The McAllister sisters: Salvation Army workers in France.

[. . .W]hen we took the patient out, we found his head had been completely severed from his body by a large shell fragment.
— Alice McAllister, The Doughnut Sweethearts

Coming from a family deeply involved in the Salvation Army, the Virginia-born Salvation Army captain Violet McAllister (1891–1939) and her lieutenant sister Alice (1892–1980) sailed on the Rochambeau in March 1918 to undertake relief work in France. Their duties included frying doughnuts, preparing hot chocolate, serving lemonade, preaching, playing guitar, singing, and attending to the wounded and the dying. Stated Alice in “The M’Allister Sisters Who Went to the Front” (Naugatuck Daily News, 15 Jan. 1919, p. 7):

[. . .T]hree days after our arrival we were at the front in the Cantigny Drive, about five kilometers from the firing line . . . We slept in a cellar, for the town was shelled every night, and the following day chose a suitable old house and set up a canteen for serving food and hot chocolate. . . . .We were shelled out of there at midnight and walked, it seemed, miles until a wagon picked us up and carried us two or three kilometers back. Here airplanes dropped bombs over us every night.

The McAllister sisters were at Roulecourt before the St. Mihiel campaign and at one point were believed dead or captured by the Germans (see San Diego Union and Daily Bee). Alice continued:

[. . . A]t 10 o’clock the loud naval gun went off, Violet and I hurriedly put on our gas masks, helmets, and we had our rubber boots on, and then the shelling began on Montsoe. It looked just like a volcano with all the spurts of flame, and on the front as far as one could see for twenty-seven miles, there was a din and hub-bub, and the flashes of guns. One shell struck the German ammunition dump and this set the city on fire. . . . We asked to go up to the front and were sent with three tons of supplies. We finally came to Nonsard, which had been occupied by the Germans only twenty-four hours before. . . . . Here we slept in a bomb proof dugout. As soon as our sign was out at 7 in the morning the boys simply swarmed around . . . . we made sandwiches, you can imagine how many, because we used about 800 cases in two days, and served over 10,000 men . . .

The sisters returned to the United States in October 1918. In 1919, they headed overseas again to assist French refugees, returning in September 1919.

In June 1920, Violet married fellow Salvation Army captain Harry Hesketh Booth, and they had three children. In July 1927, she was one of the Salvation Army representatives selected to attend the American Legion convention in Paris. She died in March 1939 from a cerebral embolism. Alice left the Salvation Army after her marriage to electrician Frank Baugh in March 1927; they had two children.

Further reading:
The Doughnut Sweethearts: The Diary of Alice McAllister during World War I (2012; read excerpts here and here)

Hamilton, Mildred. “Doughnuts and Guitars on the Western Front [interview with Alice McAllister Baugh].” San Francisco Examiner, 8 May 1977, p. 79.

Below: Violet McAllister (left, 1918–19, National Archives). Alice McAllister, from her 1918 passport application

Mary E. Gladwin, Red Cross nurse.

Photo of Mary E. Gladwin, ca. 1920
Mary E. Gladwin, ca. 1920.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Mary E. Gladwin (1861–1939) was born in Stoke-upon-Trent, England, and emigrated with her family to Akron, OH, becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1874. She graduated from Buchtel College (now University of Akron) in 1887 and taught at Norwalk (OH) High School. Gladwin then earned a nursing credential at Boston City Hospital and was superintendent of Beverly Hospital (MA) and Woman’s Hospital (NY). She served as a Red Cross nurse in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War, in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, and in Ohio after the 1913 flood.

In World War I, Gladwin first went to Belgrade, Serbia, as reflected by her three letters dated from November 1914 to February 1915 in the 3 May 1915 Norwalk [OH] Reflector-Herald. The letters were carried by individuals and therefore did not pass through a censor:

Our big hospital is on the banks of the Sav River, and we look over into Ziemlin and Austrian territory. The town of Belgrade has been shelled every day since August 1. The big Austrian searchlights play all night. . . . . The big guns boom every night, and the other night as Dr. [Edward] Ryan and I stood on the steps, we heard one shriek quite plainly. It is a curious sound to hear, one going through the air. Shriek is exactly the word to describe it. (2)

Amid Gladwin’s accounts of tea with eminent people such as Lady Paget (the American-born Minnie Stevens), Sir Thomas Lipton (creator of Lipton tea), and Harry James (a son of philosopher William James who was working for the Rockefeller Foundation’s War Relief Commission) were some sobering details and evidence of her sang froid:

