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Matt Thorenz

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Introduction

Washingtonville Chapter of the American Red Cross stands in front of the Monell Firehouse, Washingtonville, New York 1918. Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

The current Monell Firehouse decorated to commemorate front-line, and essential workers. April 19, 2020. Matthew Thorenz, Head of Reference and Adult Services, Moffat Library of Washingtonville.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the beginning of March, our community has seen increasing support for essential workers and hospital staff as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has affected communities large and small throughout the world. Businesses bedecked with signs showing support, as well as guidelines for those affected by this disease bring to mind images of another global event that impacted our community over one-hundred years ago.

On April 6, 1917, the world as Americans knew it would change forever. On this date, one-hundred and three years ago, the United States declared war on Germany, formally marking America’s entry into the First World War (1914-1918). To those living through the war, it was considered one of the first “Great man-made catastrophes of the twentieth century”.  The world as people knew it in June 1914 was a very different one in April 1917, and by November 1918, it was completely unrecognizable. Monarchs were deposed, national boundaries were redrawn, and individuals found themselves in the center of social and political movements . The war would have a profound effect on the people of Washingtonville and Blooming Grove. Over 100 men and women from the area served overseas, and many more volunteered their time to support the war on the home front. Three local servicemen would never return, and are memorialized on the Village’s World War One monument, erected shortly after hostilities had ceased. Women stepped into the national spotlight, and were asked to “Do their bit”. Many joined the Washingtonville chapter of the American Red Cross, while others raised funds, and knitted items for soldiers and refugees. African Americans saw their opportunity to prove themselves worthy of being treated as equals, and 10 of them from Blooming Grove and Salisbury Mills would serve their country overseas.

The Moffat Library’s collection of World War One materials documents the stories of these ordinary lives that were swept up in extraordinary times. Originally published on our former local history blog “Stories from the Vault”, we are republishing this series of articles here to show how our community responded to this global conflict.

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Part 1

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany had eroded since the first shots of the war were fired two-and a half years earlier. At the outbreak of war in August, 1914, the United States had a burgeoning population of immigrants, many of whom had arrived from the nations who were currently at war. Blooming Grove’s 1910 census included the family of John and Christine Winters, who immigrated from Germany, Joseph Romer from Poland, and John Pointek from Russia. Other foreign-born citizens included Harry McComb from Ireland, and his Swedish wife Christina, along with other immigrants from Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain [1]. The sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat in May 1915, which killed 1,198 passengers; including 128 U.S. citizens, led many Americans to volunteer for overseas service with either the Canadian, British, or French military [2]. Salisbury Mills resident Stirling Alexander Findlay enlisted in Company A. 107th Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in August, 1915 and would serve in the battles of Vimy Ridge, April 1917, Hill 90, August 1917, and Arras, September 1918 before returning home in 1919 [1] [3]. By January 1917, Germany’s declaration of the use of unrestricted submarine warfare, targeting neutral ships that delivered food and supplies to allied ports in Britain and France, as well as the discovery of the Zimmerman Telegram, a message sent by the German foreign office proposing an alliance with Mexico and Japan should the United States declare war, led to President Woodrow Wilson severing diplomatic ties with Germany and officially entering the war on the side of the allies on April 6th, 1917 [2].

Propaganda played a key role in motivating Americans to enlist and support the war effort.  President Wilson, who until recently campaigned as a president who sought resolution through peace and diplomacy, had to convince the American public that her entry into a war, that had already killed and maimed millions of lives, was just [6]. The work of the Committee on Public Information, rallies, and propaganda films would all play an important role in defining America’s role on the global stage.

One week after war was declared on April 13th, President Wilson authorized the creation of the Committee on Public Information (or CPI) [4]. This organization was charged with publishing pamphlets, flyers, and advertisements that promoted the “rightness” of America’s involvement in the war using descriptions of war atrocities, and exaggerated images of German soldiers murdering innocent women and children [5]. A graphic example of war propaganda carried by a local Washingtonville soldier, David Hudson, shows a German soldier kidnapping two children (representing the former French territories of Alsace and Lorraine). The menacing soldier carries a butcher’s knife in his belt, and his jacket is stained with a bloody hand print. The illustration comes from the 1918 publication of Whitney Warren’s “Alsace-Lorraine, A Question of Right”. In this publication, the author attempts to justify why the territories of Alsace and Lorraine should be returned to France after being annexed by Germany following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871:

