On November 13 at 7 pm at the Lyceum in Alexandria, I’ll be speaking on “‘The Glorious Undying Spirit of Pluck’: Alexandria Women in World War I.” I also will be signing copies of my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (sold by Alexandria’s bookstore Hooray for Books). Tickets are $10 (including wine/dessert reception), available here.
Today is the last day to RSVP for my talk on “DC Women in World War I” at the March 16 luncheon of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of DC (AOI), the oldest civic organization in Washington, DC. I’ll also be signing copies of my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I.
As part of Women’s History Month, I’ll be speaking on “DC Women in World War I” at the March 16 luncheon of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of DC (AOI), the oldest civic organization in Washington, DC. I’ll also be signing copies of my book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I.
The Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette noted in its 2 September 1918 edition that Yeoman (F) First Class Anna Davis McSherry, who was assigned to the Department of Public Works at the Naval Academy, had bested 25 sailors in a shooting contest at the Glen Burnie rifle range and qualified for the marksman rating. The newspaper account was quick to credit her male shooting instructor, Sergeant J. E. Given of the National Guard, although it also noted that McSherry had won a prize in a YWCA shooting contest the previous year. Another newspaper account states that in the contest at the Glen Burnie rifle range, she made 156 hits out of 200 shots at a range of 500 yards.
McSherry, granddaughter of Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge James McSherry and great-great-niece of Rear Admiral Cadwalader Ringgold, enlisted in the Navy in March 1917 and “aggressive[ly]” captained Baltimore’s yeoman (F) basketball team. In 1924, she was listed as a senior stenographer in the Maryland attorney general’s office. In Nov. 1924, she married electrical engineer Robert Tyson Greer. By 1941, she was listed as a chief clerk in the Maryland attorney general’s office. She died in 1993 and is buried in Baltimore’s Lorraine Park Cemetery. Her daughter was Anne Greer Creamer (1928–96). A relative is Maryland attorney M. Natalie McSherry.
On Veterans Day, it’s good to remember that veterans come from many different backgrounds. Such a veteran is Sister Chrysostom Moynahan (1863–1941), a member of the Daughters of Charity religious order that has a long history of caring for the sick and vulnerable. Its record includes distinguished service during the Civil War by American Daughters of Charity and during World War I by some 15,000 French Daughters of Charity and the only U.S. nuns to work in the European theater.
Born in Ireland as Hannah Moynahan, Sister Chrysostom immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1879, and they resided in Massachusetts. According to the History of American Red Cross Nursing, Sister Chrysostom, after graduating from the seminary of the Daughters of Charity in 1889, was sent to Carney Hospital in Boston. Sister Chrysostom then entered the Daughters of Charity’s school for nurses, graduating in 1894. During the Spanish American War, she cared for the Spanish who were injured after the Maria Theresa attempted to run a U.S. blockade and was fired upon. She had subsequent assignments at Fort Thomas (KY), in Evansville (IN), and in Birmingham (AL). In Birmingham, she served as administrator of St. Vincent’s Hospital and founded the hospital’s school of nursing—the first nursing school in Alabama. In 1916, Sister Chrysostom became the first registered nurse licensed in Alabama. In 1918, she was appointed chief nurse of Base Hospital 102 (aka the “Loyola Unit” or the “New Orleans Unit” because the personnel mainly was from Loyola University in New Orleans) and set off for Italy on the Umbria from Baltimore in August. Along the way, the Umbria rescued survivors of the torpedoed oil tanker Jennings, who received medical attention from the hospital staff. Said Sister Chrysostom in the El Paso Herald prior to their departure:
We are all registered nurses and are anxious to go across and get to work. . . .We will have charge of the operating rooms and hope to do our full duty to bring the American boys back to health and happiness. . . .The sisterhood feels keenly the desire to be of the utmost service in caring for the soldiers of Italy or any of the other Allies of America. War makes its demand upon the woman power of America as well as upon the man power, and all who can do so, no matter what the sacrifice, should serve the interest of America’s part in the war.
The Herald account noted that the nuns were unaccustomed to having their photograph taken and only consented so “they might serve as an example for others to follow.” The Daughters of Charity nurses were permitted to wear the garb of their order but also wore a device and a cap while on duty to indicate that they were members of the Army Nurse Corps (see The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War 297). From September 1918 to the end of March 1919, Base Hospital No. 102 in Vicenza cared for a total of 3,000 patients, which included nearly 400 Americans. Twenty-eight deaths occurred. The Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives blog notes that the hospital was located 15 miles from the Italian front, and its cases included burns from mustard gas, pneumonia, malaria, and influenza. Sister Florence Grace Means, one of Sister Chrysostom’s colleagues, provided some harrowing glimpses into their environment in her diary, describing stoves that “blow up at regular intervals” and 2000 lying wounded and dying at a field hospital that had only 10 nurses in attendance. A 21 June 1919 Literary Digest account of the unit’s work at the front provided equally sobering details on air raids, lack of heat, and patient conditions, and stated:
The entire detachment, including the nurses and officers, was also mentioned in the order of the day issued to the Sixth Army on December 12, and awarded the Italian service ribbon with the Monte Grappa medal commemorating that memorable campaign… (76)
Sister Chrysostom returned to the United States in April 1919, going on to administer hospitals in St. Louis, St. Joe (MO), and Mobile. When she died in 1941, she was accorded a funeral with full military honors and was buried in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. Sister Chrysostom was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in October 1982.
“Super-sensitive people should not come here.”
