Alabama Nurses in World War I
May 10, 2017
By Haley E. Aaron, adapted from Alabama Nurses in World War I, Alabama Heritage, Winter 2017
Audie Hill and Margaret Moffat in Red Cross uniforms standing outside the Red Cross headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, during World War I. From the Alabama Archives CollectionFor Alabama’s first generation of professional nurses, World War I provided not only an opportunity to serve their country, but also to define the future of their profession. For nurses who served at home and abroad, WWI served as a proving ground, giving them a chance to test their skills in a challenging environment. Alabama women served with distinction at base hospitals in France and Italy, serving capably as hospital administrators and developing new methods of treatment.
Ida Carrie Seale during WWI. From the Alabama Archives Collection
Mid-career nurses who completed their training in the 1890s and early 1900s were well-prepared to meet the challenges they encountered at military hospitals in Europe. A few nurses, such as Julia Lide and Annie Early Wheeler, had previously served as nurses during the Spanish American War. Others, such as Ida Carrie Seale and Amelia Greenwald, completed specialized training and worked for years as public health nurses before volunteering for wartime service.
Alabama Nurse Julia Lide, ca. 1910. From the Alabama Archives Collection
Nurses serving at base hospitals in France often faced less than ideal conditions. Base hospitals were often set up in abandoned factory buildings and warehouses. When Talladega native Julia Lide arrived at the Third Division Hospital near Chateau-Thierry in the summer of 1918, she discovered that the building was “full of rubbish, dirt, and debris,” too dirty to house wounded patients. Lide and the other nurses quickly cleaned the building and prepared to care for the influx of wounded soldiers arriving from the nearby battlefront. In July 1918, Lide continued to care for patients as the hospital was bombarded by enemy fire. Although Lide survived the attacks on the base hospital, she fell ill shortly before she was scheduled to return to the United States. When she died on February 24, 1919, allies on two continents mourned her death.
Anne Mae Beddow (front row, 5th from the left) pictured with other St. Vincent's Hospital Nurses. From the Alabama Archives Collection.
Conditions were somewhat better for a group of ten graduates of St. Vincent's Hospital who served at Base Hospital 102 in Italy. When they arrived in Italy, they were housed in a fully furnished villa that featured a ballroom and a stone terrace. Despite the beautiful setting, the realities of war were never far away. At the villa, nurses could hear guns firing in the distance and at Base Hospital 102, they treated Italian soldiers wounded during the Vittorio Veneto campaign. For a young nurses such as Anne Mae Beddow, wartime service in Italy inspired careers dedicated to service and innovation. After assisting with surgical procedures on the Italian front, Beddow returned to Alabama and became one of the state’s first nurse anesthetists. She was one of the first nurses in the nation to administer pentothal sodium, an intravenous anesthetic that was more effective than the drop masks and ether used during World War I. Pentothal sodium was used widely until the 1950s, when it was gradually replaced.
“Now, as never before, the trained nurse is coming into her own,” an article in the Chattahoochee Valley Times declared at the end of the war. Thanks to the dedicated service of Alabama nurses during World War I, the nursing profession gained increased credibility and significance.
Anne Mae Beddow during WWI. From the Alabama Archives Collection
A page from Anne Mae Beddow's WWI scrapbook. From the Alabama Archives Collection
Anne Mae Beddow's Base Hospital 102 patch. From the Alabama Archives Collection
Anne Mae Beddow's St. Vincent's Hospital training pin. From the Alabama Archives Collection
Montgomery Motor Corps Contributes to War Efforts
April 11, 2017
By Laura Newland Hill, Encyclopedia of Alabama
Staff of the Montgomery Motor Corps of the National League for Woman's Service. Alabama Department of Archives & History
Left to right on the lower row: "Captain, Mrs. Fred S. [Florence] Ball; Adjutant, Miss Anna S. Ball; Lieut., Mrs. Gaston [Cecile] Greil; Lieut., Mrs. Leopold [Sophie W.] Strauss; Lieut., Mrs. W. H. [Kate] LeGrand; Lieut., Mrs. John A. [Kate M.] Flowers." Left to right on the top row: "Mrs. W. J. [Elizabeth] Hannah, local chairman; Serg., Mrs. Sidney [Selma] Winter, treasurer; Lieut., Mrs. Mose [Lillie W.] Scheur; Lieut., Mrs. Ellis [Nettie G.] Burnett; Lieut., Mrs. J. M. [Mittie] Nicrosi." (The identification accompanying the photograph identified the married women only by their husband's names. The women's first names were determined by consulting city directories from the period.)
