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Alabama Centennial Blog

Alabama Sailors Who Vanished Along with the USS Cyclops

May 3, 2018

By Laura Newland Hill, Encyclopedia of Alabama 

When the USS Cyclops (Fuel Ship No. 4) disappeared in March 1918, among the 309 men aboard were at least 12 sailors who called Alabama home. The ship was declared officially lost at sea on June 1, 1918, by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. The announcement followed a massive sea search that had been underway after the collier failed to arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, as expected on March 13. The disappearance of the Cyclops remains the U.S. Navy’s greatest non-combat related loss of life.

NH 76012The USS Cyclops, in the background, conducting an experimental coaling at sea with the USS South Carolina off the coast of Virginia in April 1914. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

NH 101063 1The USS Cyclops, circa 1913. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

The ship carried 10,800 long tons of manganese ore from Brazil destined for munitions. It departed Rio de Janeiro for Baltimore on February 22. The Cyclops made an unscheduled stop on March 4 in Barbados. It is speculated that the course deviation was related to problems with the starboard engine. The ship’s captain, Lt. Commander G.W. Worley, reported that a cracked cylinder was reducing the ship’s speed to 10 knots. The ship carried 10,800 long tons of manganese ore from Brazil destined for munitions. 

The eight-year-old, 542-foot vessel disappeared without a trace in the Atlantic. There was no distress signal, no debris, nothing. German navy logs, released after the war ended, ruled out its sinking by a submarine. The location of the Cyclop’s wreck is still undiscovered. 

Correspondence from the Secretary of the Navy to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, dated July 8, 1918, advised that the “official date of death on all the officers who were on board that vessel has been designated as June 14, 1918.”  Included on the list of officers “whose death occurred in the line of duty” was Boatswain Roy T. Smith, a native of Phenix City.

Other Alabama sailors aboard the Cyclops at the time of its disappearance were:

Lee Otis Battle, seaman, second class, from Andalusia

Bascomb Newton Branson, coxswain, from Whistler 

Earl LeBaron Carroll, seaman second class, from Oak Grove 

Thomas Jackson McKinley, seaman second class, from Evergreen

George Mason McNeal, fireman, second class, from Birmingham

John Freeman Mitchell, seaman second class, from Pratt City

William Thomas Wise, fireman, third class, from Glenmore

Hamilton Thomas Beggs, electrician, second class (G), from Birmingham

Q0000002943Hamilton Thomas Beggs, born in Birmingham on October 12, 1895, was the son of John Phillip and Amy Etter Beggs. He joined the Navy in 1912 and served on the USS Michigan for four years, where he learned “the occupation of electrician.” His paternal grandfather settled in Birmingham in 1871 and built and operated one of the first foundries in the city. (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)

John Clarence Dempsey, seaman, from Dothan

Q0000040797John Clarence Demspey (on right), born on October 18, 1900, in Montgomery, was the son of Charles Clarence and Annie Trott Dempsey. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 8, 1917. His uncle, Frank Trott, served in the Spanish-American War and died in Cuba. (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Austin Mize, seaman, from Odenville

Q0000040915Austin Mize (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Francis Olney Strong, fireman, third class, from Ashland

Q0000040999Frances Olney Strong (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History) 



We Need YOU to Help Transcribe World War I Service Records! 

April 25, 2018 

Alabama History DIY

The Alabama Department of Archives and History has launched its first crowdsourced transcription project, and we want YOU to join the effort. 

Earlier this month, as part of its commemoration of the World War I Centennial, the Archives launched the Alabama History DIY: World War I Service Records initiative. Archives staff, volunteers, and student workers spent eighteen months digitizing more than 100,000 index cards with information about the men and women who served in the war. Details ranging from biographical (age, residence, race) to military (enlistment date, branch of service, engagements) make the records a boon to both genealogists and historians. Users of the Archives’ World War I Gold Star Database will find this an excellent supplement, as it also includes survivors of the war.

Now that the cards have been scanned, we are seeking volunteers to help us transcribe the information and create a new, searchable resource for our patrons. Anyone with an Internet connection can contribute, anytime, anywhere, as “virtual volunteers.” The steps are simple, the software (from Ben and Sara Brumfield, creators of FromThePage) is user-friendly, and the work is addictive—try to stop after one card. No special technical skill or subject knowledge is required. When you sign up, you’ll be given login information and a project guide with thorough instructions. Just read the guide, sign in, pick a county, and get started. 

