Estelle Dixon Greenawalt, driver.


Estelle Dixon Greenawalt, from her 1919 passport application

New Jersey-born Estelle Dixon Greenawalt (1891–1960) was the daughter of Frank Bridgeman Greenawalt, general baggage master of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and a great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt De Forest, a nephew of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. An ancestor was Col. Philip Lorenzo Greenawalt, who served with Gen. George Washington. She was educated at Moravian Seminary for Girls in Bethlehem, PA, and taught in the Red Bank (NJ) public schools. In 1918-19, she, along with her sister Constance, served as a driver for the Woman’s Motor Unit of Le Bien Etre du Blesse, which was headed by writer and suffragist Grace Thompson Seton and supported by the Women’s City Club of New York. The unit conveyed food to diet kitchens at aid stations in France, as well as transported wounded and personnel.

Seton noted that the hospital where Greenawalt was located cared for 5,000 wounded French servicemen and “a sprinkling” of Americans in a 24-hour period during the German advance. According to Greenawalt’s obituary in the Red Bank Register, she was dubbed “Mlle. Camionette” [Miss Van] by French and US wounded. In a 4 Oct 1918 letter published in the 6 Nov 1918 Red Bank Register, Greenawalt described one long day:

This morning I was detailed to drive an officer who had business up near the front. We started at seven o’clock going straight north, crossing the Marne and still north till we reached the small town which was our destination. He there found it necessary to move nearer the line and asked me if I was afraid. Can you fancy me saying anything but “No!” On we went and crossed the Vesle and up to ten kilometers (about six miles) from the front. Here we found lots of engineers making and repairing roads, putting up temporary bridges to replace those blown up by the Huns in their retreat . . . In one place where the road had been mined there was a hole in the road forty feet deep and 100 feet across. . . I noticed people stared at me somewhat and when we finally reached our destination we learned that the Huns had left there only 48 hours before and I was the first woman to cross the Vesle after they had retreated. . . . .

On our way back we stopped at our once lovely hospital where my ambulance was in use in May. The hospital people had to leave under shell fire and had to burn materials and buildings before leaving. . . . It was pitiful! It had been a 4,000 bed hospital—a model of its kind in France. We passed many once beautiful villages, now nothing but piles of stones.  The streets at best are only wide enough for a car to pass, but when they are full of huge shell holes and piles of stones they are nearly impassable. I had great difficulty but my “little jit” stood me in good stead and I got through but did not reach home till 3:00 A.M. That is all in a day’s work. We have long hours but there is lots to do and everybody goes as long as they can. . . .

We are short handed and pretty well rushed just now. I run the kitchen and dining room too, till our dietitian returns. (1)

Greenawalt received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations for her service, and later worked at Watson Laboratories in Eatontown, NJ. She married Asahel “Zale” Stuts Dillon in June 1921; he had served in the AEF’s 112th Trench Mortar Battalion in World War I and reached the rank of colonel in World War II. He also was chief of the sound effects division at NBC. The couple had four children, including David D. Dillon (1932–2007), an insurance executive and actor.


Mary K. Taylor, searcher and canteen worker.


Mary K. Taylor, from her 1921 passport application

Born in Leipzig, Germany, Mary Katharine Taylor (1887–1981) was the daughter of Joseph Richard Taylor, a professor of Greek at Boston University. She graduated from the university with an AB in 1910, earned a BS in social work from Simmons College in 1918, and received an MA in education from Columbia University in 1934. In 1918–19, she was a canteen worker and Red Cross searcher at Base Hospital No. 31 in Contrexeville, France, and Evacuation Hospital No. 9 in Coblenz, Germany. In the December 1920 issue of the Boston University publication Bostonia, she described her duties:

“Searching” just means trying to find out from each man the exact facts concerning the killed or missing in his company. The picture that comes to mind is very clear—serious, interested faces bending over a map while some one points to the spot where the shell burst. . . “Oh, yes, I saw it happen—he was my buddy, and we were always together.” And the story is told with awful simplicity by a boy into whose eyes creeps the look that one sees only in the eyes of those who have seen unforgettable things.

