of Salvation Army workers shelled by the Germans, including Burdick.
“Ensign Burdick and Family.” Houston’s Part in the World War (1919).
Ford, Bert. The Fighting Yankees Overseas. (1919). Short quotes included from Burdick such as “If I attempted to do half as much at home, I’d be ill or dead, but over here you don’t think of time or effort” (195).
“‘Ma’ Burdick.” The Armies of Mercy (1920): 384, 385, 387. Harper’s Pictorial Library of the World War, vol. 7.
“Salvation Army Worker in France.” Charlotte [MI] Tribune 1919, repr. from Christian Science Monitor. Burdick describes aspects of her service: “. . . I didn’t work in the front line trenches, for they wouldn’t let me get that far front, but I would have been right there if I could have got there.”