Part III WW I Symposium 2018 Kansas City

John T Kuehn's picture

Speaker 3

Notes by John T. Kuehn, attendee at conference.

Kara Dixon Vuic  - teaches at Texas Christian University, endowed war and society chair.  Chair named after marine corporal killed in Afghanistan.

New kind of Woman is Following the Army:  American Women in the Great War

Her upcoming book is entitled The Girls Next Doo: American Women and Military Recreation (Harvard University Press, 2019).

Focuses on Emma Young Dixon (I assume no relation), who traveled  to Europe-- one of 3500 women who went with YMCA.  Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) in today’s terminology type of function.

These women were typically in late 20s, middle to upper class, and white. Also operated kitchens when conditions permitted. This initiative continues in WWII. USO, American Red cross, etc.

Still going on today.  Why is the US doing this?  Morale, morale, morale.

It is a top down decision and approach. Related her thesis about the draft, now it could be your son drafted.  All these groups work with US government and military.  The military is part of a larger effort to pitch this experience, the draft, as a maturing growing experience.  But “sisters” and mother figures will help the “boys” (always called them boys, not young men or men) through it.  The military will make men out of boys.  Right kind of women needed. Boys will be seduced by “wrong kind of women.”

France is the  big fear, especially French women.  Americans regard France as a sort of modern Babylon, only a little better, morally, than the barbaric huns the “boys” were going to fight.

Send American women—that is the solution. Progressives were very optimistic and positivist. Bottom line, they agree that it was a good initiative. Assumptions:

 women more moral

women more religious.

“boys” are weaker morally (a paradox with other existing narratives)

Women will harness this rhetoric in the women’s suffrage movement.

Vast majority were not mothers, but were seen as maternal figures.  American public not comfortable with women in war zones.  So the women who went were under suspicion.  “Khaki fever”—the trend captured by phrase “every girl loves a man [or boy] in uniform”—the fear that these women would succumb to “khaki fever” and have relationships with these poor vulnerable boys….[speaker deliberately adopted this condescending tone, but it was appropriate in my view]

YMCA “huts” where these women worked became a home away from home. She used Emma Young Dixon’s experience, using fascinating collection in the archives at University of Minnesota.[she discussed why scholars should always take the archivists’ advice about these sorts of collections].

Occurs at a critical moment for women, suffrage…women serving to make world safe for democracy…and Wilson cited their service in his support for the Suffrage Amendment (19th).

Father worked for A. Carnegie in PA then moved to New Jersey.  Family was wealthy, educated, well-travelled.    Emma played violin. Family was socially conscious.   She volunteered.  She wanted to do more.

She applied to YMCA several times. Turned down as too young at first. April 1918, ends up with 3rd division 7th machine gun company.  She taught the doughboys French. She liked going into the field and came to see herself as having comradery with the troops.  Complains in letters that she cannot go forward to Chateau Thierry.  Did get to go forward eventually, to assist in a field hospital near Chateau Thierry. [A sign of how massive and unanticipated the casualties were for the AEF]

Turned out to be a traumatic experience…saw a lot of gas victims. Touching photographs of her with troops.  It became part of the job to allow men to propose to her,although she always turned them down or redirected the conversation, but she let them ask, gave them opportunities to ask (from her pictures she was an attractive young woman).  She did not want to disappoint them.

The work required these women to reverse all of the standing social conventions of the era. Talking to strange men, talking to people from a different class. Meeting with men without a chaperone.

She spends over a year in Europe.  After war she married her fiancé (who did not serve and was in US), lived to 92.  Her case unique, she kept records.  Her daughter followed in footsteps and became a Navy WAVE in World War II.

Questions—Any casualties for these women?   Yes, most of the time it was disease, one case where a woman got bronchitis and died in the bombing of a French Hospital.  YMCA said she died a soldier’s death.

Adjusting when they got back to US.  They were from the upper classes.  Some form an organization called the Women’s Overseas League to raise awareness about what they did. 

Question on what happened to the African Americans, segregated huts. Three African American (AA) women who served were overwhelmed.   Jim Crow policy served AAs poorly in this war. [part IV will address this issue specifically]

From Geoff Wawro—these women sent to decrease vice, to battle VD.  How did this impact on the AEF’s actual rates of VD?  Pershing had regulated brothels in Mexico to avoid this issue, but an area that needs more scholarship {proving a negative is difficult}

NOTE:  There were several School of Advanced Military (SAMS, located at Fort Leavenworth not far away) faculty and students at the symposium, which spoke well for the US Army leadership at SAMS.