The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Thirty-Three

September 13-20, 1917

Kate Shippen Roosevelt was still rambling around in Pennsylvania during the middle of September, 1917. After spending a night with her cousin, Anna Lewis, in Chestnut Hill, the “wandering widow” Roosevelt went to the Red Cross House in Philadelphia to help with the ladies’ group who were volunteering their time and talents. American Women like Kate and her crew of civic-minded socialites had been rolling bandages and supporting soldiers since the Civil War when Clara Barton not only worked behind the scenes in Washington, D.C. but  also went into the battlefield to tend to the sick and wounded Union Troops. In 1881 “The Angel of the Battlefield, Clara Barton, founded the American Red Cross and when World War One erupted in Europe in 1914, its volunteers were ready to fight another war.

Red Cross Poster

During World War One, everyone was doing their bit, especially the Roosevelts. Kate’s cousin, former President Theodore Roosevelt’s three sons, were overseas and in less than a year his youngest, Quentin, would be killed during an aerial battle in France.

Red Cross Recruitment Poster

After putting down her knitting needles and tying-up one last bundle of bandages, Kate Roosevelt was ready for some more war work. This time it was to bid bon voyage to a friend. “Ran over to Philadelphia. Stopped at the Vincent Lyon for a moment. Vincent Lyon was just ordered abroad with his hospital unit.”

There are so many unsung heroes associated with World War One, I couldn’t help but be thankful to the Dowager’s Diary and Kate Roosevelt’s ritual of giving many of them first and last names, home towns, and service record.

Clara Barton Commemorative Stamp

The hero she went to wish well was Dr. Vincent Lyon who was going to France to set up a base hospital. According to the book Philadelphia in the World War: 1914-1919, “On Thursday, September 13, 1917, a phone message was received from Washington ordering the hospital unit to be ready to sail on the transport ship Henderson on Saturday, September 15th.  Dr. Vincent Lyon and a group of surgeons, doctors, nurses and enlisted personnel were not given much notice, but had been preparing for their departure since April at the Methodist Episcopal Hospital of Philadelphia. Through Dr. Richard H. Hunt of the South/East Chapter of the Red Cross, arrangements were made to set up a base hospital in France as requested by Surgeon General William C. Braisted of the United States Marines. His instructions were to organize a naval base hospital of two-hundred and fifty beds. The necessary equipment was purchased and a surgical and medical staff of forty and ninety enlisted personnel were assembled at a cost of $25,000.

Red Cross Surgical Staff

On June 1, 1917, all the equipment needed to operate a base hospital was packed, stored and ready for shipment overseas.  Miss Alice Garrett, superintendent of the Methodist Hospital’s Nurses Training School, was appointed Chief Nurse. Dr. Vincent Lyon, Dr. James Talley, Dr. George Ross, Dr. Grayson McCouch and Dr. John Hugo were on call.

Kate Roosevelt only stayed a moment, just long enough to wish the good doctor well and she was off to another call. “Met Margaret Dunn and Katherine and Bobby Dunn. Went to their new house in Chestnut Hill.” It turns out that Katherine Dunn Pagon was an artist of note. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from1910 to 1918 under the eye of famous artist, Hugh Breckenridge. She was also an early supporter of the Barnes Foundation affiliated with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A trained portrait painter, Katherine Dunne Pagon was a member of the Nantucket Summer Artist’s Colony.

Red Cross Canteen

Next stop, Pottstown. “Anna and I took train to Pottstown. Spent night with Edith Potts. She has a charming house.” Her friend, Edith Potts was the widow of Henry Potts from the Potts Family that the town, originally called Pittsgrove, was named for. The family made their fortune in iron forging. Edith and Henry Potts lived in Philadelphia, but kept a summer home in Pottstown where they enjoyed the outdoors and riding horses from their “well-stocked” stable. In 1935, Edith Potts’ Victorian-style home located at 720 High Street sold for $15,000.

Just another whirlwind week for the wealthy widow and it was no wonder that when Kate Roosevelt  finally arrived back home to her country estate, Merdlemouth in Hightstown, New Jersey she spent the day in bed with what she referred to as a “bilious attack.”

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

Photo One:
World War One Nurses
DAR Photo

Photo Two:
Red Cross Poster
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Red Cross Recruitment Poster
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Clara Barton Commemorative Stamp
Smithsonian Instutition

Photo Five:
Red Cross Surgical Staff
Red Cross Photo

Photo Six:
Red Cross Canteen
Red Cross Photo