“Answering hospital inquiries” was another duty the thought of which brings back the registrar’s office at night—blinds tightly closed, for fear of air raids, and noisy typewriters pounding out the new lists of wounded. I search through thousands of cards in the files, looking to see if any of the hundreds of names on the daily list sent out by the Red Cross are among the hospital records. These names all represent anguished appeals to the Red Cross for news of men who have been reported wounded or killed. (“The American Red Cross” 108–09)

Taylor provides illuminating excerpts about her job from her “four worn notebooks full of strange little scribbles” (108):

“Bed 31, Ward E-2, wants razor blades.”

“New man in end bed, surgical 3, wants letter written. Urgent.”

“Ask Red Cross Captain whether to give writing-paper to wounded Germans.”

“Nurse in pneumonia ward wants Blackjack gum.”

“Tell Major Black New Orleans Red Cross has just cabled that his wife is dead.”

“Y. M. C. A. man in officers’ ward wants long distance call sent to Colombey to find out whether doctor at Field Hospital knows where his trousers are.”

“John McCarthy’s last words: ‘Tell mother the weather is fine, and I will be home soon.'”

Taylor’s 29 Oct. 1918 letter to the mother of Edward Grant Holt, who died after being gassed, can be found on Cow Hampshire, a New Hampshire history blog. She wrote:

My dear Mrs. Holt . . . You have undoubtedly received by this time the sad news of your son’s death . . . He was badly gassed and immediately developed broncho-pneumonia . . . he was very patient and was anxious not to give trouble to anyone. . . he spoke once of wanting to see his brother, but talked very little and was unconscious at the end . .  . you may be sure that every possible effort was made to save your son’s life.

After returning to the United States in summer 1919, Taylor served as associate field director of medical social work at the Army Hospital of Camp Devens (MA). The Red Cross sent her to France and Britain in 1921. She later headed the social service department at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, served as director of the social service department of the Washington University Clinics of St. Louis, and was active in the journal Medical Social Work.

Charlotte L. Read, ambulance driver/nurse/entertainer.


Charlotte L. Read, from her 1918 passport application

Manchester, MA-born Charlotte Louise Read (1892–1970) was the sister of geologist and mountaineer Norman Hatfield Read, who endowed the Norman H. Read Trust in Salem, MA, which supports science education initiatives in the town. It appears from her 1918 passport application that she originally intended to work with the American Women’s Oversea Hospitals (given a telegram from Dr. Alice Gregory). Instead, in World War I France and Germany, she worked in YMCA entertainment as well as the British Hackett Lowther Unit (an all-female relief unit  established by journalist Norah Desmond Hackett and fencer/tennis player May “Toupie” Lowther, which included US drivers and was attached to the French Third Army). In The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she described some harrowing experiences:

We drove our ambulances (Fords) up at 8 am. We were within a mile of the Germans with only a small hill between the French trenches and us. Our poste (P.S. 112) was at — (Longeuil Annel), on a cross road in the direction of — (Ribecourt), in a ramshackle farmhouse where the wounded were brought in by stretcher-bearers over the hill from the trenches, given first aid in the cellar, which served as a dressing station, and then put in our ambulances for us to rush back to a first line dressing station, where they were changed into other ambulances, to be sent still further back.

The poste, at our arrival, was under heavy fire, the Boche having discovered our battery and tanks in the woods back of us. It was the most continual and deafening noise you can imagine. We were too new and ignorant to be afraid. The boom and scream of the shells overhead didn’t even make us realize that we could very easily be hit.

They kept it up all morning, and at about noon, while we were eating our usual mid-day meal of canned sardines, horse meat, and French war bread, there was a terrific crash and the whole corner of the house went down.

. . . . I never knew that anyone could run as fast and steadily as we did. . . . I went flat three times but save for a couple of scratches on my tin hat, I wasn’t touched.

