Aftermath: Nell Whaley, reconstruction aide.

Kentucky-born Nell Whaley (1885–1946) graduated from Transylvania University in 1906 and taught Latin at the all-female Hamilton College in Lexington, KY (which eventually merged with Transylvania University). In 1919, she taught mathematics and English to disabled service members and was appointed assistant to the head reconstruction aide at Camp Upton’s hospital on Long Island. On June 8, she wrote to her sisters about her experiences at the hospital (published in the 24 June 1919 Bourbon [KY] News).

Nell Whaley, from Transylvania University’s The Crimson (1906)

Last week we had a visit and a most inspiring talk from Major [Horace M.] Evans, of Washington, the man who is at the head of the Reconstruction Service. He gave us some interesting statistics. During one week of April, in 38 military hospitals, 88,000 treatments were given by the 700 Physio therapy aides for nerve injuries. During the month of April, in 43 hospitals, there were working 2,034 Occ[u]pational-Therapy Aides, teaching the wounded soldiers to regain the use of their muscles in the making of baskets, bead-chains, carved boxes, woven rugs and mats, belts, neck-ties, bags, and so on. In addition, this work helps wonderfully to keep up their spirits, and so is of double curative value. . . . .Major Evans stated that the women workers were up to the highest standard and graded 100 per cent, and that they, more than any other class of people, could put “pep” and the proper spirit for the future into the wounded soldiers. He said the boys should be encouraged to quit thinking and talking about the “dreadful affair,” and not let their interests in life end with their war experiences, as the majority of Civil War veterans did.

. . . . At our hospital there are about 60 Reconstruction Aides at work, teaching the boys in the wards, many of whom are flat on their backs or so injured they cannot work. It is wonderful to see the work they do with the left hand. The ambulatory patients go to K-12, the big school building, where they are taught anything from English to auto-mechanics, telegraphy, typewriting, mechanical drawing, clay-moulding, advanced English and Mathematics, Science, Psychology, in fact, any study they call for. It is interesting to note that nearly all the boys are ambitious to learn something new, or if they do go back to their old “job” they want to be ready for an advancement. They have a wonderfully cheerful and independent spirit—they object to pity and charity and there’s not one I’ve talked with who is expecting a job just because he is a returned soldier. They are having time now to do more reading and more thinking than ever in their lives before, and I think their hospital experience, where they are surrounded by companions and attended with excellent care, is the best thing possible to bridge over the gap between the horrors of war and the return to civilian life.

The hospital population here, perhaps 2,500, has plenty of amusement and attention from the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., and K[nights] of C[olumbus]. There are good picture shows, lectures, vaudeville, athletic meets, baseball, and so on. On Sundays there are Protestant and Catholic services. The Educational Services gives a “party” at K-12 every Wednesday night, where the patients who can come (and some come on crutches and in wheelchairs) are entertained with games, plays, music, (they sing every word of every popular song that is going), and “eats.” The boys who have to stay in bed are entertained by different artists who come from New York. The Red Cross has a traveling piano set up on wheels—it goes the rounds of the wards. I have had the pleasure of playing for these boys, and you should hear them whistle and sing from their beds; they like ragtime, but best of all, the old songs. I played also at the Y. M. C. A. movies, and over at one of the Camp Hostess House. The Hostess in charge told us about how the boys amuse themselves with the Ouija Board. Their three favorite questions are: How long before I get out? Is my job waiting for me? Is my girl true to me? (1–2)

Whaley later worked for the educational division of the Red Cross and the Kentucky Unemployment Compensation Department.

A glimpse of the Smith College Relief Unit.

Michigan-born Edna Miriam True (1888–1988) played basketball at Smith College and graduated in 1909. She sailed for France in June 1918. The following letter from True reprinted in the November 1918 Smith Alumnae Quarterly provides a snapshot of the range of duties taken on by the Smith College Relief Unit in World War I France:

Edna True, from her 1921 passport application

Early Sunday morning an S O S came from the hospital for as many of the girls as possible. I was tremendously interested and impressed by the quiet, very quick, and efficient way in which the girls rose to the occasion, for in less than an hour from the time the message was sent us, which found us all in bed, the girls were each at some important post in the hospital. Three of us had to stay out, however, Marie Wolfs to attend to the club, which suddenly was busier than it had been for several days; Cath[a]rine Hooper to look after the canteen, which not only had had two evacuating trains that day, but one of them the largest the girls had ever fed; and myself to drive the truck and keep up the necessary connection between them all.

Rotating constantly all day between hospital and club and canteen, I had an excellent chance to watch the activities in each and were I to relate in detail all the things accomplished, I am sure it would all seem too exaggerated to be true. At the hospital two of the girls were put in as nurses, doing everything from bringing men out of ether to helping in severe dressings. Another two alternated in taking histories for four surgeons; all were on duty in the operating room from eight in the morning until ten at night. Mrs. [Hannah] Andrews stepped right into a whole department in itself and brought order out of chaos by sorting the men who, as they came in from the ambulances, were just deposited anywhere around on the benches or in the first floor rooms and by keeping the order in which they were to go in to be bathed, examined by the radio[logist], and finally to be operated upon. This was not an easy task in all the confusion, and she had also to find those most in need of immediate attention and to keep the men as comfortable as possible while they waited to be taken care of. Most of the poor fellows had been wounded on the 18th (this was the 21st) and had had little or nothing to eat and practically no attention, and you can imagine that this last weary day of waiting would have seemed endless but for Mrs. Andrews. Miss [Lucy] Mather went into one of the French hospitals and remained on twenty-four hour duty, having an entire ward of Americans under her care all night.

