Author Dorothy Canfield Fisher in WWI.


Dorothy Canfield, from the 1899 Ohio State U yearbook The Makio

The online diary for WWI general John J. Pershing indicates for June 21, 1917, “[b]reakfasted at the [Paris Hotel de] Crillon with Dorothy Canfield.” According to the 9 Aug. 1917 Norwich Bulletin, Pershing “had been [Canfield’s] instructor in mathematics in her girlhood in Lawrence, Kan.”(4). This is not precisely accurate; Pershing taught Canfield in Lincoln, NE, when her father was chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (see Pershing’s My Life Before the World War).

Canfield (1879–1958; author, The Bent TwigUnderstood Betsy, etc.) wrote in a 4 Mar 1916 letter to poet Sarah Cleghorn, well before the official US entry into WWI, “John [Redwood Fisher, her husband] and I have been feeling more and more dissatisfied with what we are doing to help out in the war, and that we have decided to do further.” Thus Fisher served in the American Voluntary Ambulance Corps in France while Canfield lived there with their two children and became involved in a range of relief activities. These included work to print books and magazines in braille for blind servicemen (Her July 1918 story “The First Time After” features a blind soldier). She noted in “Americans Working for French Blind Soldiers” (Fair Play, 3 Feb. 1917):

This is an American machine, the only electric press which prints books for the blind in France. By the time this article appears the first issue of a monthly magazine for the blind will have been issued from this press . . . The magazine is under the direction of a blind editor, who with a corps of seeing assistants (volunteers) will also . . . arrange for the publication by this press of a series of manuals in raised type, which will help the blind in their re-education. (1)

The Feb. 1919 Red Cross Magazine lists the following as wartime activities of Canfield:

She took a family of refugee children under her charge to the Pyrenees; she helped establish two hospitals for children under the Red Cross, one specially devoted to tuberculous children. Her ardent activities included a home for the children of munition workers near Paris. (11)

Canfield’s article “The Refugee: A Narrative of the Sufferings of Invaded France” (The Outlook, 19 Sept. 1917) focuses on the experiences of an older female refugee, who states, . . .”we could not believe at first that war was there, the stupid, imbecile anachronism we had thought buried with astrology and feudalism. For me it was like an unimaginably huge roller advancing slowly, heavily, steadily, to crush out our lives” (88).

Other wartime articles of Canfield (collected in The Day of Glory, 1919) are “France’s Fighting Woman Doctor” (on Dr. Nicole Girard-Mangin, who served at Verdun, Vadelaincourt, and the Somme, and was wounded) and “Some Confused Impressions” (regarding her interaction with servicemen involved in the Chateau Thierry campaign, which concludes, “young men, crowned with the splendor of their strength, going out gloriously through the darkness to sacrifice”).

Finally: A grave marker for AEF pianist Helen Hagan.

hehagan-markerThe grave marker for composer and AEF pianist Helen Eugenia Hagan—supported by a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1600—was unveiled on September 29 at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. As the organizer of the campaign, I was a speaker at the event. New Haven mayor Toni Harp declared the day “Women Making Music Day” in honor of Hagan (read the official proclamation).

Read articles on the unveiling (which also offer photos and some video):

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
New Haven Register
New Haven Independent
Yale School of Music

Hagan was the only African American female musician to entertain the AEF in France (as part of the “Proctor Party” formed at the request of General John J. Pershing).

More on Hagan’s life and work
Listen to Hagan’s Concerto in C Minor, her only extant composition

Helen Hagan grave marker unveiling, Sept. 29th.

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.

More on Hagan’s life and work
Listen to Hagan’s only extant composition, the Concerto in C Minor (1912)



“Village after village absolutely levelled”: Sara E. Buck.


Sara E. Buck, from her 1918 passport application

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.

Women in LOC’s exhibition on WWI American artists.

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 works on her Liberty Bond poster. From The Poster. War Souvenir Ed. 1919

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 Warner Johns Kirtland, from her 1917 passport application

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.

Mrs. A. Taylor, a nurse with Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike’s American Fund for French Wounded.

Edna M. Walker, Red Cross worker and furniture designer.

Further reading:
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 black female drivers of the Hayward Unit.


Mae Kemp, 1913. J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs,  Univ of Washington

The Hayward Unit of the National League for Women’s Service at 200 W. 139th St. in New York City opened a club for black soldiers and sailors in August 1918, providing a canteen, games and reading/writing rooms, accommodations, dances, and musical performances. The unit was named for Colonel William “Bill” Hayward, commander of the 369th Colored Regiment (aka the “Harlem Hellfighters“) that saw extensive combat in France and received the Croix de Guerre (Hayward’s son was Hollywood agent-producer Leland Hayward). What New York Did for Fighting Men states that between August 1918 and September 1919, the club entertained 40,000 men, with 5015 eating in the canteen, 11,527 using the dormitory facilities, and 6464 attending dances. Jobs were found for 883 discharged black servicemen.

Part of this unit was the “only colored women’s motor corps in the world,” according to a 1919 article by Frances Tilghman, NLWS publication secretary. Tilghman stated that the motor corps was composed of 40 women, three ambulances, two buses, and 12 cars. The women of the motor corps visited hospitalized African American service members and took convalescing black patients on outings such as sightseeing, ballgames, picnics, and carnivals. They also transported elderly people to church and orphans to amusement parks. Their service during the influenza epidemic was especially lauded.