In one day, just before the Austrians left, 9,000 wounded passed through these hospitals, 6,000 being here for a few hours, then going to Zemlin [Zemun], 3,000 remaining here. Last night there was a sharp engagement. I awakened to see the flash of the cannon on my white wall, and then in a few seconds heard the report. However, it takes more than that to keep me awake. (2)

Gladwin also wrote in a 25 May 1915 letter to Buchtel College president Parke Kolbe:

Then the coming of the Austrians. They seemed to number like the sands of the sea as they marched and rode down the street past the hospital. After a few days the wounded began to come; at first dozens, then by the hundred, then by the thousand. The beds were soon all filled, three men in a bed; wounded under the tables and in every corner. There was very soon only a narrow lane down our broad hospital corridors. We literally walked over the dead and the dying. . . . .

At two o’clock one morning, when we had been doing dressings for thirty-six hours without stopping, one of the doctors came to me with: “If I should pour cold water over coffee could a man drink it?” He had a man on the table who, wounded, had lain in the woods . . . nine days . . . shot through the chest, with neither food nor drink, and with frozen feet. I shall always be glad to remember that I took time to do an unnecessary thing—to make him a cup of coffee over an alcohol lamp—and that somebody fed it to him a teaspoonful at a time. (Fifty Years of Buchtel [1922] 392)

Gladwin also cared for patients in the typhus epidemic. She returned to the United States in January 1916 and was called as a witness at the trial in Akron of Austrian Peter Fabian for the murder of Joseph Ferguson in November 1915; the prosecution wished to show that racial hatred was the motive (the victim was Romanian with Austro-Hungarian citizenship; the defendant was quoted as saying that he had “killed a Serbian” [see Fabian v. State]). According to the 4 Mar. 1916 Norwalk Reflector-Herald, Gladwin testified that she had seen battles between Serbian and Austro-Hungarian troops, as well as battles between German/Austro-Hungarian troops and those of England, France, and Serbia. The newspaper noted, “her testimony was deemed conclusive” (1). (Fabian was convicted of first-degree murder, served 13 years of a life sentence, and had his sentence commuted in December 1931.)

Next, Gladwin headed for Salonika (now known as Thessaloniki), Greece in December 1916 to care for refugees. Her memoir, “The Red Crosser,” describes bureaucratic snafus in Britain over her visa that required the intercession of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low and US ambassador Walter Hines Page, and conveys worry about friends and patients from her Serbian days who had been taken prisoner. She contracted meningitis in Greece in March 1917 and recuperated at a convalescent home for British nurses. After her return to work, a fire left 80,000 people homeless, and a blockade prevented any aid from Athens. Gladwin housed displaced men from the Athens School of Archaeology and the American Legation, and the American Red Cross organized soup stations in the city and refugee camps outside of it, with the British providing kettles, firewood, and soldiers to staff the stations.

Gladwin returned to the United States in January 1919, going on to serve as president of the Ohio Nurses’ Assn, director of nursing education at St. Mary’s Hospital (Minneapolis), and director of the school of nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital (Rochester, MN). She wrote Ethics: Talks to Nurses (1930). Her service medals included the Order of St. Sava, the Royal Red Cross, and the Cross of Charity (Serbia); the Ribbon of St. Anne (Russia); the Order of the Golden Crown and the Royal Red Cross (Japan); and the Florence Nightingale Medal (International Congress of the Red Cross). The chapter of the Women’s Overseas Service League in Akron was named the Mary Gladwin Unit in her honor, and the College of Health Professions at the University of Akron is housed in Mary Gladwin Hall.

Further reading:
Gladwin diary 1914–15 (Ohio Memory)

• Gladwin’s digitized scrapbook with photos (Ohio Memory)

Fabian v. State (1918), Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Ohio, Vol. 97

Margaret Rowland, Red Cross worker.

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Margaret Rowland, from her 1918 passport application

“I knew the world was crashing over my head.”
— Margaret Rowland, 1918

Margaret Elizabeth Rowland was born in Phillips, WI, in 1892, the daughter of attorney, insurance executive, and Racine County public administrator John D. Rowland. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1913 and attended a nursing course in New York. Rowland headed overseas in April 1918 to take up Red Cross work.

She was assigned to a French evacuation hospital as a nurse’s aide. An excerpt from a letter she wrote to her brother, David, was published in the 26 Aug. 1918 Racine Journal News:

You see all of the wounds when they come in . . . they are huge gouges just filled with livid, bright, green matter and are the vilest smelling things. The men are so brave, not only the Frenchmen but the Americans too. . . . .