The 1918 photo (above) of the women serving on the homefront in Montgomery is filled with an air of patriotism. The uniforms look sharp. The faces of the woman convey a serious demeanor. The photography studio background adds gravitas. The women in it are the officers of the Montgomery Motor Corps and they directed the activities of more than 100 local female volunteers who provided a variety of driving services to Camp Sheridan, the 4,000 acre U.S. Army post a few miles north of town. As was the norm at the time, the Motor Corps volunteers were identified with the convention of “Miss” or, if married, “Mrs.” plus a husband’s name. All but one are married.
In the process of looking for their names, I learned that several were rearing young children at the time. A few of them were Alabama-born daughters of German immigrants. Others were from families that had been in the country for several generations; two of them would serve as regents of the Peter Forney chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Montgomery. One was the daughter of a successful Jewish retailer in Atlanta. Another was the daughter of a well-known Methodist circuit rider. One had a twin brother who was drafted into the U.S. Army in late June of 1918. Their last names were ones that Montgomery residents saw on professional office doors, storefronts in town, and in local advertising for lumber, insurance, and dry goods. Given the purpose and requirements of the Motor Corps, it can be assumed that all the women knew how to drive and, in all likelihood, were using their personal vehicles in service to the country.
WW1 poster using artwork drawn by Charles Dana Gibson and presented to the National League for Woman’s Service by the Federal Food Administration. Library of Congress
“As we close the second year’s work of the National League for Woman’s Service, we realize with gratitude the privilege of service which has been given to the League and through the League to several hundred thousand women throughout the United States.” Maude Wetmore, National Chairman, NLWS
The Motor Corps was one of eight divisions of the National League for Woman’s Service (NLWS). The league was established on January 27, 1917 to “organize and train the great woman power of the country for specific and economic service; to be prepared to meet existing needs; to be ready for emergency service; and to supplement the work of Governmental Departments and Committees—Federal, State, and City—and other official and unofficial bodies.”
At least 78 Motor Corps units were established across the country. The one in Montgomery was activated on April 25, 1918. The NLWS’s 1918 annual report recorded that the Montgomery Corps had 84 active, 21 reserve, and 38 auxiliary members. Florence Richardson Ball served as its captain. The unit had seven lieutenants, 16 sergeants, and 12 corporals. The Montgomery Motor Corps was divided into six groups, each under the command of a lieutenant, which were assigned to cover activities for a specific day of the week. The seventh lieutenant worked specifically with the Red Cross and had a driver on call at all times. (The NWLS Motor Corps was the official motor division of the Red Cross nationally until it developed its own in June 1918.)
According to a 1920 history of the organization, more women applied to join the Motor Corps than any other division “because of its originality, its daring and, as many imagined, its romance.” It also noted that the “requirements, discipline, and the hard unromantic work” expected of the volunteers “curtailed the active membership.” The NLWS adopted national standards for qualifying as a Motor Corps driver. Once a volunteer received her certificate she was qualified to serve in any of the units across the nation. Corps membership was restricted to women between the ages of 21 and 45 (or 18 to 50 for reserves). One could become a “full-fledged” driver after passing examinations in mechanics, driving, first aid, and signaling. Participants were expected to “live up to her pledge of definite hours of service and be on call for emergencies” and “keep herself and her car neat and of military appearance.” There was also a requirement for “a vaccination certificate and several injections of prescribed serums.”
Convalescent soldiers from Camp Sheridan "enjoying a touch of home life" at the Montgomery Motor Corps's official roadhouse. Alabama Department of Archives and History
“In order that southern hospitality might find expression without any ill effects to the sick boys, a prominent Montgomery woman offered her home as an official roadhouse…On each trip the boys were carried to this home where they enjoyed a half hour or so of real home life.” Account of activities in Alabama in the National League for Woman’s Service 1918 annual report.
Providing assistance to Camp Sheridan was the primary focus of the Montgomery Motor Corp’s work. “The first work of the Corps and the most appreciated is recreational rides for convalescent soldiers at the Base Hospital on Tuesday and Thursday of each week.” Over the course of six months, at least 2,300 soldiers participated in this opportunity. Additionally, the Motor Corps volunteers transported approximately 80 teachers a day, starting at 6:30 a.m., who were teaching illiterate soldiers at Camp Sheridan to read and write. (A few of the drivers also served as teachers.) Assistance to the local Red Cross also utilized significant resources. Seventeen drivers were specifically designated for its service, which included 60-mile trips to nearby town to deliver supplies.
