Margaret Richards Millar, relief worker.


Margaret Richards Millar, from her Dec 1918 passport application

The university archives at the Catholic University of America features the story of Vermont-born Margaret Richards Millar (1858–1947), who was a member of the Committee on Special War Activities of the National Catholic War Council (NCWC, later the National Catholic Welfare Council). From summer 1918 to fall 1919, she organized and operated clubs for service members in France. In May 1919, she was the only U.S. Catholic delegate to the International Congress of Women in Switzerland.

In a forthright March 1919 letter to Rev. John J. Burke (the head of the NCWC), Millar described the facilities of the Etoile Service Club in Paris for enlisted soldiers and sailors of the AEF:

We have books from the [American] Library Association and quite a number have been given us by different people so we have a fair library. We have all the magazines. There are always cigarettes on the tables and stationary [sic], and evenings each boy has a good cigar and either candy or chocolate. There is always someone to welcome him as he enters and someone to grasp his hand as he goes out. There are games and generally music. . . .We have had two really beautiful dances with music from the military headquarters’ band[.] (1–2)

Millar listed the serving of a total of 431 breakfasts and 2–6 gallons of soup or cocoa each night over the course of a month. She told of her “serious and intelligent” female workers’ activities in visiting military hospitals and planning sightseeing excursions for servicemen (2). Millar also noted, “I personally am visiting our U.S. Military Prison, seeing the men in their cells[.] There are between 250 and 300 there” (3). A list accompanying the letter noted the distribution to prisoners of 1500 cigarettes, 100 toothbrushes, 6 boxes of chocolate, and 493 doughnuts, among other items (5).

Millar told Father Burke, “We are wanted, needed and asked for on all sides. . . . Mr. [Harry Emerson] Fosdick [a Protestant chaplain] appeals to us to go into the leave areas. . . .This club is a success, an absolute success, but we should be doing a far greater work…”


Hope Gray, reconstruction aide.


Hope Gray (2nd row, left) and Lena Hitchcock (2nd row, right) with other reconstruction aides, Base Hospital No. 9. Nat. Library of Medicine


Hope Gray (1882–1979)—daughter of Boston stockbroker Samuel Shober Gray and Caroline Balch Weld Gray, sister of architect-artist Ralph Weld Gray, and a cousin of actress Tuesday Weld—was a reconstruction aide (RA) in France with the AEF at Base Hospitals No. 9 (Chateauroux), No. 69 (Savenay), and No. 114 (Beau Desert). In July 1918, she sailed on the Walmer Castle to Liverpool and arrived in France on August 11.  Gray worked with wounded servicemen via occupational therapy, a relatively new field at the time (the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy— precursor to the American Occupational Therapy Association—had been established in 1917).

Gray described her experience in The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919 (48–49):

…[U]nder the special wing of the Orthopedic Department, the Surgeon-General sent overseas the first group of thirteen Occupationals (as they were familiarly called) of which I was a member, and to which group were attached fourteen Physio [therapist]s. . . We were given to understand that the future continuance of the work hinged on how we made good, which was rather appalling to six of us who had been ordered overseas when only half way through our training in the Boston School of Occupational Therapy, and who had no hospital experience.

We . . . . found that they neither wanted nor expected us. .. . [We] were reluctantly allowed to begin our own work, I think at that time on the theory that given enough rope we would soon automatically hang ourselves. Though the government had provided for our salaries no such provision had been made for materials with which to teach the various handicrafts, and those first months were a long struggle to make good on a basis of supplies wrested from the Salvage Pile. . . .

There was much to overcome, but once two or three boys had rather sheepishly started on knitting caps, block printing, making of bead chains or any other occupation, first curiosity would attract others to watch, then to try, and . . . they would usually grin and agree to “try anything once,” which was an attitude of mind very typical of the American Army. Within a few days the wish to make something would become epidemic, and a cheerful busy crowd would be getting into difficulties with recalcitrant thread or clamoring for how to get their initials on the leather cigarette case they were making, or joshing each other in place of just thinking desolately or gambling. And they are boys when all is said and done, big overgrown boys, keeping the heart and simple responsibilities of a child, with the extraordinary silent courage which could stand not only the tests of bravery under the excitation of battle, but the long months of blank suffering in hospital where the thrill of emotions and big sacrifice were past, and only the acute consciousness left of a maimed body with which to face the unknown world of the future.  To be truly their friend, their confidant, to know that by ever so little one has been able to help them keep their faith in life is all and more than one would ask. And one must feel that if some such spirit can be kept alive now that the return to peace has come, if some spark of their high purpose remains lighted, the present clouds of class antagonism, suspicion, and unrest (where that unrest is destructive) must finally break away showing a clearer dawn ahead.

