Save the date! Helen Hagan grave marker ceremony.


Hagan in YMCA uniform

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.

Yale Daily News on AEF pianist Helen Hagan.


Helen Hagan, by Eugene Hutchinson

The Yale Daily News’ Nitya Rayapati interviewed me about the grave-marker effort for pioneering composer-pianist Helen Hagan (Yale 1912), the only black performing artist sent to World War I France. After a generous contribution by the Yale School of Music, the crowd-funding campaign is just $245 shy of the goal of $1500.

Update, 3-25-16. The grave marker effort has surpassed its fund-raising goal, reaching a total of $1605. Thanks to all who so generously contributed. A dedication ceremony is envisioned for fall 2016.

Frances Noyes Hart: WWI translator and canteen worker; mystery author.


Frances Newbold Noyes, from the 14 Jan 1920 Washington Herald

Born 125 years ago today in Silver Spring, MD, Frances Newbold Noyes Hart was the daughter of Frank Brett Noyes, the publisher of the Washington Star and president of the Associated Press. She published her first book, Mark, in 1913. From 1917–18, she was a translator for Naval intelligence, then went to France as a YMCA canteen worker ca. April 1918. My AEF—A Hail and Farewell (McClure’s Dec 1919; book publication 1920) provides a look at her experiences in France:

There were very few things we didn’t try together. I’ve served you everything from soup to doughnuts; sold you everything from [cigarettes] to postage-stamps. I’ve given you everything from ice-cream to good advice. . . . I have been in hospitals with you when you were dying, and I had to smile at you. . . . I’ve written your letters for you when you hadn’t any fingers to write with, or you hadn’t any words, when you had been so brave you couldn’t tell them about it, or when you had been so weak. . . . I couldn’t bear to think of you, so young, so heartbreakingly young and so mortally tired, going whistlingly back through the darkness into that hell. (pp. 3, 5, 12)

trialShe received second prize for her short story “Contact” in the O. Henry Memorial Prize competition in 1920 and provided a spirited rebuttal in “The Feminine Nuisance Replies” to Joseph Hergesheimer’s assertion in the July 1921Yale Review that “literature in the United States is being strangled with a petticoat.” She married lawyer Edward Henry Hart in January 1921 and had two daughters. Her novel The Bellamy Trial (1927) is based on the Hall-Mills murder case in New Jersey and appears on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list of essential mysteries. Called “probably . . . the greatest mystery story written this century” by Herbert Carter in the American Mercury, the book was adapted as a silent film in 1929 (now considered lost) and as a play in 1931.

Her other novels include Hide in the Dark (1929), Pigs in Clover (1931), and The Crooked Lane (1934).

Given that Hart’s mother was a Newbold, a logical question that arises is about Hart’s possible connection to Edith Wharton (aka Edith Newbold Jones, who also was involved in war work). They are only related by marriage. Wharton’s uncle was Thomas Haines Newbold (spouse of her mother’s sister, Mary Rhinelander Newbold, and cousin to Hart’s great-great grandfather, Caleb Newbold).

Hart died in 1943 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.


Grave of Frances Noyes Hart in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.  Photo by Elizabeth Foxwell

Film: Blérancourt: Anne Morgan.


Anne Morgan, right, with physician Rosalie Slaughter Morton, n.d. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div.

“She led us like a general.”
—An American relief worker on Anne Morgan

The short film below includes footage of Anne Morgan’s personnel from the American Fund for French Wounded/American Committee for Devastated France at work in France during World War I. Morgan (1873–1952), a daughter of financier J. P. Morgan, was the first U.S. woman commander of the French Legion of Honor, decorated for her WWI activities.

For further details about the AFFW/ACDF work (which includes letters, diaries, and photos), visit the Morgan Library’s online exhibition Anne Morgan’s War: Rebuilding Devastated France, 1917–1924. Life magazine published an appreciation in February 1952 after Morgan’s death in January.

America’s WWI female codebreakers: Elizebeth Friedman, Agnes Meyer.


