Category: strongwomen

“Teaching a child to read a map, like teaching a child to read a book, should be one of the principal goals of every geography teacher.”

Becoming
French: Mapping the Geographies of French Identity, 1871-1914
– Photo: 1919,
American treacher working with the American
Committee for Devastated France
showing French schoolgirls how to read the French map – Ministère de la
culture, France

“I don’t think I shall ever forget my life at
Pervyse ; it was all so strange at times, so pathetic, and yet there were
moments when we giggled like children.”

“When the war began Gipsy and Mairi immediately came
up to London and offered their services to the War Office as dispatch-riders. You
see, Gipsy has vision, and though at that time the idea that women could do
men’s work seemed utterly ludicrous to most people, she had the courage of her
convictions.”


Note &
sources
: During WW1, Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker (Gypsy) were two heroic British
nurses and ambulance drivers who saved countless lives. Defying the official bureaucratic regulations, they decided to treat the wounded soldiers on the front lines instead of
transporting them at great risk to “safer” hospital facilities,. They set up a dressing station in
Pervyse, a town located north of Ypres, right near the trenches. There, in a cellar, they spent almost 4 years aiding the wounded in this Belgian sector.

No Man’s Land: Women’s photography and the
First World War
The cellar-house of Pervyse

Photo:  WW1, in Pervyse, Belgium, Gipsy,
having a little fun photographed by Mairi Chiholm (also a photographer)

“Bordeaux, November 1917 – Well, my first day’s work at Bordeaux has been most
awesome! The Y has taken over a huge building facing on the central Place and the Y. M. C. A. letters painted on the front can be seen many
blocks away. The work here is very similar to that in Paris, only on a much
larger scale. We serve the men with tea, coffee, cakes, ice cream, etc., and in
between times go in and talk and sing with them or play games. Our
engineers are remaking France. The French people stand about watching with
their mouths wide open!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It
seems strange with you all so far away. But we will be very busy as we are
having a party for all the boys!’

American volunteer, Red Cross worker in Bordeaux, France – Canteening Overseas 1917-1919 – 1917, Bordeaux, fun time at the American Red Cross canteen. Library of Congress

                                                               Meanwhile, back at home.

November 14-15, 1917 – The infamous “Night of Terror” was precipitated by women who stormed
the White House in Washington, DC, protesting the fact that women were not
allowed to vote in national elections. Suffragists
were arrested and thrown into prison in the Occoquan Workhouse in
Virginia
, where they ate rancid food and were denied medical care and visitors.
On November 14, the workhouse guards greeted 33 women
protestors, and began beating, kicking, dragging, and choking the group.
Women were lifted into the air and
flung to the ground. One was stabbed between the eyes with the broken
staff of her banner. Women were dragged by guards twisting their arms and
hurled into concrete “punishment cells”. This tragedy no doubt, led to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution
that permitted women to vote’

Faithful to the Task at Hand –  Women of Protest, Library of Congress – 

‘She has to work in the fields now
and cannot get away.

It is wonderful the work that the
women do here. There are only two old horses left in the whole village, so the
women harness themselves into the rakes and waggons and pull them in place of
the horses—and they never
complain of the hard work. I asked one woman if she did not find it very hard,
and she said at first it came very difficult but she got used to it and it was
nice to be able to do their part.’

1917, 
France  – Nurse at the Trenches:  Letters Home From a World War One
Nurse
–  Photo: October 1917 in the Oise Region, France, hard-working women in the
fields.

‘August
6th

1917.

At 5 a. m. we reported 7 rue François 1er. Our mountain of luggage was piled high together with ourselves into three huge camions and in the grey light of a misty
morning we rumbled along through the quiet streets awakening sleepy Paris,
although Paris is now used to the noise of departing soldiers.

The Gare de
l’Est is a busy
station
that feeds men to the trenches and cannon, and receives what is left of those who
return. It took a bit of doing to get our
luggage counted
and registered, and when it was finally done I strolled across the street for a
cup of coffee in one of the typical little cafés thriving
around stations.
It was a curious little corner of the world, where poilus and officers have
their coffee together. I shared my table with a French soldier, like myself off for the front, who kept impatiently
looking at his watch. Suddenly, he jumped up with a smile, “Ah!
te voilà!
” and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him as I
would have liked to be kissed. It is good to have some one who is sorry to see you leaving. I gulped down my coffee and left them to be alone—but
not alone as I was.

Sadly, I looked
over my shoulder to bid Paris goodbye—goodbye for a while or maybe more.

They are brave,
these French women who come to take leave of their men. A silent embrace, a
wistful smile, a tear, those they love are going, God only knows where, a
shrill whistle, a slamming of doors, and slowly as if loath to take them away
the long train pulls out of the station.’

American ambulance driver diary –

No.
6: A Few Pages from the Diary of an Ambulance Driver

– Photo: Forget-me-not – 1917 Gare de l’Est, Paris.

A Real Wonder Woman of WW1 taking a break with her kitty and a rag doll she found in the rubble.

WW1, Ambulance driver, Mairi Chisholm in Pervyse – Imperial War Museums – More about the incredibles ladies of Pervyse here.

‘The cricket match was much
enjoyed
by
all– but no one seems to know quite who won! They all turned up smiling for a strawberry and cream tea after it,
so I think no one was badly beaten.’

WW1 Nurse in
the British army’s diary – A Nurse at the Front: The First World War Diaries
of Sister Edith Appleton
– Photo: WW1, Etaples, British nurses playing cricket
with convalescent patients. Here’s the Cricket team. Pretty awesome!

                                                                 Meanwhile, at home.

July 7
1917,  flag shop, Brooklyn Navy Yard – A
man and women at work. Library of Congress

‘Stretchers
arrive constantly. We were used to death and dying at
our hospital, but here we meet despair. Most of those lying on that straw are in
extremis
—nothing can be done for them, grey faces looked dully at us, they
feel too bad to groan. It is dreadful to be impotent, to stand by grievously
stricken men it is impossible to help, to see the death-sweat gathering on
young faces, to have no means of easing their last moments. This is the nearest
to Hell I have ever been. We put all the hopeful cases into our cars, driving
one or two loads to the little station, and then returning for more…’

WW1 – A War Nurse’s Diary – Photo: June 27 1917, Etaples, France, Voluntary Aid Detachement nurse and ambulance driver, two of many real Wonder Women of WW1 – Gallica.