Gray’s friend and fellow aide Anna Lena Frances Hitchcock noted that Gray “had been doing eight to nine hours nurse’s aide work in addition to O.T.” (Hitchcock, “A Great Adventure,” p. 72; qtd. in Moloney). She also stated that Gray, to assist a patient who had lost both hands, fashioned “an ingenious leather band with slits to hold paint brush, knife, fork, or spoon, one for each wrist. The change in him is amazing” (Hitchcock, “A Great Adventure,” qtd. in Gavin 112).

Gray was honorably discharged in mid-June 1919. The RAs—appointed by contract with the Surgeon General’s Office—were considered civilian employees and thus did not receive veteran status (see McDaniel, “Occupational Therapists before World War II (1917–40).”

Further reading: Eleanor Rowland Wembridge, “How the Reconstruction Aides Have Proved What They Are For,” Carry On Apr 1919: 10–11.

Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, canteen worker.


Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, ca, 1917

Eleanor Butler Alexander Roosevelt (1889–1960) was educated at Miss Spence’s School in New York and in 1910 married Theodore Roosevelt Jr., oldest son of the former president (the latter considered her a “dear girl” but dubbed her father “a skunk”). In July 1917, she headed to France on the Espagne—as a 1 Jan. 1919 Grand Forks Herald article describes—to establish a YMCA canteen in Paris; work in the YMCA center in Aix-les-Bains that hosted approximately 4000 servicemen on leave; tend to Paris’ Hotel Richmond for U.S. officers; and teach French to soldiers. A 17 Mar. 1919 Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram article adds the information that she also organized and assigned women workers to all the YMCA leave centers as well as supervised the “bath centers” where servicemen on 24 hours’ leave could have a hot bath and have their clothes cleaned and mended.

In the Grand Forks Herald article, Eleanor states:

Our work at the start was ubiquitous. We waited on table, scrubbed floors, painted walls and shelves—doing, by the way, no more than the gallant French women. We cooked doughnuts and made sandwiches. The men seemed greatly gratified by the “Y” work. Any complaints that have been made are those to be expected from a large number of men. We had to combat the natural tendency of the men—released from the horrors of front line service to the relaxation of vacation hours—to complain about various things. (6)

The Library of Congress has an interesting article on Eleanor’s work as a photographer. As the piece notes that Eleanor was subject to migraines, the fact that she could manage the considerable workload of canteens in light of this ongoing problem must be viewed with respect. In Canteening Overseas, 1917–1919, Marian Baldwin, who worked with Eleanor and emphasized the vital services provided by canteens, describes Eleanor as “working like a horse” (72) without sufficient help.

The following film clips show Eleanor and Ted Jr. touring the ruins of Romagne (note that Ted Jr. has a cane; he had been wounded) and Eleanor attending a Women in War Work congress in Paris. She is wearing the simple uniform that she designed for women in YMCA war service. Eleanor returned to the United States in December 1918.

Marion Stevens, WWI dentist.


Dentist Marion Stevens with her brother Caleb, ca. 1919. Library of Congress, Prints & Photos Div.

Marion Cecelia Stevens (1895–1964) was the daughter of Frank W. Stevens, founder of the Stevens Advertising Agency in Reading, MA. She earned her DMD degree from Tufts in 1916. In 1916-17, she was a member of the visiting staff of the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children in Boston. Specializing in children’s dental care, she was the first U.S. female dentist with the Red Cross in Toul, France, in World War I. She then traveled to Serbia as a member of the American Women’s Hospitals unit of the American Medical Women’s Association and received the Order of the Red Cross, Serbian, and the Order of St. Sava from the Serbian government for her service.

