AMERICAN women of the year 1917 are no braver, no more patriotic, no more self-sacrificing than women have been in all wars of all times. "Earth's women of every generation have faced suffering and death with an equanimity that no soldier on a battlefield has ever surpassed and few equaled, "says Olive Schreiner, "and where war has been to preserve life, or land, or freedom, rather than for aggrandizement and power, unparasitized and laboring women have in all ages known how to bear an active part, and die."
The spirit of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton lives today in the Red Cross-kindled into a flame of love that warms the heart of the whole world. It is said that the calm and poise with which Martha Washington met the great crisis in her life was in a measure due to her constant habit of knitting and her tender ministrations to the sick and to the suffering are part of the history of those memorable days at Valley Forge. Gay and frivolous Dolly Madison gave "twenty dollars and a good cow" to the first orphanage in Washington established for the children of the soldiers and the sailors, and was the inspiration and the staunch supporter of that institution.
The Congressional Record of the United States contains the names of three women who distinguished themselves for bravery in battle and who were pensioned for military service. These were "Molly Pitcher," Margaret Corbin and Deborah Janette. The brave deeds of these women stand out against the background of history, and yet no one doubts but that the same dauntless courage, the same selflessness that inspired their acts lives in the souls of thousands of American women of today, waiting only to be expressed in action by the call of love or duty. It is recorded that upon report of Molly Pitcher's act by General Washington the Continental Congress voted her "a sergeant's commission and half pay for life." And on February 21,1822, an act passed in the State Senate of Pennsylvania gave to Molly Pitcher "The sum of forty dollars immediately and the same sum half yearly for life." In the British attack upon Fort Washington, John Corbin was shot and killed while serving his gun. His wife, Margaret, saw him fall and, running to the officer in command, begged to be allowed to serve the gun. Her request was granted and she continued to serve the gun until seriously wounded. Her heroism was reported to the authorities at Philadelphia and the State promptly provided for her. Later the Executive Council referred the case to the Continental Congress and on June 29, 1779, there was this entry, "That Margaret Corbin wounded and disabled, while she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side while serving a piece of artillery, do receive during her natural life, or continuance of such disability one-half the pay drawn by a soldier in the service of these States, and that she now receive out of the public stores one suit of clothes, or the value in money." Deborah Janette alias Robert Shurtleff was officially recognized for enlisted service covering a term of years.
When our hearts beat high and our pulses thrill over Russia's grand old woman, Catherine Breshkovskaya, known as the "Grandmother of the Revolution," and over the stories that come to us of the "Battalion of Death, "let us not forget our own Molly Pitcher and Margaret Corbin and Deborah Janette and let us not forget instances of woman's heroism during the Civil War-stories that many of us have heard first hand. If the so-called "histories" of the women of these days read, for the most part, like funeral notices, the charge should be laid at the door of the historians and not to their subjects.
And still, the achievement of American women in the world war of 1917 will stand out in no shadowy and uncertain outline against the background of the history that the future generations will read for woman's share in the nation's task in this gigantic struggle for the freedom of the races is to mark a new era, both in the conduct of war and in the history of the woman's movement.
There seem to be two outstanding reasons why American women, more than the women of any other country, in the present war, are to furnish an example to the world of woman's efficiency and woman's power. First, the fact that so large a proportion of American women are organized; second, the fact that the value of woman's work in the prosecution of war was immediately recognized by the United States Government, and by individual national leaders. This recognition on the part of the Government was expressed in the prompt creation of the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense, which, theoretically at least, bears the same relation to the main body as do the other sub-committees. The writer fully agrees with many of our national women leaders who would be glad to see women more definitely represented in war work, who would like to see the Woman's Committee empowered to initiate instead of mere]y to advise; who believe that the genius of the women composing the committee is practically paralyzed so long as the committee is expected to act only in an advisory capacity; who would like to see a woman at the head of the conservation department o£ the National Food Administration, since women are the natural conservators of the human race; who agree with Helen Ring Robinson of Colorado, that "we can not win this war by shutting up women's energies in a garbage can." A great leader of Napoleon's day bewailed the fact that out of millions of people there could not be found two men. America was more fortunate. Our national leaders had no difficulty in finding ten women-real ones, capable of generaling any army of women.
