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Category Archives: World War I Centennial

- “If They Consent to Leave Them Over There”: The European Pilgrimages of World War I Mothers and Widows From Virginia

This article originally appeared in slightly altered form in the Summer 2001 issue of “Virginia Cavalcade.” The images are taken from two private papers collections acquired after the article’s original publication. Mary Derrickson and Carrie Elizabeth Alborn Perry both traveled to France in 1930 to visit the graves of their sons.


Carrie Elizabeth Alborn Perry papers, 1930. Accession 45075. Personal papers collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

 

On 23 February 1920, Annie Lam of Covington, Virginia, wrote to the U.S. adjutant general about her son, Sergeant Bedford C. Lam, who had been a member of the Virginia National Guard. “Nearly one year ago you sent me a card to fill out as to what deposition I wanted made of the body, of my son who died in Camp Hospital No. 10 Aug 1st 1918… I sometimes feel like I would rather not have his body moved and am writing to ask if you think the Government will in any way aid the mothers to go to the graves of their sons if they consent to leave them ‘over there.’” Lam ultimately chose to leave Bedford’s remains in Saint-Mihiel American Cemetery, near Thiaucourt, France. On 9 July 1930, she sailed to Europe to visit her son’s grave on a pilgrimage of Gold Star Mothers and Widows, as she had foreshadowed in her letter ten years earlier.

Over a three-year period beginning in the spring of 1930, thousands … read more »

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- Before the Doughboys: American Volunteers in the Great War, 1914-1918

Ed. note: In honor of Veterans Day (observed), we have a guest post from Brexton O’Donnell, Tour Counselor, Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, highlighting some of the content collected during the Profiles of Honor mobile tour. 

The Profiles of Honor mobile tour, operated by the Virginia WWI & WWII Commemoration Commission, has spent two years traveling across the commonwealth. In that time, we have scanned and preserved documents and stories from families throughout the state that participated in the world wars. Two of the stories we have collected were about men who journeyed to Europe to serve in the Great War before the United States entered the conflict in 1917. The first story comes from the Stewart Family Collection, consisting of seven items including a diary and Alexander Stewart’s service records, shared by the family in Roanoke. The second story comes from the Watkins Family Collection, consisting of twelve items including Charles Watkins’s photograph and artwork he did during the war, collected from the family in Manassas.

While idealism drove some Americans to volunteer before the U.S. declared war, others had more personal reasons. Pvt. Alexander Joseph Stewart was born in West Virginia, but at the time of the Great War he was a resident of Covington, Virginia. His parents had been born in Nova Scotia and immigrated to … read more »

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- “We Will Remember Them”: Eleven Virginians in the Great War

One hundred years ago, on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” representatives of Germany and the Allied forces met in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne to sign the armistice that would end the First World War. The conflict, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, was called in its own time “the war to end all wars,” and today is often overshadowed by the Second World War that it spawned twenty years later, although its impact on the world we know today can hardly be overstated. The United States officially entered the war in 1917, and Virginians made many contributions on the battlefields and on the home front. Over 100,000 Virginians would serve in the war, and over 4,000 would die from disease or injury.

Today, in honor of the centennial of the end of World War I, we will be spotlighting eleven Virginians from the World War I History Commission Questionnaires Collection.

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John Francis Barnett was born in Richmond in 1888. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April 1917 as a Machinist’s Mate, serving on the USS Parker and the USS Melville. After the war, Barnett was unable to work, and declared on his questionnaire that “under the strain I am suffering mentally and am confined to the Western State Hospital Staunton Va.” He … read more »

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- Chasing Steeples through WWI France

The Library of Virginia’s Visual Studies Collection has a collection of German postcards depicting non-combat scenes from the Western Front. Schaar & Dathe of Trier printed the postcards, which depict the effects of war through images of ruins, life in the camps, and the clean-up efforts of soldiers and civilians.

Schaar & Dathe of Trier was one of the biggest German postcard printers and used letterpress, lithograph, and collotype processes. During WWI, the company had 15 presses and employed 150 workers. Creating postcards during the war was an easy, affordable way to spread news visually about the areas most affected by combat. It’s odd to think of someone sending and receiving these images, but it might have been the easiest way to update someone about the damage in your town.

In thinking of how to best show these images online, I focused on the places depicted and selected the HistoryPin platform. The Library of Virginia uploads image sets with strong geographical ties to HistoryPin, so that users can explore them by location. For instance, if you look at Richmond, you’ll see all the Adolph Rice photographs we’ve uploaded, as well as everyone else’s images. Users can attach their stories and recollections to the images as well, creating multidimensional descriptions. Part of the fun of HistoryPin is matching up old photographs with current images of the … read more »

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- “Muzzled Doctors vs. Unmuzzled Guns”: Lieutenant William Armistead Gills, M.D., versus the United States Navy


Gills, William Armistead, Scrapbook, ca. 1920-1940, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

“Muzzled Doctors vs. Unmuzzled Guns” was a provocative phrase used by retired naval officer William Armistead Gills, M.D., to describe the poor condition of medical care for seamen during the first half of the twentieth century. Why would Gills, a World War I veteran and dedicated officer, pen such forceful criticism, hinting at military unpreparedness? A voluminous scrapbook and his War History Commission Questionnaire at the Library of Virginia reveal the details of this fascinating story.

A native of Amelia County, William Armistead Gills graduated from Richmond’s Medical College of Virginia in 1900. Demonstrating an affinity for the military, he served as a lieutenant in the Virginia National Guard medical corps for several years while attending the Army Medical School in Washington, D.C., from which he graduated in 1906. A faculty member at the Medical College of Virginia from 1904 to 1908, he served on the staff of Governor Claude Swanson. After serving in the United States Army medical reserve corps from 1910 to 1913 he entered private practice in Richmond.

