Cora Elm, Native American nurse in WWI France.

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Cora Elm, 1916.

Born in February 1891 in Wisconsin, Cora Elm was a member of the Oneida Nation and identified herself in her account “Life, Belief, and the War” (1942) as “a very firm Episcopalian” (Oneida Lives [2005] 290). Her father, a farmer who understood the benefits of education, first enrolled her in 1906 at the Carlisle Indian School (which athlete Jim Thorpe attended), but she left the school for a time and did not graduate until 1913. With her grandmother well known as a midwife, she trained as a nurse at the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia with the financial help of her father and her wealthy employers. She graduated in 1916 and stayed on as supervisor of wards at the hospital. A March 1917 newspaper item indicates that she participated in a suffrage demonstration at the White House.

It appears that Elm sailed for Liverpool on the Leviathan on December 15, 1917, and reached France on Christmas Day. She and her fellow nurses of Base Hospital No. 34 (aka the Episcopal Unit, as the personnel came from the Episcopal Hospital) first were split among three hospitals as the base hospital was readied; it opened in Nantes in April 1918. The unit history states that the hospital admitted 9100 patients in nine months and had a death rate of 1.3 percent. Elm wrote the section on the YWCA in the unit history. She says laconically in “Life, Belief, and the War,” “My life overseas was not very easy. Although I was in a base hospital, I saw a lot of the horrors of war. I nursed many a soldier with a leg cut off, or an arm” (295).

Her February 1920 passport application indicated that the Red Cross was sending her to Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania for nursing service. In January 1921, the American Journal of Nursing reported that Elm had married James E. Sinnard. Her son, James Jr., was born in 1926. She served as ward supervisor in several veterans hospitals, including Wood Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee. The 1940 census lists her as divorced, nursing in a private hospital, and living with her widowed sister, with her son as residing with her ex-husband. Elm died in June 1949.

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Daisy May Erd, Yeoman (F) and war composer.

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Daisy M. Pratt Erd. From Sept. 1918 National Magazine

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).
Sheet music

• “Uncle Sam’s Ships” (1917). Listen to the songSheet music

Trenches• “We’ll Carry the Star-Spangled Banner through the Trenches” (1918). Listen to the song –  Sheet music

• “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.

Elizabeth Burt: Reporter, Editor, Yeoman (F).

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Elizabeth I. Burt

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.

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Elizabeth Cabot Putnam, secretary for the AEF’s U.S. Air Service and Red Cross worker.

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Elizabeth Cabot Putnam, from her 1917 passport application

Boston-born Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (1888–1984), daughter of Harvard neurologist James Jackson Putnam, graduated from Radcliffe College in 1910 and left for Paris in May 1917.

Her wartime letters to her family, collected in On Duty and Off (1919), discuss her service with the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris (which cared for French soldiers), the AEF’s U.S. Air Service (the precursor to the Air Force), and the Red Cross. For the hospital, she largely worked on patients’ medical histories and leisure activities, and even assisted one patient in obtaining an artificial leg (an expensive proposition at the time). In September 1917, she moved to the Air Service’s production division (responsible, according to Putnam, for “the choosing and training of flyers as well as the decision on types of machines and equipment” [81]). She first was assigned to “Major G” (hints by Putnam point to Edgar S. Gorrell), whom she stated “swears a good deal in a casual, genial way” (83). She clearly enjoyed her job—”I feel every morning when I set forth as if I personally were going to lick the Germans,” she wrote (88)—and characterized it as “more E. Phillips Oppenheim-y every hour” (84, meaning spy-like). There were difficulties with the switchboard (“It is awfully hard to hear, especially names” [82]) and filing (“There are millions of papers that may be urgently needed at a moment’s notice and may be demanded under a million different guises. It is really a job” [100].) Putnam mentioned unannounced inspections by a strict General Pershing—”who left death and destruction in our unmilitary milieu” (102–03). Her sense of humor extended to air raids:

I am getting awfully tired of these air raids! . . . . We sat in our “salon” for an hour and made cocoa and then when two bombs were dropped that really sounded as if they were in our street (they weren’t), we went down to the cave where many of the others were. They say, however, that the second floor, where we are, is the very best place for a bomb striking the top of the house does not usually get as low as that, and a bomb going off in the court or street doesn’t go as high. . . . It certainly gives you a queer feeling to sit conversing in front of the fire awaiting your own special bomb. (146–47)

In June 1918, she helped care for wounded Marines at a hospital in Neuilly after the Chateau Thierry campaign and made some grim observations:

