"Doing Her Best for Uncle Sam": WWI in Girls' Series Fiction

The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches by Margaret Vandercook{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887
The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches by Margaret Vandercook
Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887

World War I opened more opportunities for women, even before the U.S. officially entered the war in 1917. Although many men disapproved of women’s work, there were also some powerful men who supported roles for women, such as Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and General John J. Pershing. [1] Women participated as doctors and nurses, as well as organizing numerous activities on the homefront, both in support of the war effort and in support of peace.

The heroines of American girls’ series books followed suit. By 1914, juvenile series books were quite popular, allowing children to follow the exploits of their favorite characters through various adventures. Ongoing series in which the main characters took part in the war effort included the Ruth Fielding series and The Outdoor Girls. In addition, many new series were created to capitalize on readers’ interest in the war. The trick for any series writer was to find a way for the heroines to maintain their "wholesomeness" in the face of the realities of war. [2] This article provides a brief overview of three of these series.

Ruth Fielding in the Red Cross; or, Doing Her Best for Uncle Sam by Alice B. Emerson{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldinginre00emer
Ruth Fielding in the Red Cross; or, Doing Her Best for Uncle Sam by Alice B. Emerson
Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldinginre00emer

The Ruth Fielding series began in 1913, written by three authors sharing the pseudonym of Alice B. Emerson. The series followed the titular character as she went through school and entered a career in filmmaking. In 1918, a sub-trilogy within this series beginning with the 13th volume documented the wartime adventures of Ruth and her friends: Ruth Fielding in the Red Cross, Ruth Fielding at the War Front, and Ruth Fielding Homeward Bound (the latter volume published in 1919). [3] Perhaps the most common role associated with women in WWI is that of nurse, which is the role that Ruth Fielding and her friends take on, volunteering with the Red Cross in Europe. As she is moving to a new assignment, Ruth reflects on her time with the Red Cross:

She felt that she had grown old—and grown old rapidly—since coming to her present work in France. She was the only American in that hospital, for the United States Expeditionary Forces had only of late taken over this sector of the battle line and no changes had been made in the unity of the workers at Clair.

They all loved Ruth there, from the matron and the surgeon-in-chief down to the last orderly and porter. Although her work was supposed to be entirely in the supply department, she gave much of her time to the patients themselves.

Those who could not write, or could not read, were aided by the American girl. If there was extra work in the wards (and that happened whenever the opposing forces on the front became active) Ruth was called on to help the nurses. [4]

Unusually for a girls' series book during the war, Ruth is not just a nurse on the sidelines of the action—she experiences the battlefield itself when she "and a French soldier successfully cross No Man’s Land into German camps to rescue [her friend] Tom" in Ruth Fielding at the War Front. [5] Eventually, Ruth is wounded and sent home, across U-Boat infested waters, where her ship is captured by German pirates and Tom manages an improbable rescue of the passengers. [6]

The Outdoor Girls in Army Service; Or, Doing Their Bit for the Soldier Boys by Laura Lee Hope{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/outdoorgirlsinar00hope
The Outdoor Girls in Army Service; Or, Doing Their Bit for the Soldier Boys by Laura Lee Hope
Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/outdoorgirlsinar00hope

The Outdoor Girls series also began in 1913, written by various authors under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope. This series narrated the adventures of a group of four girls who formed a "Camping and Tramping Club." The girls are often joined in their activities by a group of four boys. The Outdoor Girls also join the Red Cross, however unlike Ruth Fielding and her friends, they remain at the home front while their boyfriends enlist in the Army and are deployed overseas, as depicted in volumes 8 to 11 of the series. [7] The girls knit sweaters and other items of clothing to send to soldiers in Europe, join the Red Cross, and do fundraising for both the Red Cross and the Y.W.C.A. [8] Later, the girls work at a hostess house near Camp Liberty, where the boys are training. [9] [10] The girls help a variety of people there, comforting soldiers’ relatives, assisting those who cannot read or write, and entertaining the soldiers during their downtime. Mrs. Watson, the Y.W.C.A. director for their hostess house praises their work:

"But," [Mrs. Watson] added, leaning forward in her chair and speaking earnestly, "I honestly think that you girls don't even begin to realize what a wonderful work you have been doing right here in this little city that sprang up over night. It isn't a small thing, you know—sending thousands of our boys away cheered and strengthened, armed to meet the future—better men, just for having met you.

"And the mothers and wives and sweethearts who have been entertained so royally and permitted to say good-bye to their loved ones under the very best and cheeriest conditions possible—why, they have spoken to me of you with tears in their eyes!"

