World War 1 and the Roosevelts: Franklin and Eleanor, Family and Friends

One century has passed since the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  In Europe, the war had started in August 1914, millions had already died, and a stalemate prevailed.  Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine attacks taking American lives, and its nefarious attempt to engage Mexico in a war with the U.S., finally compelled President Woodrow Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war to help the Allies, chiefly England and France, defeat the Germans. Wilson declared: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” This vision of moral leadership on the world stage would inform American foreign policy for another 100 years.Of the many commemorative events and exhibits taking place in 2017-2018 about America’s engagement in this terrible conflict, Roosevelt House has a unique perspective on the history of the era. In 1913, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt moved from their home on 65th Street to Washington DC to serve the nation. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin was on the front lines of policy and operations during the war. The lessons he learned about prosecuting and financing a war, and the terrible toll it took in lives, would remain with him the rest of his life and influence his decisions during World War II. Eleanor Roosevelt became a Red Cross volunteer in Washington, inspiring others and acquiring the extraordinary emotional skills she would deploy during World War II and in later human rights work. She visited injured soldiers at the local military hospitals, and sought additional funding to improve their care and assist their families.  In January 1919, she accompanied FDR to Europe and saw the wreckage of the French countryside.  Her experiences there and in Washington led her to support President Wilson’s League of Nations, as did Franklin, and seek new ideas for peace.

In addition, at least twenty members of the extended Roosevelt family were deeply involved with the war, perhaps more than any other American family. Among them were Teddy Roosevelt’s four sons and daughter and son-in-law, Eleanor’s brother, and numerous cousins, aunts, and uncles, nieces and nephews.  The war also drew upon the talents of five past and future presidents, and a number of men who would later serve in the cabinet of future President Roosevelt and advise him during a second world conflagration.  The Great War of 1914-18 reshaped Europe and shaped the man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would later rescue it again from German aggression.

Hosting this exhibition at The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College honored the legacies of Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their former home. It highlighted the important role FDR played as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I and the impact of the war on Eleanor Roosevelt as well as on an extensive network of family, friends, and colleagues. Roosevelt House was grateful for the loan of posters from the Hudson River Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Steven Lomazow Collection. For additional resources that were generously loaned or provided in digital format: the F.D.R. Presidential Library and Steven Lomazow. Items were also drawn from the Roosevelt House collection. The exhibition was curated by Roosevelt House Historian Deborah Gardner and designed by Production Assistant Daniel Culkin. Assistance was also provided by the staff of Roosevelt House and Hunter College and by Gregory Nolan. Digital version of exhibition prepared by Aaron Fineman. And for pivotal assistance: Masha Turchinsky and Laura Vookles of the Hudson River Museum; Whitney W. Donhauser, Lindsay Turley, Emily Chapin, and Matt Heffernan of the Museum of the City of New York; and Bartholomew Bland, Lehman College Art Gallery. Special thanks to the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust for the generous grant that made this exhibition possible.

Section One

Franklin Roosevelt and the Navy

Franklin Roosevelt and the Navy, Wall of Images

U.S. Marine, Be a Sea Soldier Poster I’m Doing My Duty, Are You? Your Navy Needs You This Minute Poster


I’m Doing My Duty, Are You? Your Navy Needs You This Minute, c.1916-18. Clinton Jordan. Printed by the City of Boston Committee on Public Safety. Museum of the City of New York, John Campbell Collection.
U.S. Marine, Be a Sea Soldier, 1917. Clarence F. Underwood (1871-1929). Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

After Clarence Underwood studied at the Art Students League in New York and in Paris, his career flourished as an illustrator for popular magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s, and Harper’s. He was known for romantic scenes and charming women – all quite different from this recruitment poster for the Marines. Founded in 1775, the Marines became part of the U.S. Navy in 1834 and were deployed as needed at sea or on land as an extension of American policy. Both aspects of Marine duties are captured in this image.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt was very proud of the Marines’ achievements in the war. Starting in June 1918, the Allied forces pushed back against the last great German offensive in France. The Marines proved their mettle in the Battle of Belleau Woods, just 30 miles from Paris, where they stopped the enemy from reaching the city. Three weeks of bloody combat reduced the woods to a ravaged landscape, cost 10,000 Marine casualties, and secured the reputation of the Marines as fierce soldiers. Roosevelt wrote that French General Degoute had “issued the order changing the name of Bois de Belleau to Bois de la Brigade de Marine.” Of another engagement, FDR quoted British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour:  “everyone understands that it was the American Second Division with the Brigade of Marines which stopped the rush at Chateau-Thierry.”

