Helping in Britain: The American Women’s War Relief Fund.


Shortly after hostilities broke out in August 1914, a group of American women married to British men met to discuss how they might assist the war effort in Britain.

The organization they formed, the American Women’s War Relief Fund, sent seven ambulances to the front (priced at about $20,000 each) as well as established two hospitals for wounded (the American Women’s Hospital for Officers in London and a hospital at Oldway House in Paignton, Devon, which converted the residence of Paris Eugene Singer, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune). The hospitals were turned over to the Red Cross in January 1918. By the time the Devon hospital closed in March 1919, it had cared for 7000 servicemen. The American Women’s Hospital for Officers became Red Cross Hospital No. 22 and also closed in 1919.


Patients at Red Cross Hospital No. 22. Nat. Library of Medicine, NIH

In addition, the fund’s Economic Relief Committee helped women and girls facing hardship because of job loss or family members serving in the war. The committee established workrooms that produced clothing and socks for residents and staff of hospitals and other institutions.

The U.S.-Born Organizers
Ava Willing Astor
(first wife of John Jacob Astor; later married Lord Ribbesdale)

Lady Randolph Churchill (aka Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill)

Viscountess Harcourt (aka Mary Ethel Burns, a niece of J. P. Morgan). She also organized and ran two London clubs for American Army and Red Cross nurses. Her brother, Walter S. M. Burns, served as treasurer of the fund.

Lady Henry (aka Julia Lewisohn). Lady Henry lost her only son in the war. Her 1927 will provided a $1M bequest to provide scholarships for Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge University exchange students.

Lou Henry Hoover (future First Lady)

Lady Lowther (aka Alice Blight). Lady Lowther was also involved in an effort to assist women who found themselves stateless as a result of the war.

Duchess of Marlborough (aka Consuelo Vanderbilt; niece by marriage of Lady Randolph Churchill, above)

Ruth Bryan Owen (daughter of William Jennings Bryan, later Florida congresswoman as well as the first female U.S. ambassador, who served in Denmark and Iceland). Nurse and organizer of troop entertainment events in Egypt-Palestine Campaign, 1915–18.

Willa Alice Wilson Page (wife of Walter Hines Page, U.S. ambassador to Britain)

Lady Paget (aka Mary “Minnie” Stevens, daughter of hotelier Paran Stevens). An AP article in 1917 credits Lady Paget with raising £250,000 for British wounded, £35,000 for Russian wounded, £32,000 for French wounded, and £25,000 for U.S. hospitals in Britain. Toting up the amounts and converting to present-day values equates to approximately $21.5M.

Anita Berwind Strawbridge (daughter-in-law of Justus C. Strawbridge, co-founder of the department store Strawbridge & Clothier)

Lady Ward (aka Jean Templeton Reid, daughter of former U.S. ambassador Whitelaw Reid)

Further resources:
The American Women’s War Hospital at Ordway

• (BBC audio) “Paignton, Devon: The Singer Palace Becomes a Hospital

Report of the American Women’s War Relief Fund, 1914–15

• “Work of American Women’s War Relief Fund in London,” The [NY] Sun, 31 Dec. 1916

WWI relief worker, WWII internee: Rosina Marguerite Wolfson.


Rosina Marguerite Wolfson, from her 1917 passport application

A longtime resident of the Philippines, Rosina Marguerite Wolfson (1887–1965) worked for Belgian Relief (chaired by Herbert Hoover) in London from 1914 to 1916. Although the bio notes on Wolfson from Harvard’s Schlesinger Library state that she led a Red Cross ambulance unit during World War I, her 1917 passport application indicates that she left New York in November 1917 for Red Cross canteen service in France. The Louisiana-born daughter of attorney and Spanish-American War veteran Joseph N. Wolfson and niece of Louisiana Court of Appeal judge Max Dinkelspiel, she is identified as Jewish by the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

