July 19, 1918: The wounded were pouring into the four Hospitals of the town. . . . We have decided to double up for a few days—half of us work at the Canteen and half at the Hospitals, taking turns. It will be hard work for awhile but everyone feels that you can’t work hard enough these days.
In March 1918, twenty-six-year-old Alice O’Brien and three close friends set off from New York harbor, bound for wartime France. Unlike the soldiers aboard their ship, they were unpaid volunteers. As the daughter of a wealthy family, Alice had no need to work—no need to go to war. But she also drove her own car, was trained as an auto mechanic, spoke French, and had the passion and determination to contribute selflessly to the war effort.
Alice and her friends joined hundreds of American women serving as nurses, clerks, drivers, and canteen workers for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other organizations. Her letters home, full of breezy gossip and telling detail, describe living conditions, attitudes and actions of French soldiers and civilians, and her own remarkable efforts near the front. Alice was brave and funny, proud and jingoistic, privileged and unassuming, and Alice made a difference in France.
The exhibit, WWI America opens April 8, 2017 at the Minnesota History Center.