The project was made possible through the generous support of the Friends of the Alabama Archives and the Alabama Genealogical Society, along with the state archives of Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri, who saw the benefit of the new features that we commissioned.

Though we have not set an official target date for completion, everyone has an eye toward November 2018. What better way to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day than to present this collection as a tribute to Alabamians who served? 

To join the effort, contact Meredith McDonough at [email protected] or visit alabamahistorydiy.org. 

Alabama History DIY is a program of the Alabama Department of Archives and History that provides do-it-yourself museum exhibits, virtual volunteer projects, and other resources to local organizations and individuals.  


A Waltz & A Foxtrot: Dance Cards of World War I

April 18, 2018

By Haley Aaron, Manuscripts Archivist, Alabama Department of Archives & History  

Throughout World War I, dances entertained soldiers and civilians living in Montgomery. Weekly dances were hosted by civic organizations such as the Woodmen of the World, the Knights of Columbus, and the Girl’s Patriotic League. “Patriotic dances” not only allowed organizers to raise money for war relief efforts; they also provided a way for soldiers and local girls to meet.

For young women who lived in Montgomery, such as 20-year-old Helen White, there were countless opportunities to dance the night away. Helen carefully preserved dance cards from two of the events that she attended. These programs are now part of the collection at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The first dance card, dated April 19, 1918, contains a list of songs played at a farewell dance hosted by the 112th U.S. Engineers. The song dedications were, in turn, sentimental and tongue-in-cheek. Each of the company’s officers was honored with a selection, while the “Montgomery girls” were collectively recognized with the song, “I’m Old Enough for a Little Lovin.’”  With the last waltz, the corps paid a fond farewell to the State of Alabama. Under each song, Helen carefully penned the name of the man with whom she danced.  


The second dance card, dated March 21, 1919, was from a farewell dance at Montgomery’s City Auditorium, hosted by men stationed at the Aviation Repair Depot. The dance card gives us little information about the event, but newspaper coverage from the Montgomery Times described the event at length. “The entire auditorium was most beautiful in an elaborate decoration of flags and flowers,” the newspaper reported. “It really seemed a veritable flower garden.” Baskets of sweet peas, ferns, and carnations surrounded airplane propellers that were placed on either side of the main stage. The newspaper concluded that the event was “one of the most elaborate” social events of the season.















Wartime Easter Greetings

March 29, 2018 

In March of 1918, while serving as a pilot in France, Alabamian Penrose Vass Stout sent Easter greetings to his family at home. A talented artist, Stout included a sketch of an Easter bunny holding a military cap in the card to his mother, Zemmie. The cards he used feature the Y.M.C.A. symbol. A printed message inside notes that the correspondent is "on active service with the American expeditionary force." These cards are now part of the Alabama Archives’ collection




Born in Montgomery in 1887, Stout was a member of the 1st Pursuit Group, 27th Aero Squadron in World War I. 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 returned to practicing architecture in New York and became 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.


From the Gold Star Files: Private Daniel Robinson

March 21, 2018Q0000040971

During World War I, mothers of soldiers who died in service were awarded Gold Stars by the federal government. The Alabama Department of Archives and History compiled a list of the state’s Gold Star families from the bulletins of the U. S. Committee on Public Information. For several years after the war, the Archives sought out biographical information on these deceased soldiers, sending letters and biographical questionnaires to their relatives. Many families responded by sending the Archives letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Although the Archives’ goal of compiling this information into a book was never realized, what remains is a fascinating and informative collection of materials on Alabamians who died in the Great War. 

In mid-November 1921, a small envelope arrived at the Archives from Prairie, a rural community in Wilcox County. It contained brief biographical information and a photograph of Private Daniel Robinson. Born in Prairie in 1896, Robinson grew up on a small, rented farm with his mother, Bella, and grandmother, Julia Marsh. He enlisted in the Army during the summer of 1918. He trained at Camp Sherman in Ohio as part of the 802nd Pioneer Infantry, one of thirty-seven predominantly African American regiments used primarily as labor units, reconstructing roads and bridges to aid in troop movements. Robinson and the other members of the 802nd received accelerated training at Camp Sherman. One observer wrote: “The great mass of these men had known absolutely nothing of military life six weeks, and in some cases three weeks, before taking transport for France. But they went as others had gone, resolute and firm in faith.”