This item from the 8 June 1918 Journal des réfugiés du nord refers to Marguerite’s work with refugees (see also this reference from the 2000 Bulletin de la Société archéologique et historique de l’Orléanais mentioning Marguerite and the Red Cross role in giving refugees land to cultivate). She later was honored for her WWI service. According to the February 1919 Bulletin of the Commercial Law League of America, she was granted honorary citizenship by the French city of Orléans and presented with a statue of Joan of Arc. In the article, Marguerite describes the ceremony:

The mayor [of Orléans] made a very touching speech, stating his pleasure in granting this honor to me in my own capacity, as well as that of a daughter of New Orleans, the young and splendid sister of their own historic town. Then the parchment was handed to me and the superb bronze statue of Jean[n]e d’Arc produced. . . . After my health had been drunk in champagne, [Lt.] Colonel [William H.] Bishop, the American Commanding Officer [of Base Hospital 202], and my very dear friends, took me over to the Red Cross recreation room, where another reception was held, this time by the officers who had known me, before the whole Red Cross personnel and my dearest friends and volunteer nurses (82).

She returned to the United States in December 1918. In April 1919, she traveled on the Empress of Russia to take up a Red Cross position in Siberia, which was facing a typhus epidemic as well as inadequate care for refugees and Czech soldiers. In 1936, she was elected to the Republican National Committee. She assisted refugees from China in 1937 as head of the Red Cross Emergency Committee in Manila. In early 1943, Marguerite’s lawyer brother, Julian, was interned in the Philippines by the Japanese; by early 1944, they both were in the Santo Tomas internment camp near Manila. Their parents died in February 1944, and Marguerite and Julian were not liberated until 1946.

Marguerite passed away in San Francisco in 1965. Her will provided a $132,000 bequest to Julian’s alma mater, the University of Michigan law school.

Further reading:
• “. . . a bond . . . being forged of love and understanding that would stand the test of time”: Rosina Marguerite Wolfson’s account of celebrations in France for July 4, 1918, repr. Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 1918.

• Marguerite Wolfson, “Shanghai’s Refugees Descend Upon Manila,” Red Cross Courier, 1938

• Rosina Marguerite Wolfson, World War II reminiscences, Schlesinger Library.

Chicago’s WWI nurse (Mary) Lucile Pepoon.


Lucile Pepoon, from the 30 May 1921 Chicago Tribune

Mary Lucile Pepoon was born on 8 Aug. 1887 in Illinois, the daughter of physician and botanist Herman Silas Pepoon. After graduating from Chicago’s Lake View High School and obtaining her nursing credentials in 1909 from the city’s German American Hospital (later renamed Grant Hospital), she was a school nurse for Chicago’s Department of Health for seven years (writing a short statement about ethics for the school nurse). She headed for France on 19 May 1917 on the SS Mongolia but when the Mongolia‘s guns misfired and killed two nurses, the ship turned back to New York to make provisions for the dead and send injured nurse Emma Matzen to the hospital. It re-embarked on May 22, was attacked by a submarine on June 1,  arrived in Cornwall on June 2, and was greeted by King George V and Queen Mary. The personnel set off for France on June 11.

In Etaples, Pepoon served at Base Hospital No. 12 (dubbed “the Northwestern Unit,” as many of the medical officers and enlisted men were from Northwestern University). It was reported that her dedication to her nursing duties continued even while she was running a temperature, until she became more seriously ill in June 1918. In November 1918 she died (attributed variously to trench fever,  septicemia, and endocarditis) and was buried with full military honors in Somme American Cemetery. She received a posthumous Red Cross Medal (accepted by her father). In 1921, a tablet was placed in her memory in Chicago’s Independence Park (located near her family home). As the Chicago Tribune notes, the memorial boulder to Pepoon was rededicated in May 1966 at Graceland Cemetery (see this photo of the Pepoon memorial boulder, ca. 1956).

As this National Park Service report in the National Archives makes clear, the Independence Park District purchased Herman Silas Pepoon’s property on West Byron Street in 1930 to enlarge Independence Park.

Further reading:
Biographical sketch of Mary Lucile Pepoon
• Chicago Academy of Sciences on Herman Silas Pepoon

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.