It was not until I was in the middle of nowhere . . . that I realized they were shelling what I was running for—The Red Cross Dressing Station. In cold blood they aimed and one after the other hit its mark.

There were fifty yards of open space between where they were shelling and me. I hesitated for one second, took a deep breath and made one wild, desperate dash across that open space and slid on my stomach into our hole under the bricks as a shell hit outside the entrance—missed by less than a second. (82–83)

The members of the Hackett Lowther Unit received the Croix de Guerre. Read returned to the United States in May 1919. After meeting American Ambulance Field Service driver Henry Hollingsworth Stringham during her service abroad, she married him in New York on July 4, 1922. The marriage ended in divorce, as Read had returned to using her maiden name by 1936, and Stringham remarried that same year.

Further Reading:
Un oeuvre de preservation morale au front” [work to preserve morale at the front], Le Monde Illustre 7 Sept. 1918: 78. Article in French on the Hackett Lowther unit.

In the Soldier’s Service: War Experiences of Mary Dexter—England, Belgium, France 1914–1918. Dexter was a member of the Hackett Lowther Unit.

Hackett Lowther driver Maud Fitch of Utah

Toupie Lowther: Her Life by Val Brown


The Lansing sisters, WWI canteen workers.


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.

Josephine H: A film about World War I nurse Josephine Heffernan.


Josephine Heffernan

A film and an exhibition trace the story of Irish immigrant Josephine E. Heffernan (ca. 1880–1962), who trained as a nurse at Blackwell’s Island and served as chief nurse at U.S. Base Hospital No. 59 in Rimaucourt, France, from September to December 1918 (coping with an average of 1,060 patients per week and only 50 nurses to care for them; see History of Base Hospital No. 59 [1919]). A naturalized American citizen, she remained in the Army Nurse Corps after the war—serving in posts in the United States, the Philippines, and China—and returned to Ireland in the 1950s. A child found her lost identity bracelet in a Rimaucourt garden in 2002, and the film provides a moving account of its journey back to her grateful Irish family.

The 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.

“Then came the morning of Nov the 11th….By two o’clock the streets were swarming with men, women and children, marching aimlessly back and forth, hugging and kissing each other and sometimes trying to sing the Marseillaise.

” With friends of the Marine Corps I drove down to the Place de la Concorde through the Champs Elysee and into the Bois. . . . ephemeral things, such as war, and immortal things, such as love, seemed once again, after four years of nightmare, to slip into their rightful proportions to each other.”

—US playwright Margaret Mayo, who witnessed the Armistice in Paris, 1918.
From Trouping for the Troops 145–47


Margaret Mayo (2nd from right) with (from left) Lt. Robert Mchaffey,  Ruth Harding of New York, and Marine captain Frank Howard, US Base Hospital No. 1, Neuilly, France, Nov 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.





Beatrice Ashley Chanler, actress turned relief worker.


Beatrice “Minnie” Ashley. NYPL.

In 1903, actress Beatrice Ashley (1880–1946) married her second husband, William Astor Chanler (1867–1934), who was a descendant of John Jacob Astor, an African explorer, and a congressman. She became a sculptor who crafted bas-reliefs in New York’s Hotel Vanderbilt at 34th St and Park Ave. She and her husband had two sons and amicably separated in 1909, and she visited him in France after his leg was amputated in 1913 due to an injury.

Chanler was active in World War I relief organizations, serving as president of the American Committee of the French Heroes Fund and a member of the executive committee of the National Allied Relief Committee. The French Heroes Fund assisted French wounded and their families, as well as purchased the childhood home of the Marquis de Lafayette to serve as a school for war orphans and refugee children, a medical facility for children, and a museum commemorating Franco-American friendship. She assisted in compiling the volume For France (1917) as a fundraiser for the organization, which featured a cover design by N. C. Wyeth; a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt; and contributions by writers and artists such as Gertrude Atherton, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Richard Harding Davis, Hamlin Garland, Charles Dana Gibson, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Alan Seeger, John Singer Sargent, Ida Tarbell, Carolyn Wells, and Owen Wister.