Tuesday morning at 3 o’clock the train came in with four hundred poor wounded things. We all got up and flew to our places, I in the operating room, and there we worked until 12 o’clock that day. . . . .

We started again at 4 o’clock and worked until 8 that night. We fell into bed awfully tired expecting to get some sleep. I did go to sleep when suddenly I sat up in bed with the queerest of sensations. It was horrible. I knew the world was crashing over my head. Everything was shaking like a leaf and the most horrible roar rung in our ears. Then out of all the chaos I heard “burr-burr-burr” of a German plane and I knew we were being bombed.

It is an awful sensation. You know you are in danger and yet you really are not afraid. You become a perfect fatalist. . . . Three bombs dropped within half a block of us.

. . . . I heard my name shouted outside of my door to dress immediately and go to the operating room—another train had come in. Well, we worked again without any food until 12 o’clock that noon—cutting great hunks of shrapnel out, sawing out pieces of fractured bone, amputating, sewing up ghastly looking face wounds and trying to fix up some absolutely fatal cases as comfortably as possible so the poor fellows could die in peace. . . . .

We had to stop for a few hours while the Boche flew over us and dropped a few bombs. . . .[T]heir bombs dropped on their own men, on a prison camp of Boche, a few kilometers from here. They killed about 110 and wounded a good many. The French are really awfully good to them and take care of the poor fellows but it must be sort of a shock to be bombed by your own people. (23)

Later, Rowland served with the Red Cross Motor Corps in Paris.

After a six-week courtship, she married John Bradley Washington Delehanty in Paris in April 1919 (see the wedding invitation at the National World War I Museum and this account of the wedding in Stars and Stripes). Delehanty’s sister Frances, an artist and occupational aide with the Red Cross, was in attendance. Bradley Delehanty, a descendant of George Washington’s brother Samuel and an architect, was a captain and operations officer in the AEF’s 308th Infantry who played a role in the relief of the famous “Lost Battalion.”

The couple lived in New York and had two children. Cornell student John Bradley Delehanty Jr. (1922–40) died in a car accident. Patricia Delehanty Hildt (1920–77) became an artist. Rowland passed away in 1962. One grandchild, John Bradley Hildt, served in the Peace Corps in Uganda, and another, Anne Hildt Geddes, is an interior designer.

Vivian Aston, YMCA worker.

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Vivian Aston, from her 1918 passport application

Virginia-born Mary Vivian Aston (1888–1959) studied at the Institute of Music Art in New York and the Newcomb School of Music in New Orleans. In 1918, she was head of the Vocal Department and director of the Girls’ Glee Club at Mansfield (PA) Normal School (later Mansfield University). The school’s 1918 Carontawan yearbook referred to her “soft Southern voice [that] has charmed us all” (27).

She headed overseas in summer 1918 for YMCA canteen work. Margaret McGill, who led a unit of female war workers associated with colleges such as Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke, explained that Aston became an informal member of the unit after the death of unit member Elizabeth Russell (“News from Our Workers Abroad” 38). McGill’s account in the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, “Bits of War Work in Three Countries,” provided some details on Aston’s service. Because of the need for canteen workers in England, Aston first was assigned to the Lord Street Canteen for US service members in Liverpool (dates seem to indicate that she was there at the same time as Ithaca, NY’s Agnes Yutzey). McGill quotes Lady Ward (aka American Jean Templeton Reid) that it was important to have “the right kind of American women” (225) working in England to strengthen relations between the two countries. McGill indicates that she and Aston also assisted with the care of those suffering from influenza.

Next, Aston and McGill were sent to Diekirch, Luxembourg, as the first female YMCA workers in the country and set up a canteen at the Hotel de l’Europe. Until their arrival, there was nowhere for US servicemen to go to unwind. McGill stated that the hotel’s cafe was converted to the canteen’s “living-room”:

The tables were used for papers and magazines and drinking cocoa; the old counter over which beer and schnapps had doubtless passed so often was used for the cocoa service. On the counter, when it was not the cocoa hour, our daily papers were stacked. . . . . Chicago Tribune was first in favor—the 33rd [Infantry Division] was the Illinois National Guard Division; the London Daily Mail was second choice; and the [New York] Herald the least popular. The piano in the corner . . . was in constant use. Miss Aston was a very pleasing accompanist . . . (227)

Other features of the canteen were an “ancient” billiard table and a room where servicemembers could write letters home. McGill noted that Thursday was “doughnut day,” and Sunday night was “fudge night.” She stated:

Miss Aston established a cocoa circuit. Many towns in the neighborhood of Diekirch and Ettelbruch had no service from American women war workers; so on certain afternoons of each week, she took a cocoa serving equipment and gave them one pleasant change from the dreariness of their daily routine, with an American woman to talk with and American cocoa to drink. (228)

McGill noted that Aston was later transferred to Coblenz (where the US army of occupation was stationed). As a letter from the YMCA makes clear, the YMCA had a negative reputation with 33rd Division servicemembers until the work of Aston, McGill, and their colleagues changed the division’s opinion.