‘ “Alsace [Germans say] is a country essentially German, by its population, by its geographical situation, by the language which is spoken. It is by violence that she was torn from Germany in the seventeenth century, and the Treaty of Frankfort in 1871 only gave back to the German Fatherland what belonged to it…Alsace and Lorraine were not treated as a recovered province, but as a colony which it was necessary to Germanize…The future peace of the world, of America itself, will not be assured, if the war ends, otherwise than by the return to their cradles, of all the peoples who have been robbed from their mother countries, and the integral restitution of all the thefts committed by Germany and Austria in the last century…” ‘ [6]

Cover from David Hudson’s copy of “Alsace-Lorraine: A Question of Right”. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

Title Page from “Alsace-Lorraine: A Question of Right”. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

The Blooming Grove Congregational Church also helped promote the war effort in the area. A July 1918 “Religious, Patriotic, and Social” program brochure highlighted services titled “Our Re-Christianized Democracy” and “Our Re-Challenged Democracy”, in addition to youth programs such as “The Industrial Democracy” and “The Youth of Democracy”. Special guests, such as the former U.S. ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard, were also invited to speak to congregants.  In his 1917 book detailing his time as a diplomat to Germany from 1914-1917, he states that:

“We are in this war because we were forced into it: because Germany not only murdered our citizens on the high seas, but also filled our country with spies and sought to incite our people to civil war.” [7]

Gerard’s book was an instant best seller, and in 1918 turned into the first movie produced by Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack Warner; the founders of Warner Brothers studios.

“Religious, Patriotic and Social Program, July – August 1918”. Blooming Grove Congregational Church, Moffat Library Local History Collection.

By 1917, motion pictures had increased in popularity and complexity. Film makers such as D.W. Griffith, William Nigh, and Allen Holubar used this new form of mass media to produce propaganda films. One such film was “The Heart of Humanity” , produced by Carl Laemmie, and starring early film stars Dorothy Phillips, Willam Stowell, and Erich Von Stroheim. Loosely based on D.W. Griffith’s film “Hearts of the World”, the film follows the story of an American girl; Nanette, who volunteers as a Red Cross nurse after her love, John Patricia, enlists in the Canadian army. While there she confronts the evil German officer, Lieutenant von Eberhard, and must be rescued by her love. One of the more climactic scenes from the film is when Nanette attempts to save a baby from German soldiers led Lieutenant von Eberhard as the building she is hiding in burns around her. The film debuted at New York’s Broadway Theater on December 22nd 1918 to mixed reviews by the New York Times: “The Heart of Humanity” is presented with a realism which is sure to make an impression of approval or disapproval…Children add to the charm and effectiveness of some of the scenes, and their costumes and acting reveal that intelligence and care in direction elsewhere evident in the production. One receives the impression, however, that the making of a few of the scenes in which the children appear was not very good for the children” [8]. In 1919, Washingtonville resident Susan Hudson Wright described the film in a letter to her cousin David Hudson, who was currently serving as a Sergeant in the 6th U.S. Infantry overseas:

“Last Tuesday I went to the movies and saw “The Heart of Humanity”. It was a war picture based on the truth and it was very sad. I have been to the movies quite frequently and I am afraid I am getting the movie decease [sic].” [9]

Movie poster from Allen Holubar’s “Heart of Humanity” (1918). Wikimedia Commons.

Propaganda in the form of pamphlets, programs, and motion pictures had an effect on the citizens of Blooming Grove and the United States in general. They promoted a shared sense of patriotic duty, and defined the role of the United States in a global war many citizens barely understood. At the same time, the CPI and other propaganda outlets also silenced dissent among activists and organizations that questioned America’s involvement, and unintentionally led to the persecution of German-American citizens.  Still, by looking at these documents in the library’s local history collection, one can put themselves in the mindset of David Hudson, Sue Hudson Wright, or many of Blooming Grove’s other citizens who saw the First World War as a moral calling to defend America’s democratic principles abroad, and encouraging every citizen to do their part to win “The War to End All Wars” [5].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


SOURCES

  1. Ancestry.com New York Records, “New York, State Census 1915,” accessed April 21, 2020
  2. Britannica Academic, s.v. “World War I,” accessed April 21, 2020, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/World-War-I/110198.
  3. Schaffer, Ronald. America in the Great War: the Rise of the War Welfare State. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994.
  4. The Screen by The New York Times, December 22, 1918
  5. Susan Hudson Wright to David Wright Hudson, April 29, 1919