Assistant Secretary of the Navy: Before World War I

Picture of FDR on seaplane FDR Portrait picture of FDR walking with a group Picture of FDR bestowing medal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned for Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate in the 1912 election. Wilson won, defeating Republican candidate William Howard Taft and the Progressive Bull Moose candidate – and FDR’s cousin – former president Teddy Roosevelt. Acknowledging this support, Wilson offered Franklin the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He accepted with alacrity, was sworn in March 17, 1913, and quickly joined Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in Washington.  A sailor all his life with a deep respect for the Navy – he had even considered attending the Naval Academy instead of Harvard – it was the perfect post for Franklin and a family legacy as well, Teddy had held that position before him (1897-98).

The Secretary was usually in charge of policy while the Assistant Secretary oversaw shore facilities, the Navy yards, personnel, and the procurement of supplies. Franklin wanted to do both.  He enjoyed inspection trips to various Navy yards, including Boston and Brooklyn, as well to bases in Haiti, Cuba, and Santo Domingo, and loved the ceremonial aspect of Navy life, but he was increasingly concerned with the larger issue of preparedness. When the war started in Europe in August 1914, he advocated for a larger Navy which meant more battleships and more sailors to protect American interests, along the country’s coastlines and in the Atlantic in the face of German submarine attacks.

Like his cousin Teddy, Franklin was influenced by the writing of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan who argued that a strong Navy was critical in protecting economic and political interests, and in preserving international leadership. It was a tough argument to make in the face of President Wilson’s adherence to neutrality. But with increasing German destruction of Allied shipping, there was more support for strengthening the Navy, as Franklin and Secretary Daniels argued. This position was eventually accepted by Wilson. In late August 1916, the president signed legislation to fund $600 million in new construction over three years, for ten battleships, six battle cruisers, 50 destroyers, and 67 submarines. It was an ambitious plan but quickly modified to focus first on destroyers – to protect convoys of supplies and troops – and antisubmarine craft. The U.S. was preparing for war as public opinion slowly began to keep pace the investment in military preparedness.

Secretary of the Navy: Josephus Daniels (1862-1948)

Picture of FDR and Josephus Daniels on balcony

After college and law school in his native state of North Carolina, Daniels became a journalist, editor, publisher, and longtime owner of the RaleighNews & Observer. He was active in the state’s Democratic Party, helping to strengthen it against the Republicans by diminishing African-American voting rights, a tactic he would later regret. He supported the election of Woodrow Wilson and was appointed Secretary of the Navy although he had no experience in the field. His strength was managing relations with Congress, especially when it came to funding for the Navy. Working together to provide the Navy with more personnel and more ships, and manage it effectively during World War I, Daniels and Assistant Secretary Roosevelt, became good partners and friends. Together they oversaw an enormous expansion as Daniels reported just after the Armistice in November 1918:

On the day war was declared 197 ships were in commission.  Today there are 2,003.  On July 1, 1917, naval aviation was still in its infancy.  At that time there were only 45 naval aviators.  On July 1, 1918, there were 823 naval aviators, approximately 2,052 student officers, and 400 ground officers attached to naval aviation.  In addition, there were more than 7,300 trained mechanics, and more than 5,400 mechanics in training,… a total of all personnel at this time was about 30,000.  On the day war was declared the enlistment and enrolment of the navy numbered 65,777 men.  On the day Germany signed the armistice it had increased to 497,030 men and women, for it became necessary to enroll capable and patriotic women as yeomen to meet the sudden expansion and enlarged duties imposed by war conditions.

After the war Daniels returned to his post as editor and when FDR ran for president in 1932, Daniels supported him. In turn, FDR appointed Daniels as Ambassador to Mexico (1933-41) where he worked to improve relations with that country. In April 1945, Daniels rode on FDR’s funeral train to Hyde Park and then back to Washington with Eleanor Roosevelt and President Truman. By the time he died in 1948, Daniels had written eight books about the war, the Navy, Woodrow Wilson, and his own career in journalism.

