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 spring 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. 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:

Florence and Dorothy Child, physicians.

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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.

Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal, wireless operator.

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Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal, from her husband’s 1922 passport application

Baltimore’s Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal (1893–1987) earned a commercial radio license, first class, in September 1917 and was assigned to the SS Howard in December 1917 (as “junior operator,” according to Marconi Service News). The Howard, a ship of the Merchants’ and Miners’ Transportation Co., was one of those requisitioned by the US government. The Howard‘s routes were listed as Baltimore to Norfolk and Savannah to Jacksonville. According to this account, DuVal’s shifts were 1:30–8 am and 1–6 pm.

Although various accounts credit DuVal as the first US female wireless operator in sea service, the May 1918 Marconi Service News (14) lists Mrs. R. H. Tucker of the Indianapolis, Mabel Kelso of the Mariposa, Mrs. Sickles of the Roanoke, and Graynella Packer of the Mohawk as her predecessors.

In February 1918, DuVal applied to serve on a US Navy ship and was told by Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels that he would take the request “under advisement” (it never occurred, although Abby P. Morrison had previously achieved the rank of first-class electrician as a wireless operator in the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation). Although US ships were under threat by German U-boats during DuVal’s service from December 1917 to December 1918, with a number attacked and even sunk not far from the US coast, and she asserted that “my patriotism can best be demonstrated . . . aboard a United States naval vessel,” she is described rather cloyingly in this account in the 20 Feb 1918 Washington Times as “young and pretty and more than one naval officer who saw her at the Navy Department when she presented her petition to Secretary Daniels [were] hoping for her appointment to his ship” (1). She praised the Navy’s daily wireless news service, “The Navy Press,” which was sent to all ships and coast radio stations:

It keeps us from feeling that we are “out of it” . . . When we can have the daily reports of what Washington officials are doing and what is happening on the French frontier it seems as though we were closer to things that are happening in the world. (Cordova [AK] Daily Times, 12 June 1918: 3)

DuVal was a great-granddaughter of Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Duvall. Her father, Edmund Brice DuVal, was a captain in the Maryland National Guard. In 1922, she married Herman Hobelman, who had served in World War I as a private in the AEF’s 303rd Tank Center, according to Maryland in the World War. He is listed in the 1930 and 1940 censuses as involved in real estate. The 1930 census lists DuVal as a saleslady and the 1940 census as a seamstress.

Further reading:

• “Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal, Ship Wireless Operator,”  OneTubeRadio.com

Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal Hobelman Collection, Maryland Historical Society

US female scientists of WWI.

For Veterans Day:

The Caduceus of 3 Aug. 1918 notes that nurse Marie X. Long (1886–1970) of York, PA, was the first female lab assistant at the base hospital of Camp Greene (NC), after she had undergone three years of training in laboratory analysis and served at the US Army General Hospital in Lakewood, NY. The 6 Dec 1919 York Dispatch (10) reported that she had been appointed assistant pathologist of the Illinois Central Railway, working out of the railway’s hospital in Paducah, KY. She published articles such as “The Value of the Wasserman Reaction in Diagnosing and Treating Syphilis” (American Journal of Nursing Mar. 1921: 369–75).

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Rachel E. Hoffstadt. From Marshall Univ’s Mirabilia 1914.

Jefferson County in the World War states that Indiana-born Rachel Emilie Hoffstadt (1886–1962) was head bacteriologist in the hospital’s laboratory at Camp Sevier (SC) for seven months and was an instructor of chemistry and bacteriology for the Army Nurses School. She earned a BS in science from Hanover College (IN) in 1908, an MS in science from the University of Chicago in 1912, a PhD in science from the University of Chicago in 1915, and a PhD in hygiene from Johns Hopkins University in 1923. She was the first female graduate of Hanover College to earn a doctorate, and the biographical note with her papers at Hanover College states that she developed an oral vaccine for typhoid while at Camp Sevier.

Hoffstadt was on the faculty of Marshall College (now Marshall University) in 1914. In 1923, she became a member of the faculty of the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Washington. In 1929, she received the Mary Pemberton Nourse Fellowship to study at the Pasteur Institute in France. This 1946 photograph shows her as the sole female faculty member of University of Washington’s Medical School.

Further reading:

Madison’s Jewish Community: From Scholars to Politicians to the Parents of a Supreme Court Justice.” Madison [IN] Courier, 19 Aug 2017.

 

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)

Continue reading

New edition, The Backwash of War.

Backwash“[. . . I]n a stagnant place there is much ugliness.”
— Ellen N. LaMotte, The Backwash of War

There is a new edition of The Backwash of War, the collection of accounts by Ellen Newbold LaMotte (1873–1961) of her overseas WWI nursing service alongside Mary Borden (The Forbidden Zone, etc.), which was originally and controversially published in 1916.  This edition includes little-known essays on the war by LaMotte: “An American Nurse in Paris” (1915), “Under Shell-Fire at Dunkirk” (1916), and “A Joy Ride” (1916). Yeshiva University professor Cynthia Wachtell provides invaluable biographical details on the feisty LaMotte, who was a gay, less affluent member of the DuPont family. (Wachtell writes more about LaMotte here.)

Kitty Steele Barrett Pozer, mechanic and ambulance driver.

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN BRITAIN, 1914-1918

Kitty Steele Barrett Pozer, right.   Imperial War Museum ©IWM (Q 30618)

Kitty Steele Barrett was born in Atlanta in 1888, the daughter of Rev. Robert South Barrett and noted social activist and physician Kate Waller Barrett. In 1916, she married Lt. Charles Henry Pozer of the Canadian Railway Troops, who was a nephew of Canadian senator Christian Henry Pozer. Kitty served as a mechanic and ambulance driver with the Canadian Army Service Corps for more than two years. In a 25 Mar. 1919 interview with the Sherbrooke [Canada] Daily Record, she described some of her duties:

…[W]e were under the Canadian army and as such were included in the service corps. We were . . . the only division of Canadian women  who were actually under army supervision. We were busy transporting wounded Canadians from hospitals to convalescent homes, and doing other odd jobs on the side. . . . .

Our principal work was to transport those men across London . . . But we also handled work throughout London whenever a discharged man fell sick, or men coming home had to be brought from trains to their homes.

Her husband rose to the rank of major and later became resident engineer for the Southern Railway. He died in 1947. Kitty wrote a longtime gardening column for the Washington Post and died in 1981. The publication La Famille Pozer (1927) refers to her as “femme courageuse et digne d’admiration”  (a brave woman and worthy of admiration).

Further reading:
• “Kitty Pozer Day” in Fairfax, VA, with photo of Kitty and Charles Pozer in World War I and information on Earl’s Ordinary (aka Ratcliffe-Allison-Pozer House) and garden, Fairfax Connection newspaper, 28 June-July 4, 2018. The house currently has the exhibition “The Barrett-Pozer Family in World War I.”