Aston (along with Ithaca’s Yutzey) returned to the United States on the Mobile in September 1919; this newspaper article indicates that they attended a dance in honor of the returned 1st Division and the female YMCA workers who were providing services to the division. In 1921, Aston headed the vocal department at the Dramatic Art Studio in Glendale, CA. In late 1922, she toured with the Apollo Concert Company. She later was a music instructor for many years at Southwest Junior College (now Southwest Mississippi Community College). Her nephew was film and TV director Will Price, who was the second husband of actress Maureen O’Hara.

Rosanna D. Thorndike, worker with blind servicemen in France.

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Rosanna D. Thorndike, from her 1917 passport application

Boston-born Rosanna Duncan Thorndike (1898–1979) was the daughter of broker Albert Thorndike, who was treasurer and a trustee of Perkins School for the Blind, the first US school for the blind. At age 15, she earned a prize in a writing contest of St. Nicholas magazine alongside Bennett Cerf and Stephen Vincent Benét. At Perkins, she learned handcrafts, which was preparation for her World War I work.

In September 1917, she sailed for France, where she first served as a YMCA worker in Eleanor Butler Roosevelt‘s Hotel Richmond for US officers (a cousin of Thorndike’s father was Paul Thorndike, who was acquainted with the Roosevelt family). Thorndike also worked as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross; as a teacher of crafts and English at the Phare de France, a training school for blind French service members involving Winifred Holt (daughter of publisher Henry Holt and founder of the New York Association for the Blind, aka Lighthouse Guild); and as a worker with US blind soldiers at Base Hospital 8 in Savenay. Thorndike wrote of her experiences in The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919:

The first blind soldiers to return to America reached home in a pretty disconsolate condition. They had not been told anything of all there is left in life even after sight has been taken away, and it meant that they were utterly discouraged and disheartened, and that they had slipped so far into both mental and physical darkness, that it was very difficult to rouse them to any hope for their futures or any interest in things in the world about them. . . . .

[I]t was decided that . . . it would be eminently worth while to take a few weeks to help these men to learn a little of what others may teach them of how to be blind. . . . . Every day each one who was in condition to study learned a little Braille, a bit of typewriting, worked on a basket, modelled a few minutes in clay—made a little progress in something; and we tried to keep up their interest so they would want always to learn more. Then there were walks in the afternoons . . . . there were sometimes feasts, and always games and reading aloud. . . . .

They were full, busy, even happy days in a way, in spite of the suffering, the discouragement, the homesickness, the occasional lack of courage that just had to enter in. They were days I shall never forget . . . (93–94)

She returned to the United States in March 1919. In that year, she was a member of the Department of Social and Physical Education for the Red Cross Institute for the Blind (known as Evergreen) in Baltimore. According to the 23 Nov. 1922 Boston Post, she was one of 100 members of the Overseas Women’s Service League to participate in a parade honoring the visiting former French prime minister Georges Clemenceau. From 1923 to 1940, she was secretary to Hans Zinsser of Harvard’s medical school. In the May 1927 issue of Carry On, she wrote movingly of the plight of blind veterans, seeking to raise funds for an orchestra composed of these men:

I knew these boys in France, and I’ve known them since. I know the kind of things they are up against—no real home sometimes, often no occupation, no understanding from other people. I know their courage and their grit. . . . . Think of the plans these boys had for their lives; think of the suffering they’ve been through mental and physical; imagine the eternal darkness they can never get away from; or the tiny blurr of light that never increases and which may suddenly fade away entirely. (40)

She became a trustee of the Perkins School for the Blind. During World War II, Thorndike returned to relief work in France via the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and she was interned in Germany for over a year, as the AFSC documents (including a report coauthored by Thorndike about the AFSC’s wartime work in France).

Thorndike went on to work for the US embassy in Paris. In September 1950, she married Frederick Jefferson Leviseur, a Harvard graduate who had been a first lieutenant in the AEF’s Quartermaster Corps in World War I and worked in civil affairs in France during World War II.

Further reading:

Sarah Mildred Willmer, YMCA entertainer.