In November 1917, she wrote a letter to Charlotte Conger, executive secretary of the American Women’s Hospitals, that was published in the January 1918 Woman’s Medical Journal. It provided a few details about the environment in Toul:

. . . I went out to my new headquarters, the Asile Cazerue de Luxemburg, an old French barracks, about two miles out. There are many buildings here and at present five hundred children, all refugees. I shall do all I can for the dental welfare of those children, and feel very much encouraged to find their teeth in as good condition as they are. . . . .We are near enough to the front to hear the can[n]ons and see a large number of aeroplanes.

As Toul and Nancy have been bombed a lot of late, we are always ready to go the cave route . . . whenever the warnings are given. (16)

In January 1920, Stevens married Georgia physician Northen Orr Tribble (who had served with the Army in England and France, as well as with the Red Cross in Eastern Europe), whom she had met in Serbia. For the ceremony, the bride and groom wore their service uniforms. Stevens was an instructor at Atlanta-Southern Dental College (now part of Emory University) in 1920–25. She is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Last day to RSVP, “DC Women in WWI” talk.


DC’s own Adelia Chiswell (member, Red Cross Motor Corps)

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.

The luncheon, which is open to nonmembers, will be held at Capitol Skyline Hotel (Metro stop: Navy Yard) from 12–2 pm and is $35 per person. To RSVP, visit the AOI Web site.

Constance Cunningham, YMCA canteen worker.


Constance Cunningham, 1917

Massachusetts-born Constance Cunningham (1886–1962) served as a YMCA canteen worker in France (from September 1917 to March 1918) and in Luxembourg (from March to June 1919). She was one of 3198 women recruited for YMCA service with the AEF in France. Her father, Frederic Cunningham, was an attorney specializing in marine law and a cofounder of the Boston Legal Aid Society; her uncle was William Lawrence, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Before her war service, she lived in France and England for four years. In The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she recounted some of her experiences in France:

Mr. K., our divisional secretary . . . gathered the four Y secretaries and the three Y canteen workers into a Ford camionette and whirled us away into the dripping black night (no street lights and shuttered windows on account of air raids) and deposited us on the railroad quai. Then with bated breath and dramatic gesture he told us that our troops, the first American artillery, were to entrain here, beginning at noon the next day and continuing on a six hour schedule, a battery at a time, and were to leave for the front. Our job was to build a little shelter, set up stoves to dispense hot coffee and make sandwiches to serve to the departing troops. All preparations must be finished by noon the next day, when the first battery was to arrive.
Continue reading

Foxwell March 16 talk and signing, “DC Women in World War I.”


Adelia Chiswell of the Red Cross Women’s  Motor Corps

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 luncheon, which is open to nonmembers, will be held at Capitol Skyline Hotel (Metro stop: Navy Yard) from 12–2 pm and is $35 per person. To RSVP, visit the AOI Web site.

Christmas at Base Hospital No. 6, 1918.


Martha Putnam, 1907. Photo courtesy Veronica Haskell

Artist Martha Putnam (1893–1983), the daughter of Boston physician Charles Pickering Putnam and cousin of fellow war worker Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (see blog post), was a reconstruction aide in physiotherapy at U.S. Army Base Hospitals Nos. 6 and 208 in Talance (near Bordeaux) from October 1918 to June 1919. In this January 1919 account from The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she describes Christmas 1918 at Base Hospital No. 6.

On Monday every one began decorating. Lt. [James M.] Davis of the decorating committee had brought in great piles of greens to be distributed; we also had oblong lanterns over the electric lights, made by the carpenter and covered by the patients. Our ward looked like a forest, even the Balkan frames entwined with holly. The contribution of Miss [Helen] Buckmaster, occupational aid, and myself was a “Merry Christmas” printed in red, and a three-foot paper Santa Claus to hang on the little pine Christmas tree.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve the festivities began with the pageant inspired by that great man, Captain [Henry Chase] Marble, orthopedic surgeon. The pageant visited every ward and did its stunts in each. We in our ward scouted out to watch its progress and as it neared 31 we scuttled inside to receive it. We heard the merry music down the corridor. It was headed by Father Christmas kneeling grandly in a wheel chair turned back-side front and draped like a chariot, drawn by a real donkey. Behind him pressed a motley little throng—the orchestra, variously robed; the quartet, the violinist, the “trained ducks,” the dancing cooties [lice], then a few people all dressed up for show. We were honored with a piece from the orchestra, then the quartet, then the cooties who rushed about after their dance to find a juicy patient—the men adored it. The Doctor Marble, like a French cook, served it all to us, and we were left breathless and happy.

