The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-Four

November 30 – December 7, 1917 

Once called “The Forgotten War,” thanks to the popular PBS television series, Downton Abbey, World War One has been remembered and romanticized and in real life we are grateful that Kate Roosevelt documented every facet of the conflict in her diary.

Women Volunteers During World War One

When war was officially declared on April 6, 1917, Kate Roosevelt and her social circle stepped up their volunteer activities that were once only sporadic and were undertaken as part of the “preparedness movement.”

Red Cross Poster

Instead of sipping tea and enjoying canapes at New York City’s Colony Club on Park Avenue and 62nd Street, members were now knitting socks and rolling bandages. Kate Roosevelt’s diary entry for December 1, 1917 read, “A call from Washington, D.C. for surgical dressings. Rumor has it that two hundred thousand of our men will go into the trenches come January 1, 1918.”

Anne Tracy Morgan

Activities of the elite grew more patriotic by the day and Kate marched right along attending lectures about the American field ambulance work in France her friend and fellow Colony Club member, J.P. Morgan’s daughter, Anne Tracy Morgan, was volunteering in and going to rallies promoting the war effort.  “To Carnegie Hall to hear journalist, Ida Tarbell, a member of the Colony Club, talk about the status of women during the war.”

Dorothy Roosevelt Geer Serving Coffee to Soldiers

The lecture was sponsored by the Women’s League for Political Education. Red Cross nursing training at Bellevue Hospital for lay workers who wished to be educated in case of war breaking out on American soil and classes on dressing wounds of returning soldiers were held at Lord and Taylor on Fifth Avenue. The Red Cross at Madison Avenue and 47th Street set up workrooms. The National Surgical Dressing Committee’s workrooms at 299 Fifth Avenue shipped for distribution among hospitals of war-stricken Europe more than eighteen thousand dressings.

Dorothy Roosevelt Geer in Red Cross Uniform

The Colonial Dames headquarters at 2 West 47th Street sponsored classes on simple nursing techniques. The one -hundred- year-old Brooks Brothers, nurse’s uniform worn by Kate’s daughter, Dorothy Roosevelt Geer, while volunteering at the Greenhut debarkation hospital set-up for wounded soldiers returning from the front in the Siegel-Cooper Department Store at 616-632 Sixth Avenue in Lower Manhattan is still in pristine condition and will be exhibited at a later date.

Red Cross Correspondence

Kate Roosevelt wrote, “Knitting has become a craze and everyone in New York is doing it for soldiers fighting in Europe and the poverty-stricken refugees suffering because of the war.”

Red Cross Postcard

Even entertainment took on a new twist. Concerts were given to raise funds for Polish relief work, the New York Mayor’s Women’s Committee sponsored events to promote patriotism with actresses like family-friend, Ethel Barrymore, and the Broadway star, Laurette Taylor, participating. Movies portrayed battle scenes, patriotic songs were penned by George M. Cohan with titles like “Over There” and “She’s A Grand Old Flag.” Allied Bazaars organized by New York City socialites appeared allover town. One bazaar raised millions by auctioning off, according to Kate Roosevelt’s diary, pearls, a piano and an automobile.  Anne Morgan even got Henry Ford to donate an ambulance and have it shipped to France where she was transporting wounded soldiers from the trenches to a makeshift hospital not far from the battlefield.

One of the Ambulances Donated by American Car Manufacturers

According to Kate Roosevelt, she attended speeches relating to the war effort and noted seeing Senator Elihu Root speak at the Hotel Astor on Broadway and West 44th Street.  She commented, “Even with his advanced age, he made an unsurpassed, thrilling speech.” Her comments on her cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, were not as kind. After hearing him speak at Carnegie Hall, she wrote, “Very disappointing.” The former president might have been miffed. His offer to rally another band of soldiers similar to his famous “Rough Riders” was turned-down by President Woodrow Wilson.

Traveling from place-to-place in busy New York City, in early December, 1917 was taking a toll on Kate’s pocketbook. According to her diary, “My chauffeur could not drive me as I could not have my motor. Elevator in my garage was out of order. Had to take taxi. It cost $1.30. I will charge the fee to Collins the garage manager.”

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

Photo One:
Debarkation Hospital at Siegel-Cooper, the Greenhut Building
NYPL

Photo Two:
Women Volunteers During World War One
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Red Cross Poster
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Anne Tracy Morgan

Photo Five:
Dorothy Roosevelt Geer Serving Coffee to Soldiers
Public Domain

Photo Six:
Dorothy Roosevelt Geer in Red Cross Uniform
Author Collection

Photo Seven:
Red Cross Correspondence
Author Collection

Photo Eight:
Red Cross Postcard
Author Collection

Photo Nine:
One of the Ambulances Donated by American Car Manufacturers
Public Domain