Elizebeth Smith, from the Hillsdale College Wolverine, 1915

Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980) was born in Huntington, IN, and earned a degree in English literature from Hillsdale College (MI) in 1915. She married cryptology pioneer Herbert Friedman in 1917. At Riverbank Laboratories in Illinois she deciphered traffic between Germany and Mexico as well as messages regarding a Hindu-German conspiracy (which resulted in defendants shot dead in a San Francisco courtroom); she also helped train individuals in cryptology. Friedman later worked for the Signal Corps; for the Treasury Dept and Coast Guard, she was particularly effective in cracking codes used in drug and alcohol smuggling. In World War II she worked on the Japanese “Purple” code and provided evidence of the pro-Japan spy activities of Velvalee Dickinson (aka “the Doll Woman”).

Audio: Listen to a 1974 interview in which Friedman discusses her World War I work, or read the transcript.


Agnes Meyer, from the 1909 Otterbein Sybil.

Nicknamed “Madame X,” Geneseo (IL)-born Agnes Meyer (1889–1971) graduated from Ohio State in 1911 and enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman (F) in June 1918. Versed in French, German, Japanese, and Latin, she worked in the Postal and Cable Censorship Office. Her job was to examine telegrams and letters for indications of espionage or security breaches. Next, she was assigned to the director of naval communications’ Code and Signal Section, which created codes and ciphers for the Navy. After the war, she continued in this office as a civilian employee, had a stint at the “Black Chamber” in New York, and worked on an early version of a cipher machine.

Meyer married Washington, DC, attorney Michael Driscoll and taught cryptanalysis to Navy personnel. During World War II, she worked on Japanese and German codebreaking. Described as “without peer as a cryptoanalyst” by Rear Admiral Edwin Layton, she remained with the NSA until her retirement in 1959. She died in 1971 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Update, 5-8-17. New book on Friedman
A Life in Code: Pioneer Cryptanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman

The Neglect of U.S. Women in World War I

May Hammond, Smith College Relief Unit, assist a wounded British serviceman at Montmirail, France, May 1918

May Hammond, Smith College Relief Unit, assists a wounded British serviceman in Montmirail, France, May 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div.

This blog is an attempt to address my frustration at the light coverage of U.S. women’s contributions to World War I. We tend to hear more about British women’s service, with the assumption that because the official U.S. entry occurred late in the war, U.S. women’s involvement subsequently must date from that time.

Not true. For example, Anne Morgan’s American Fund for French Wounded dates from 1915, as does Winifred Holt’s work with blind French servicemen. We might hear occasionally of the relief work of an Edith Wharton or see a photo of a woman in naval uniform as a yeoman (F), but these fail to reflect a full picture of their service. The VA estimates that during World War I, more than 23,000 female nurses served in the Army and Navy, approximately 12,000 women were Navy yeoman (F)s, and 307 women were in the Marine Corps. The Red Cross places the number of its total WWI volunteers at 8 million, including nearly 24,000 nurses; its 12,000-member Motor Corps was composed primarily of women. These figures, of course, do not encompass women who were involved in private efforts (such as with church, university, or community groups). In 1925, the Women’s Overseas Service League indicated that 50,000 U.S. women served abroad during the war.

It is easy, however, in looking at the wood to miss the role of individual trees. In compiling my anthology In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I, I discovered a number of first-person narratives by U.S. women who served in various capacities during the war. They refute the persistent stereotype that American women only served as nurses or clerks during the war. I also found nuggets of stories; lines of inquiry that unraveled tantalizingly but stalled without more intensive research; and documentation that revealed impressive achievements during and after the war or poignant facts of lives cut short by disease, misadventure, or despair. Today’s concerns about sufficient care for U.S. military women are not new; I found some press coverage from the 1920s to the 1940s of female WWI veterans lacking services and monetary compensation. I hope this blog will showcase the service of such women and assist those who would like to learn more or teach about American women’s work in the war.