Willmer1920

Sarah Mildred Willmer, ca. 1920

As early as 1890, Sarah Mildred Willmer (1881–1949) was delivering dramatic monologues, eventually appearing in northeastern, midwestern, and western venues and billing as “the Sarah Bernhardt of the Lyceum.” One of her frequent performances was “The Sign of the Cross” by Wilson Barrett. In 1907, she met physicians William and Lena Sadler (Lena was the niece of cornflakes co-inventor John Harvey Kellogg), and they became friends. This promotional flyer shows that they often appeared together on the Chautauqua circuit. As the 25 Aug. 1912 Chicago Tribune documented, Willmer married minister Edward V. Bond at the Sadler home in Chicago (Bond died in 1915 from a cardiac problem).

In July 1918, the Lyceum Magazine noted that Willmer would be going overseas as a YMCA entertainer, refusing a salary and cancelling a 10-week Chautauqua contract for the opportunity (31). In Aug. 1918, Willmer sailed for France. Her account in the 22 Dec. 1918 Chicago Tribune (4) describes harrowing experiences:

“Are you afraid to go to the front?” [asked the YMCA man]

“That’s where I want to go.”. . . .

I was whirled over a thin white ribbon of a road through the valley of the Meuse and we arrived at a town. There were no inhabitants except American troops. . . . An officer moved out of his room and gave it to me. . . . rats—O, plenty of them, big as cats, that would scamper all over the place and me at night, and snuggle down in my warm blankets. None ever bit me, but one morning, as I woke, eight of them jumped from my bed. . . . .

Aided by friendly officers—entirely outside regulations and unknown to the ‘Y’ man in charge of the base—I would dress in a soldier’s uniform and go up to the front, in total darkness.

I went up one night, in a darkness which was uncanny; with shells bursting about us, with machine guns and all the other death dealing agencies actively at work, with pandemonium literally let loose, to a first aid dressing station.

O, it was horrible. The boys were brought in on litters, all in darkness, and as the surgeons and attendants passed along they would flash a little light on one for a brief instant, then on another, and in this way they had to be cared for. I wondered if it was right for me to be there, and I was frightened, O so frightened, but I did not dare to let that be known, for I was supposed to be a man. I helped with the boys who were brought in, and saw vividly the horror of it all, the lads dying and suffering, and had to remain quiet.

She also related an episode of servicemen hearing about the Armistice:

An officer—a colonel—entered the place. . . . . He flashed a smile, held up his hand, and said:

“Boys, she’s signed.” . . .

Immediately a mighty cheer went up, and then those 2,000 lads sang the Doxology as I never heard it sung before—and never expect to again. And then this officer said to me: “Miss Wilmer [sic], if you have a breath left in you, will you recite the ‘Salute to the Flag’?”

I did. Every hat went off in an instant, and then the men sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” . . . One young fellow said:

“Gee, ain’t it great?”

And then, in a sorrowful tone:

“And my buddy killed only this morning and can’t be here for it.”

Willmer was gassed twice—once at Verdun and once in the Argonne forest. The latter—a dose of chlorine gas “burning in my lungs”—necessitated her return to Chicago in December 1918, where she stayed with the Sadlers. The Chicago Tribune account credits her with receiving a Croix de Guerre, but this is not listed in the YMCA’s 1918–19 Yearbook and Official Roster of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Canada and the United States of America with the other decorations received by YMCA personnel.

By April 1919, she was back on the performance circuit and continued throughout the 1920s. Her 14 July 1949 obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) indicates that she opened a confectionary in Rochester in 1928, which failed in the depression. She became involved in social work and worked with the deaf on lip-reading and speech.

Her obituary includes a married daughter, Elizabeth Ann Wales, with 1930 and 1940 census records indicating a 1921 or 1922 birthdate. However, as newspaper clippings show that Willmer was maintaining a busy touring schedule in the early 1920s, it is likely the child was adopted. The obituary also lists a granddaughter, Dianna Kathleen Wales.

Florence and Dorothy Child, physicians.

ChildSisters

From left to right: Drs. Florence and Dorothy Child, May 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Longtime Germantown, PA, residents Florence Chapman Child (1883–1957) and Dorothy Child (1888–1941) were the daughters of Quaker jeweler George Chapman Child. Florence earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1905 and her MD from Johns Hopkins in 1909. She interned at the Syracuse Hospital for Women and Children and at the Babies’ Hospital in New York. Dorothy earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1910, graduated from Johns Hopkins with her MD in 1914, and earned a doctorate in public hygiene from the University of Pennsylvania in 1916. In November 1916, she became associate professor of physical education of women at the University of Kansas.

