Researching more on World War I (WWI) the bibliography continues to expand. I just finished A. Scott Berg’s World War I and America: told by the American’s Who Lived It which includes letters, news articles and other written material from the time important to understanding the American culture and mind set concerning the war in Europe beginning in 1914. In the early years, we were still divided over whether to engage in the war. By the end of the book in 1921, President Warren G. Harding is commenting during the burial ceremony for the grave of the Unknown American Soldier.
Although the books accounts include few women, those present are impressive. Among them are Nellie Bly, Edith Wharton, Jane Addams and Willa Cather. All had experiences or opinions on The Great War.
Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman worked as a reporter for the New York World in the 1880’s using the pseudonym Nellie Bly. She famously traveled the world in seventy-two days and exposed the Blackwell Island Asylum by posing as a patient.
In spring 1914 she was traveling in Austria to raise funds for a business inherited from her husband. For a reporter, it was a case of being unexpectedly in the right place at the right time. On June 28, 1914 Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip.
From fall 1914 until early 1915 Bly would deliver twenty-one dispatches as a Special Correspondent for the New York Evening Journal from Przemysl, Austrian Galicia, in what is now Poland, and from field hospitals in Budapest. Like others reporting at the time, what she saw led her to question the sacrifices made in wartime. Many read these accounts which led to anti-war sentiment in the states which probably helped President Wilson delay his decision to engage in the war.
Bly Reports from the Front
She traveled with a diverse group of individuals—military, artists, writers, photographers, and editors. Readers followed the continuing headlines about Bly’s experiences:
“Hides in Trenches as Russian Shells Rain About Her”
“Nowhere to Hide and as Slippery as Ice!”
“Under Fire for Weeks in the Rain and Cold”
Bly reported from a field hospital that she saw one man with jaws broken in thirty-two pieces by a shrapnel, hanging shapeless on his chest. He’d been in a trench in pouring rain for six days after being wounded with no food or aid. All they could do was try to attach the jaw to his face with a silver wire.
When she reached a military hospital in Budapest, she found ten languages being spoken and nurses from five countries. Patients near death were moved to soundproof rooms to ease the anxiety of fellow patients.
One day a doctor called her to the hospital. He wanted her to see the “worst case I have ever seen.” The man had lost one foot at the ankle and the other half way to the knee. The Russian had been wounded by a shot through his body. After eight days in a trench, his feet had frozen. His feet dropped off while he was being transported on a freight train and he was bleeding from open veins when he reached the hospital.
When Nellie arrived, he was still alive, moaning and mumbling. He looked at her with hollow black eyes. “What’s he saying?” she asked. The translator replied, “He’s asking for his children.” Nellie turned, moved quickly toward the door, and started down the hallway. She heard the doctor call after her “the poor fellow just died.”
"How could Emperors, Czars and Kings look on this slaughter and ever sleep again?", she asked. The doctor replied that they do not look. It’s clear that her closing remarks in this article would tear at the heart strings of many Americans:
“This is only one case. Travel the roads from the scene of battle; search the trains; wounded, frozen, starved thousands are dying by agonizing torture—not hundreds, but thousands. And as they die thousands are being rushed into their pest-filled trenches to be slaughtered in the same way. Oh, we Christians!”
Note: This account is taken from the New York Evening Journal, January 19, 1915, (Included in World War I and America, A. Scott Berg, ed., 2017, Penguin Random House Inc. (Final quote, page 57)
Next time: Women and World War I Continues
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She enjoys speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.