I crossed a ravine with equal frequency, and all looked alike. It is not surprising that soon I could not guess where I was. We could turn back and retrace our tracks, but actual danger lay there; so it seemed wiser to push on, as there was, perhaps, no greater danger than discomfort ahead. The sun hung like a big red ball ready to drop into the hazy distance when we came clear of the buttes and down on to a broad plateau, on which grass grew plentifully. That encouraged me because the horses need not suffer, and if I could make the scanty remnant of our lunch do for the children’s supper and breakfast, we could camp in comfort, for we had blankets.
In today’s letter, Elinore sets out to hire some help, and ends up being a big help herself. She also educates Mrs. Coney about the proper cookware for a camp-fire breakfast.
“Every order for an infantry advance, a barrage preparatory to the taking of a new objective and, in fact, for every troop movement, came of these ‘fighting lines,’ as we called them. These wires connected to the front, up with the generals and made it possible for the latter to know exactly what was going on at any moment and to direct operations accordingly.”
–Berthe Hunt, Women’s Telephone Unit of the Army Signal Corps
Just a few decades after the invention of the telephone, this technology proved vital to the execution of World War I. Troop movements, and orders to fire, cease-fire, advance, or retreat were communicated by telephone, with the help of switchboard operators. But when the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) arrived in France, they were faced with phone lines that had been battered by three years of war. There was also the language barrier to overcome. Bell Telephone helped solve the first problem; the “Hello Girls” solved the second.
November 4, 1918 The chauffeurs have been most tremendously busy these last two weeks on account of moving. My life seems to hinge around choked carbureters, broken springs, long hours on the road, food snatched when you can get it, and sleep. Nothing else has mattered to me and I feel like a regular camion driver, dirty, but so accustomed to the job that it is no longer tiring. … The country over which I have been motoring is tremendously interesting, but most gloomy; unless there are soldiers about there is not a living thing, nothing but waste and destruction. If you saw a whole house you would stop and look at it as a phenomenon. One evening I tried to take a shortcut home with a doctor and we got most hopelessly involved in bad roads which finally led us to an impassable bridge. We had to retrace our steps completely and start all over again … Never again will I be so foolish as to try short cuts home through ” No Man’s Land,” even if it is French property now.
–Letter from Nora Saltonstall
The fighting stopped on 11/11 at 11 a.m. But the needs continued. In the aftermath of World War I, among the rubble and ruin, American women continued to serve. Significant relief was provided by the American Fund for French Wounded (AFFW) and the Comité Américain pour les Régions Dévastées de France (CARD). Women like Anne Tracy Morgan used their wealth and social status to help the French rebuild their homes and villages long after the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
“August 10, 1917 I get my appointment and go loco w joy. It seems to me my reason for existence is explained. All my training and experience seem to have fitted me for just this. Bradford Knapp talks and I get two ideas. Unless one gives all one is not giving enough, and if one can go one should. The other thing was that to our generation has come this great chance for sacrifice. There is a joy in my heart that this has come. Everyone is awfully good about my going away. I did not know how much my work meant to me.”
–Diary of Mary Paxton Keeley
On April 6, 1917, Congress voted for a declaration of war on Germany. War had already been raging for three years. And for the whole of those three years, American women had been involved in the care and comfort of European soldiers and civilians. Now that American men would be fighting, American women took on service as a patriotic duty. But not all women were given an equal opportunity to serve, nor did all American soldiers receive equal access to the welfare services.
“Their house had been destroyed and they had lost all their farm possessions but one cow. They were living in one side of a dirt-floored barn that belonged to some friend, and someone else had given them a bed. But why this family was living at all, I do not know. They had rushed away ahead of the Germans with one hundred and eighty Belgian soldiers at the time of the retreat toward Antwerp, and of the one hundred and eighty soldiers only twenty got out alive. Yet this family had come out intact, and survived typhoid fever after that. There were tears in the eyes of that mother — almost the only weeping we saw in Belgium.”
–Dr. Caroline Hedger, Chicago Women’s Club
Thousands of American women crossed the Atlantic Ocean to be of service to the soldiers and civilians suffering through World War I. Countless more served from their kitchens and communities in the United States. In this first episode of a three-part series on women’s relief work, we will learn about some of the great contributions made by Americans–especially women–before the US declared war on Germany.