When the Government created its war body, at least, it followed the precedent set by the Creator of the universe, in that it created its man body first and made woman a side issue, extracting or subtracting nothing whatever from the man body in the process- not even a rib or a piece of governmental backbone. That is why the Woman's Committee for all the intelligence and experience and executive ability that comprise it-cannot stand alone; that is why it is so frequently reminded by its superior body that it is not expected to initiate but should only advise. It was a consummation devoutly to be wished that the Government, having created the woman body of its war machine, should have breathed into it the breath of life.
But out of the doubts and questionings, the wondering and the speculation, there looms this bright and shining fact, the Committee was created-the impulse in the right direction was there, and its resultant act will be as a white guide-post to other governments of future days as they stand on the gray uncertain roads of destiny-a guide that points a straight, ascending way to a larger, surer victory than any other generation has achieved.
It would seem that this impulse was well grounded, for no sooner had this country been forced into the conflict, than national leaders, as individuals, began to pay high tributes to the value of woman's work in the prosecution of war, and to ask for the cooperation and assistance of the women in formulating the war emergency program.
President Wilson pays this tribute to the women of America: "I think the whole country has appreciated the way in which the women have risen to this great occasion. They have not only done what they have been asked to do, and done it with ardor and efficiency, but they have shown a power to organize for doing things on their own initiative, which is quite a different thing and a very much more difficult thing. I think the whole country has admired the spirit and the capacity and devotion of the women of the United States. It goes without saying that the country depends upon the women for a large part of the inspiration of its life. That is obvious. But it is now depending upon the women also for suggestions of service, which have been rendered in abundance and with the distinction of originality."
The Secretary of War, speaking of the national plans for safeguarding the health and morals of the men in the training camps, said:
I think there is a significance in the fact that the department of the Government especially charged with the making of war should appeal to the women for the success of such an undertaking. One does not ordinarily associate the making of war with the activities of women. Ordinarily, I think one's mental picture of women in a country at war portrays them as the principal sufferers. And so I think there is a certain significance, perhaps an indication of the extent to which our civilization has gone, when a Secretary of War says to the women that "the success of the United States in the making of this war is just as much in the hands of the women of America as it is in the hands of the soldiers of our army."
On August 2, 1917, the Secretary of the Navy said : "In my opinion the importance of the part which our American women must play in the successful prosecution of the war cannot be overestimated.
"Not only those heroic women who, as Red Cross nurses, will accompany our soldiers to France, and those who at home are devoting their time, talents and energies to work specifically connected with the war; but all of our women can and must do their part if this war is to be brought to a successful conclusion. The part which the home-makers can do in their homes by careful and intelligent planning, for the most economic and wise use of food supplies, is one of the most important services of the entire war. The question of food conservation is one which we must depend upon the women of America to solve.
"American women have always been ready to answer the call of service and have cheerfully undergone the untold sacrifices and burdens which war places upon them so much more heavily than upon men. They are already making sacrifices and enduring hardships with a spirit which commands our intense admiration."
The Secretary of the Interior in June, 1917, said: "This war cannot be won without the help of women. I do not mean their help as mechanics or laborers, as farmers or nurses. The help that they can give of supreme value is their moral support, their spiritual stimulus. Unless our women feel the greatness of the moral issues involved in this contest, and unless they have raised their boys to fight, if necessary, for the things for which we stand, the war can not be won. This war from its beginning has been a challenge to our chivalry, as well as to our interests, and I think too little stress has been laid upon the fact that, in a time of such intense national strain, reliance must be placed upon the insight and moral greatness of our women. They have not raised their boys to be soldiers, but they have raised them to be chivalrous gentlemen who can not see the weak attacked and force acknowledged as the guiding principle of civilization without a burning resentment and willingness to champion the cause of the weak and the maintenance of the principle of justice."