. . . .Having taken literally a truck load of bread to the canteen in the morning, I was surprised to have more ordered in the afternoon, but when I helped Catharine [Hooper] with her train later on, I understood why there had been such a demand on supplies. Over 600 men were being evacuated on that one train and they represented practically all of the Allies and even a few Boches! . . . I was very much impressed by the efficiency and dispatch with which those train loads of men were served a good dinner followed by cigarettes which Catharine and I distributed to them.

Ten-thirty saw all our little household in bed, but I noticed as the girls returned no one seemed especially wearied or in the least depressed by the very strenuous day and the contact it had brought them into with the cruel realities of the war. (52–53)

True came down with influenza but remained in France until December 1919. She returned to France in February 1921 to assist the American Committee for Devastated France with reconstruction work, returning to the United States in December. She later established a travel agency and became active as a leader in the Baha’i Faith.

Further reading:Edna True,” Bahaipedia

Members of the Smith College Relief Unit, 1918. From left, standing: Edna True, Elizabeth Bliss, Agnes Hopkins, Anna Perit Rochester, Hannah Andrews, Dorothy Brown, and Ruth Hill Arnold. Sitting in the truck, from left: Mary Goodman Stevenson, Anne Chapin, and Marie Wolf. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, author, canteener, and hospital worker.

Isabel Anderson, from
Zigzagging (1918)

Boston-born Isabel Weld Perkins (1876–1948) was the daughter of Navy Commodore George H. Perkins and his wife Anna Weld Perkins. (Another war worker, Hope Gray, was a cousin of hers). At age five, she inherited $5 million from the estate of her grandfather, William Fletcher Weld. She was educated at the Winsor School in Boston. In 1897, she married US diplomat Larz Anderson, who was related to the Longworth family of Ohio and later served as US minister to Belgium and ambassador to Japan.

During the Spanish American War, Anderson served on committees of the Colonial Dames and Daughters of the Revolution to assist military families in the Washington, DC, area. After the United States entered World War I in spring 1917, she headed the Washington Refreshment Corps for the Red Cross—an emergency canteen with a mobile kitchen that could serve a high volume of service members at army camps and train stations at all hours of the day and night.

The Red Cross asked for volunteers to serve overseas. As Anderson wrote in Presidents and Pies (1920), “Since few women in our corps were free to go, many of them being officers’ wives, I decided to offer my services” (214). She asked in her 1918 memoir, Zigzagging, “After all, hasn’t a woman just as much right to die for her country as a man?” (xi). She sailed for France on the Espagne in September 1917, noting humorously that the people assigned to her designated lifeboat “were far from pleasing. I did not feel like drowning with them” (Zigzagging 5).

She was first assigned to the canteen at Épernay where she worked with Emma Sterling Lansing, the sister of Secretary of State Robert Lansing. In December 1917, she transferred to Auto-Chir (meaning mobile hospital) No. 7, a Red Cross unit caring for surgical cases that was attached to the Third French Army. This was supervised by Mae Noe Daly, a “screamingly funny person,” according to Daly’s assistant Nora Saltonstall (Out Here at the Front 107). Anderson worked at the hospital at Cugny, which was approximately seven miles from the trenches. She wrote:

My first day, a handsome poilu [French serviceman] with thick black hair and big black eyes was brought in right from the trenches. He had both legs cut off, but fortunately, he did not know it. I stayed by his bedside most of the time after he came out of the ether, but he died at ten that night.

I became especially interested the next day in a little blond man who had been wounded three times and given every kind of decoration. He died that evening. After this I was so exhausted and sad that I hardly slept, and cried most of the night. . . . Indeed, I was discouraged, but kept going and didn’t lose an hour’s work. (Zigzagging 58–59)

During a vacation break from the Auto-Chir, Anderson dined with the king and queen of Belgium and met twice with General Pershing (as she had previously known him in the Philippines). She visited a friend, American-born Frances Belt Wickersham Hadfield (Lady Hadfield), who operated a hospital in Wimereux at her own expense. Amid these adventures, Anderson learned that the Germans had shot four of the Cugny physicians.

Anderson went next with her Auto-Chir colleagues to Royalieu, which featured a “cook, a returned refugee, [who] was drunk most of the time, and one night poured kerosene on the meat” (Zigzagging 183). In addition to caring for the wounded “terribly shot to pieces” (185), Anderson experienced the German bombing within a few miles of the town and visited facilities for refugee children.

Anderson headed back to the United States in May 1918. In June, she became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from George Washington University. She returned to mobile canteen work and visited wounded service members at Walter Reed. For her service, she received the Croix de Guerre, Medal of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium with Red Cross, and the Commemorative War Medal of France.

In addition to her war memoir (called by the 22 Dec. 1918 Washington, DC, Evening Star “bright, straightforward, and unpretentious” [9]), she published children’s books, drama, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and travel accounts. Two years after her husband’s death in 1937, she donated the home they built in Washington, DC—a social, political, and cultural nexus of the time—to the Society of the Cincinnati, which has remained there to this day. After her death in 1948, she was interred in Washington National Cathedral.

Further Resources:

The Adventurous Life of Isabel Anderson,” exhibition by the American Revolution Institute, Society of the Cincinnati

Photos from the exhibition “The Adventurous Life of Isabel Anderson”

Bibliography of works by Isabel Anderson

Stephen T. Moskey, Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age (2016)