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U.S. Participation in the Great War (World War One)
From Pinafores to Politics

The following excerpts are from the 1923 autobiography of Daisy Hurst Harriman, from Votes for Women, 1848-1921. Mrs. Harriman was a wealthy New Yorker who supported the rights of women. She also served on a national commission to investigate labor problems. The excerpts below are from the part of her autobiography covering 1917. Do you think Mrs. Harriman was a supporter of President Wilson? Why or why not? What type of service did she provide during the war?

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One of the President's daughters told me how one of the family had found him at his desk on the morning of the 2nd of April, his hand pressed to his head, and for the first time she could remember, sunken under the responsibilities of the moment. He looked up and said, "I was not intended to lead the country in a war. Mine should have been a constructive, not a destructive administration."

No one in all the years since has seen, Woodrow Wilson falter or wince at the labors that lay before him. Once he had said "we must" he went in with all his heart and all the great resources at his command. He was leader of this nation at its grandest moment, and he was articulate of the highest aspirations of any nation. No ruler ever expressed so marvelously the loftiest ideals of mankind. The President's war speech was written while he sat on the south portico of the White House at half-past four in the morning. While it was still night his message began to come to him, and he crept downstairs into the fresh air of the breaking day. Mrs. Wilson, a little later, finding him not in his room, went down to look for him. She brought him an overcoat and placed some milk and biscuits by his side. When this story got out a newspaper man printed it and for weeks after the White House was deluged with letters from grocers and biscuit manufacturers, asking what brand of biscuits Mrs. Wilson had put on his table that historic morning, and saying that if it were their please might they advertise to that effect. Not many people know that in 1918 when work was more and more pressing, the President rose often at 4:30 and began his day. Mrs. Wilson not wishing to disturb the servants at that hour, had an electric stove placed in one of the dressing-rooms, and there she used to cook his breakfast herself. . . .

I hardly remember at all what I did in the summer of 1917. I missed Ethel dreadfully, and since she wasn't at home, took on the ambulance work on Sundays. The week I divided very evenly between the Committee on Women in Industry and the Red Cross Motor Corps. The Sunday runs of the ambulance were hard work, but never without an incident. Usually we went to Humphries and brought patients back from there to Walter Reed Hospital, a round trip of about fifty-five miles.

One evening I was driving with my girl orderly beside me. We had three very sick soldiers, one unconscious and one delirious. The road from the camp to Washington was only just under construction and a thunder-storm on the way out had so mucked a part of the road just before the main highway that we were mire. The girl orderly loped off down the road until she found two kind young men and ran them back to pry us out. In the middle of our trouble our third patient made a sign that he felt seasick. Our new ambulance was our pride and our joy. My orderly almost automatically snatched what proved to be a brannew hat from the head of our kindly rescuer, thrust it under the soldier's chin with a pleading, "Goodness sakes, don't spoil the ambulance! Use this."

It may have been just a case of man standing by man. The seasick man, out of respect for his brother's hat, settled back and didn't use it.

The rule was that no man, unless in uniform, could accompany us on Motor Corps work and it was very rare that an officer had time to volunteer to come along. And my fleet-footed orderly couldn't always find husky arms to conscript on the lonely country road. The girls used to change tires themselves with extraordinary speed when we had a critical case inside. They used to get up at 4 A. M. They followed behind green troops on country hikes and carried the canteen workers back and forth. . . .

The members qualified themselves for their service by taking courses in first aid and motor repair work, and they received stretcher drills from officers of the 6th Engineers and became very skilful in lifting the injured, placing them on litters, loading and unloading ambulances, and carrying the stretchers into hospitals and houses. . . .The best work was done while I was overseas during the influenza epidemic. Then the Motor Corps members went in and out of houses, carrying the stretchers themselves. In all they carried as many as two thousand patients to the hospitals. They did a yeoman's service. Members of the Corps were on duty for twenty-four hours at a time, sleeping on cots in the garage between calls.
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View Mrs. Harriman's entire biography from which this excerpt was taken, from Votes for Women, 1848-1921. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.