In response to an urgent call from the Red Cross, the Child sisters traveled to France in September 1917 and were assigned to Evian-les-Bains (near Lausanne, Switzerland) to care for refugees and civilians. A 31 July 1919 article in the Harrisburg Telegraph provided some insight into Dorothy’s work, with poignant stories of refugees who had been trapped behind German lines arriving on trains at least twice a day and seeking news of relatives, only to learn their men had been dead since 1914. Many of the new arrivals were ill, especially the children. Cowritten by Dorothy, this 1919 report of the American Red Cross in France on infant mortality in Le Havre supplied statistics such as 164 newborns and 11 who died from causes that ranged from maternal neglect to syphilis. An interview with Florence that appeared in the 14 May 1919 Evening Public Ledger discussed serious hygiene issues and the alarmingly high mortality rate of French children. As Florence said, “It was not sufficient to save the wounded and let the babies die. Yet they were dying by the hundreds and thousands of them in all the villages and towns of France. And the American Red Cross felt that it must come in and complete its work of saving France. We did” (15). The article also noted that Florence had received two medals from the French government.

The Child sisters returned to the United States in November 1918. In 1919, Dorothy was appointed chief of the Division of Child Welfare in the Pennsylvania State Health Department. In November 1920, Florence was appointed chief of the Division of School Medical Inspection and Welfare Nursing, Bureau of Health, in Trenton, NJ, where she worked to reduce the infant mortality rate.

In September 1941, Dorothy was killed in Fredericktown, MD, when the yacht Koonyung where she had been vacationing with friends exploded due to a gas leak. Florence retired from medical practice in 1935, dividing her time between Margate City, NJ, and Deerfield Beach, FL. She died of breast cancer in 1957, attracting attention when her sizable bequest to Bryn Mawr was revealed as contingent on the college supplying a proper home for a grandfather clock built by her great-grandfather.

Further reading:

Geraldine R. Hutner, “Medical History: Health Care Crusader, Florence C. Child,” New Jersey Medicine: The Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, 88 (1991): 823–25.

Samantha Minerva “Minnie” Saunders Burdick, decorated Salvation Army worker.

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Minnie Burdick, ca. 1918-19. National Archives.

Wisconsin-born Samantha Minerva “Minnie” Saunders (1867–1934) married Floyd O. Burdick in December 1884, and she and her husband had three children. She was the first female matron of the Harris County (TX) jail and established the first free medical dispensary in Houston (San Antonio Express, 3 May 1919, 5).

After the Burdicks worked for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City, Lake Charles, Port Arthur, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, San Angelo, Fort Worth, and Dallas, they sailed for France in November 1917. At age 50 (although her age was constantly listed as 60 in newspapers) and an unprepossessing 5-foot-3, Minnie Burdick was called the oldest Salvation Army worker overseas but had no problem matching the stamina or grit of younger colleagues. In a letter published in the 7 Mar 1918 [North Dakota] Weekly Times Record (but was probably written in Dec 1917, as Christmas is mentioned), “Ma” or “Mother” Burdick described some of her activities:

Last night the officers of the regiment gave a Christmas dinner and presents to all of the refugee children, and all of the children of the town were in our Hut.

After that was over the soldiers had an entertainment in our Hut. We helped in both, and you would be surprised to see how glad the soldiers are to see an American woman. Some shook hands with me and said that I was the first American woman they had talked to since they had been in France. I am glad we came.

The first Hut we went to, I went to cooking pies and cakes, with the help of the ensign in charge, and we made 50 pies, 800 doughnuts, and 18 cakes, and not a piece left by 8 o’clock that night. The next morning it was the same thing over again. . . . .

You would be surprised if you could see how I can make things and cook in tin pans and baking powder cans. I have a milk can for a doughnut cutter, and a smaller one to cut out the hole in the middle. I use a bottle for a rolling pin and fry eggs on a pie plate. . . .

We have been working pretty hard but if you could only see how the boys appreciate it all, you would know that it is time and strength well spent. . . . .