The Honorable George E. Chamberlain of Oregon, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, said: "The women of America up to this day have been more active, have rendered a greater service, and have more carefully fitted themselves for hardship and future effort than ever before in the history of our country. And I say this without disparaging the splendid work that has been done by our mothers, wives and sisters in every prior war.
"One reason for the supreme effort that is being made is the broader recognition that is given to woman, and her status as a citizen. She feels more at liberty to act now in the sterner affairs of life an ever before, and by the same token she is placed in a position where she can do more, and well she is performing the allotted task. In my opinion she will win this war, as she has done in the past wars, make the slacker impossible and drive the coward to his duty at the front.
"But her great sphere is in the field of tender effort in the relief of the distressed and the afflicted. In this field no one can take her place, and I look to see the women of America make a record for themselves the pending war that will stand far and above the work of any organized effort in the world."
Mr. Lemuel D. Padgett of Tennessee, Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, said on August 1, 1917: "Inspired by purpose, zeal, and enthusiasm which challenge the admiration of all patriots, the women of America in unison are working not alone for alleviating sufferings and burdens of our soldiers, sailors and marines, but in an intelligent way are striving to place about the Army and the
Navy environments which will conduce to improved military morale and efficiency of our fighting forces and place the Army and Navy upon a higher standard. Moreover, their zeal, enthusiasm and unity of purpose in their ideals and work are an inspiration to the whole nation."
In a letter to the writer dated August 7, 1917, Surgeon-General Rupert Blue of the United States Public Health Service, said: "Personally, I do not believe the value and importance of woman's work in the present struggle can be overestimated. Of course, it will be only a few of our women who will be so fortunate as to have the opportunity of rendering service at the front, so that in the front ranks of the women workers we must place those nurses of the American Red Cross and of the Army medical service who will minister to the wounded at the base hospitals in France.
"But there will also be important work for those of the nursing profession who remain m this country. The public health nursing to be performed by private and Red Cross nurses under federal, state and local health authorities must be continued throughout the war in order that the sanitary balance may not be disturbed. Child welfare work, especially in the families of soldiers who are at the front, should not only be continued, but extended wherever possible.
"Women physicians might also be employed for service at convalescent hospitals at home in the treatment of soldiers who have been returned on account of chronic conditions, in this way relieving medical men for service at the front.
"There will also be many positions in civil life which can be filled by women, thus releasing men for war service. The work that has been accomplished by the women of our allies in business and industrial lines stands as a wonderful demonstration of the ability of woman to 'do her bit' in this direction.
"And for the many without business or professional training, or for the spare moments of those who have family duties or are self-supporting there remains the great work of collecting and distributing useful articles for our soldiers and sailors. Through the many organizations being conducted for this purpose, there will be work for all."
There can not be the slightest doubt that such sentiments as these, coming from the men who are guiding the nation's affairs in the greatest crisis of its history, have had a most stimulating effect upon the women of the country.
As it is given to comparatively few men to serve as officers in the front ranks of our armies on the battle fronts, so it is given to but few of our women to lead in the battles we in the home ranks must fight. But to the "dove-colored women" in the quiet homes, far from the tragic sweep of the world's great event will belong a share in the honor of the final victory just as surely as that honor will be shared by the private soldier in the ranks who offers his life for a cause that is just.
