Tag Archives: World War I

WWI Centennial Anniversary – “Queens of the Spy World”

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

1917 War Poster – Beware of Female Spies

In recognition of the centennial anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War I, the Newspaper Project remembers the “Queens of the Spy World Whose Intrigues Sway the Fate of Nations.”  As this melodramatic article published in 1918 by The Sun (New York, NY) demonstrates, women spies not only were instrumental in the gathering of military secrets but also made for sensational headlines on the homefront.  In “Queens of the Spy World,” The Sun compared the often tragic and short-lived espionage careers of Germany’s female agents during The Great War.

Germany’s extensive Wilhelmstrasse spy service included such femmes fatales as Felice Schmidt, Mlle. Sumey Depsy, Mata Hari, and Mme. Despina Storch.  The article describes how these women spies infiltrated the governments of the Allies by posing as teachers, courtiers, dancers, courtesans, and even the occasional fruit vendor.  Schmidt, for example, had herself exiled from Germany as a “suspicious character” in 1915, so that she could establish herself in London in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.[1]  In The New York Evening World’s “Stories of Spies” section, Felice Schmidt – The German Spy Sent to Tempt Kitchener, reporter Albert Terhune elaborated on Schmidt’s story.  After realizing that it was impossible to pry military secrets out of Kitchener, Schmidt instead insinuated herself in Marseilles as an apple seller, so that she could study the French artillery.  After being caught by the French police while making a sketch of their guns, she was tried as a spy and put to death.[2]

One of the Allies’ most famous female spies was British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German military for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.  Her death by firing … read more »

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“Flew on wings of death to the hills”:Southwestern Virginia reports on the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic

Big Stone Gap Post, 11-13-1918

The Fall of 1918 saw the end of World War I and hundreds of thousands in America dead from a influenza pandemic that was sweeping the globe killing millions worldwide.

More than 600,000 people died over the course of a year in what would be deemed the worst epidemic to hit America. According to the CDC, 20-50 million people worldwide died between 1918-1919 as a result of the flu.  The virus spread quickly, taking an enormous toll on densely populated areas such as Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.

But what about its impact on small towns?

The Big Stone Gap Post of Big Stone Gap, Virginia and the Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, Virginia published regular updates about the comings and goings of the flu. Roughly 100 miles apart in the southwestern portion of the state, both towns currently boast modest populations of around 4-5,000 residents. As the article below points out, Spanish Flu was considered a “crowd disease” but small towns in Virginia were not spared, with relative isolation making it difficult for the sick to get help.

Big Stone Gap Post, 11-20-1918

From the Big Stone Gap Post, November 20, 1918, nine days after the end of the war:

“It is hardly likely that the general public will ever realize the extent of the suffering and anguish caused by the Spanish Influenza in some of the more remote mountain communities in Virginia where the frightful malady raged with a degree of severity which is difficult to explain.”

As the war was ending, the local and national news seemed equally dominated by reports of influenza cases. World war may have even helped spread to influenza around the globe just as the spread of the flu impacted the war effort at home and abroad.… read more »

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