We have . . . a lot of pleasure doing things for the boys, sewing on buttons and lining in the coats, and mending gloves, and then once in a while, one of them is sick, and doesn’t want to go to the doctor, so a cup of hot water and a little home remedy and sympathy helps him out. Sometimes they get homesick and like to come down to the house and tell me their story of mother and sweetheart at home, and go away feeling better. (“Mother Burdick among the Boys in France” 12)

An account in the 7 May 1919 Washington Times credited her with producing 324 pies in 12 hours, setting a new record (“Pie Baker” 8). The article “Mother Burdick Stopped an Army” in the 28 Oct 1918 Carson City [NV] Daily Appeal (1) discussed Burdick’s “all night chocolate service” that involved her informing a general, “Those boys should never go to the front without each one having a cup of hot chocolate. I want to stop them in companies just long enough to fill their cups as they go by the hut down the road.” United Press reporter Frank J. Taylor noted, “The new general was not used to being talked to that way,” but he gave the order for the troops to stop and even had a cup of hot chocolate himself. Taylor stated, “They worked all night at ‘Mother’ Burdick’s hut and two other huts nearby assisted so that more than 15,000 cups of chocolate were given to the boys that night.”

Burdick returned to the United States in May 1919, with the 3 May 1919 Syracuse Journal noting that she had been gassed during her service “but continued working in her little shack until carried to a hospital” (“Premier Pie Producer Returns from War” 8). Shortly after her return, the French government awarded her the Croix de Guerre. She was the first Salvation Army worker so honored. In January 1922, the Oak Creek [CO] Times reported her involvement in hospital relief work with disabled veterans and her service as the first national chaplain of the American Legion auxiliary (“Legion Men Know Her Well” 3). She died in 1934 and lies in an unmarked grave in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston. Her great-great nephew is the artist David Bigelow.

recipes
Minnie Burdick’s recipes for doughnuts and her invention, “Shrapnel Cake” (Pullman Herald, 12 Sept 1919: 11)

Further Reading
Doman, Robert S. “Chicago Girls Serve Coffee and Pie.” [Fort Collins, CO] Weekly Courier, 28 Jun 1918: 2. Discussion of Salvation Army workers shelled by the Germans, including Burdick.

Ensign Burdick and Family.” Houston’s Part in the World War (1919).

Ford, Bert. The Fighting Yankees Overseas. (1919). Short quotes included from Burdick such as “If I attempted to do half as much at home, I’d be ill or dead, but over here you don’t think of time or effort” (195).

‘Ma’ Burdick.” The Armies of Mercy (1920): 384, 385, 387. Harper’s Pictorial Library of the World War, vol. 7.

Salvation Army Worker in France.” Charlotte [MI] Tribune 1919, repr. from Christian Science Monitor. Burdick describes aspects of her service: “. . . I didn’t work in the front line trenches, for they wouldn’t let me get that far front, but I would have been right there if I could have got there.”

Anna Louise Tittman, head nurse in WWI Siberia.

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Nurses of Vladivostok refugees hospital and headquarters office, ca. 1919. Anna Louise Tittman is front row, second from left; Ethel Pinder (later Tuck) is third from left. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

“The dead bodies greet you at the front door.”
—Anna Louise Tittman, on the Russian hospital in Irkutsk, Russia,
Sept 1919 (oral history 129)

Anna Louise Tittman (1884–1977) earned her nursing credential from the Springfield [IL) Hospital Training School in 1906. She then did private duty nursing and worked at Johns Hopkins University, Boston Floating Hospital (originally a hospital ship in Boston Harbor and now a children’s medical facility at Tufts), and Bellevue Hospital in New York City before becoming an inspector for schools of nursing.

In May 1919, at the request of Director of American Red Cross Nursing Clara Noyes, she set off for Siberia with 29 US nurses under the auspices of the Red Cross Commission to Siberia, as some 10,000 men of the American Expeditionary Forces had been sent there by President Woodrow Wilson. At the time, Siberia was battling typhus and cholera epidemics as well as effects of the Russian Revolution. Tittman was appointed chief nurse of the Eastern Division when the previous chief nurse sustained an injury to her eye and needed to return to the United States for treatment. The History of Red Cross Nursing termed her “a nurse executive who would be particularly valuable in straightening out the organization difficulties in Siberia. She possessed a penchant for details and with it a keen and well-balanced mind” (930).

In 1974, Barbara B. Herndon conducted an oral history with Tittman, which included Tittman reading from and commenting on her diary kept during her service in Siberia. This oral history (both audio files and typed transcripts) was originally part of University of Illinois at Springfield’s Archives and Special Collections, and can be found in the Illinois Digital Archives of the Illinois State Library.