World War I Poster Art

The posters on display were part of a vast propaganda operation to support the war once the United States joined the conflict. President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information and appointed George Creel, a journalist who had worked for Wilson’s re-election campaign in 1916, to lead it. The Committee’s offices were in Manhattan, the center of the American art community. It worked with other art organizations like the Society of Illustrators to organize the Division of Pictorial Publicity within Creel’s group. Several hundred artists volunteered their time and talent to create striking images for a host of topics, including recruitment, fundraising, food conservation, making munitions, building ships, volunteer work, refugee aid, vigilance for enemy activities, and the protection of liberty. One of the Committee’s most important activities was helping the U.S. Treasury Department raise funds to pay for the war through the Liberty Loan campaigns.  The message of posters and every form of advertising material equated patriotism with the purchase of war bonds and war stamps. Artists also assisted Red Cross fundraising with posters of emotionally-charged images that highlighted the organization’s services for the troops. Many millions of posters were distributed, helping to win the war and boost morale, and saturating the nation with messages and memorable images that would be remembered for decades. There is no doubt that the nation benefitted from the efforts of artists who were part of a “golden age of illustration.”

Section Two

Franklin Roosevelt and the Navy at War

Franklin Roosevelt and the Navy at War Wall of Images

Enlist in the Navy Poster


Enlist in the Navy. Follow the Boys in Blue for Home and Country, c.1916-18 George Hand Wright (1872-1951) Museum of the City of New York, John Campbell Collection.

Ge5orge Hand Wright learned lithography and then studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts alongside John Sloan and William Glackens. Moving to New York, he found success as an illustrator for popular magazines of the era like Scribner’s, Collier’s, and The Saturday Evening Post.  His and other artists’ storytelling skills as illustrators translated well to designing for the war. In this recruitment poster for the U.S. Navy Publicity Bureau, men from different social classes line up to get their Navy uniforms and board a waiting battleship. Conscription, and volunteers inspired by the wave of patriotism that swept through the country, ensured that Americans from all walks of life were represented in the nation’s military.

Your Country Needs You, PosterI Want You for U.S. Army, Poster

Your Country Needs You, 1914. British war recruitment poster;
I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917 James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). Steven Lomazow Collection.

James Montgomery Flagg trained at the Art Students League in New York and in London and Paris. His career took off immediately and he received commissions from all the major American magazines, as well as producing art for books, posters, and advertisements.  His portrait work ranged from pin-up to serious paintings, and he was also known for the image of a modern American girl like his colleagues Charles Dana Gibson and Howard Christy Chandler.  But his most famous image was Uncle Sam, for which he aged his own face. It was possibly the most famous of all the World War I posters. Reproduced with millions of copies it was familiar to every American. The pose was based on a 1914 British war recruitment poster of Lord Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War in 1914.

Recruitment and Training

Plattsburg Poster Riflemen Training


April 6, 1917: U.S. declares war on Germany and its allies.
May 18, 1917: President Wilson signs Selective Service Act for wartime conscription. All men ages 21 to 30 were required to register; later the age went up to 45.
June 5, 1917: First national draft registration day.
June 1917: First American troops arrive in France.
October 21, 1917: First American troops go to the French front.
November 2, 1917: First American troops injured in combat.
November 11, 1918: Armistice.
November 11, 1921: Unknown Soldier buried at Arlington Cemetery.


In advance of the war, numerous men from professional and upper class families received military training at summer camps starting in 1913. The Plattsburg Training Camp, set up in 1915 in northern New York, gave its name to this element of the preparedness movement. Its first session included Roosevelts and the mayor of New York City, John Purroy Mitchel. When the war started these trainees went right into the officer corps after completing specialized command training. Additional training programs were set up on more than 150 college campuses, predecessors to the ROTC. Although men from all walks of life volunteered or were drafted, elite colleges were well represented among the leadership. More than 11,000 men from Harvard and 9,500 men from Yale served, including many of the Roosevelts featured in this exhibit.