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Part 2

In December 1917, Washingtonville resident Elsa S. Gerow wrote to Private David Wright Hudson, who was going through basic training at Chattanooga Tennessee:

“Do you know we had a small pretty little blizzard Saturday and the mercury still stays near zero.  Real winter.  Aren’t you glad you are below the blizzard line? Think of the poor fellows guarding the N.Y. Aqueduct. Joy, it must be cold along those hills below New Paltz- Yet those boys are having a quiche compared to those “over there”. [1]

When the United States entered World War One in the Spring of 1917, America’s national security was placed on high alert. Despite declaring neutrality at the outbreak of war three years earlier, American factories and farms had been supplying food and munitions to allied forces fighting on the western front in return for turning a profit. David Hudson’s cousin Emily wrote him in November, 1917:

“James has been drafted, but don’t have any idea they will take him on account that he is working in the ammunition plant. He has been there nearly or quite two years (Bridgeport) – Oliver is there too.” [2]

This put American munitions plants in the cross-hairs of possible German saboteurs seeking revenge on the British naval blockade of German shipping. On July 30th 1916, the Black Tom munitions depot on Black Tom Island, New Jersey was rocked by a massive explosion, leaving three dead, and hundreds of nearby residents severely injured. The implication that German spies were involved in this act led to backlash against German-American immigrants, as well as heightened security for factories and transportation hubs necessary to produce and move materials and men to the front lines [3].

The Hudson Valley would play a major role in supplying the industrial hubs of New York City, and New Jersey with fresh water via the New York Aqueduct, as well as transportation for men and war materials through the many railway lines and bridges that linked New York State to New York City, and Hoboken, New Jersey. Protecting these resources were men from the New York National Guard and provisional New York Guard. Beginning in April, 1917, the 71st Regiment, New York National Guard established a temporary headquarters in Middletown, and posted various companies; groups of soldiers comprising of 150 men, throughout Orange, Sullivan, and Delaware Counties. In our area were located, Company F in Cornwall,  the Machine Gun Company at Orr’s Mills, and  Company M at Washingtonville. The Machine Gun Company established its camp on the Brown Farm in Salisbury Mills, and protected the Erie trestle from possible sabotage. According to Robert Stewart Sutliffe in his 1922 book “Seventy-First New York in the World War”, the regiment was to guard:

“Railroad bridges, viaducts, munition plants and other property, the destruction or damaging of which would have impeded the operation of the war were under the protection of the 71st” [4]

The photographs of the 71st encampment at Brown farm in the library’s collection shows how locals became wrapped up in the excitement of having the regiment in the area. Ruth and Susan Brown had their portraits taken with a few men of the Machine Gun Company, and another shows them and their friends having a picnic with other soldiers in camp.

 

A soldier of the 71st has his photo taken as a comrade looks on. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

A soldier of the 71st off-duty at the Orr’s Mills encampment, the railroad trestle can be seen in the background. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

The Brown Girls and soldiers have a picnic at the encampment. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth (left), and Susan Brown (right) pose with a soldier of the 71st near the railroad trestle. Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the regiment’s time in the area, soldiers participated in recruitment drives, drill exercises and attempted to root out “Disloyal residents”. On April 7th, 1917 the New York Evening World reported that Colonel William G. Bates, the 71st’s commander, lead a detachment to destroy a “private radio station” after receiving “confidential intelligence of great importance”, along with word of “large quantities of dynamite were stored in houses of two Germans or German-Americans” which could have been used to destroy railroad structures in the hopes of delaying the movement of American troops and supplies. On June 21st, the Cornwall-on-Hudson Press ran an article encouraging its citizens to “Enlist with the Men You Know” and that the men of Company F “has been with us long enough that our people have become acquainted with them, and know them to be a thoroughly fine lot of men from the captain to the “Rookies”. A Cornwall young man who joins their ranks does not need to feel that he is going among strangers but among friends” [4].

