The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
Private Carl Williams wrote a letter home to his family on this day. He talks about how he has recently landed in France and hopes to receive a letter from someone soon. Williams was instantly killed in action on September 15th, 1918 a little over a month after this letter was written.
Dun. Aug. 11-18
[…] We are stopping in an old French village now which must have been a beautiful place before the war but the inhabitants have left and some of the buildings are destroyed. France is sure a pretty country in summer, the harvest in on here now but you would laugh to see how it is done, mostly by hand tho [sic] I have seen a few binders and mowers. I suppose you are harvesting also by this time. […] I wrote you just after I landed in France but so far have not had a letter from you or anyone. I sure am homesick for a letter from someone so please write soon as it takes a long time to get here. […]
Greet everyone from me and please write soon your cousin
Pvt. C. O. Williams
Citation: "Williams, Carl O." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.7.1B
"British Break Teuton Forces in Two Drives" and "Gaining Ground on Vesle River" - The Daily People's Press. August 10, 1918
In this letter for her family, Helen Scriver writes about the steamer that she rode overseas. She says that this particular steamer is superior to all of the other steamers she has been on and mentions the immigrants that she has met from riding on the steamer. Scriver also mentions the woman who is in charge of her group, a Mrs. Fisher, who she describes as efficient and non-interfering. Scriver gives details about her uniform and a story of the officer at the entrance of the boat forgetting to check of her name causing confusion on board.
August 9, 1918 [...] Our accomodations are excellent. Being a traveler, and knowing this steamer is superior to either of the two which carried me to and from Europe in 1914. [...] The lady in charge of our group is a Mrs. Fisher from Santa Barba, California. If I had had the appointment to make I too would have chosen Mrs. Fisher. She is splendid efficient, and non interfering. [...] Quite a few of our do not seem to have the slightest comprehension of what not wearing jewelry might be thought to mean. One girl, whose uniform will be ready in Paris came on in a georgette waist and a string of large gold beads around her neck. It looked rather silly when the rest of us were choking in high collars and military uniforms with the thermometer up over 100.[...]
Wishing that you all might be along,
Citation: Helen Scriver Papers Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P362
In this letter home to her parents, Marion Backus tells of the new place she is heading to in France. She describes it as the place where the homes have no roofs and where the German helmets are lying around everywhere on the ground. She also writes about her excitement to work/give aid to patients that she can talk to and understand what they want. Backus is following the front and is able to give aid to wounded American soldiers.
Aug 8- 1918
We are traveling again today always on the move. We are going up where the houses have no roofs and where the german helmets are lying around on the ground we expect to camp in a barnyard […] We will live in tents and be among Americans only it is going to such [sic] a relief to not have to work with people that you can't talk to or know what they want. [...]
Love to all,
Citation: Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356
Private Harry W. Glenn wrote this letter to his parents while stationed in France. He tells them of the difficulty he has been having with his teeth, including a recent surgery he went through to remove an abscess that formed in his jaw. Glenn writes that he has been diagnosed with Necrosis Mandible, known today as Osteonecrosis, which was possibly caused by exposure to a toxic agent such as mustard gas. Despite the loss of many teeth, Glenn seems to be looking on the bright side, saying he finds ways to help out at the hospital and makes himself useful.
This letter was sent to all the Division Directors of Civilian Relief for the American Red Cross, regarding the need for Reconstruction Aides who would provide occupational therapy for disabled soldiers in hospitals. The Red Cross was looking for women from 25 to 40 years old, 60 to 70 inches tall, and 100 to 195 pounds. These women had to be US citizens, and should have knowledge in basketry, weaving, simple wood carving, block printing, knitting, needle work, and drawing skills.
August 6, 1918.
[...] It is impossible to state at this time just how many Reconstruction Aides in Occupational Therapy the Medical Department of the Army may need during the next year ending June 30, 1919. [...] We have indicated to the American Red Cross that there will probably be a need overseas of two hundred Reconstruction Aides during the next year. [...] The pre-requisites as to age fixed for the present is healthy women from twenty-five to forty years of age. If the Reconstruction Aide in Occupational Therapy is utilized in the hospitals of this country she may be a married woman and may be the wife of an overseas officer of the army. If her husband is overseas she could not be sent overseas under the ruling of the War Department. They must of course be citizens of the United States, physically they must be fit, should not be less than sixty inches in height nor more than seventy inches. They should weigh not less than one hundred nor more than one hundred ninety-five pounds.
Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781
"25,000 Women Nurses Wanted" and "Prohibition Talk Here Tomorrow" - Freeborn County Standard. August 5, 1918
James Thomas Hughes enlisted on August 2nd, 1918 as a Battalion Sergeant Major in the 1st Battalion of the 809th Regiment of the Pioneer Infantry. He sailed to France on September 23rd, 1918 and returned on July 16th, 1919. He received the Bronze Victory Medal on September 16th, 1919. This diary entry is from his from his time spent in camps in the U.S before he sailed to France. He also mentions his "pal" Tela, likely Tela Burt, whose draft assignment was posted on August 2nd, and who was also a member of the 809th Regiment.
August 4th, 1918 Arrived at camp 9:30 am Roasted on the march which seemed like a prison sentence. Got Tela as pal. seemed a thousand miles but was only about two. Some [...rab] in all this sand and dust. Nothing to eat until 3:15 P.M.
Citation: James Thomas Hughes Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. D640.H84
ATTENTION: The following letter and transcription contain language that is derogatory. We have chosen to include this letter and it's complete transcription as it provides evidence of the racism many African American soldiers experienced while serving during the War. However, it may be offensive to readers.
In a diary entry from this day, Victor Johnson gives insight into race relations in the army. He writes about how an African American soldier and a white soldier from C Company got into a fist fight. Based on Johnson's writings, it seems that the African American soldier came out on top, which led to all of C Company going in search of the man with loaded rifles. In the camp segregated existed, which Johnson called "The Mason Dixon line". Even though African American soldiers were fighting against the Germans and putting their lives against the line just as much as any white soldier, discrimination still remained.
Today they changed the shifts so now we go to work at 1.30 am this week and get thru at 12.30 am. Here in this camp they have quite a few niggers (One Regiment) and some time ago one of the boys in C Co. got into a fight with one of them and got cut up pretty bad. Right then and there, there was Hell a poping (sic). The whole company took there rifels (sic) and went on a hunt for the so said nigger and if they had gotten him before the guards did he would have been one numbered among the dead. Now they have taken the rifels (sic) and amunition (sic) away from them. They gave the niggers a good some as none of them have looked for trouble since. Here in camp they have what is known as the Mason Dickson line (one of the company streets) where the niggers are not allowed to go over to the white side not the whites to the niggers side.
Citation: Victor O. Johnson Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1987
This draft assignment was for Tela Burt sent by the President of the United States on August 1st, 1918. Burt completed a tour of duty in France as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry. He loved music, and after his tour of duty he studied the saxophone and clarinet at MacPhail School of Music.
Citation: Tela Burt Materials. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 142.G.7.4F-2