With America’s entry into World War I in 1917, Gills enrolled as an assistant surgeon in the medical reserve corps. Commissioned a lieutenant, in October he was assigned to the U.S. naval base at Block Island, Rhode Island, where he directed the medical department. In January 1919 the influenza pandemic struck the base … read more »

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- A Serendipitous Discovery: The Carson Family of Warren County

One afternoon in the Archives Research Room, senior reference librarian Zach Vickery requested several of the questionnaires that the Virginia War History Commission collected to document Virginians’ World War I service. I was on duty and talked with Zach about the questionnaire of Irish-born nurse Anne Lougheed Carson. Later, Zach sent Carson’s passport application to me. The name of another applicant—Isabella McNeil Carson—was visible in one image, which revealed why the surname Carson and birthplace of Enniskillen were familiar. I had used Carson’s naturalization record in a presentation for the Library of Virginia’s Irish Ancestry Day in March 2017. My serendipitous discussion with Zach led me to discover that Anne and Bella were sisters and members of a fascinating family.

In 1908, sisters Annie Lougheed Carson (1887–1965), Isabella M’Neill Carson (1888–1981), and Mary Barrett Carson (1897–1980) left their birthplace of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland, for Moville and then Londonderry, where they boarded the Caledonia on 22 February. They arrived in New York on 2 March 1908 and met their uncle William Edward Carson of Riverton, Warren County, Virginia. Their brother George Flanagan Carson (1893–1923) had taken the same journey in August 1907. Their parents, James Lougheed Carson (1860–1934) and Jean McNeill Carson (1858–1934), as well as siblings Joseph Malcolm Carson (1901–1991) and Jean McNeill Carson (1902–1989), joined them after sailing aboard the Philadelphia from Southampton, … read more »

- A Few of Our Favorite Things: Letterheads in the Archive, WWI Edition

As promised in previous posts, here’s another look at some of the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives. In honor of the centennial of World War I, the letterheads in this post are all taken from the Virginia War History Commission, which was created in 1919 “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.” The original text on letterheads by Vince Brooks is included here for context.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

The primary role of these … read more »

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- “If My Name You Want to See Look on Page 33″

 

This Service Song Book, which was “Prepared for the Men of the Army and Navy,” was used by the YMCA at Camp Lee during World War I. Notes on the cover and flyleav were added when it was donated to the Virginia War History Commission, noting the origin of the song book and the name of the contributor, S. D. Rodgers. At some point during its life at Camp Lee, however, some soldier, perhaps bored during a church service, decided to play a prank on whoever would use the book after him. On the inside cover, he wrote “If my name you wish to see look on page 33.” A note on page 33 led to page 99, where another note led to page 203. Page 203, however, is blank. A scan of nearby pages turned up a final note on pages 186 and 187, which called the reader first a fool and then a “good girl” for looking. Even in times of war, people find time for humor and levity; indeed, they can be powerful tools to survive difficult times.

-Claire Radcliffe, State Records Archivist… read more »

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- “View from the Hospital”: The Blanton World War I Scrapbook

This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I


Postcard showing Lycee Pastur (American Hospital).

Many collections in the Library of Virginia’s holdings document Virginians serving in World War I. One of the earliest and most interesting of these is Wyndham Bolling Blanton’s 1915 scrapbook (Acc. 42104). Blanton, born in Richmond in 1890, graduated from Hampden-Sydney (B.A. 1910) and the University of Virginia (M.A. 1912). The scrapbook documents his time as a volunteer in the American Ambulance Corps, also known as the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, at a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

The book begins with photographs and programs from the cruise to and from France and images of French cities and the war front. Later pages include photographs of surgeries and injured soldiers in the hospital, many quite graphic. Blanton may have documented these procedures in anticipation of his career in medicine. The photographs note period medical advances such as the Blake splint (a modification of the still-used Thomas splint) and other emerging techniques. Also included is Blanton’s passport and correspondence in French, possibly from patients he had helped.

The Blanton scrapbook is a fascinating look at the early days of the “war to end all wars,” long before American soldiers were called to serve “over there.” While somewhat jarring initially, upon second view, … read more »

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- “Our share in the war is no small one”: Virginia Women and World War I, Part II

This is the second of a two-part blog post adapted from an article originally written for the Summer 2001 issue of Virginia Cavalcade.


Liberty Day opening U.S. Gov't Bag Loading Plant : Seven Pines, October 12, 1918 / Frederic H. Spigel.

While nurses and female yeomen filled military roles, civilian women’s organizations of all kinds worked on the home front. In fact, such groups composed three-fourths of the wartime organizations in Virginia. The state Equal Suffrage League temporarily suspended agitation for women’s voting rights and joined with dozens of other organizations, including the Virginia Association Opposed to Women Suffrage, to support the war effort. For instance, both groups supported the Khaki and Blue Kitchen, at 210 East Grace Street in Richmond, which provided meals for servicemen visiting the city. Richmond’s suffragists (including Adele Clark, Nora Houston, and Eudora Ramsay Richardson) transformed the Equal Suffrage League headquarters and worked tirelessly for the suffrage auxiliary of the Red Cross. “We have a sewing machine,” one member reported, “and [a] pleasant work-room.” The auxiliary also purchased a knitting machine and pledged to provide mittens for the hundred nurses assigned to U.S. Base Hospital No. 45. By November 1917, the women already had produced 1,244 garments, including bedshirts, bathrobes, pajamas, pillowcases, sheets, and towels, and had knitted sweaters, mufflers, mittens, and socks. In Roanoke, the Equal Suffrage League joined with twenty local women’s groups to encourage the cultivation of home gardens. As a result, agricultural production … read more »