One member of the 71st who made an acquaintance with a Washingtonville citizen was Lieutenant Hubert Vincent Davis of Rutherford, New Jersey. Hubert enlisted in Company K of the 71st in March, 1917 at the age of 18, and was sent to Middletown the following month. According to his memoirs; written when he was 84, he states:

“Because of fear of sabotage to transportation and water supply the regiment was assigned to guard duty on bridges and water mains supplying N.Y. City. The first battalion of the 71st Regiment set up headquarters in Middletown, N.Y. The first squad of Company K, of which I was a member, was assigned to guard a railroad bridge. “Standing Guard” meant each of us had to walk our post four hours, after which we got eight hours off duty.” [5]

Shortly after arriving in Middletown, Davis began a friendship with Ethel Hudson of Washingtonville. He makes no mention of her in his memoirs, so it is unclear how they met, but Ethel’s descendants have described her as a “social butterfly” and one who kept correspondence with many possible suitors during the war. One surviving letter from Hubert to Ethel; written while he was stationed in France, shows he had been to Washingtonville to visit:

“While at a hospital in France I met a lot of nurses who know Miss Owen of W’ville. If I remember rightly, Miss Owen is the daughter of the gentleman who owns that general store on the corner of the square” [6]

The W.D. Owen Store when it was owned by John C. Warner c. 1887. Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection

 

Photograph of Ethel Wright Hudson (1891 – 1936). Hudson Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By August 1917, the regiment was relieved of its duties by the provisional New York Guard; a home defense corps, and returned to Van Cortlandt Park in New York City, and then for training in Camp Wadsworth South Carolina. Hubert Davis would eventually rise from Private to 1st Lieutenant, and served with distinction overseas; all the while keeping a correspondence with Ethel Hudson. Susan Brown would marry fellow soldier David Wright Hudson, although his regiment was never stationed on the Brown Farm. As for the 71st, the regiment was dispersed to the 105th, and 106th Regiments of the 27th “New York” Division, which played a crucial role in spearheading the assault on the Hindenburg Line in October 1918. The railroad trestles and bridges the 71st was entrusted to defend were never destroyed [7]. As for the citizens of Blooming Grove, they would never forget those few months in 1917 when the war came home.


SOURCES

  1. Letter: Elsa S. Gerow to David Wright Hudson, December, 1917
  2.  Letter: Emily Hudson Wright to David Wright Hudson, 1917
  3. King, Gilbert. “Sabotage in New York Harbor.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, November 1, 2011. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/sabotage-in-new-york-harbor-123968672/.
  4. Sutliffe, Robert. Seventy-First New York in the World War. New York: J. J. Little & Ives co., 1922.
  5. FamilySearch – Episodes in the Life of Hubert Vincent Davis, Sr.
  6. Letter: Hubert Vincent Davis to Ethel Hudson, December 14, 1918
  7. 105th NY Infantry Regiment during World War One – NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. Department of Military and Naval Affairs, December 8, 2009. https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/wwi/infantry/105thInf/105thInfMain.htm.

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Part 3

Color postcard of a U.S. Soldier wearing the standard issue uniform worn during World War One. Hudson Family Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

The First World War saw an unprecedented number of young men enlist in the armed forces, and National Guard units quickly mobilized for overseas service. This left a shortage of available manpower to properly defend local citizenry who lived in fear of German sabotage, and many men who; through age or infirmity, eager but unable to serve on the battlefields of Western Europe. At the same time, the United States military was facing a glut of new recruits which it was unable to adequately train in large numbers. Local “Home Defense Corps” such as the one raised in Washingtonville in the spring of 1917 provided military training to local men who were too young or old to serve overseas, while aiding in fundraising drives for war bonds, and made the local citizens feel safe in the knowledge that their neighbors were protecting their interests on the home front.

The origins of Washingtonville’s Home Defense Corps can be traced back to the “Preparedness Movement”, initiated by former President Theodore Roosevelt and General Leonard Wood in 1915. Fearful of America’s under-strength military and the belief that the United States would eventually enter the war in Europe, Roosevelt and Wood established training camps where young men would spend several weeks receiving professional military training without having to commit to enlisting in the armed forces. Although the “Preparedness Movement” was not affiliated with the United States government, it was actually a response to President Wilson’s non-interventionist stance to the war prior to America’s involvement, by the spring of 1917, local defense corps began cropping up to train prospective soldiers for war [1].