Private Daniel Robinson’s tour of duty was tragically brief. Less than eight weeks after he arrived in France, Robinson contracted purulent pericarditis, a serious infection which damaged his heart. He died on October 2, 1918, and is buried at St. Mihiel Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France. Newspapers back in Alabama noted his passing, along with sixteen other soldiers from the Yellowhammer State DanielRobinson Newspaperwho died overseas in October 1918.

The friend or relative who relayed these brief facts to the Archives in 1921 included a striking photograph of the young man. In it, Robinson stands in front of an American Flag. Stone-faced, he stares directly into the camera, looking much older than his twenty-two years. Few of the images in the Archives’ Gold Star collection are more striking than this photograph of a young Army Private from rural Wilcox County.















Teaching WWI: Primary Sources & the Story of Leon McGavock

March 14, 2018

By Wesley Garmon, Education Coordinator, Alabama Department of Archives & History


The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) contains a wealth of information, primary sources, and artifacts related to World War I. These resources are particularly useful to educators, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to choose which materials to use in the classroom. Fortunately, the ADAH website contains everything you need to make these harrowing stories come to life. Using the story of Leon McGavock, this post will provide a few tips and ideas that you can implement in your classroom today.

By choosing the research tab from the ADAH homepage, patrons can find the “Search Our Collections” feature. Once there, you will find the “Online Records” section, which contains all digitized resources available from ADAH. These records are available for download and use in your lesson plans or by your students.

The first resource that you will want to explore is the World War I Goldstar Database. During World War I, mothers of Alabama soldiers who died in service or who were recognized for distinguished service were awarded Gold Stars by the federal government. The ADAH used the Official Bulletin, published by the U. S. Committee on Public Information, to identify these soldiers, then sent out biographical questionnaires to their families. Many families responded by sending completed biographical forms, letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The department’s original goal to compile a publication honoring these individuals was never realized, but these materials now constitute this rich database.

The Goldstar Database is searchable by name, branch of service, race, town, and/or county. The search feature makes this database great for engagement activities and web-based scavenger hunts. Students can be assigned a soldier to research or they can be allowed to search for a family member or person from their hometown. Once a subject is chosen, students can use the biographical information contained in the database to construct a story or presentation about their selected individual.

One excellent example of the stories contained in the Goldstar Database is that of Sergeant Leon McGavock. McGavock, of Birmingham, served in Texas during the Pancho Villa Expedition for three years before sailing for France in July 1918. He distinguished himself during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, as a member of the 312th Machine Gun Battalion, 79th Division in September and October. On October 6th McGavock sat in a billet near the frontlines to write a letter home to his mother.

The letter, which makes for an excellent close reading activity, begins with a short telling of McGavock’s extraordinary experience during the previous four weeks. He describes being in the trenches for eight days and going “over the top” to begin a six-day drive which ended the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It is not long before McGavock turns his attention to his sweetheart “Freddie,” whose letters Leon desperately coveted. He professes his love for her as he transitions to more mundane details. In a perfect illustration of foreshadowing, Leon mentions that he recently had his first bath in four weeks and jokingly worries that he will “get a cold getting all that dirt off me.” Leon also mentions that his twenty-fifth birthday was the next day and wistfully hoped to be home for his next birthday. Two days after his final letter home, Leon McGavock became ill with the flu. He died October 15, 1918. 

By using the materials in the Gold Star Database, your students can gain a well-rounded view of everyday people who were involved in extraordinary events. In McGavock’s story, we see a heroic young man coming to terms with his involvement in one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, all while thinking about his sweetheart back home. Suddenly Leon is not just a black and white photo or a dusty old government record. Instead, he is a relatable young man who shared many of the same hopes and dreams that your students hold today. These materials and others from the ADAH digital collections can truly bring history to life for your students and place them directly into shoes of those involved. 



War News: Food Will Win the War

February 28, 2018 

Proponents of wartime food rationing would have felt their efforts worthwhile if they had read the February 28, 1918, edition of The Dothan Home and Farm Journal. Marketed as “The Oldest, Best Established, and Largest Circulated Weekly Newspaper in the Wiregrass Section,” editors L.S. Deal and R.H. Ferguson knew their target audience well. Setting aside politics, religion, and sports, The Journal focused exclusively on agricultural matters of interest to the region’s thousands of yeoman farmers and their wives. For these men and women, their livelihoods so tied to the land, food conservation was a patriotic act, indeed.