—Margaret Hall, on the suicides of her colleagues Dorothea and Gladys Cornwell after their service in France (see Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country)
Although there has been recent coverage about the health care needs of U.S. female service members, it is not a new matter. In 1923, the American Legion called attention to disabled American women who had served in World War I. In 1931, Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers (R–MA), the first congresswoman elected from New England who had served in France and at Walter Reed, asked President Hoover to open homes and hospitals specifically for female veterans.
Accounts of U.S. women who served in the war and had their lives cut short tend to be deeply sad, not least because often little of their story is known. The following are some examples.
- Yeoman (F) Genevieve Cox Petrone was murdered by her husband on the Southern Pacific ferry Santa Clara in October 1917. The husband’s suicide note included in the newspaper account suggests that Petrone intended to leave him after a history of marital discord. Another newspaper article stated that they were separated.
- Canteen workers Dorothea and Gladys Cornwell jumped from the ship taking them to the United States in January 1919 after suffering under bombardment in France (discussed in my book In Their Own Words).
- Azeele Packwood, a member of the New York chapter of the Women’s Motor Corps (affiliated with the Red Cross), was found dead from chloroform asphyxiation at the Palisades in January 1919. According to newspaper accounts, she was despondent after the October 1918 death in France of her close friend (and rumored boyfriend) Dr. Clarence Fahnestock, son of millionaire banker Harris C. Fahnestock. Packwood, the daughter of businessman and Civil War/Spanish-American War veteran George H. Packwood of Tampa, was not mentioned in Fahnestock’s will. Her nephew, Ernest Packwood MacBryde, asserted that she was murdered. Azeele Street in Tampa is named after her. (The New-York Tribune has side-by-side accounts of the Packwood and Cornwell deaths).
- Former Yeoman (F) Grace Coombs, 28, committed suicide in her lodgings in Washington, DC, in April 1919. Relatives attributed it to ill health. Her brother, Guy Coombs, was an actor in silent films.
- Yeoman (F) Flossie May Rosell, who graduated in 1917 from Colorado State Normal School (the precursor to University of Northern Colorado) and enlisted in the Navy in September 1918, drowned at Great Falls, VA, in September 1920. Her body was discovered in Maryland. The coroner deemed it an accident (without hearing testimony from witnesses who had details about Rosell’s despondency due to erratic employment, which probably influenced the earlier accounts listing the death as suicide).
- Dr. Caroline Purnell’s 1923 obituary attributes her death to overwork during the war. Purnell received the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française and honorary French citizenship for her service with the American Women’s Hospitals.
- The 1925 death of war composer and former senior chief yeoman (F) Daisy May Erd is attributed in her death certificate to the tuberculosis she contracted during her military service.
Born in Kansas, Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard (1886–1985) earned her nursing credentials from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and served as a nurse during World War I at Base Hospital No. 46. Also known as the “Oregon unit,” the hospital specialized in neurosurgical cases at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse in France. From 23 July 1918 to 19 January 1919, the hospital admitted 8366 patients.
According to a 1976 interview with Brouillard by the Latah County [ID] Historical Society, Brouillard worked as a nurse for about three years—including in Coos Bay, OR—before her World War I service. She joined the army in 1917 and first served as a nurse in a shipyard. She was assigned to the hospital at North Carolina’s Camp Greene for three months, then was sent to New York. On 4 July 1918, Brouillard headed for Liverpool on the Aquitania (mentioning in a letter that she worked one night in the ship’s hospital and in an interview that some of the men had to be knocked out to get them on the ship; many had never been away from home before). She arrived in France on 14 July. Her experiences are featured in a 31 Aug 1918 letter to Sergeant Chester F. Leighton of Camp Greene, in the 1976 interview (which starts at about minute 16 after the interview with Brouillard’s sister), and in a 2015 Latah Eagle article based on the oral history.
Canadian-born musician Daisy May Pratt (1882–1925) married barber Louis Erd and had two children, Norma and Georgia. She enlisted in the Navy in April 1917 and rose to the rank of senior chief yeoman at the Boston Navy Yard, supervising the female workers, attending to welfare needs among the sailors, and establishing the Hingham Naval Training Station Band. She composed the following war-related songs, designating some of her royalties for Naval Relief:
• “The Rear Admiral Wood One-Step” (1918).
• “Welcome Home” (1919). Sheet music
In March 1918, Erd received a gold medal for war service as a personal gesture of recognition by William R. Rush, commandant of the Boston Navy Yard. She was discharged from the Navy in April 1920 and was instrumental in establishing the first female American Legion post in Massachusetts. She supported the payment of a bonus to female veterans. She died of tuberculosis in 1925—a disease, the death certificate stated, that she had contracted during her military service.
In September 1918, Editor & Publisher noted that Elizabeth Ingalls Burt (1889–1973), who had been a Boston Sunday Post reporter, had enlisted as a yeoman (F) and was editing The Salvo, the employee newspaper of the Boston Navy Yard. It stated that Burt was the first female newspaper reporter from Boston to serve in the Navy.
Born in Boston, Burt enlisted in May 1918. During her term as editor, many of The Salvo’s pieces ran without bylines, thus complicating the question of who wrote what. But Burt definitely wrote this July 1918 article.
An earlier Editor & Publisher article outlined Burt’s tactics in obtaining stories, including “play[ing] the part of shop girl, chorus ‘lady,’ waitress, etc.”
It appears that, after the war, Burt was involved in public relations and became manager of the Handel and Hayden Society in Boston.
In honor of Women’s History Month and the April 6 centenary of the US entry into World War I, I’ll be speaking at 2 pm on March 26 at Jarrettsville Library (Jarrettsville, MD) about my anthology In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I. I’m looking forward to it, as I’m told one of the library’s book groups includes female veterans.