On April 3rd, 1917, three days before war was officially declared, New York’s Governor Charles S. Whitman proposed for “The formation of home defense corps was urged upon County Judges, Presidents of County Boards of Supervisors and Mayors of all cities of the State…the corps, which would be directly at the command of the Governor, would be composed of men 45 to 64 years old, and those who for various reasons were unable to enlist in the army or navy.” [2] Considering Washingtonville’s population of roughly 660 people and the dependence on able bodies to support its farm-based economy, the idea of establishing an organization where individuals could participate in the war effort without fear of being called up was enticing. Peer pressure and fear of being labeled a “slacker”; one who did not sign up for selective service, or critical of the war, also may have helped. In July, 1917 the Washingtonville Home Defense Corps was established, and comprised of 40 to 50 members. The organization was led by Captain Isaac Nicoll, and his brother, 1st Lieutenant Alfred Nicoll. As the organization was volunteer based, both were elected by their men, but both received commissions from Governor Whitman.[3]

Much of what we know of the Washingtonville Home Defense Corps comes from a lengthy letter written by local teamster David H. Moffat in the fall of 1917. David’s letter goes into great detail of the corps organization, while showing the author’s sense of pride and personal enthusiasm for the effort.

Although initial turnout for the corps was promising, news of allied losses on the western front, and the hard realities of war had dimmed interest in the group. In October 1917 David writes:

“After securing an enrollment of about 45 members the company grew very slowly. Some seemed to fear they would be called from home in a few weeks time if they joined and others that our destination was across the water. Then there were quite a number who were under age and could not persuade their parents to consent to their joining as the following: Geo. McNeil; Harry Strong; Fred Bassley; John Van Duzer, E Richmond; Beside these, David Wright and Raymond Seaman had to return to school, and two or three had moved away or were not passed by the doctor.” [4]

Portion of letter written by David H. Moffat to David Wright Hudson, October 28, 1917. Hudson Family Collection, Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection

For those that passed muster, the next step for an enlistee in the Washingtonville Defense Corps was to be fitted and issued with their uniform. In February, 1917 the War Department estimated it would take 9-12 months for 1,000,000 recruits to receive their uniforms, and 12 months to issue small arms and equipment [5]. Like the United States military, the Washingtonville corps also suffered from a lack of proper uniforms as the war economy slowly lurched towards mass mobilization, and the needs of enlisted men outweighed those of the civilian corps:

“We were measured for uniforms in August but on account of one thing or another order was not placed until about the first of October. Those of the company who had fulfilled all the requirements received their suits one week ago today. The uniform is of wool and in color approaches the olives and all pronounce it a very handsome suit. They arrived from New York Friday and distribution was made Sunday morning at nine O’clock at the Fire House. The hat is the regular army hat with green hat cord. I can tell you we felt quite dressed up when we got them on.”  [4]

Of course not everyone was happy: “When we first saw Mott Tuthill in his uniform we dubbed him “Teddy” for the resemblance is certainly strong He does not seem at all pleased with the name but it quite amused his father.” [4]

Although their uniforms were late in coming, the Washingtonville Corps could consider themselves lucky to have a set of clothing in time for a parade in Goshen, where they showed up their rivals in the hometown  defense corps:

“On invitation from the Goshen Corps. we attended a parade there Saturday afternoon to celebrate the opening of Goshen’s new concrete streets. Chester, Tuxedo, Warwick, and ourselves were there. Our boys did themselves proud and all said they looked fine, which makes us all feel quite chesty. We could not help but feel sorry for the Goshen boys for they ordered their uniforms about the time we did and fully expected to have them for this event. However they had only their hats and were as sour a lot as you could imagine.”

Being a member of the Washingtonville Defense Corps was not all parades and social gatherings. Members were required to attend drill once a week; usually on a Tuesday or Thursday, which included target practice, and arms drill [6]. As the U.S. military could not afford to issue its own troops with proper rifles and equipment in a timely manner, led alone a civil defense league, the members of the Washingtonville Corps had to make due with what they could bring from home:

“Last year my cousin Walter Moffat made me a gift of a Savage repeating rifle of 30-30. It is a dandy, and I never have had a rifle so well balanced for it lays as steady in the hand as can be. It does good service at drill Mondays and Thursdays in our Home Defense Corps.”