The eight-page February 28 edition includes rationing-related news on virtually every page. Recipes to make “meatless Mondays” and “porkless Saturdays” a bit easier, like pea soufflé, kidney bean stew, and Calcutta rice occupy most of the front page. An advertisement on page five entitled “The Housewife and the War” offers up a surprisingly robust menu for young children, which includes a breakfast of baked apples, lamb chops and rice for lunch, and stewed prunes, milk, and break for dinner. Subsequent articles reinforce the conservation of wheat and sugar by offering recipe substitutes like “egg bread” and sweet fruits.




















War News: Private Daniel Gallagher

February 21, 2018 001The Clarke County Democrat (Grove Hill), February 21, 1918

Readers of the February 21, 1918, edition of the Clarke County Democrat found welcomed news on page five: Daniel B. Gallagher was alive and well. Six months earlier, newspapers throughout Alabama had reported the young private missing and presumed dead, one of Alabama’s first potential casualties in the Great War.

On November 3, 1917, Gallagher was wounded in an early skirmish with German forces in France, just a few days after he and the other members of the Sixteenth Infantry’s Company F arrived at the front. Wounded in three places, he survived and was taken as a prisoner of war. The eighteen-year-old Gallagher was transferred to a camp in Touschell. Months later, through the aid of the Red Cross, Gallagher sent a letter to his parents, Neill and Leone, in Blocton, Alabama, telling them he was alive and almost fully recovered. During the month of February 1918, more than fifty Alabama newspapers reported the good news.

Gallagher returned to the United States in July 1919. He later moved to Konawa, Oklahoma, where he married Nan Robinson. The couple had one daughter, Mary Ellen, born in 1928. Daniel Gallagher died in 1972 and is buried in the Konawa memorial Cemetery.

View Gallager's WWI military service record in the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History's collection here.


002The Troy Messenger (Troy), November 7, 1917

 003The Centreville Press (Centreville), March 28. 1918
































"From My Heart to My Sweetheart": The Wartime Love Letters of Romie & Rudolph Reid

February 14, 2018

By Haley E. Aaron, Manuscript Archivist, Alabama Dept. of Archives and History


War often divides families and separates loved ones. However, war can also bring couples together in unexpected ways. In July 1918, Birmingham native Romie Owen moved to Muscle Shoals, where she found a job working at the United States Nitrate Plant Number 2, one of the state’s largest war production facilities. Romie was working as a file clerk in the fall of 1918 when she met Rudolph Reid, a Mississippi native who worked in the office.

The couple spent almost all of their spare time together. Their dates were simple - eating at the mess hall, going to the movies, and spending times with friends - and their friendship soon blossomed into love. After Romie moved back to Birmingham in January 1919, Rudolph kept writing to her almost daily. After an extended courtship and engagement, they were married on February 8, 1920.

You can read all of Rudolph and Romie’s love letters in the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History's digital collection here.


From a Soldier Boy, September 1, 1917

September 1, 2017

One hundred years ago today, Dale County native Tullie Marcus Dean wrote a letter home to his family from Camp Mills in Long Island, N.Y. Four days earlier, Dean and his fellow National Guardsmen departed from Union Station in Montgomery for training in New York and then to the faraway battlefields of France. In the letter, Dean details what was likely his first trip northward from Alabama and the many sights and landmarks he encountered along the way. He served in Company G of the 167th Infantry Regiment, which would become part of the storied "Rainbow Division" during WWI.

This letter was published in the Southern Star newspaper in Ozark. It is one of many letters from Dale County WWI soldiers now on view in the Ozark-Dale County Public Library's WWI display. Special thanks to Berta Blackwell and Donna Snell of Ozark for sharing this terrific item with us.

SoldierLetter 0901

New WWI Exhibition Debuts at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

August 4, 2017

IMG 1258

On July 15, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) debuted a new exhibition at the MMFA in its Weil Graphic Arts Study Center entitled Sketching the Skies: Penrose Vass Stout, Alabama’s WWI Artist-Aviator. The exhibition is curated by ADAH Manuscripts Archivist Haley Aaron and will be on display through September 10, 2017. 

