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.

2 thoughts on “A glimpse of the Smith College Relief Unit.

  1. Question; what was the source for identifying the Smith College women in the photo? The woman identified as Anna Perit Rochester appears to be Louisa K. Fast, Smith College Graduate; 1898. Louisa served as a board member on both boards, In November of 1918 she served at the American Library in Paris, and in September of 1919 she joined the Smith College relief effort, returning to the USA in December of 1919. I have two more photos, one is from her passport, that makes me question the source for identifying the people in the photo. Thank you.


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