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.
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.
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
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.
“World War I: American Artists View the Great War,” the Library of Congress’ exhibition on view until 6 May 2017, includes women such as:
• Eugenie De Land (Saugstad, 1872–1961). A student of American illustrator Howard Pyle, De Land taught at DC’s Corcoran School of Art and McKinley Technical High School. She married artist Olaf Saugstad, and her works include a portrait of Kate Waller Barrett (on display at William & Mary’s Botetourt Gallery), a mural at the DC headquarters of the Order of the Eastern Star, a portrait of Declaration of Independence signer George Wythe at the Virginia Historical Society, and a painting of Abraham Lincoln at the battle of Fort Stevens donated by the artist to the Lincoln Museum (now under the aegis of Ford’s Theatre). The LOC exhibition features her 1917 Liberty Bond poster.
• Helen Johns Kirtland (1890–1979). Daughter of the founder of Johns-Manville, Kirtland photographed the war on assignments with Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, the Red Cross, and the YMCA. The LOC exhibition features a photo of her at the front dated 1917–18.
• Profile of Helen Johns Kirtland, Brooklyn Eagle, 18 Sept. 1927
• “A Woman on the Battle Front” [photos by Helen Johns Kirtland], Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 24 Aug. 1918. Repr. Around the World with a Camera, New York, 1919.
• List of Eugenie De Land Saugstad’s public artworks
• View illustrations by Eugenie De Land (“Bertha and Laura”; “‘This be a case where history repeats itself'”; “‘Naow, when I wuz in Californy,’ said Farmer Squires to Mrs. Simpson”) in Deborah Gray by Frances C. Ingraham (pseud. of Clara Ingraham Bell), New York, 1903.
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.
If I had to swim to get there I would go to France to serve the soldiers.
—Winona Caroline Martin, YMCA worker
A common cause of death for the U.S. women who passed away during their World War I service was influenza or its complications (such as pneumonia or meningitis). There were some, however, who were killed:
• Edith Ayers and Helen Burnett Wood, army nurses from the Chicago area. Killed on 20 May 1917 en route to France by a projectile when their ship, the USS Mongolia, was conducting target practice (read an eyewitness account by their fellow nurse, Laura Huckleberry). Resulted in a congressional inquiry.
• Winona Caroline Martin (b. 1882), YMCA canteen worker. A Long Island librarian who had worked industriously to be sent abroad with the YMCA, Martin was being treated for scarlet fever at Paris’ Claude Bernard Hospital. In a 11 Mar. 1918 German air raid on the hospital, Martin was killed. She is considered the first American woman to die in the war due to enemy action. As noted in this report in the Salt Lake Herald, Martin had declared, “I would go just the same if I knew the boat I went on would be torpedoed,” and provided an account of an earlier air raid on the hospital. Sadly, this marked the third death in the family for Martin’s physician brother, Captain Arthur Chalmers Martin, as he had previously lost his parents. The women’s auxiliary of the J. Franklin Bell VFW post in Rockville Centre, NY, was named in his sister’s honor in 1921.
• Marion G. Crandell (b. 1872), Iowa-born YMCA canteen worker educated at the Sorbonne. Killed on 27 Mar. 1918 by an enemy shell in Ste. Menehould, France.
• Ruth Landon (b. 1888), Red Cross worker from New York and a great-niece of Vice President Levi P. Morton. Killed by a German shell on 29 Mar. 1918 in St. Gervais Church in Paris. As this account from the Evening Star reports, her mother and sister also died in the attack.
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.
A blog reader asks about Frances Mildred Smith, as this lucky person has been given a scrapbook with photos from Smith’s 1919 service with the YMCA in France.
Smith (1886–1972) was born in New York City. Her father was realtor E. DuBois Smith, and her mother was Fannie Elsworth Smith, who was descended from a Revolutionary War soldier. Her neurologist uncle, Graeme Monroe Hammond, competed in the 1912 Olympics as a fencer, served in the Army Medical Corps in WWI, and supported the idea of women serving in combat roles. She had two brothers and two sisters. The October 2015 issue of Our Town St. James shows Smith as a child (see p. 42) and discusses her historic family homestead, Mills Pond House.
Her November 1918 passport application indicates that she was appointed a secretary of the YMCA’s National War Work Committee for a one-year term in France and Great Britain. The application also reveals that she had to name her male relatives in the war (her brother Edmund is listed as wounded, but he survived his injuries and was treasurer of the Smithtown American Legion post in 1919); she also had to attest that she did not intend to marry an AEF serviceman while in France. (One does not see male volunteers having to swear that they will not marry a war worker during their service.) She was back in the United States by November 1919 for her sister Dorothy’s wedding.
A founder of the Smithtown Historical Society, she is buried in St. James Episcopal Church Cemetery in St. James, NY (the same cemetery where architect Stanford White is buried). Her great-niece is Rev. Dorothy Miller Borden.