It would be well for the women in the millions of average American homes, and it would be well for their country, if they could come into a full appreciation of how much their individual effort adds to the final sum of our national effort. It is because of these women and their patriotic interest that the
National Commercial Economy Board was able to announce at the end of a few months that the campaign for the elimination of waste bread had resulted in a saving of enough bread each day to feed a million people. It was because of their patriotic interest that crops to the value of $350,000,000 were raised in back yard gardens in 1917. It was because of their patriotic interest that Mr. Davison head of the American Red Cross, said that the value of garments made by American women for troops abroad in 1917 was valued at over $36,000,000. And it will be because of the patriotic interest of these average American women, who may be tempted sometimes to believe that they lack the opportunity to serve, that the final victory will come, and that peace will reign in the whole world. It would indeed be well if the very humblest of American women could realize how important a part they have to play in the great world tragedy of today. There comes to mind this picture of the charwoman sketched by the pen of Arnold Bennett : "The wind played with the gray wisps of her hair and with her coarse brown apron, beneath which her skirt was pinned up. Human eyes seldom saw her without a coarse brown apron. Itself and a pail were the insignia of her vocation. She was accomplished and conscientious. She could be trusted. She was thoroughly accustomed to the supreme spectacles of birth and death and could assist thereat with dignity and skill. She could turn away the wrath of rent collectors, rate collectors, school inspectors, and magistrates. She was an adept in enticing an inebriated husband to leave a public house. She could feed four children and do it on seven pence and rise calmly to her feet after having been knocked down by one stroke of a fist. She could go without food, sleep, or love, and yet thrive. She could give when she had nothing and keep herself sweet in the midst of every contagion. She had never had a holiday and almost never failed in her duty." There are many women like that in America, and these also constitute a valuable national asset.
In every state in the Union women of the highest type, experienced in dealing with people and skilled in leadership, have given of themselves freely as volunteer workers in America's great army of women. That is why the war work in the different states is so varied and so interesting; it reflects the ideals of the best and the bravest of our women, and emphasizes what is most important in their respective fields.
It is to be regretted that reports are incomplete from many of the states, but it should be borne in mind that, even while the material for this book is being collected, little children crowd together at a roadside at the end of a dreary day in France and watch a long khaki-colored line crawl toward them. A woman pushes a little girl forward, and in the gray mist she hangs a wreath of bright colored flowers on a mud-bespattered American gun ! For today American boys are having their first baptism of German fire in front line trenches on the battle front !
Soon after Mr. Hoover came to America after his great work as the head of the Commission for Relief in Belgium he said: "America is only beginning to allow the awful burden of suffering and destitution to rest upon her conscience." Between this day and the day upon which those words were spoken less than a year has elapsed, and yet Mr. Hoover would doubtless be the last person to say them now.
The story of the great relief work undertaken and accomplished by the American people is the greatest story of the kind that has ever been written into any history of any time. At one time in the fall of 1917 there were in progress in America fourteen national campaigns in the interest of raising money for war relief work in foreign lands and among our own troops for the year 1918. The funds sought in these various campaigns for purposes of war aggregated more than $300,000,000, and not one failure has yet been recorded. The latest available figures show that total funds raised for foreign relief in America up to 1918 amounted to more than $20,000,000, and that supplies have been shipped valued at more than $10,000,000, making a total of $30,000,000 ! That looks as if America is awake. Over five thousand different organizations and branch organizations are doing war work, and more than two million persons are actively enlisted as members of these organizations. These figures, impressive as they are, do not begin to represent the magnitude of the activities carried on by the allied war relief organizations in America. While they are not given as final it is safe to say that they underestimate rather than overestimate the funds raised and the value of supplies sent abroad. In all of this work women have had an important share. Again I quote from Olive Schreiner's classic, 'Woman and War": ". . . On this one point, and on this point almost alone, the knowledge of woman, simply as woman is superior to that of man; she knows the history of human flesh; she knows its cost; he does not.... We have in all ages produced, at an enormous cost, the primal munition of war, without which no other would exist. There is no battlefield on earth, nor ever has been, howsoever covered with slain, which has not cost the women of the race more in actual bloodshed and anguish to supply, than it has cost the men who lie there. We pay the first cost on all human life."
Although it is far too early to write even the first chapter of America's part in the present conflict, the brief outline of what American women are trying to do, as given in this book, should stimulate the pride and stir the ambition of every loyal American, to the end that the superstructure of this remarkable work should be as great and as enduring as its foundation justifies.
Chapter II. The Woman's Committee Created
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