We received a media release from MyHeritage.com about 10 notable women of the First World War whose contributions have been largely forgotten today, and we felt we had to share this list with our readers. We would also add to the list the names of Maria Bochkareva, a soldier in the Russian Army who recruited some 2,000 women, about 250 of whom saw action on the Austrian Front, and the Cossack Maria Yurlova, who served in Armenia against the Turks. Many other names could be added as well. Photos provided by MyHeritage.com unless otherwise noted.
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Julia Hunt Catlin Taufflieb (1864-1947). Socialite and philanthropist born in Maine, she was the first American woman to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Legion d’honneur, for converting the Chateau d’Annel into a 300-bed hospital near the front line. She offered use of the chateau to Britain’s Lord Kitchner, though her friend Rudyand Kipling, in August 1914, but the area was soon overrun by the initial German offensive. The hospital was established in 1917 when the area was retaken by the Allied Powers; her actions prompted other Americans in France to offer their residences to the war effort. She married Emile Adolphe Taufflieb, who had commanded France’s 37th Army Corps.
Mary Borden (1886-1968). A Chicago-born heiress, novelist and poet living in England in 1914, she too was awarded France’s Croix de Guerre for using her own money to establish a mobile hospital unit on the Western Front. She served as a nurse until the end of war, and her experiences are vividly recalled in her writings.
Helen Fairchild (1885-1918). A nurse from Pennsylvania who staffed a unit on the Western Front at Passchendaele in Belgium, she died after undergoing surgery for a gastric ulcer. She is remembered because of her many letters home that preserved the details of a nurse’s life in the war.
Dr. Elsie Inglis (1864-1917). This Scottish doctor and suffragist was the driving force in founding the Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit in 1914, which eventually operated over a dozen hospitals from France to the Balkans. She served in the first one, established in Serbia, and became a prisoner of war for a time. She then organized and headed the SWH in Russia. Already seriously ill when she was evacuated to England in November 1917, she died at Newcastle very shortly after her return.
Flora Sandes (1876-1956). She was a British nurse in Serbia who enlisted as a Serbian Army soldier during the Serbs’ arduous retreat from the Central Powers’ offensive of 1915. First a St. John Ambulance volunteer, Sandes became the only British woman officially to serve as a soldier. In 1916, she was seriously wounded by a grenade in hand-to-hand combat. She received the highest decoration of the Serbian Military, the Order of the Karađorđe’s Star, was promoted to the rank of sergeant major, and, after the war, to captain.
Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920). A British suffragette and aid worker, she was co-founder (with Decima Moore) of the Women’s Emergency Corps. In 1915, she volunteered to join the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Serbia as a nurse. After the war, she worked in a Serbian children orphanage, where she died of pneumonia in 1920.
Edith Wharton (1862-1937). An American living in self-imposed exile in France when the war broke out, the renowned novelist was one of the few foreigners allowed to travel to the French front lines during the WWI, thanks to her influential connections to the French government. She toured military hospitals and battlefields. In 1916 France named her a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur in recognition of energetic fund-raising for refugees, and Belgium made her a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold. Upon her death in August 1937, representatives of the French War Veterans Association of Saint Brice accompanied the coffin to her burial service.
Mildred Aldrich (1853-1928). A journalist, editor and writer from Providence, Rhode Island, she moved to France in 1898, where she worked as a foreign correspondent and translator. In 1914, her house overlooked the Marne river valley. Her wartime journal and letters to her American friends about the First Battle of the Marne constitute her book A Hilltop on the Marne (1915), the first of four books comprised of her wartime letters. She presciently wrote to Gertrude Stein before the war began, "It will be the bloodiest affair the world has ever seen – a war in the air, under the sea as well as on it, and carried out with the most effective man-slaughtering machines ever used in battle." France believed her books influenced America to enter the war and awarded her the Legion d’honneur in 1922.
Dame Helen Charlotte Isabella Gwynne-Vaughan (1879 – 1967). A prominent English botanist and mycologist, in 1917 she was appointed Controller of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in France, an organization she helped create. She became the first woman to receive a military Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1918. She served as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) from September 1918 until December 1919. For her wartime achievements she was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE).
Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse who joined the Red Cross at the outbreak of the war. She saved the lives of soldiers from both sides, treating all without prejudice. Arrested by the Germans for having helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from Belgium to the Netherlands, she was sentenced to death and executed in October 1915. A statue commemorating her near London’s Trafalgar Square is only one of the memorials erected to her memory.
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