Q0000075977 smallBorn in Montgomery in 1887, Penrose Vass Stout completed engineering and architecture degrees at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1907 and 1909. He practiced architecture in Florida and New York until enlisting 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 returned to practicing architecture in New York and became 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.

NieuportTrainingShip Stout Q0000078067 SMALL

Exhibited for the first time during the centennial of World War I, this collection features detailed sketches of military training, humorous aspects of camp life, the architecture of the French countryside, and Stout's view from the cockpit as he served as a pioneer aviator in the early years of air warfare.

In 2014, Nathaniel Stout donated his grandfather’s sketchbook and letters to the ADAH. This unparalleled collection provides an honest, deeply personal glimpse of the wartime experience through Stout’s unique artistic perspective. Most recently, in the summer of 2017, Stout donated his grandfather's wartime diary to the ADAH, enhancing an already rich collection with even more fascinating information and insight into the life and personality of Penrose Vass Stout. 

For more information about the exhibition, visit www.mmfa.org. The Penrose Vass Stout collection is available to view online at www.digital.archives.alabama.gov

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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

Nurses 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. 

Q0000099957Ida 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.


JuliaLideAlabama 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.



Q0000095853Anne 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.

BeddowAnne Mae Beddow during WWI. From the Alabama Archives Collection

 Q0000098551A page from Anne Mae Beddow's WWI scrapbook. From the Alabama Archives Collection









 ADAH D 295 20160804 3418 EditAnne Mae Beddow's Base Hospital 102 patch. From the Alabama Archives Collection






ADAH D 323 20160804 3452Anne 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

Q0000006841Staff 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. 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.

2017 04 11 112322WW1 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.”

 Q0000005547Convalescent 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.

Q0000006840Montgomery 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.

Q0000006839Montgomery 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 WWI Commission Logo


Georgia Ann Hudson
[email protected]
(334) 353-3312


  • Steve Murray, Director, Alabama Department of Archives and History
  • Maj. Gen. Sheryl E. Gordon, Adjutant General, Alabama National Guard

Honorary Chairman

  • Nimrod T. Frazer, Montgomery 

U.S. Commission Liaison

  • Monique Seefried, Atlanta

Committee Members

  • Greg Akers, Montgomery

  • Leah Rawls Atkins, Birmingham

  • Jim Baggett, Birmingham

  • Mike Bailey, Gulf Shores

  • Donna Baker, Tuscaloosa

  • Randy Bartlett, Auburn

  • Ken Bedsole, Abbeville

  • David Black, Florence

  • Berta Blackwell, Ozark 

  • Young Boozer, Montgomery

  • Borden Burr, Birmingham

  • Lt. Gen. Charles G. Cleveland, Montgomery 

  • Patrice Donnelly, Birmingham

  • Lydia R. Ellington-Joffray, Tuscaloosa

  • Stuart Foss, Birmingham

  • Gary Fuller, Opelika

  • Gen. Walter Givhan, Troy

  • Col. Joe Greene, Montgomery

  • Jan Gunter, Opelika

  • Laura Newland Hill, Auburn

  • Jeff Jakeman, Auburn

  • Gerald Johnson, Butler County

  • Tina Jones, Livingston

  • Mary Jones-Fitts, Faunsdale

  • Mortimer Jordan, Tuscaloosa

  • Jay Lamar, Montgomery

  • Ashley D. Ledbetter, Montgomery

  • Sebastian Lukasik, Montgomery

  • Clark Lundell, Auburn

  • Jo Screws McGowin, Montgomery

  • Shea McClean, Mobile

  • T.C. McLemore, Birmingham

  • Joel Mize, Tuscumbia

  • Darryn Moten, Montgomery

  • Graham Neeley, Montgomery

  • Glenn Nivens, Harpersville

  • Lt. Col. Larry Norred, Bessemer

  • Marty Olliff, Dothan

  • Michael Panhorst, Montgomery

  • Melvina Phillips, New Hope

  • Rob Riser, Livingston

  • John A. Screws, Birmingham

  • Betsy Simmons, Birmingham

  • Steve Trout, Mobile

  • Ruth Truss, Montevallo

  • David Tuck, Rockford

  • Ted Urquhart, Mary Esther, FL

  • Tom Walker, Montevallo

  • Johnny Waller, Montgomery

  • Mike Watson, Montgomery

  • Phil Williams, Gadsden

  • Mark Wilson, Auburn

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