The Over There Theatre League: Louise Wright Coffey.

Louise Wright Coffey, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Terre Haute, IN, Alice Louise Wright (1887–1961) was the granddaughter of Terre Haute grocer E. R. Wright. In 1907, she married electrician Robert Wallace Coffey. She studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught art. She and her husband divorced in 1916. She became a member of the YMCA-affiliated Over There Theatre League, first singing at Camp Mills in New York and Camp Dix in New Jersey. In October 1918, she traveled to France to entertain the troops with other members of the league. According to the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator of 16 August 1919, her group of five was dubbed the “Yankee Girls,” and the group performed in Belgium; Germany; Lorraine; Switzerland, and the environs of Bordeaux, Dijon, La Rochelle, and Paris in France. She mostly sang ballads at Red Cross huts and larger venues but did give some hospital performances (the flu patients attended wearing masks). One somewhat comical episode occurred when the piano used by her troupe only had four working keys; Coffey managed to cope, and the service members still enjoyed the performance.

An 8 February 1919 article from the Saturday Spectator furnishes a glimpse of her Christmas Day 1918 via quotes from her letters:

We were taken to the big embarkation camp at noon, and had a big dinner. A band of thirty pieces played during our meal. Then I sang a few songs and Miss [Blanche] Savoy danced. The band ate while we entertained. Then the tables were cleared away and we danced for an hour. Then we were driven 25 miles to an artillery camp, and had another dinner with the officers there. . . .

Our evening Christmas dinner was in an unique chateau. Everything was lighted with tall white candles and the holly was everywhere. Big grate fires were burning. Of course, being a French home, the silver, china, and service were lovely, and it was beautifully decorated with holly and mistletoe. At the “Yankee Girls” places were exquisite corsages, boxes of candy, etc. During the meal we were given toys, etc., by Santa Claus, and it was a delightful affair. (16–17)

The 8 February 1919 Saturday Spectator article provides further insight into her experiences:

We are going out to a balloon station this time. We shall have mess with the officers and give our show and return . . .

Yesterday we went to a big naval air station. . . . . Up to the present time it is the biggest theatre we have played in. It was a real theatre, seating between three and four thousand, and it was packed.

Our unit usually dances with the boys awhile after each performance and we talk with them. That is what they like. I met a few Terre Haute men lately. . . . .

Today I sang for a Y. M. C. A. banquet, and was the only one in the unit asked. I sang “The Star” and “A Bowl of Roses” and an officer down in front cried. That is the reason I object to singing the pathetic songs.

A few days ago we were sent to one of the Armour refrigerator camps on request. One of the Chicago Armours is major there and it is one of four camps receiving and storing food for the United States boys in France. A wonderful place! . . . .

We are on a southern circuit now, and shall be here for a month. We shall either go into Germany or to Nice in southeastern France. . . . .We are having a marvelous trip now. Most of our work is in the logging camps. We are also working in Canadian camps, for their entertainment department doesn’t get to them often. These Canadians are wonderful men, and hosts. They have never let anything undone for our comfort while with them. . . . .

We go this afternoon to Ponseux, about twelve miles away, and will be in and out of there for five days. On Jan. 20 and 22 we go to Bayonne and will be near Biarri[t]z. (16–17)

Wright was back in the United States by July 1919. According to the 23 February 1921 New York Clipper, she sailed to Panama in mid-February 1921 to work as an entertainer and a performer in government-sponsored films. Sometime in 1921, she married engineer James Janney Lippincott, who was working in Panama, and the couple returned to the United States in May 1923. According to the 1944 lawsuit Lippincott v. Lippincott, James Lippincott abandoned his wife in 1928. John Oliphant’s Brother Twelve indicated that he had become involved with the Aquarian Foundation, a New Age religion. The 1930 census listed Alice Louise Lippincott as an artist living in Los Angeles.

The Over There Theatre League: Rene Dietrich.

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Rene Dietrich, ca. 1915-20. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Soprano Irene Anna Dieterich was born in Washington, DC, in April 1886 and graduated from DC’s Business High School in 1902. She studied with Otto Freytag at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stuttgart and composed “The Teddy Bear March” (1907) in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt (listen to a recording).

Adopting Rene Dietrich as her stage name, she appeared in operas, musical comedies, and vaudeville. She met British-born Horace Wright when they were singing in “The Bohemian Girl” with the Aborn Opera Company; they married in May 1909. They sometimes appeared together as “The Somewhat Different Singers.” For Victor Records, they recorded songs such as “On the Beach at Waikiki,” “My Luau Girl,” and “Isles of Aloha.”

Along with Billy Gould, Louise Carlyle, and Gilbert Gregory, Dietrich and Wright were members of the “Yankee Doodle Five” that entertained US troops in France as part of the Over There Theatre League under the aegis of the YMCA.

Dietrich and Wright arrived in France in August 1918. A 1 Nov. 1918 letter from Dietrich was excerpted in the December 1918 issue of Variety:

We have just returned to Paris for the first time, after nine weeks’ continuous work in the field.  . . . The officers tell us a good show raises the morale of the boys 100 percent. . . .