It’s extraordinary how fast the U.S. ramped up its training. The Army had 100 pilots when the war started; by the end, it had 11,000 though a severe shortage of planes meant that only about 10 per cent actually flew pursuit, observation, or bombing missions. In 1917, the Army had 127,000 soldiers with an additional 181,000 in the National Guard. By the end of the war there were four million soldiers. The army had built more than 30 training camps to prepare them. The Navy had increased its personnel to more than 500,000 men.

General John J. General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, insisted that Americans get enough training in the U.S. before being shipped overseas or assigned to the battlefront; these delays were not received well by the British and French commanders who were desperate for additional manpower; a million French soldiers had died by April 1917. Training courses in technique and command continued in France during the course of the war and are also reflected in the Roosevelts’ experience.


American military were transported to Europe on battleships and former ocean liners – many leaving from New York harbor – that could hold up to 10,000 men.  By the end of the war, two million had made it to Europe of which one million were at the front; another two million were awaiting travel orders.  Once the war was over, it could take months to return to the states. Future president Harry Truman, for example, did not make it back to Missouri until May 1919.

African Americans in the War

African American Troops

All the American military services were segregated.  Commanded by white officers, 370,000 African-American military men were inducted, of whom 200,000 went abroad. Largely restricted to physical labor in the camps or on the docks, there were some exceptions.  African-American staffed bands were popular with both American and French troops. Two African-American divisions saw combat. The 93rd Division served under the French and was treated with respect, with none of the racism endemic among American forces. The 93rd’s 369th Infantry Regiment from New York, nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was known for its fighting prowess. Two of its members were the first African-Americans, of 171, to receive the French Croix de Guerre.  Emmett J. Scott (1873-1957), who had worked closely with Booker T. Washington, was a Special Assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker during the war, overseeing the recruitment, training, and treatment of African-American soldiers.  Many African Americans believed that the fight for democracy proclaimed by President Wilson would soon apply to them in the U.S., a sentiment aptly expressed by W.E.B. DuBois in May 1919 in The Crisis, the NAACP journal: “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.” That turned out to be a false hope. Although African-Americans soldiers fared somewhat better in World War II, the armed forces were not desegregated until July 26, 1948 by President Truman’s executive order.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt: Joining The War in Europe, 1917-18

FDR standing on RR car

FDR Inspection Railcar

FDR's Passport

The test for the Navy was how fast it could get the manpower it needed. From 79,000 officers and sailors as the war started, within a month enlistments and reservists totaled 111,000 and by the end of the war there were 520,000 men in the service. And for the first time, there were women in the Navy as nurses and yeomen who served in offices and nonmedical roles in hospitals. They worked as radio operators, truck drivers, stenographers, messengers, chauffeurs, mechanics, telephone operators, cryptographers, and munitions makers. The loophole that allowed 20,000 women into the Navy reserve closed after the war until the nation needed them again in another world war.

The British deployed small fishing boats, yachts, and American-made motor launches for antisubmarine work, and found them quite effective in coastal areas. FDR became an advocate for such boats, conferring with naval officers and shipbuilders, and just before the U.S. entered the war the Navy contracted with a leading yacht-building firm for 355 sub-chasers, wood-hulled and 110 feet long, armed with machine guns and depth charges. Some were even built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Fast construction meant that by September 1917, over 100 were in European waters. They not only captured the popular imagination, but won over Navy skeptics who thought they would not be effective; the French and British were happy to get these nimble boats to protect their coastlines.

In policy discussions soon after the U.S. went to war, FDR supported the British Navy’s request that many more American destroyers be deployed to British waters. Slowly but surely the numbers increased. Destroyers safeguarded convoys of troop transports and supplies against German submarine attacks in the Atlantic Ocean until they met up with British destroyers which brought them safely through the channel waters near England and France. But German subs did slip through on occasion to attack in those areas. FDR led the fight to create a mine barrage from Scottish shores to Norwegian waters in the North Sea to prevent German ships and submarines from getting out; tens of thousands of mines were deployed before the end of the war which cut down on attacks.

