The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Nine

March 15-22, 1917 

Long before the United States sent one million “doughboys” off to fight in World War One in 1917, women of the world were already on the front volunteering and raising funds for war relief efforts.

The millionaire, J.P. Morgan’s daughter, Anne Tracy Morgan, set up shop in France with her friends, Elsie de Wolfe and Elisabeth Marbury and persuaded the automaker Henry Ford to donate an ambulance to transport wounded soldiers from the trenches to hospitals along the front.  Morgan once said of his daughter, “She is the woman who runs me,” and if he was still alive in 1914 he would have been proud to see Anne running her own Ambulance Corps.

2. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, wwone, anne morgan with dr. morton, loc

Anne Tracy Morgan and Friend, Dr.Morton 

Years before the United States declared war on Germany, the country was involved in the “Preparedness Movement.”  President Theodore Roosevelt’s sister, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, was the chairman of New York City’s Committee on Preparedness and invited her cousin, Kate Shippen Roosevelt, to join.  Kate and her daughter, Dorothy Roosevelt Geer, were enthusiastic volunteers and immediately began knitting socks and rolling bandages to send overseas.

In addition to actively participating in preparing for war, mother and daughter made it their business to attend lectures and fundraisers.  Kate Roosevelt’s diary entry for March 18, 1917 read, “To Colony Club to hear Mrs. Duryea on refugee war relief.  Most interesting and overwhelming.”

By now the ritzy women’s club on New York City’s Park Avenue was regularly mixing business with pleasure by offering members a chance for civic engagement through lectures and timely presentations.  Anne Tracy Morgan and her friends, the one-time actress, turned interior designer, Elsie de Wolfe and theater agent Elisabeth Marbury were founding members of the club.  The trio, now volunteering in France were quite possibly responsible for steering the club’s agenda towards war relief efforts and away from frivolity.

I was wondering who was such an engaging speaker that Kate Roosevelt referred to her lecture as “Most interesting and overwhelming,” words she rarely used in the same sentence.

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, duryea lecture, world war one, refugee workers, nina larrey duryea, mars. charles ditson, peggy french, hope williams, grace bristed, mrs porter, loc

Duryea Relief Workers

In the years leading up to World War One, Nina Larrey Duryea established a charity, The Duryea War Relief, based in Dinard, Normandy.  It was one of 150 private organizations scattered around Paris and Belgium, established to aid the destitute and orphaned.  Duryea’s speech at the Colony Club gave a glimpse into the incredible civilian response to one of Europe’s greatest tragedies by focusing on American volunteers.  She told her audience that more than 20,000 women were serving in war relief overseas.  Although she didn’t move there until 1920, she counted herself and another Stockbridge, Massachusetts resident, Edith Wharton, as two of the most devoted. Known mostly for her novels, awash in New York City’s Gilded Age extravagances, there was another side to Edith Wharton.

Born Edith Jones just down the block from Kate’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt’s brownstone townhouse at 28 East 20th Street, the novelist reached literary fame by conjuring up characters and lifestyles of people who might have been her real-life neighbors on Union Square.

Just ten years after building her dream home, escape from the city, called the “Mount” in the Berkshires, Edith Wharton, an intellectually-motivated and passionate woman grew tired of decorating her mansion and planting gardens on its grounds, took her talents overseas when war broke out.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, edith wharton, in furs, beinecke rare book and manuscript library, yale university

Edith Wharton

Along with friend and future Stockbridge resident, Nina Duryea, Edith Wharton gave aid to refugee children, wounded soldiers and struggling families in France.  She established three hostels for refugees, delivered supplies to the front lines and created a Paris workroom that employed ninety women in need of income.  An article in the New York Times quoted Wharton, “There is hardly a form of human misery that has not come our way and wrung our hearts with the longing to do more and give more.”

According to Wharton scholar, Dr. Alan Price, “Wharton was in France in 1914 and became involved in a number of relief organizations and charities which effected Belgian refugees. Impressed with what she had done to aid the general refugee population, the Belgian Government asked Wharton to help young girls from convent-like hospices who were sent to Paris for safety.”