As for the rest of the men they used: “shotguns and rifles-some of are old vintage.” [4]

Their training with shotguns and antique rifles did eventually pay off. According to a record of war related activity in the Village written around 1920, the Washingtonville Defense Corps:

“became very efficient in close order drill, interior guard duty and arms manual. At a competition drill between all of the companies of the county, the Washingtonville Company under the command of Captain Nicoll won first prize on July 4, 1918” [3]

The Middletown Times Press also praised the Washingtonville corps with being:

“One of the largest and best equipped in Orange county, and on parades in various sections during the past year.” [6]

Apart from military training, the corps also participated in Liberty Loan Drives, which were used to raise funds for the war effort, as well as provide a pool of prospective candidates for military service. Isaac Nicoll, who had served as captain during the early part of the unit’s history, was eventually called into active duty as a 1st Lieutenant in an “Ordinance Company” on July 26th, 1918. He would spend the war overseeing the supply operations at the Raritan Arsenal, and Fort Schuyler [7]. Like his brother, Alfred Nicoll would also serve at Raritan Arsenal as a 2nd Lieutenant [7]. In their places, chauffer William Ross, and farm laborer Henry Brewster became Captain, and 1st Lieutenant respectively [3].

Although they did not serve “over there”, the Washingtonville Defense Corps played a part in raising enthusiasm for the war at home, while providing valuable training to prospective military officers and men for overseas service. Being able to serve in a military capacity with friends, family and neighbors might have also given extra incentive for men to serve with people they knew. The patriotic zeal with which these men showed was not lost on local citizens like Elsa S. Gerow: “The Home Defense
suits are awfully good looking I think – I saw our boys all ready for a short hike the other day – they were a fine appearing lot – hardly knew some of them.” 
[8]. Most importantly, their service did not overshadow their peacetime occupations, allowing for the production of goods and materials to be sent overseas to their comrades serving on the front lines.

SOURCES

  1. Britannica Academic, s.v. “Preparedness Movement,” accessed April 21, 2020, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Preparedness-Movement/61268
  2. “Whitman Proposes Home Guard Corps.” New York Times (1857-1922), Apr 04, 1917. https://search.proquest.com/docview/99936062?accountid=32716.
  3. New York State Archives Ancestry.com. New York, World War I Veterans’ Service Data, 1913-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
  4. Letter: David H. Moffat to David Wright Hudson, October 28, 1917
  5. Hallas, James H. 2000. Doughboy War: the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
  6. “Capt. Nicoll of Washingtonville is Commissioned.” Middletown Times-Press July 31, 1918

  7. New York State Archives Ancestry.com. New York, Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
  8. Letter: Elsa S. Gerow to David Wright Hudson, Winter, 1917

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Part 4

Members of the “Women’s Liberty Loan Committee” march at the intersection of North and Main Street, Washingtonville in a parade to promote the war effort in around 1918. Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection.

The First World War not only changed the way war was fought, but how marginalized groups saw themselves as active participants. As more men were sent overseas, women were increasingly relied upon as factory workers, farm hands, and civic leaders. By the end of the World War, women in the United States, as well as Britain began to use their influence as wartime workers to promote women’s suffrage.

In addition to groups such as the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, and Washingtonville Women’s Suffrage Club, the women’s suffrage movement would be given additional momentum as a result of  the First World War. During World War One, women served as factory workers, nurses, and organizers of Liberty Loan drives. War work clubs, which collected bandages, and sewed clothing for troops and refugees overseas, provided additional leverage for women to make a case to prove their value in the voting booth. An aide to Carrie Chapmann Catt said to President Woodrow Wilson in July 1917:

“Our hope has been to secure your interest and powerful influence…at the opening of the new Congress for a real drive for the enfranchisement of twenty million of American women, as a ‘war measure’ and to enable our women to throw, more fully and wholeheartedly, their entire energy into work for their country and for humanity, instead of for their own liberty and independence” [1].

Additional pressure from the National Women’s Party, lead by Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns, only increased tension as protesters holding banners that asked “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”  became commonplace outside the White House gates. While addressing a June meeting of the Washingtonville Athenia Club at the Moffat Library, Mrs. John Francis Yawger, President of the New York City Federation of Women’s Clubs stated:

The funny part is, that the very men who urged the women to stay in their homes and who were ready to deny them the right of suffrage are the very ones telling women to go out and do things“.

Photograph of Mrs. J.F. Yawger, June 1917. Library of Congress.