The Motor Corps did not curtail its activities when the influenza epidemic reached Camp Sheridan. “…each train coming into Montgomery brought anxious relatives of influenza stricken soldiers. The city taxi service was temporarily suspended and the distance to the Base Hospital was great. The Motor Corps came to the rescue and for a week every train was met and transportation to and from camp was furnished…Many trips to camp were made late at night through rain and mud…” The Motor Corps also provided transportation for women who volunteered to assist sick soldiers, and had the sad task of furnishing cars for the military funeral of a “trained nurse” killed by the flu.
Montgomery Motor Corps members with bouquets of flowers in front of the capitol. Lieutenant Kate LeGrand is in the driver's seat, and Lieutenant Sophie W. Strauss is seated behind her. Alabama Department of Archives and History
“Quantities of flowers, the gift of a local florist have been sent to the Base Hospital and distributed to the boys by the Floral Committee of the Corps. During the epidemic of influenza, when the camp was quarantined, the Corps collected flowers in their various neighborhoods which, with thousands of roses donated by generous florists, were taken out to the hospital.” Account of activities in Alabama in the National League for Woman’s Service 1918 annual report.
Other transportation activities were numerous. They included providing rides to the camp for relatives of sick soldiers who were unable to pay for other transportation; helping the Y.M.C.A. bring in singers for Sunday Services; transporting volunteers who distributed “books, dainties to eat, and flowers contributed by local florists;” carrying visiting football and baseball teams to the camp’s ball field; transporting the camp’s military band into town for events; chauffeuring Divisional Headquarters officials; and providing rides for Alabama boys who had returned from overseas wounded. On top of all of this, they provided transportation to the U.S. Department of Public Health’s malaria treatment and prevention efforts in the area and its assistance to families with sick babies. The Montgomery Motor Corps also regularly participated in parades, bond drives, and patriotic events within the 30-mile radius of the state’s capital.
Montgomery Motor Corps Sergeants Selma Winter and Minnie Anderson driving Division Headquarters officers at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama. Alabama Department of Archives and History
“To the Captain of the Motor Corps. Dear Madam:— I beg to express the deep appreciation of the entire hospital staff of the splendid work your corps is doing for the convalescent soldiers of this hospital. It is very deeply appreciated by the entire medical staff as well as by the convalescent patients themselves. Yours very respectfully, LEIGH A. FULLER, Colonel Medical Corps.”
For God, For Country, For Home: The National League for Woman's Service; Bessie R. James, The Knicerbocker Press, 1920.
Report of the Alabama Council of Defense: Covering Its Activities from May 17, 1917 to December 31, 1918.
National League for Woman's Service Annual Report For the Year 1918, Including a Summary for the Year 1917.
Alabama's Response(s) to U.S. Entry into World War I
April 6, 2017
The Albany-Decatur Daily, April 6, 1917
At the beginning of the war in 1914, most Americans supported the idea of staying out of the conflict, though U.S. businesses and manufacturers continued commerce with warring countries, providing munitions, food, and loans, primarily to the Allied side. In an August 1914 speech, President Woodrow Wilson issued a declaration of neutrality, saying, “The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.” Wilson was reelected in 1916 on his “He Kept Us Out of War” slogan.
By 1917, Germany’s decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare and the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram angered and worried many Americans. On April 2nd, President Wilson addressed Congress asking that war be declared against Germany. In his speech, Wilson said “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Four days later on April 6, 1917, Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of a war declaration. Among Alabama’s delegation, only two – Representatives John Burnett and Edward Almon – voted against U.S. entry into the war.
For some though, the idea of entering a war in Europe was frightening and not in the best interest of the country. On April 8, 1917, Alabamian Helen Keller wrote in a letter to a friend in Montgomery, “I was grieving over the fearful world tragedy that fills all thinking minds and good hearts with woe.” In May 1917, a “Petition Against Sending Our Young Men to War in Europe” signed by 112 citizens was sent to Senator John H. Bankhead in Washington, D.C. The signers advocated "absolute neutrality" regarding the war in Europe, and suggested that it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to call for troops or enact conscription legislation.
