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).
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.