Tittman provided a sense of the colorful, mini UN that Vladivostok was at the time:

The blending of the various uniforms—the gray blue of the French and the Poles, the khaki of the United States, the Japanese with their yellowish and bright red trimmings, the Italian greenish gray, the Annamites [Vietnamese] with their flaring brimmed hats, our American sailors with white caps and blue uniforms, the Czechs with greenish khaki and violet trimming. There were also the Russians, the Chinese, the Serbians, the British and the Cossacks, the latter looking like a field of dandelions with their yellow caps and stripes shining in the sun. (111)

She continued:

I went to Second River and the Sixth Virsta Fortress with [nurses] Miss [Ethel] Pinder and Mrs. [Carrie Stallard] Cook. Large ARC barracks for refugees are located at these points. . . . . At Second River there are six large red brick buildings, built for barracks for Russian soldiers. (113)

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Mary Fitch Watkins Cushing: AFFW driver, opera insider, dance critic.

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Mary Fitch Watkins, ca. 1918. National Archives.

Mary Fitch Watkins (1889–1974) was the daughter of Vermont Episcopal minister Schureman Halsted Watkins (who was the chaplain for the Tombs prison and the prison on Blackwell’s Island at one time) and Helen Randolph Smith Watkins. Her book The Rainbow Bridge  (1954) discusses her seven years as assistant to diva Olive Fremstad (1871–1951), who is regarded as a model for Thea Kronborg in Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark (1915). Watkins regarded the experience as “a better education than I might have found in college and a privilege far greater than I could possibly have deserved” (Rainbow Bridge 7).

Sometimes referred to by Fremstad as “little Miss Watkins” (she was 5 foot 3), she served as a driver for the Motor Corps of the National League for Women’s Service before taking up the same role with Anne Morgan’s American Fund for French Wounded  (see Watkins, “Anne Morgan: An Intimate Portrait,” The Woman Citizen, Aug 1927). She sailed for France in April 1918, with an item in the 18 April 1918 Barre [VT] Daily Times listing her prospective duties as driving “motor trucks carrying supplies, clothing, and building materials to the devastated villages” (3). Her 20 April 1921 letter in the New York Times, supporting one by author Owen Wister that advocated for the bodies of US service members to remain buried overseas,  provides a glimpse into some of her wartime experiences:

I was one of two women sent ahead of a relief unit into the Chateau Thierry district when it was freshly evacuated by the enemy. I turned my little truck into an ambulance and drove our wounded for ten days. . . . Our unit stayed behind in this territory after the army moved forward and I had ample opportunity to observe at first hand the care which the bodies of our fallen boys received. . . . . Well I remember a shattered little garden in the village of Vaux, where three boys fell. An old man came back to the ruins of his home and found them there. With what reverent joy he considered these graves as his especial charge.  . . .[H]e hung about the middle cross his rosary, the only thing he had saved in his flight, and we found him daily kneeling beside “his honored guests,” the tears rolling down his cheeks as he prayed for the boys who had come so far to help restore to him his beloved little corner of the earth. It has broken his heart to take this charge from him. . . . .

Can nothing stop this desecration of the loveliest fruits of that most dreadful harvest? And . . . to those mothers and fathers who want their boys back in the family plot. If you had seen what I have seen, you would not breathe the wish. (11)

She added in Rainbow Bridge, “I survived all the perils and uncertainties of torpedoes, bombs, shells, incendiaries, and Ford cars . . .” (313). Although Watkins’s tone was matter-of-fact, nurse Carrie G. Ellis of Base Hospital No. 24 (aka the “Tulane Unit”) conveyed a more effusive perspective on the driver in a 5 August 1918 letter to her mother printed in the 4 Oct. 1918 Polk County [NC] News:

I met a Miss Watkins of New York, an ambulance driver . . . I know no girl I admire more. This woman is as plucky as they make men or women. She goes right up to the front and brings in the wounded. She was the first woman in Chateau Thierry after the Germans evacuated it. (1)

She returned to the United States in January 1919 and published First Aid to the Opera-Goer  (1924) and Behind the Scenes at the Opera (1925). She contributed articles and short stories to publications such as the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, and Vogue; her short story “Stolen Thunder” (1930) was the basis for the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy film Oh, for a Man (1930). As Jennifer Dunning discusses in this New York Times article, Watkins became a dance critic for the New York Herald Tribune.

In 1926, Watkins married Brooklyn Eagle music critic and magazine editor, bookstore owner, OSS operative, and mountaineering enthusiast Edward T. F. Cushing (1903–56). Their daughter, Antonia Stone (1930–2002), was a mathematics teacher who established the organization Playing to Win (now CTCnet) that seeks to provide access to computers and technology to disenfranchised populations. Their grandchildren include Nicholas D. Stone, director of Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region Operations, and Rebecca Stone, acting chair of the Brookline [MA] Commission for Women.