The new video series Yale Goes to War focuses on members of the Yale community who served in World War I. One video is on black composer-pianist Helen Hagan (Yale 1912), which mentions my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I.
Today marks the centenary of the U.S. entry into World War I. Here are a few American women’s reactions at the time about this development.
On a visit to England in 1915, Ohio-born actress Elsie Janis had sung for British wounded. She wrote in The Big Show (xi), “I was never really happy again until April 7, 1917, when America stepped in to take her share of the burden and glory of the world.” She headed off to France in 1918 to entertain the AEF for six months.
Wrote Boston native Amy Owen Bradley, an American Fund for French Wounded motor driver, from Quimper, France, on 8 April 1917:
Above the “Mairie” opposite, a huge French flag flung out. Under it were the flags of all the Allies, and in the middle, taller than all the others, our own beloved stars and stripes, floating in the breeze. . . .[We] asked for the Mayor’s secretary . . . we, as Americans, thanked him, for America, for putting our flag with the others, where for so long we had wanted it to be. (Back of the Front in France 26)
New Jersey-born refugee worker Esther Sayles Root wrote similarly from Paris on the same day:
The long-waited-for news of our actually going to war had rejoiced us all yesterday, but it was more thrilling than we ever could have imagined to drive past the big French Administration Buildings and see the Stars and Stripes waving with the other Allies’ flags in the Easter sunshine! To be one of the Allies at last! To have our flag and the French flag flying side by side as they should be, to have our great country wake up and fight its own fight—it is not only Easter but Thanksgiving to-day. (Over Periscope Pond 131)
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
• Listen to an excerpt from Hagan’s only extant composition, the Concerto in C Minor
I’ve updated the post on screenwriter Frances Marion and the 1918-19 film on U.S. women’s work in the war with information obtained from the National Archives, the USC Cinematic Arts Library, and other sources.
The grave marker for composer and AEF pianist Helen Eugenia Hagan—supported by a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1600—was unveiled on September 29 at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. As the organizer of the campaign, I was a speaker at the event. New Haven mayor Toni Harp declared the day “Women Making Music Day” in honor of Hagan (read the official proclamation).
Read articles on the unveiling (which also offer photos and some video):
Hagan was the only African American female musician to entertain the AEF in France (as part of the “Proctor Party” formed at the request of General John J. Pershing).
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.
Stevens Point, WI, native Sara Elizabeth Buck (1889–1978) served as a YMCA canteen worker in occupied Germany (attached to the 42nd Division, aka the Rainbow Division) and Toul, France, as she relates in her April 1919 letter to Stevens Point’s Ida Week published in the December 1919 issue of Wisconsin Magazine of History.
In “A Woman ‘Y’ Worker’s Experiences,” she refers to working in both a “wet canteen” (one that serves alcohol) and a “dry canteen” (one that doesn’t). Her duties ranged from making 750 doughnuts (when she had never made them before) to singing for the troops. Living in rough conditions, the 5-foot-4 Buck toured the region of the American St. Mihiel campaign and described the devastation there as well as at Verdun. She also mentioned visiting fellow Stevens Point resident Lt. Lyman Park (this new book includes a letter from Park) and others from Battery E, 120 Field Artillery):
I went to Mauvage the entraining point and stood in the mud to my ankles in the rain and gave them hot coffee, waiting until the train pulled out, waved them good-bye . . . (242).
Sara Buck’s father was train engineer Melzar W. Buck. She graduated from Stevens Point Normal School and the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis. Buck taught music in Saginaw (MI), Grand Forks (ND), and Stevens Point. In 1926, she married Clinton W. Copps, part of a family firm of grocers; he died of tuberculosis in 1931. They had one child, Stephen. Buck died in 1978 and is buried in Forest Cemetery in Stevens Point. Her grandson is LaCrosse physician Stephen Clinton Copps.
The ceremony to unveil the grave marker for composer-pianist Helen Hagan—the only black performing artist sent to World War I France—has been set for Thursday, September 29, at 2 p.m. at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery.
Yale School of Music has posted a piece on its alumnus, black pianist/ composer/AEF entertainer Helen Hagan (Yale 1912), mentioning that she was its first female African American student. Also covered are my efforts toward the production of a marker for her grave in New Haven.
The Yale Daily News’ Nitya Rayapati interviewed me about the grave-marker effort for pioneering composer-pianist Helen Hagan (Yale 1912), the only black performing artist sent to World War I France. After a generous contribution by the Yale School of Music, the crowd-funding campaign is just $245 shy of the goal of $1500.
Update, 3-25-16. The grave marker effort has surpassed its fund-raising goal, reaching a total of $1605. Thanks to all who so generously contributed. A dedication ceremony is envisioned for fall 2016.