Saturday night turned into Sunday morning with the stream absolutely steady—three or four operations all the time. When at about half-past three in the morning someone drew the curtain and opened the window on a marvellous deep violet-blue sky with the trees coal black against it and a fresh breeze, it was more than one could bear with equanimity—so heavenly outside and so horrible inside—all the blood and the hacked-up flesh, and the thought of how each one is going to suffer when he gets out of ether. (184)

Putnam then was assigned to Base Hospital 24 (aka the Tulane Unit) in Limoges. She became a Red Cross searcher, which involved searching for missing servicemen, interviewing the missing’s fellow soldiers, and writing to families with missing loved ones. She wrote enthusiastically, “The ‘searching’ is quite exciting. The first day I came upon a murder and a desertion!” (188).  She also visited with the wounded and facilitated refugee matters.

She sailed for home in September 1918 and returned to the Air Service in late 1918. In 1922, she worked as a secretary to the dean of Harvard Medical School. She married physician Monroe Anderson McIver in 1923; they later had two children, Elizabeth and Marian, and lived in the Cooperstown, NY, area.

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

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Esther Sayles Root, from her 1924 passport application

Foxwell library event, March 26.

WWIcvrIn 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.

 

The U.S. female doctors who served in WWI.

Great indignation has been felt for some time among American women because American women physicians are not given commissions by the Government as are the men. The only way a woman physician can go abroad under the Government is as a nurse.

—”Women Physicians Going Abroad for War Service,” Evening Public Ledger, 4 May 1918

After U.S. female doctors offered their professional expertise to the U.S. army during World War I and were rebuffed, they, undaunted, found other ways to serve both at home and abroad. The 10 Apr. 1918 Evening Times Republican reported that 33 percent of practicing U.S. female physicians had registered for war service through the organization American Women’s Hospitals (formed by the War Service Committee of the precursor to the American Medical Women’s Association, or AMWA). The AMWA’s new online exhibition highlights some of these women physicians, such as the following:

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Caroline Sandford Finley operates on a fracture.

Dr. Caroline Sandford Finley (1875–1936). The New York-born Finley graduated from Cornell Medical School in 1901. She was on staff at the Elizabeth Blackwell-founded New York Infirmary for Women and Children. From November 1917 to June 1919, she headed an all-female U.S. hospital unit in France under the auspices of the Women’s Oversea Hospitals (supported by $200,000 from the National American Woman Suffrage Association) and held the rank of lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the French army. At Chateau d’Ognon in summer 1918, German planes bombed her hospital. For her service, she received the Croix de Guerre from the French government, and on November 22, 1919, the Prince of Wales awarded her an MBE on the HMS Renown in recognition of her care in Metz of former British POWs suffering from influenza.

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Rosalie Slaughter Morton, from the July 1918 Harper’s Bazar

Dr. Rosalie Slaughter Morton (1872–1968). The Lynchburg, VA-born Morton graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and studied in Europe after her residency. After establishing a successful gynecology practice in Washington, DC, and marrying lawyer George Baxter Morton in 1905, she relocated her practice to New York. In 1916, she became the first female faculty member in the surgical department at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She headed the AWH’s War Service Committee, which petitioned the War Department for military commissions for female physicians and attended to the care of civilians affected by war. Although the committee was unsuccessful in its quest for military commissions, it found plenty to do in civilian health care. As Morton wrote in the July 1918 Harper’s Bazar, “Almost at once we were called upon for specialists in pediatrics, psychiatry and tuberculosis, as well as for skilled surgeons.” Morton tended to French wounded; learned about the management of field hospitals; cared for patients in a 3000-bed field hospital in Macedonia; and was decorated by the French, Serbian, and Yugoslav governments for her work. As this newspaper article states, after the American Women’s Hospitals sent U.S. women doctors to Serbia, Serbian officials requested additional female physicians, as they could provide care to Muslim women (unlike male doctors).

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The newlyweds who were WWI volunteers.

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Hester Pickman with two of her children, 1922.

WETA’s Boundary Stones blog discusses Hester Marion Chanler Pickman and her husband, Edward Motely Pickman, who elected to spend their honeymoon volunteering for the Red Cross in 1915 France. Hester, daughter of Winthrop Astor Chanler (a Rough Rider during the Spanish American War and a descendant of John Jacob Astor) and Margaret Terry Chanler (author of Roman Spring and a friend of Edith Wharton), was a nurse and Edward a member of the ambulance corps. Hester later translated poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, and Edward taught history at Harvard. Their six children include David Pickman and Martha Pickman Baltzell.

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