That evening there was a tree and an entertainment (of recitation and music) at the Red Cross hut, for the walking patients. The Red Cross did handsomely. Each man received a pair of socks full of delicious things; each nurse a nice bag, with a pretty handkerchief and goodies. I felt as much tickled as though there weren’t thousands of other presents just like mine.

Christmas morning Isabel [possibly nurse Isabelle Dewar of Boston] and I rose at five to sing Christmas carols in the corridors between various wards. then breakfast at seven and on duty till church. Then I visited Thurk, sick in ward 16, then a large Christmas dinner. Worked till 4 in the wards, then spent the late afternoon in visiting my special pets in the other wards where I have worked as a nurse, and ending with two dentists who while I was there came in awfully shot up. They were all recovering and really glad to see me. After supper rushed over to the Red Cross hut to help Miss Delahanty [possibly artist Frances Washington Delehanty], O.P.  aid, make up the cast[] for “Spreading the News.” So that was the end of Christmas Day… (79–80)

Base Hospital No. 6, initially composed of 252 staff members from Massachusetts General Hospital, cared for 24,112 patients with 434 deaths of surgical cases (according to MGH Hotline). It later was combined with Hospital No. 208, which had personnel from Charlotte, NC.

In June 1921, Putnam married Alfred Clarence Redfield (1890–1983), Harvard professor of physiology and future associate director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They had three children: Elizabeth Redfield Marsh (1923–2009), chair of environmental studies at Stockton State College; Martha Washburn Koch (1926–2011); and Alfred Guillon Redfield (1929–), professor emeritus of physics and biochemistry at Brandeis University.


Ward 10, Base Hospital No. 6, Dec. 1917. National Archives.

Further Reading:
New Hampshire WWI Military: The Nurses of Base Hospital No 6 aka “The Bordeaux Belles“: Info about the personnel of Base Hospital No. 6, with a spotlight on the six nurses from New Hampshire.

Julia Shepley Coolidge, canteen worker.


Julia Shepley Coolidge, from her 1919 passport application

Winsor School graduate and lab technician Julia Shepley Coolidge was the daughter of Charles Allerton Coolidge, an architect who designed buildings for Harvard and Stanford. Beginning in April 1919, she was one of five staffers for a YMCA canteen in the Orkneys serving some 4000 U.S. servicemen and 500 British sailors who were clearing mines from the North Sea.

Coolidge provided a lively account of her work in The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919. She wrote:

How in a little town of 5,000 people, with absolutely no resources could you keep men happy—men every last one of whom wanted to go home but stayed out on the mine-fields sometimes thirty days at a stretch. Not thirty quiet days, but days of constant danger, mines exploding on all sides, days which were not the eight hour union days, but often the eighteen hour days of a difficult task to be carried through by strong men. . . . .

. . .[I]t was like pouring water into the desert to try to provide sufficient dances, once or usually twice a week was the rule for the Y, the K. C. [Knights of Columbus] gave some, and the boys had their own parties. I danced very nearly every night, after the canteen was closed at ten till the liberty was up at eleven-thirty. . . . .

On the fourth of July there were 2000 men ashore on liberty and we fed them with only three gas burners to work with. . . .

Often I had it said to me by the English officers, “But we think it is wonderful of you to come all the way from America to look after your men, we have been here four years and nobody has done anything for us”. . . I laughed, and said, “You must not give me so much credit. For every Y girl there is over here there are probably 10,000 who would probably like to be in our places. We thought ourselves lucky to get the chance to serve, and where our boys go we always want to follow.” (34–35)

She returned to the United States in December 1919. In April 1921, she married investment broker Frederick Deane, and they moved to China. Their son, Frederick Deane Jr., worked for the CIA during the Korean War and later became president and CEO of the Bank of Virginia.

Anna Davis McSherry, Yeoman(F) and crack shot.

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.