FDR oversaw the management of all aspects of mobilization, including transporting American military personnel and supplies to Europe.  He had so effectively cornered the market in supplies for the Navy that at the beginning of the war he had to give up some to the Army. He was a supporter of “Eyes for the Navy” to collect telescopes and binoculars from civilians for use by the Navy.  And he also encouraged owners of yachts, many of whom he knew from the New York Yacht Club, to lease them (for $1.00 a month) or sell them to the Navy where they were refitted for coastal defense in the U.S. and abroad.

Most of all, Franklin wanted to be in uniform but President Wilson and Secretary Daniels had turned down his requests, finding his work too valuable in Washington.  Finally, in June 1918, he was sent to Europe to report on the operations and status of naval bases, ships, and aviation, contracts and assets, and to foster coordination with the other military services. He would meet with military and civilian officials in England, France, and Italy, and would report on naval activities in the North Sea, the English Channel, the ports in England, Belgium, and France, and would travel to the front lines. Franklin negotiated an agreement that once he completed this trip, he would be allowed to return to Europe with the rank of lieutenant-commander attached to the naval railway battery commanded by Admiral Charles Plunkett.

FDR in England, 1918

FDR sailed from Brooklyn on the newly commissioned destroyer U.S.S. Dyer in convoy with camouflaged troop transports on July 9, 1918. After a stop in the Azores, the convoy approached southern England “running at 25 knots and zigzagging as this is a favorite spot for submarines.” They landed safely on July 21 at Portsmouth where FDR visited the dockyard, “one of the largest and oldest in England,” before traveling up to London. During the next week, he met with government and military leaders, went to Wales and Ireland, and then to British ports and shipyards to inspect American ships and services, reporting that “cooperation between the two forces is complete.” Back in the London area he attended more meetings, saw old friends, and visited the Astor estate, Cliveden, which now housed a hospital and cemetery. He also spoke with the top British leaders, Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour.

Especially moving for FDR was his conversation with King George V, who had served in the British Navy before ascending to the throne; a year earlier he had changed the family name from the Germanic House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor. Roosevelt reported: “He told me a lot about the atrocities in Belgium and northern France-many examples which had been proved true but which were too horrible to be placed even in the French official report or the report of Lord Bryce…. The King said he hoped that this at least would persuade the American people that the stories of outrageous destruction were true, and I agreed with him that there had been a singular unwillingness in the United States to accept even the official reports of England and France.”

Franklin was impressed by Britain’s commitment to the ongoing offensive battle against the Germans:  “What has pleased me more than anything else is the apparent determination of the British Cabinet to go through with the war to a definitely successful end. The last month has I think clearly marked the turning point of the war. June marked the high tide of the German advance, although the Channel Ports may still be considered in danger. The latest German offensive along the Marne and in the Chateau-Thierry salient has been not only broken up but during the past ten days has developed into what is apparently a definite retirement to the original lines.”  He was particularly pleased with recognition of the U.S. role in the war: “For the first time people realize that the American troops are to be the deciding factor.”

FDR in France, 1918

Damaged Building picture of FDR

Roosevelt traveled to France in early August. After conversations in Paris, he was driven around the French countryside from town to town where troops were billeted and he described at length the damage from the German assaults. In Amiens, he surveyed the bomb damage: “The fine old church did not seem to have received a direct hit, but the stained glass is at least half demolished and the statues and carvings of the façade have been badly chipped by fragments.”

Franklin went to Dunkirk to review Navy coastal responsibilities for patrolling, mine laying, escorting, and bombardment of land positions. He was gratified to hear that the mine fields he had advocated had cut down on German submarine activity. Because it was an important naval base, Dunkirk had been heavily bombed, almost every night, and both the civilian and military population had been forced into bomb shelters. He noted “It is not so much the buildings that have been completely demolished as the fact that every single house in the place has been damaged to some degree… I did not see one pane of glass in the town, and almost every house-front is pock-marked by fragments of shell.”

Franklin described the terrible impact of German night bombers, with their huge 800-1200lb. bombs: “I saw a spot where one had landed in the middle of a street – about six houses on each side of the street were completely wrecked by it and many people killed. The old type would probably have done little more than blow in the windows, with possibly no loss of life.” But he looked forward to the new Navy bombers (Italian Caproni planes) which could carry 1750 lb. bombs for military objectives.