Letter from Helen Keller to Mrs. Burton in Montgomery, April 8, 1917. Alabama Dept. of Archives & History"Petition Against Sending Our Young Men to Europe," May 10, 1917. Alabama Dept. of Archives and History
Overall, Alabamians fully participated in mobilizing and fighting America's first "total war" of the twentieth century. Military mobilization engaged Alabama almost immediately after the U.S. declaration of war. In addition to providing 5,000 National Guardsmen and 7,000 other volunteers, Alabama contributed approximately 74,000 white and black draftees, called "selectmen," to the army. More than 2,500 Alabamians were killed fighting in the fields of France. Alabamians from all walks of life pitched in to help the war effort at home. Many joined voluntary organizations such as the Red Cross and the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense. Local communities, professors from Alabama State Normal School for Negroes, and women's clubs in Montgomery and Tuscaloosa organized canning factories to preserve Victory Garden produce and keep food affordable in their cities.
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama
Montgomery Advertiser, April 6, 1917. Alabama Dept. of Archives and History
Carbon Hill Journal, April 6, 1917. Alabama Department of Archives and History
Montgomery Advertiser, April 7, 1917. Alabama Department of Archives and History
The Winston Herald, April 6, 1917. Alabama Department of Archives and History
Mobile Tribune, April 2, 1917. Alabama Department of Archives and History
Letters Home: Christmas Greetings from an Alabamian in World War I
December 21, 2016
Alabamian Penrose Stout left a richly illustrated history of his service as a World War I aviator through his sketchbook and his letters home. Born in Montgomery in 1887, Stout enlisted in March 1917.
A member of the 1st Pursuit Group, 27th Aero Squadron, Stout was shot down near Charny during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for attacking a German artillery installation and battling five enemy pilots.
After the war, Stout became a noted architect in New York and well known for his designs of country homes, part of the wave of suburbanization north of New York City in the early twentieth century. He died in 1934 at age 47.
While stationed in France during the Christmases of 1917 and 1918, he sent letters home to his mother with holiday greetings, warm wishes, and even his list for Santa. Stout’s keen sense of humor is evidenced in several of his writings. These letters along with many others and Stout’s sketchbook are now part of the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s permanent collection.
A letter from Stout to his mother, Zemmie Stout Lawton, in Hartsville, South Carolina
“My precious Mother….One week from today will be the 1st of December and you and Tookins are already busy on your Xmas presents and it seems less than three weeks ago that I told you goodbye after your visit to Princeton. And while we are on the subject of Xmas, I don’t need a thing and the mail deliveries are so blamed uncertain that I hope you won’t attempt to send me anything. Of course if you knit me a pair of wristlets and a pair of 10 ½ or 11 grey socks with a couple of yellow stripes around the top, and put in some candy and a few cigs, the chance would be almost worthwhile.”
Christmas card from Stout, stationed in France, to his mother
“There is no one for whom I wish more happiness on Christmas than my mother. So the best of it all for you and Cousin Joe and the household for Christmas, New Years and all the days that follow. I shall be thinking of the dearest person in all the world and wishing I could be with her and that person is you
October 5, 1918
Letter written by Stout when he was hospitalized, recovering from injuries in France, to his mother
“…this is what I am writing Santa Claus for:
- 1 hard propholoactive [sic] toothbrush
- 1 box delicately scented glycerin soap
- 6 film rolls for vest pocket Kodak
- 1 pkg. bouillon cubes
- 1 small pkg. good tea
- 1 billy goat and red wagon
Goodnight, precious -Penrose"
December 24, 1918
Christmas telegram from Stout while stationed in Hyeres, France to his mother
“Love for Xmas -Penrose”
Taylor Field: Alabama's 1st Military Flying Facility
November 2, 2016
By Dr. Robert B. Kane, Director of History, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama
Images courtesy of the Directorate of History, Air University, Maxwell AFB, AL
A Taylor Field Curtis JN-4 Jenny, taken from another Taylor Field aircraft, during a flight training mission
On April 2, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany. To train pilots for combat in France, the Air Service established 32 training installations in the United States. One of these was Taylor Field, the first military flying facility in Alabama. The War Department leased 800 acres of land, 11 miles east-southeast of Montgomery for $4,000 a year with an option to buy for $32,000.
