There’s a film to accompany Elizabeth Cobbs’s book on the Hello Girls, the women who served as switchboard operators in the US Signal Corps during World War I. For further details or to purchase the DVD, visit the film’s webpage.
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.
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.
Today’s New Haven Register includes a nice piece by Ed Stannard on the grave marker effort for composer and AEF pianist Helen Hagan, in which I am quoted.
The graphic I have produced below (or download here) shows American women who served in the World War I Navy by state. The top five states/territories are New York (2329), District of Columbia (1874), Massachusetts (1324), Virginia (1071), and Pennsylvania (1067). The total of Navy women in all states/territories is 11,859 (but note discrepancy in Maryland’s number).
Note: This post was updated on 4 Dec. 2016, primarily with additional information from the National Archives and the USC Cinematic Arts Library (host of the Frances Marion Collection). I am grateful to the National Archives’ Carol Swain and USC Cinematic Arts Library’s Edward Sykes Comstock for their assistance.
A puzzling question is the fate of the 1918–19 film American Women in the War, which sought to document U.S. women’s participation in World War I. Under the aegis of the Committee on Public Information (CPI), it featured longtime Mary Pickford collaborator Frances Marion as screenwriter, according to this Jan-Feb 1919 article from Motion Picture World (emphasizing that Marion left her $50,000/year Hollywood screenwriting position for the assignment).
A draft of Marion’s autobiography in the USC Cinematic Arts Library indicates that she was receiving letters from actress-singer Elsie Janis (an old friend of Pickford) who was entertaining the troops overseas and urging her to come to France; it quotes Janis as writing, “Get out of that artificial Hollywood atmosphere and into life that is real, ghastly, forbidding, terrifying and magnificent” (129). Author and war correspondent Mary Roberts Rinehart endorsed Marion’s application to the CPI to become a war correspondent, and Marion was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Her 21 Aug. 1918 passport application indicates a departure date of 1 Sept. 1918, and the draft autobiography notes that she, along with black soldiers destined for engineering units, endured a perilous crossing to Brest on the Rochambeau, which she dubbed “an old tub” (130). Wrote Marion in her draft autobiography, “With my steel helmet, gas mask, Sam Browne belt and C [for Correspondent] insignia I started forth to record the activities of the Allied Women behind the lines” (133). Echoing Janis’s experience, she wrote, “In the weeks that followed I knew what it meant to be under almost constant fire, to suffer during the late autumn nights from cold that gnawed on our bones and to endure hunger when temporarily we were cut off by the enemy from food supplies” (133).
The draft autobiography also describes her unexpected encounter at Verdun with a Hollywood friend, Wesley Ruggles (then a lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps and later the director of Cimarron, 1931). In piecing together information from the draft autobiography and the 1919 article, it seems that Ruggles and Douglas Fairbanks cameraman Harris “Harry” Thorpe filmed in Europe with Marion from October through at least November 1918. In the 1919 article, Marion stated that they obtained “50 percent of what we wanted and needed to make the picture complete.” The ship manifests housed at the Ellis Island Foundation indicate that Marion boarded the Baltic in Liverpool on 29 Jan. 1919 and docked in New York on 8 Feb. 1919.
Cari Beauchamp indicates in Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women in Early Hollywood that the film was released in April 1919 “as a fifteen-part serial” (445). But a Moving Picture World item of April 1919 indicates that Marion was in Los Angeles “last week” filming female war workers for adding to the footage shot in Europe. CPI publications are ambiguous about the film. The February 1918 CPI bulletin refers to Woman’s Part in the War as a film in development, but it is unclear whether this means the eventual Marion-Ruggles-Thorpe project or a film called Uncle Sam Says: A Girl’s a Man for A’That—The Story of Women in War Work that was produced by Paramount-Bray Pictograph. The 1920 official report of CPI chair George Creel refers to Woman’s Part in the War as an “early picture,” and this certainly is not the case for the Marion-Ruggles-Thorpe film. His 1920 book on CPI, How We Advertised America, only mentions Woman’s Part in the War (again referred to as an “early feature[ ]”). The Uncle Sam Says film cannot be the same project, as this film is a one-reeler, and the footage shot in Europe for the Marion-Ruggles-Thorpe project was at least six reels. The 1919 Motion Picture World piece refers to the film under the title Woman’s War Activities.
Charles Hart, head of the CPI’s division of films, indicates in a Jan/Feb 1919 piece in Moving Picture World that he expected CPI operations to wrap up “within a period of two months,” and Creel’s letter to the president that prefaces the 1920 report is dated 1 June 1919. The Marion-Ruggles-Thorpe film does not appear in the National Archives catalog under the record groups for the Signal Corps, the CPI, or the Council of National Defense (the CPI’s successor). There is no listing for the film in the credits for Marion or Ruggles in the Library of Congress Copyright Office’s Motion Pictures 1912 to 1939. I have not found an announcement about the release of the film or any catalog record on the film, but the uncertainty about the exact title of the film complicates the matter.
An email exchange with the National Archives confirms that the film is not in its CPI collections but might be part of unedited Signal Corps footage. The National Archives is in the process of scanning these 500 titles and posting them on its YouTube channel.
Locating a print of the film and showing it in time for April 2017—the centenary of official U.S. entry into World War I—should be a major priority for the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or any of the state entities established to commemorate the war’s centenary.
Rebecca Sheir, host of WAMU’s Metro Connection, interviewed me about the DC-area women included in my collection In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I. Two passages also can be heard from the book:
• Excerpt, Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1917 report to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker
• Excerpt, 1918 account of Walter Reed librarian Gertrude Thiebaud
In this post, Richard E. Miller highlights the “Golden Fourteen” African American women who served as Yeomen (F)s during World War I. They worked as clerks in the Navy’s “muster roll section,” which kept records on the assignments and locations of sailors. As Howard University dean Kelly Miller noted in History of the World War for Human Rights (1919, p. 597):
…it is the first time in the history of the navy of the United States that colored women have been employed in any clerical capacity. . . . The[y] are all cool, clear-headed and well-poised, evincing at all times, in the language of a white chief yeowoman: “A tidiness and appropriate demeanor both on and off duty which the girls of the white race might do well to emulate.” The work of this section has proved highly efficient and satisfactory…
These pioneers are the following (with their home states noted):
• Sarah Davis (Maryland)
• Catherine E. Finch (Mississippi)
• Fannie A. Foote (Texas)
• Armelda H. Greene [Vawter] (Mississippi; sister-in-law of John T. Risher, the black chief of the muster roll section)
• Sarah E. Howard (Mississippi)
• Pocahontas A. Jackson (Mississippi)
• Olga F. Jones (Washington, DC)
• Inez B. McIntosh (Mississippi)
• Marie E. Mitchell (Washington, DC)
• Anna G. Smallwood (Washington, DC)
• Carroll E. Washington (Mississippi)
• Joseph (sic) B. Washington (Mississippi)
• Ruth Alma Welborne Osborne Davis (Washington, DC; maternal grandmother of the late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown; buried in Arlington Cemetery)
• Maud C. Williams (Texas)
“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.