Franklin insisted on traveling as close to the front as possible where he found the roads busy with military activity and refugees returning home as Germans were pushed back: “All this movement has to do with the offensive on the Chateau-Thierry front which began just thirteen days ago and which has been so far such a wonderful success.” Out from Chateau-Thierry he saw the remains of German gun emplacements, barbed wire, ammunition dumps, and the dead. He could hear the German guns and see their observation balloons, and noted their destruction of railroad bridges and tracks, and how they had bombed clearly marked hospitals, a violation of wartime protocols. The Germans had violated numerous protocols, using dirigibles (zeppelins) to bomb civilians in England as a terror tactic.  In almost every way, from a precisely planned timetable of invasion through neutral Belgium to the gates of Paris, to the use of torture and concentration camps, World War I was Germany’s rehearsal for World War II.

Roosevelt’s descriptions of the French countryside are vivid and detailed: “On the ridge to the left lay a wrecked village, four times shelled-first by the advancing Boche; then by the retreating French; next by the advancing Americans of the Second Division, and finally by the retreating Boche. This was complete destruction, only detached walls remained-complete reconstruction will be necessary.”

FDR Returns to America and the War Ends

USS Leviathan in wartime camouflage

Before Franklin he returned to the U.S., he wrote to Eleanor: “Somehow I don’t believe I shall be long in Washington. The more I think of it the more I feel that being only 36 my place is not a Washington desk, even a Navy desk. I know you will understand.” But that was not to be. FDR sailed home on the U.S.S. Leviathan in mid-September and arrived in New York extremely ill with double pneumonia.  Eleanor, Sara, and the family doctor met him at the ship and brought him to this home on 65th Street to recuperate. It was a month before he was well enough to travel back to Washington in mid-October and just as he was preparing to resign and return to France as an officer, negotiations started with Germany to end the war. The Armistice took effect on November 11, 1917 at 11:00am.

The casualty count for the war was enormous, estimated at more than 40 million dead or injured by weapons of war, famine, or disease. Of U.S. forces, approximately 116,000 died and 323,000 were injured. The new weapons of war had inflicted terrible damage. Machine guns, long-range artillery, tanks, flamethrowers, aerial bombs, and poison gas, as well as submarines, had killed military and civilian alike.

W. Sheffield Cowles (1898-1986)

William Sheffield “Shef” Cowles was the son of Anna “Bamie” Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s sister, and rear Admiral William Sheffield Cowles. He was a first cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sheffield had attended the Groton School with his cousin Quentin Roosevelt and when war came dropped out of Yale to sign up with the Marines. He went to the Officers’ Training School at Quantico, Virginia, in 1918 and graduated as a Second Lieutenant in the 13th Marine Division, AEF, sailing to Europe in September 1918.

Sheffield returned to Yale in 1919 and graduated in 1921. He worked in investment and banking until World War II when he went back into the Navy on Admiral William Halsey’s staff in the South Pacific as an operations officer. He later served in Washington on the staff of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, finishing the war with the rank of Captain.

Sheffield was serving on the cruiser George Washington in February 1919, returning from the Versailles Peace Conference and carrying President and Mrs. Wilson and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.  During that voyage FDR confided in Sheffield that he, Franklin, should have resigned from his Navy Department post to be an officer on a destroyer believing strongly that “it would have been much better” for his future.  As it turned out, his lack of military service had no effect on his future and his service as Assistant Secretary would prove invaluable in another war.

Section Three

Roosevelt Family in the War

Roosevelt Family In The War, Wall of Images

That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth:Buy Liberty Bonds Poster


That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth/Buy Liberty Bonds, 1918, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY, gift of Mrs. Ernest Weidhaas.