There were tears in their own eyes as the girls smiled happily at her. [11]

Hamilton-Honey notes that the Outdoor Girls stay well within expected feminine roles of "entertaining, comforting, and taking care of the soldiers' families and the soldiers themselves." The story, she continues, "lends a great deal of romanticism to war work, which was necessary and fulfilling but also grueling and and repetitive for the women who undertook it." [12]

The boys ship out at the end of the ninth volume. The war takes a back-burner in the tenth and eleventh volumes as the girls take a vacation from their duties at the hostess house and get entangled in other mysteries, but remain worried about the news they receive about their boyfriends on the front. The boys return home safely at the end of the eleventh volume, The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge (1921). [13]

The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches by Margaret Vandercook{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887
The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches by Margaret Vandercook
Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887

The Red Cross Girls by Margaret Vandercook began publication in 1916 and lasted for 10 volumes with the last one published in 1920. [14] The series follows four American girls who volunteer for service with the Red Cross in Europe. Before traveling to their first assignment, the girls have the opportunity to meet Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson, a real life figure who served as the first female army surgeon in Britain. [15]

[Eugenia said,] "... At least, it will be a tremendous inspiration to meet the woman who has done more for nursing among the British soldiers than any other woman in this war. Dr. Garrett Anderson established the first woman's hospital at Claridge's Hotel in Paris a month after the war broke out, together with Dr. Flora Murray. And the women have done such wonderful surgical work that all the country is talking about them."

Barbara whistled softly. "So they brought this Dr. Anderson back to London and made her a major, the first woman ever given military rank in the British Army!" she exclaimed. "When one considers the Englishman believes 'a woman's place is the home,' it is hard to tell how he is going to reconcile what women are doing to help in this war, men's work as well as their own. But I'll bet you the English won't give the women the vote when the war is over, just the same. They can go back home then, although a good many of the poor things won't have any homes to go to." [16]

Although this seems like the start of a promising discussion of women's contributions to the war and women's suffrage, Susan R. Fisher notes that the subject is abruptly dropped. Fisher continues, "The very premise of the Red Cross Girls series — that privileged American girls would turn their backs on society to dedicate themselves to war work — is on the surface rather daring and progressive." [17] Yet "[w]herever the girls go, they are surrounded, not by the squalor of war, but by wealth, beauty, and luxury." [18] Vandercook's execution of the plot stays close to the conventions of traditional girls' stories of the time, with themes of friendship and romance, and heroines who maintain a fabulous sense of fashion even in the face of wartime privations. [19]

As demonstrated by the above examples, girls' series books were somewhat ambivalent about women's contributions to the war effort. Series heroines could be selflessly brave one moment and concerned about fashion and boys the next, and they rarely saw the horrors of war up close. This reflected the cultural attitudes towards women’s real-world contributions to the war as well. Although women found many ways to participate in the war effort, Emily Hamilton-Honey notes that "There was continuous tension between what women actually managed to achieve and what their male supervisors (Congressmen, commanders, male physicians, yardmasters, etc.) thought they could or should achieve." [20] Series heroines who took part in the war effort by and large stayed within the confines of acceptable women's characteristics and work. Series heroines did not participate in the breadth of roles that their real-world counterparts did, but their stories provide insight into some of the wartime tensions over women's changing roles in society. As the twentieth century progressed, women's roles at work and at home continued to evolve in both fiction and reality.

[LB]

Ruth Fielding at the War Front; or, The Hunt for the Lost Soldier by Alice B. Emerson{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldingatwa00emer
Ruth Fielding at the War Front; or, The Hunt for the Lost Soldier by Alice B. Emerson
Image courtesy of Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldingatwa00emer

Notes

[1] Emily Hamilton-Honey, Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls' Series Fiction, 1865-1930 (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 135.

[2] Emily Hamilton-Honey, Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls' Series Fiction, 1865-1930 (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 173.

[3] Jennifer White, "The Ruth Fielding Series by Alice B. Emerson," Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys, accessed March 29, 2017, http://www.series-books.com/ruthfielding/ruthfielding.html.

[4] Alice B. Emerson, Ruth Fielding At the War Front; or, The Hunt for the Lost Soldier (New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1918), Chapter IV, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20834.

[5] Carolyn Carpan, Sisters, Schoolgirls, and Sleuths: Girls' Series Books in America (Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), 43.

[6] Carolyn Carpan, Sisters, Schoolgirls, and Sleuths: Girls' Series Books in America (Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), 43.

[7] Jennifer White, "The Outdoor Girls by Laura Lee Hope," Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.series-books.com/outdoorgirls/outdoorgirls.html.