Hayward Unit

Poster for the Hayward Unit. Univ of Minnesota Libraries

The motor corps was credited with greeting 100,000 men. Tilghman lists the following women as its leaders:

• Captain Sadie Leavelle

Lt. Mae Kemp (c. 1877–1926): a vaudeville performer who later appeared in the film The Call of His People (1921), which focused on a man passing for white. Kemp was involved with fundraising for and purchasing an ambulance that was sent to France. After she became ill with cancer, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson organized a benefit performance for her.

• Sergeant Pearl Murray
• Sergeant Anna Reid

In addition, Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era states that Lelia Walker Robinson, the daughter of black millionaire Madam C. J. Walker, volunteered with the unit for formal events and parades for the troops.


Mae Kemp, far left, and Sadie Leavelle with black servicemen on a sightseeing outing. From the New York Age, 30 Aug 1919: 1.


The Female Camouflagers of World War I.


Marguerite Carmel Becht (later Wilson), artist and member of the Camouflage Reserve Corps. Image from her 1918 passport application.

The National Archives’ Unwritten Record blog highlights World War I’s Camouflage Reserve Corps of the National League for Women’s Service, including cool photos of the women in training and painting the U.S.S. Recruit (a recruitment station built in the shape of a ship in New York City’s Union Square). The 30 Nov 1918 issue of American Rifleman notes that four women from the corps visited the Navy rifle range in Caldwell, NJ, and “made good at whatever they tried. And they tried practically everything in the way of marksmanship that we had to offer—from the short course to the machine gun” (197).

For a closer look at the camouflaging of the U.S.S. Recruit, visit the blog Camoupedia. One corps member who worked on the Recruit was artist Marguerite Carmel Becht (later Wilson), who went on to serve for nine months in YMCA canteens in Great Britain and France before her assignment to the YMCA facility at Walter Reed in 1919.

“The Wounded Were Alive with Vermin”: Pauline Jordan (Rankin).


Pauline Jordan, ca. 1917

Born in Auburn, ME, in 1892, Pauline Jordan earned her nursing credentials from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses and sailed in October 1915 to serve with the American Ambulance Hospital at Neuilly, France (Dr. Hugh Auchincloss of Columbia University was involved in recruiting medical personnel for the hospital). In September 1916, she headed to Romania as anesthetist for a medical mission with French surgeon Alexis Carrel (who had pioneered with British chemist Henry Dakin a live-saving method for treating wounds). In April 1917 she wrote to Jane Delano, the head of Red Cross nursing, about the conditions she encountered:

During the six weeks that we were in the Roumanian Hospital at Jassy, we did most of the dressings under great difficulty. The dressing room was crowded with Sisters of Charity, boy scouts, medical students and many young girls. As we had over six hundred patients and about four sets of instruments and only one alcohol stove, the work was never completely finished.

There was no heat and the food was very poor. Our principal diet was corn meal mush and goats’ cheese, black bread, and occasionally beans. Once a day we had tea and twice a week meat. During the winter we cared for patients whose feet had been completely frozen while lying in bed.

[At another hospital] . . . . The wounded were alive with vermin and we had no supplies. When the severely wounded came in we had almost nothing to work with. They lay on straw mattresses without rubber sheets and the straw quickly became contaminated with pus and blood, but we had no fresh straw. A great many of them died from exposure and septic infection.

. . . .The Queen [Marie of Romania] sent us some rice, macaroni, sugar and tea and the American Legation has been very kind to us indeed so we have managed to live through the winter. The patients are all suffering from malnutrition.

No doubt you have read of the frightful typhus epidemic. . . . .People have died by the thousands and all the hospitals are overcrowded. . . .
(Qtd. in The History of American Red Cross Nursing, [1922], pp. 879–80)

According to an April 1917 article in the Harrisburg Telegraph, Jordan escaped the bombardment of Bucharest in December 1916, heading for Russian territory, but was imprisoned by the Germans in a basement with very little food. The Red Cross sent her to Italy in December 1917.

Jordan received five decorations for her war service, including the Order of the Cross of Queen Marie from the Romanian government.

In 1920 she set sail on the S.S. Amerika for assignments with Near East Relief in Constantinople and the Caucasus region. In 1923 Jordan worked for Near East Relief in Armenia and is credited with starting the first school for the blind in that country. She met Near East engineer Karl Lott Rankin and married him in 1925. Her husband joined the Foreign Commerce Service, and the Rankins journeyed to postings in Prague, Athens, Tirana, Albania,  Brussels, and Belgrade. The Rankins were en route to a posting in Egypt when the Japanese interned them in Manila (which lasted for 21 months). Thus Jordan was imprisoned during both world wars.

Karl Rankin later became the U.S. ambassador to Taiwan and Yugoslavia. Jordan died in 1976.

U.S. female casualties of WWI.

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.


Winona Caroline Martin, from her 1918 passport application


Marion G. Crandell, from her 1918 passport application


Ruth Landon, from her 1916 passport application