Joseph Pennell studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins, developed a proficiency in etching and lithography, and obtained numerous commissions to illustrate books and articles, specializing in architectural and urban scenes. In 1884 he moved to London with his wife where they became friends with such leading art and literary figures as James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and George Bernard Shaw, and where Pennell continued his prolific production of prints. The Pennells returned to the U.S. in 1917 and he joined the Committee on Public Information and its Pictorial Division which was charged with producing posters and other visual materials for the war effort.  Pennell chose the Statue of Liberty, the quintessential symbol of American freedom, in this poster for the Fourth Liberty Bond campaign which was launched in late September 1918 with a goal of raising $6.9 billion to fund the war.  The powerful image, which was widely reprinted, depicts New York harbor under attack, suggesting that purchasing bonds would safeguard the country from the Germans. The title refers to another wartime document, the Gettysburg Address of 1863, in which President Abraham Lincoln vowed “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The Roosevelt Family in the War

The Roosevelt family as a whole, has never been backward when adventure called, or when patriotism led them to danger zones.
— Eleanor Roosevelt, 1944

While Franklin Delano Roosevelt held official responsibility as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Eleanor Roosevelt became a civilian role model for thousands of women with her Red Cross work, other members of the family involved themselves with the war. They came from both sides of the immediate family, the so-called Long Island, Sagamore Hill Republicans whose patriarch was former President Teddy Roosevelt, and from the Hudson River branch of Democrats led by Franklin and including the family of his mother Sara Delano Roosevelt.  And they came from distant branches of the extended family, too, among eight generations of descendants whose forebears emigrated from Holland, including Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt who arrived in New Netherland in the 1640s and Philippe de Lannoy (Delano) arriving in Massachusetts in 1621. Of varying degrees of kinship – sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, husbands and wives – many participated, inspired by a patriotism that surpassed party allegiance. They served in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Corps, they fought on the land, the sea, and in the air, they tended to the sick, and they were administrators, organizers, and trainers. They also worked with volunteer organizations at home and abroad to raise money and to provide aid and assistance to soldiers on their way to the battlefields or to hungry war refugees in Europe. Every Roosevelt profiled here allows us to explore another facet of the war.

Many other American families had more than one member fighting or helping or dying. With four million men at arms, one can estimate that 40 million people, or about 40% of the U.S. population, had a personal and close connection with the war, while the rest of the population became engaged in the mass mobilization to support the war effort.  Thus the Roosevelts were representative in numerous ways of all American families. And like them, after the war they resumed their lives, going back to work, raising families, and relishing the peace.  When a few decades later America entered World War II, the same surge of patriotism enveloped the nation. A number of Roosevelts who had served in World War I, Republican and Democrat alike, were appointed to government positions by now President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or went to fight abroad. This time they were joined by FDR’s four sons – James, Franklin Jr, Elliott, and John – much as Teddy Roosevelt’s four sons had enlisted in World War I.

Theodore Roosevelt, Proud Father

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), former Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1897-1898) and 26th President of the United States (1901-09), was a longtime proponent of a strong Navy. He was a devotee of the theories of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan whose 1890 book, The Influence of Sea Power on History, influenced a generation of leaders in the United States and abroad.  Mahan’s argument that a strong Navy protected commerce during peacetime, defended national interest during war, assisted diplomacy, and made the country a leading power, resonated with Roosevelt who had himself published a well-regarded study of sea power, The Naval War of 1812.

While Assistant Secretary of the Navy, TR advocated building more battleships and triggered war with Spain after the U.S.S.Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. Roosevelt resigned as Secretary, and organized (with Army Colonel Leonard Wood), the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, which quickly became known as the “Rough Riders.” It was one of a number of such units which were integrated with the regular Army for the Spanish-American War. Drawing on his earlier training in the New York National Guard, Roosevelt attracted a diverse group of men to fight in Cuba, earning his reputation for bravery in the Battle of Kettle Hill. He was known as Colonel Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

When Roosevelt became president, he increased the size of the U.S. Navy and built enough ships to make it second only to the British Navy. He sent the fleet on an around-the-world trip (1908-09) to showcase American power.  When World War I began in Europe, he became a forceful voice for American preparedness in all its military services. He criticized the neutrality policy of President Wilson in the face of the German invasion of Belgium and its brutal treatment of the population, as well as its submarine attacks on civilian shipping. When the U.S. entered the war, Roosevelt received Congressional permission to raise volunteer divisions but President Wilson rejected his plans. Wilson announced that he would rely on a draft to enroll soldiers under General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force. After this rebuff, TR wrote bitterly to his youngest son Quentin: “In this war it is very hard for those who go into the dangerous places; but it is even harder for those who are not allowed to go.”

