The Over There Theatre League: Amparito Farrar.

The Over There Theatre League, headed by theater legend George M. Cohan and theater director-producer-playwright Winthrop Ames, formed in April 1918 to mobilize volunteer performers for entertaining US troops in France under the auspices of the YMCA. According to the 24 Apr 1918 New York Times, nearly 2,000 theater professionals attended the first meeting (but a 1 November 1918 issue of Variety signaled discord between the league and those rejected for performances in France).

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Amparito Farrar. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

According to the 3 May 1918 Variety, “No woman under 25 will be eligible as an entertainer overseas” (23). One female league participant was the 25-year-old Amparito Farrar, soprano (1893–1989, no relation to opera star Geraldine Farrar). Promoted from chorus girl to star of the 1914 production of High Jinks, Farrar sang for service members at the new base hospital at Fox Hills, Staten Island, before leaving the United States in Aug 1918 with her mother, who served as her accompanist, for four months in France. She said in the 15 Aug 1918 Musical Leader, “I want to bring them solace and comfort when they come back wounded or for first aid. I consider my work just as much first aid as the medical treatment…” (149).

As the 2 Oct. 1918 New Era noted, Farrar stated:

I have sung in motor camps, ‘Y’ and Knights of Columbus huts, Salvation Army bakeries, Red Cross hospitals and even at the bedsides of the boys, one at a time, everything from grand opera to ‘Tickle Toe’ [probably a song from the 1917 musical Going Up]. I even dance a little” (9).

She further reported in the 28 Nov. 1918 Musical Leader:

I have looked over the German line as far as the Rhine. . . . Last week I was in a very beautiful part of the country, singing every night, being forced to ride from fifteen to twenty miles every day to do so. . . . In the afternoon I went with one of the ‘Y’ men to see a track meet for a negro regiment arranged by white officers. After it was over they all gathered around a little bank of grass, over 3,300 of them, and I sang many songs to them amidst cheers and yells of delight. (“Amparito Farrar Writes from France” 521)

In June 1919, Farrar married surgeon Goodrich Truman Smith, who had treated her in France for influenza.

Listen to Farrar sing the World War I song “Madelon.”

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The Connecticut Trio: WWI entertainers.

The Connecticut Trio was composed of Nutmeg State performers Carolyn Washburn (violinist and an industrial secretary of the YMCA in Hartford, 1880–1967), (Annie) Irene Richards (a dancer who graduated from Oberlin in 1913 and physical training director of the YWCA in Hartford, b. 1891), and Norma Lelia Smith (voice teacher, accompanist, and singer, b. 1893). Signing up as YMCA entertainers, they left for France in January 1919, but their path was not a smooth one. According to a letter from Washburn in the 2 June 1919 Hartford Courant, she was questioned by the British before her departure about her activities over the past four years and about a Baron Koff (possibly Baron Sergei Korff, who became a professor of international law at the University of Georgia). It is possible that the British believed she was related to war correspondent Stanley Washburn (1878–1950), who reported from the Russian front and was connected to US diplomatic missions involving Russia.

In addition, the ship of the Connecticut Trio, the Lapland, sprung a leak due to previous torpedo damage “and let in eight feet of water, more than the machine could possibly pump out, then a three-day storm came up. . . .The old steamer listed on one side constantly, giving us a most unwelcome view of the fifty feet waves tossing over and under and around until all were desperate” (“One of Conn. Trio Mistaken for Spy” 3).

After their arrival in Liverpool, the trio gave a concert in Lincoln and were requested by the British YMCA to perform in Plymouth, Winchester, and other British locations before proceeding to France. Washburn told of a lack of heat and lodgings in French ruins where “if we were fortunate enough to draw the second floor we climbed up a step ladder to enter” (3). She wrote:

Each night at 7 o’clock . . .we are called for by some sort of vehicle—Ford or Red Cross truck. . . At 7:30 o’clock we are several kilo[meter]s away performing in our best clothes in a hut or tent; maybe an American organ, possibly a piano with no ivories, no stage or one made out of a piano box, but always an audience. The attendance averages 900. Often we play for 2,000 in one group. . . . . We have been through 200 miles of battlefronts and shelled roads, trenches, barbed wire; have seen lost families and lonely women everywhere rebuilding their ruins, families moving back in two-wheeled carts with a feather bed and a dog behind their only property.  The roads are depressing to travel, crosses all along the sides marking the graves of some ally or enemy, also a lonely cross now and then against the outline of the horizon, with trenches, maddening barbed wire and shell holes, dugouts with deserted ammunition marked in German script, all forming a horrible foreground. (3)

Washburn’s brother Wilford A. Washburn Jr., who had enlisted in the Canadian infantry, had died of wounds in Amiens in August 1918, and Washburn visited his grave. The book Jefferson County in the World War states that the Connecticut Trio also performed in Belgium and Holland. Smith returned to the United States in July 1919, and Washburn and Richards in September 1919. Smith sang in vaudeville under the name Norma Grey. Washburn was listed on the faculty of the Hartford School of Music in 1922–23 and opened her own studio in 1924.

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The Connecticut Trio: Norma L. Smith (seated, left), Carolyn Washburn (seated, right), and Irene Richards

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

Mayo

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.

 

 

 

 

Women on the U.S. entry into World War I.

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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)

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Elsie Janis. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div

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Amy Owen Bradley, from her 1916 passport application

Root

Esther Sayles Root, from her 1924 passport application

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

Finally: A grave marker for AEF pianist Helen Hagan.

hehagan-markerThe 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):

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
New Haven Register
New Haven Independent
WNPR
Yale School of Music

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).

More on Hagan’s life and work
Listen to Hagan’s Concerto in C Minor, her only extant composition

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