Miss Carlyle and I always make it a point to shake hands and talk to as many boys as we can after each show, and believe me, I have had fellows actually cry with happiness when I talked to them. . . . [T]his whole experience is one which brings out the best in all of us, and when it is all over, I am sure the realization that we were able in our small way to help these fine boys right here when they needed us most, will be the greatest comfort, satisfaction and joy that we can have.

We are all having experiences such as we never dreamed of before, but the inconveniences and little hardships we always see in a humorous light and the boys’ gratitude is our sweetest reward. The only thing that troubles me is that after playing on wagon tops, under all sorts of circumstances in the open, in tents and huts–sometimes with a bum little old organ or just the ukelele for our “orchestra,” we won’t know how to act under normal conditions again at home. We have played within a few hundred yards of the lines with the Boche flying over us and on several occasions where we had to have our gas masks in the alert position and our “tin hats” on. Once in an old village we gave our show in a church, using the altar for the stage and the candles as footlights. . . . .Aside from our work with the Yankee Doodle Five, Mr. Wright and I often go through the wards of the hospitals, singing for the men who are badly wounded. And sometimes in the railroad stations or while we are traveling, I’ll get out the little old ukelele and we give the boys a few songs to brighten them on their way. (8, 18)

Dietrich and Wright continued performing after the war, especially in the vicinity of their New Jersey home, and occasionally on the radio. Wright became a car salesman and died in March 1939. Dietrich married Victor W. Mori, former rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ.

Other compositions by Rene Dietrich
“An American Girl for Me”
“Because of You”
“Everybody Acts Like Us When They’re Falling in Love”
“Honey Lou”
“I Heard You Singing on My Radio”
“I’m After You” (with Horace Wright)
“The Little White House with the Little Red Roof (Tucked Away in the Heart of the Hills)”
“I Love to Promenade with Madelon”
“Old Fashioned Home on the Hill” (with Horace Wright)
“Old Vienna”
“Tell All Our Friends in America” (with James Donahue)
“That Star-Spangled Baby of Mine” (with James Donahue)

WWI composer-pianist Helen Hagan in New Haven mayoral address

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Helen Hagan, from her 1918 passport application

New Haven mayor Toni Harp mentioned Helen Eugenia Hagan—the only black musician sent to play for the AEF in WWI France and 1912 Yale alumnus—in her State of the City address on February 6.

• Read more about Hagan

• Read about the September 2016 unveiling of a crowdfunded marker on Hagan’s previously unmarked grave in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery

• Listen to an excerpt from Hagan’s only extant composition, the Concerto in C Minor

Helen Hagan grave marker unveiling, Sept. 29th.

Here is the tentative program for the Sept 29th unveiling of the grave marker for Helen Eugenia Hagan, black pianist for the AEF and Yale School of Music’s first black female graduate. The ceremony will be held at 2 pm at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. This is the result of the crowdfunding campaign for the marker that I initiated.

More on Hagan’s life and work
Listen to Hagan’s only extant composition, the Concerto in C Minor (1912)

hagan-prgm

 

Women in LOC’s exhibition on WWI American artists.

World War I: American Artists View the Great War,” the Library of Congress’ exhibition on view until 6 May 2017, includes women such as:

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Eugenie De Land works on her Liberty Bond poster. From The Poster. War Souvenir Ed. 1919

Eugenie De Land (Saugstad, 1872–1961). A student of American illustrator Howard Pyle, De Land taught at DC’s Corcoran School of Art and McKinley Technical High School. She married artist Olaf Saugstad, and her works include a portrait of Kate Waller Barrett (on display at William & Mary’s Botetourt Gallery), a mural at the DC headquarters of the Order of the Eastern Star, a portrait of Declaration of Independence signer George Wythe at the Virginia Historical Society, and a painting of Abraham Lincoln at the battle of Fort Stevens donated by the artist to the Lincoln Museum (now under the aegis of Ford’s Theatre). The LOC exhibition features her 1917 Liberty Bond poster.

Kirtland

Helen Warner Johns Kirtland, from her 1917 passport application

Helen Johns Kirtland (1890–1979). Daughter of the founder of Johns-Manville, Kirtland photographed the war on assignments with Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, the Red Cross, and the YMCA. The LOC exhibition features a photo of her at the front dated 1917–18.

Mrs. A. Taylor, a nurse with Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike’s American Fund for French Wounded.

Edna M. Walker, Red Cross worker and furniture designer.

Further reading:
Profile of Helen Johns Kirtland, Brooklyn Eagle, 18 Sept. 1927

• “A Woman on the Battle Front” [photos by Helen Johns Kirtland], Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 24 Aug. 1918. Repr. Around the World with a Camera, New York, 1919.

• List of Eugenie De Land Saugstad’s public artworks

• View illustrations by Eugenie De Land (“Bertha and Laura”; “‘This be a case where history repeats itself'”; “‘Naow, when I wuz in Californy,’ said Farmer Squires to Mrs. Simpson”) in Deborah Gray by Frances C. Ingraham (pseud. of Clara Ingraham Bell), New York, 1903.