[8] Jennifer White, "The Outdoor Girls #1-8," Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys, accessed May 10, 2017, http://series-books.com/outdoorgirls/outdoor1-8.html.

[9] "During World War I the Young Women's Christian Association established hostess houses at American military camps and employed women as hostesses. The houses were newly constructed, large, and durable buildings, some of which were designed by women architects. They mediated public and private space and helped control interactions between soldiers and their female friends and relatives. As shelters in which the soldiers could buffer the military and find personal comfort, and as places for women to gain experience in managing complex and relatively large institutions, the hostess houses were a significant facet of the home front in World War I." Cynthia Brandimarte, "Women on the Home Front: Hostess Houses during World War I," Winterthur Portfolio 42, no. 4 (2008): 201-222, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/592789.

[10] Jennifer White, "The Outdoor Girls #9-16," Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys, accessed May 10, 2017, http://series-books.com/outdoorgirls/outdoor9-16.html.

[11] Laura Lee Hope, The Outdoor Girls at the Hostess House; or, Doing Their Best for the Soldiers (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1919), Chapter XIX, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14136.

[12] Emily Hamilton-Honey, Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls' Series Fiction, 1865-1930 (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 176.

[13] Jennifer White, "The Outdoor Girls #9-16," Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys, accessed May 10, 2017, http://series-books.com/outdoorgirls/outdoor9-16.html.

[14] "Margaret Vandercook," Wikipedia, last modified May 28, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Vandercook.

[15] Susan R. Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man's Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 196-7.

[16] Margaret Vandercook, The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916), 127-8.

[17] Susan R. Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man's Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 197.

[18] Susan R. Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man's Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 198.

[19] Susan R. Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man's Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 199-200.

[20] Emily Hamilton-Honey, Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls' Series Fiction, 1865-1930 (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 136, emphasis original.

The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line by Margaret Vandercook{'<br/>'}Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:382657
The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line by Margaret Vandercook
Image courtesy of Digital Library@Villanova University, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:382657

Bibliography

Brandimarte, Cynthia. "Women on the Home Front: Hostess Houses during World War I." Winterthur Portfolio 42, no. 4 (2008): 201-222. Accessed May 1, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/592789.

Carpan, Carolyn. Sisters, Schoolgirls, and Sleuths: Girls' Series Books in America. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

Emerson, Alice B. Ruth Fielding At the War Front; or, The Hunt for the Lost Soldier. New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1918. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20834.

Hamilton-Honey, Emily. Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls' Series Fiction, 1865-1930. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013.

Vandercook, Margaret. The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916. https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887

White, Jennifer. Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys. Last modified July 28, 2015. http://www.series-books.com/.

Selected Full Texts

Ruth Fielding Series

Emerson, Alice B. Ruth Fielding in the Red Cross; or, Doing Her Best for Uncle Sam (Ruth Fielding #13). New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1918. https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldinginre00emer

Emerson, Alice B. Ruth Fielding at the War Front; or, The Hunt for the Lost Soldier (Ruth Fielding #14). New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1918. https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldingatwa00emer

Emerson, Alice B. Ruth Fielding Homeward Bound; or, A Red Cross Worker’s Ocean Perils (Ruth Fielding #15). New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1919. https://archive.org/details/ruthfieldinghome00emer

 

The Outdoor Girls Series

Hope, Laura Lee. The Outdoor Girls in Army Service; Or, Doing Their Bit for the Soldier Boys (Outdoor Girls #8). New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1918. https://archive.org/details/outdoorgirlsinar00hope

Hope, Laura Lee. The Outdoor Girls at the Hostess House; Or, Doing Their Best for the Soldiers (Outdoor Girls #9). New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1919. https://archive.org/details/outdoorgirlsatho00hopeiala

Hope, Laura Lee. The Outdoor Girls at Bluff Point; Or a Wreck and a Rescue (Outdoor Girls #10). New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1920. https://archive.org/details/outdoorgirlsatbl00hope

Hope, Laura Lee. The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge; or, the Hermit of Moonlight Falls (Outdoor Girls #11). New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1921. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8211

 

The Red Cross Girls Series

Vandercook, Margaret. The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches (Red Cross Girls #1). Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916. https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:359887

Vandercook, Margaret. The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line (Red Cross Girls #2). Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916. https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:382657

Vandercook, Margaret. The Red Cross Girls in Belgium (Red Cross Girls #3). Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916. https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:376883

Vandercook, Margaret. The Red Cross Girls with the Russian Army (Red Cross Girls #4). Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1916. https://archive.org/details/redcrossgirlswit00vand_0

 

 

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Last Modified: Thursday, June 22nd, 2017