The formation of the Washingtonville Chapter of the American Red Cross was one way in which women helped contribute to the American War effort. The organization was formed in June, 1917 by Eliza Cameron and Mrs. Thomas Fulton. Other members included Ethel and Clara Hudson, whose brother was currently serving. A post-war report of Blooming Grove’s participation in the war states that between 1917 and 1919 the organization had sewn or knitted: “321 pajamas, 133 bed shirts, 874 hand kerchiefs 32 bath robes, 57 surgical shirts, 96 underwear suits, 228 comfort pillows, 36 hospital bags, 12 jackets, 28 comfort bags, 12 infants  shirts, 30 pinafores, 18 boys suits, 32 women’s shirts, 10 petticoats, 12 dresses, 100 hand towels, 50 bath towels, 5 napkins, 1,027 pairs of socks, 530 sweaters, 222 pairs of wristlets, 53 helmets [liners] 167 scarfs, 37 convalescent caps, 22 eye bandages, 22 sponges, 1 water bottle cover” and a total of “82,859 surgical dressings” [2]. As indicated by the variety of materials sent, some were made for soldiers, as well as refugees who had been displaced by nearly five years of war.

 

The work of these women was not lost on local resident Russell Hallock who wrote in October 1917:

“The women have quit playing cards and all are knitting things for the soldiers.” [3]

Clara Hudson c. 1917. Clara and her sister Ethel were both members of the Washingtonville Chapter of the American Red Cross. Hudson Family Collection,
Moffat Library of Washingtonville Local History Collection

The quantity of items produced by the Washingtonville chapter could not have been produced without the help of other local women’s groups. For example, Mrs. Thomas Fulton, who was in charge of producing and collecting bandages and surgical dressings, began working with the Blooming Grove chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Beginning in June 1917, the Daughters rented out a room in town for one-day a week; which was designated “D.A.R. Day”. During this time, all members were requested to attend in order to produce items for the troops. According to August H. Woodhull, then chapter historian:

“A member of the Blooming Grove Chapter, is director of the surgical work in a neighboring Red Cross Auxiliary, and our oldest member has knitted sixteen sweaters, eight pairs of socks, two caps, and one pair of wristlets between August [1917] and January 1 [1918]” [4].

In addition to sewing articles of clothing, the Blooming Grove Chapter of the D.A.R. also contributed funds for charitable organizations and purchased “Liberty Loans” to support the war effort. During the war, the Blooming Grove Daughters contributed  $13 ($270 in today’s terms) for the French War Orphans Fund, and individually purchased $5,000 worth of Liberty Bonds during the first issue ($104,065.52 in today’s money). The Daughters also sent “Clipping Packets”, packages containing local newspaper articles for the soldiers to read, to the Army and Navy League, as well donated books to soldiers stationed at Camp Mills on Long Island [4] .

At the outbreak of the war, the United States found itself unprepared for the influx of recruits who were joining for overseas service. Many soldiers like David Wright Hudson, had to wait several months to be properly equipped. However, thanks to the help of the American Red Cross in raising funds and organizing clothing drives, the group was able to outfit 38 men with matching clothes, which included: “sweater, helmet, pair of wristlets and three pairs of socks” [4]. The work of the D.A.R., and Athenia Club also helped in providing troops and war refugees with much needed funds and literature to ease their displaced lives, as well as provide much needed entertainment.

More importantly, the work of these women, along with those of local women’s suffrage groups, would help push the fight for women’s suffrage in New York State. On November 6, 1917 Women of New York would finally gain the right to vote. But that is a story for another day!

 


SOURCES

  1. Schaffer, Ronald. America in the Great War: the Rise of the War Welfare State. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994.
  2. New York State Archives Ancestry.com. New York, World War I Veterans’ Service Data, 1913-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

  3. Letter from Russel Hallock to David Wright Hudson by October 21, 1917

     

Blooming Grove and the First World War: Part 5

“Masks for protection against influenza. Traffic “cop” in New York City wearing gauze mask”. National Archives.

As thousands of soldiers were being exposed to the horrors of war overseas, an enemy was ravaging millions of people on a global scale. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, also referred to as “The Spanish Flu” is considered to be one of the most devastating outbreaks of the 20th century [1]. Although its origins are unknown, it was referred to as the “Spanish Flu” due to neutral Spain’s lax censorship laws, which resulted in reported flu deaths being broadcast to other nations otherwise occupied with the First World War [2]. The pandemic struck in three separate waves, a mild wave spread across Europe beginning in March 1918, with more lethal waves arriving between August and October of that year, and a third wave in the winter of 1919. In the United States, these waves corresponded to rapid mobilization of troops following the declaration of war, along with the celebration of their return following hostilities [3]. By the time Influenza Type A, Sub-type H1N1 had run its course, 500 million world-wide cases had been reported, and between 25 and 50 million people were dead, including 650,000 in the United States, and 26,500 in New York State [4].