Taylor Field opened on November 16, 1917 and was named for Captain Ralph L. Taylor of Stamford, Connecticut. Taylor was commissioned a captain in the Nebraska National Guard Air Service on May 3, 1917, and sent to Mineola Field (later Roosevelt Field), New York, on May 23, 1917, as an aviation instructor. He was killed in an accident on August 2, 1917.
Construction of the airfield’s facilities for a primary flight school began on December 11, 1917. By April 16, 1918, the 128th, 129th, 131st, and 193rd Aero Squadrons had arrived at the field to begin training up to 300 students through an eight-week flight training course, using about 200 Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" and De Havilland DH-4 "Gypsy Month" trainers. To service these aircraft, the War Department established Aircraft and Engine Repair Depot #3 inMontgomery on the site of the former Wright Brothers flying school. Besides the flight school, facilities at the airfield included the post headquarters, 16 hangars, repair shops, warehouses, barracks, and a hospital.
Aerial view of Taylor Field showing the school facilities, center, and some of the 16 large hangers, lower part of photo
Flight training began May 2, 1918. Major E. M. Hoffman was the first post commander. 2nd Lt. Charles N. Monteith succeeded him on July 9, 1918, and 2nd Lt. Kenneth G. Fraser, in turn, succeeded Lt Monteith on October 2, 1918. By the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the Taylor Field flight school had graduated 139 cadets and flown a little over 20,619 hours. Some of the graduates saw combat France during the war. With the war over, the War Department closed the airfield in April 1919.
Ground view of the 16 large hangers, left, at Taylor Field
A wrecked Curtis JN-4 Jenny from Taylor Field
By the start of World War II in December 1941, the hangers and many of the other structures at Taylor Field had been torn down. In 1942, as the number of flight cadets increased at the basic flight school at Gunter Field, just north of Montgomery, the US Army Air Force (AAF) reopened the airfield as Gunter Auxiliary Airfield #5 to reduce growing air traffic congestion at Gunter Field.
With the end of the war, the AAF closed the field in July 1946, and the War Department sold portions of the installation to private owners and tore down the remaining structures although aerial photos show the remnants of the installation swimming pool. A 1993 historical marker on the south side of Ray Thorington Road near Foxchase Drive marks the site.
In 2005, private developers established the Avalon subdivision along the northwest border of the airfield's former location, approximately 200 yards east of this marker and across the former southwest-to-northeast runway. A dirt road to the east of Avalon runs along the same path as the former main entrance to the hangars and a few homes were built along the east side of it in the 1950s. Lancelot Drive in Avalon crosses over the old main airfield road near where the dirt road terminates.
Alabama's Own: Camp McClellan
September 21, 2016
In 1917 the U.S. War Department built thirty-two division-size training camps across the country. These facilities trained and equipped American soldiers before they departed for the battlefields of France. In Alabama, Camp McClellan near Anniston and Camp Sheridan in Montgomery played pivotal roles in our state’s wartime efforts on the home front.
Newspaper headline: Anniston Evening Star, May 18, 1917
The U.S. War Department established Camp McClellan on July 18, 1917 as a rapid-mobilization base and permanent National Guard facility. It was named in honor of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, U.S. Army. Located in Calhoun County, Camp McClellan encompassed over 16,000 acres near the Choccolocco Mountains. It provided an ideal troop training environment and a direct rail connection to the Port of Mobile. By year's end, more than 27,000 troops were training there.
Panoramic view of the 113th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division. February 26, 1918. (Library of Congress)
The men of the newly-created 29th “Blue-Gray” Division arrived in late August 1917 while construction was still underway. The division was comprised of National Guard units from Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Delaware. At McClellan, the troops were taught trench warfare and trained to combat a new weapon, poisonous gas. Rifle and field artillery ranges, trenches, and dugouts were constructed to simulate active combat. The 29th Division departed in June 1918 and served valiantly in France. Other units trained at McClellan during the war, including Maryland’s 1st Separate Negro Company, the 6th Division, and various other support units.
Nurses of the base hospital at Camp McClellan (Alabama Department of Archives & History)
Following World War I, the U.S. Army designated Camp McClellan as permanent training center, and renamed it Fort McClellan in 1929. The facility continued to train troops during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The base closed in 1999, but part of it is still in use by the Alabama National Guard as a training site today.
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama
The following images are pages from a Camp McClellan Souvenir Book that was recently donated to Alabama Department of Archives and History by Derek Brown, Birmingham, AL. The entire souvenir book can be viewed in the Archives' digital collection.