The National Allied Relief Committee sought to publicize the experiences of the Allied nations in war and coordinate fund-raising activities among U.S.-based relief organizations. According to this publication, the committee raised $1 million by June 1917.

Among the other relief organizations in which Chanler was involved were the Czecho-Slovak Relief League, the American Branch of the French Actors Fund (which assisted families of French theater personnel serving in the war), and the Russian War Relief Committee (which addressed the lack of food and medical supplies in Russia). She spent five months in France in 1917 and told the New York Times in June 1917:

As to the devastated regions that I visited, the awful waste and desolation is almost inconceivable. . . . I visited the ransacked regions of Pozieres and Bapaume, where there was nothing but charred trees to make a village site, and a level country made undulating by shellfire. We came across a place called the Cemetery of the Tanks. Here were the battered remains of ten tanks, their hulls looking like ships wrecked at sea.

Thousands of hand grenades, many of them unexploded, were lying all about us. (7)

For her work, Chanler was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur. She led an unsuccessful effort to have September 6 (Lafayette’s birthday) declared as a U.S. national holiday and, according to Paris Days and London Nights, was on the Carmania in 1918 when it was threatened by a submarine. Chanler published Cleopatra’s Daughter: Queen of Mauritania (1934). During World War II, she was president of the Friends of Greece Inc., a Greek relief organization, and the Committee of Mercy Inc.; she also was an organizer of the British Civil Defense Emergency Fund.

Further reading:
William A. Chanler III, “Beatrice Chanler and Lafayette,” Gazette of the AFL, Oct. 2016, 56–57. Short article by Chanler’s grandson on her World War I relief work.

Elizabeth H. Ashe, nurse.


Elizabeth Ashe. Nat Library of Medicine

“I am wondering and wondering if this is to be a thirty years’ war.”—Elizabeth H. Ashe, Intimate Letters 41

Elizabeth Haywood Ashe (1869–1954) was a granddaughter of North Carolina governor Samuel Ashe (who gave his surname to Asheville, NC) and a niece of Civil War admiral David Farragut. In 1902, she earned her nursing credentials from the School of Nursing at Presbyterian Hospital in New York. She worked with those affected by the 1906 earthquake and cofounded the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, the first settlement house in San Francisco. In 1917, she was slated to join the France-bound Base Hospital No. 30 unit of the University of California when Dr. William Palmer Lucas, who later established the UC Department of Pediatrics, asked that she lead the nursing staff of a Children’s Bureau unit of the Red Cross. Focusing on medical care of French children (who were experiencing a high mortality rate), the unit traveled to France in summer 1917. Ashe wrote letters describing her experiences, later collected in Intimate Letters from France during America’s First Year of War (1918). Although in administration, she did more than sit behind a desk; for example, she visited the front, was located at one time in a town that was regularly bombed, and taught children how to play leapfrog. She wrote in August 1918:

. . . I have an erratic way of suddenly leaving my bureau at the call of the wounded and appearing unexpectedly at the hospital, at the critical moment, where I am greeted with open arms. Then I come back so dead tired at the end of a week or so that no one has the heart to scold me. But to sit in that office dictating letters, knowing that those poor boys are actually suffering for the most rudimentary care, is beyond my powers of endurance. . . . .One of the doctors has just come in to tell me that a trainload of  wounded came in last night which means that 350 men have been brought to the hospital and are lying in all stages of discomfort over the floors, lawns, corridors and in fact wherever they can find floor space for them as they have to be undressed, fed and many things done for them before they find rest. They usually arrive on the stretchers without pillows, their heads resting on the iron cross bars. The suffering these poor fellows go through absolutely without a complain[t] is heroic beyond words. I can’t get used to it…( 116).

Ashe returned to the United States in July 1919, resuming her work at the Hill Convalescent Home for Children in Marin County, CA. In 1922, Ashe announced the opening of a rest home on the property for professional women.


Elizabeth Ashe, right, visits a Red Cross nursing home outside of Paris, June 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division