Lack of a vaccine, and antibiotics to treat this outbreak left officials with few non-medicinal options, however New York State Health Commissioner Hermann M. Biggs, M.D. took immediate charge of the situation. He requested having the New York State Department of health issue warnings against spitting, coughing without covering the mouth, and other unsanitary practices. Guidelines for reducing the spread of the disease were also put in place, such as closing large public gatherings, cinemas, and schools as well as early detection, and isolation practices [4].

The affects of the flu pandemic in our area are so far unknown, however we do know that between October 1st and December 31 1918, the Department of Health for New York State reported a total of 7,930 cases of influenza in Orange County alone. The library also has minute books of the local chapter of the American Red Cross which cover this period, which require further study. We also know at this time Washingtonville was going through a severe bout of dysentery, a gastrointestinal infection, caused by polluted drinking water [5].  According to Hermann M. Biggs, local officials failed to take proper measures following earlier surveys of the village water supply  in 1909 and 1915, resulting in the contamination of the a tributary of the Moodna Creek following runoff caused by a thaw in February, compounded with close proximity of several farms in relation to the village water supply. This resulted in “at least 30 cases of dysentery…and probably a great many more which did not come to the attention of physicians at the time” [5].

An extract of a letter from local resident Marcus C. Sears, written to David Wright Hudson, who was currently serving overseas also gives us a glimpse into what it was like to live through the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic. Dated February 26, 1919, Sears notes that he was infected in December 1918, meaning this was the third wave of the H1N1 flu. It also mentions the affects the war has had on the small community of just over 2,000 people.

“Blooming Grove, N.Y. Feb 26, 1919.

Dear David,

I have been very glad to hear through to hear that you got through the fighting without getting killed or badly wounded. I expect you, like all the rest we hear about want to get home. You may be sure we will all be glad to see you. But there is a good deal our army has got to do over there yet & some body has got to stay & do it. I have thought about you very often & thought I would write but did not get at it. Probably you wonder why I write at this late date. Well it is partly because I have been shut in with the influenza & pneumonia since Christmas & have been thinking more about friends & my old group of boys who used to meet so often with Mr. Wilcox & me. I have been down stairs for a  week but have not been out doors for 2 months. A great many have been sick about here from the influenza & many of the younger people have died. The influenza has taken many  many more from this community than the war and the toll throughout the nation has been greater than the American Casualties in France. I am surprised how few of the men from were killed or wounded so far as I have heard. The news of Chadwick [Gerow]’s death cast a shadow over our little community. This comes home to me more as the time passes. But Chadwick  died bravely with an untarnished record. He kept the faith & fought a good fight & he has his reward.

I can not tell you much news as I am not hearing much now. Our Y.M.C.A. work has been at a stand still during the
war. All the available men for secretaries went into the war work and we were obliged to go without one when Mr. Wilcox went away. I hope we can soon get going soon. I don’t know whether this will reach you before you start for home or not. It comes from one who wishes you a safe return with all his heart. May God bless & keep you.

Yours sincerely

Marcus C. Sears

P.S. I do not know your address so I send this to
your mother to address.

M.C.S.”

By the time of the third wave in the spring of 1919, it was believed the more lethal strains of the virus had run their course and reported deaths began to decline [3]. Although the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus has been synthesized in order to better evaluate current and future health interventions, and antivirals are available to treat it, scientists and medical experts continue to investigate, monitor and mitigate the affects of future outbreaks, as they did in 1930, 1957, 1968, 2009, and most recently in 2020.

 

SOURCES

  1. Britannica Academic, s.v. “Influenza pandemic of 1918–19,” accessed April 22, 2020, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/influenza-pandemic-of-191819/2537.
  2. Wills, Matthew. “The Flu Pandemic of 1918, as Reported in 1918.” JSTOR Daily. JSTOR, January 15, 2018. https://daily.jstor.org/the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-as-reported-in-1918/.
  3. “History of 1918 Flu Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 21, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.
  4. Escuyer, Kay L, Meghan E Fuschino, and Kirsten St George. “New York State Emergency Preparedness and Response to Influenza Pandemics 1918-2018.” Tropical medicine and infectious disease. MDPI, October 30, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6958434/#B3-tropicalmed-04-00132.
  5. Thirty-Ninth Annual Report, 2 Thirty-Ninth Annual Report § (1919).