Price continued, “As an example of noblesse oblige, Wharton said yes.  At first they sent her sixteen girls, then twenty, soon she was caring for more than one thousand.  Knowing they would return to Flanders after the war she set up classes for gardening and lace-making for the girls and for the few boys she sheltered, Wharton arranged for carpentry lessons.  For this and other aid work, she received the French Legion of Honor in 1916.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, wwone, anne morgan and ann murray dike, france, loc

Anne Tracy Morgan and  Dr. Anne Murray Dike in France

Among the women who volunteered in the war effort, many names are well-known.  The writer, Gertrude Stein and her life-long partner, cookbook author, Alice B. Toklas, like Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe and Elisabeth Marbury drove ambulances.  Others like Nina Duryea are less recognized, but no less important.

Most of the volunteers came from the East Coast and many from big bucks.  Because of their upbringing, these women were often identified with what they wore.  According to Price, “They were fascinated with uniforms, I think because they wanted to be part of something. Colleges like Smith, Wellesley and Vassar each had their own uniforms.  Wealthy patrons who went over to Europe and served tea once-a-week became the object of Edith Wharton’s satiric pen.”

In his book, The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War, Price wrote that “Edith Wharton documented her war experience, but Nina Duryea’s story is less known.”

Duryea’s War Relief was one of the major charities in operation from 1914 until the end of the war in 1918.  Price relied on Duryea’s unpublished memoir found in the Stockbridge Public Library for much of this information.  He said, “It was made up of letters she sent to a friend in England.  She requested they be sent back so she could write something about what she did during the war.”

When the United States entered the war in 1917, it stopped carrying supplies to private aid organizations and made the American Red Cross the sole official charity.  Having raised and unprecedented $100 million in one week, the Red Cross was well-positioned to take over this monumental responsibility.

The private charities were absorbed into the American Red Cross.  In six months fewer than ten of them survived.  Wharton and Duryea were looking to administer aid with a more personal, hands-on touch and chose to carry on independently, supported by private fundraising and the French Government.

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, duryea lecture, world war one, duryea war relief poster, temple university library

Duryea War Relief Poster

Just before President Wilson made his declaration of war on April 2, 1917, Nina Duryea visited the Colony Club to make an appeal for private donations.  By the summer of 1917, The Duryea War Relief had collected approximately $70,000 in cash and another $100,000 worth of clothing and supplies.  Nina Duryea was president of the organization and another Colony Club founder, Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, its vice president.  Their headquarters were located at 259 Fifth Avenue.

Another private charity that chose to carry-on in smaller scale was the American Ice Flotilla Committee. At first glance, ice would not seem a critical component to helping on the battlefield, but actually it was and another Berkshire resident was in charge of it.  Miss Gertrude Robinson Smith, daughter of the director of Allied Chemical Company, was a philanthropist and arts patron.  She was the founder of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival which came to be known as Tanglewood.   Residing in New York City during the winter months, as World War One raged in Europe the Smith Family moved their summer residence from Paris to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

Already in her mid-thirties, Smith refused sit out the war in the safety of her family’s new estate.  She joined forces with Edith Wharton and Anne Morgan and raised $70,000.00 to purchase and supply ambulances on the Western Front.  In 1917, as president of the American Ice Flotilla Committee, she collected more than $100,000.00 in donations for ice-automobiles and ice-making machines for the purpose of supplying field hospitals with the daily supply of ice needed to deliver blood to wounded soldiers and help to reduce fevers.

Sometimes called the “Forgotten War,” World War One has so many stories to share and thanks to Mrs. Kate Shippen Roosevelt’s diary many of those involved are now being remembered.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Duchess of Montross visiting garden at Euston, 1914
public domain

Photo Two:
Anne Tracy Morgan and Friend, Dr.Morton
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Duryea Relief Workers
Nina Larrey Duryea, Mrs. Charles Ditson, Peggy French, Hope Williams, Grace Bristed and Mrs. Porter
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Edith Wharton
Yale University

Photo Five:
Anne Tracy Morgan and  Dr. Anne Murray Dike in France
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Duryea War Relief Poster
Temple University