Roosevelt’s four sons and his son-in-law, Richard Derby, enlisted. He was enormously proud of their military service and wrote Derby on January 1, 1918:  “It may not be a very happy new year for any of us or for the world at large; but come what may you five boys can feel that when the mighty days came, you were equal to them, that you have proved your truth by your endeavor, that you instantly and fearlessly dared to meet the supreme test in the supreme spirit. Already your children are sure of their heritage of honor.” When Quentin, an aviator, downed his first German plane, TR was thrilled.  After learning of his death on July 14, he tried to console himself with its larger meaning, writing to his son Kermit: “Quentin’s death has had a most extraor-dinary effect on this nation; it has served as text for the newspapers in literally every part of the land; it seemed to visualize the war whereas before it had seemed misty or unreal. The gallant boy has taken his place with young Shaw and young Lowell of the Civil War.” But Roosevelt was devastated by his loss, as he wrote to daughter Ethel: “There is no use making believe that his death is other than a terrible and irretrievable calamity; nothing atones for it.” Teddy Roosevelt died six months later at age 60, the death of his youngest son too hard a burden for a heart weakened by disease, an arduous trip to the Amazon a few years earlier, and a lifetime of strenuous activity and strong emotions.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr (1887-1944)

Major Major Theodore Roosevelt Jr

Theodore Roosevelt Jr was the oldest of Teddy Roosevelt’s four sons with his second wife, Edith Carow Roosevelt, and was Eleanor Roosevelt’s first cousin. Theodore Jr, known as “Twee,” graduated from Harvard in 1909, went into business, and as a Major in the Infantry Officers Reserve Corps was called up in May 1917 and sent to the officers’ training camp in Plattsburg, NY; he and his younger brothers Archibald and Quentin had previously attended a summer training camp there as well. Theodore went to France in June 1917 and was assigned to the First Battalion, 26thInfantry, First Division. He saw action in several major engagements, including Cantigny, Noyon-Montdidier, Marne-Aisne, and Meuse-Argonne.  He evaded injury until he was gassed and wounded twice – with permanent damage to his leg – in the spring and summer of 1918, after which he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and then, commanding officer of the 26th Infantry. Ted was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion d’Honneur, and the Croix de Guerre. These recognized his successful leadership of his troops, even after being gassed, against German counter-attacks and the offensive raids they made while under German fire. After the Armistice, he was with the Army of Occupation in Germany until March 1919 when he returned to the U.S. and was discharged. He became a Colonel of the Infantry in the Officers’ Reserve Corps.

After the war Ted was a founder of the American Legion and became the third Roosevelt, after his father and distant cousin Franklin, to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1921-24), appointed by President Harding. President Hoover made him Governor of Puerto Rico (1929-32) and then briefly Governor-General of the Philippines (1932-33). In April 1941, Ted  returned to active duty as Colonel, commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment, and was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1942 he led his troops in North Africa and then in the campaign to retake Italy from the Axis forces. He was known for visiting the front lines even before he led his troops – the 8th Infantry Regiment and 70thTank Battalion – onto Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was the only general that day to land by sea and direct the fighting. His own son, Quentin Roosevelt II, landed on Omaha Beach the same day.

Theodore Jr died of a heart attack at age 56 on July 12, 1944 in Normandy and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership on D-Day with the citation noting:

His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops…he moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy, … and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

In Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper column of July 15, 1944, she reflected on Theodore’s service and that of his brothers Archibald and Kermit:

We were all saddened this morning to hear of the death of Brigadier-General Theodore Roosevelt. When he was young and went into the last war, his father told me that of all his sons, Ted was the one to whom soldiering seemed to be the real fulfillment of an inner desire. As a civilian, I think General Theodore Roosevelt has always felt that his greatest interest lay in military affairs.

It is a loss to our fighting forces for him to be taken at this time, and to his mother, his wife, and his children, it is a sad blow. And yet even they, I am sure, feel grateful that he was able to render this service to his country. I think he would prefer to leave this world in just such sudden fashion, having done a hard day’s work, and knowing that the tide of victory was turning for the Allies.

It is interesting to note that in this family, three members of the older generation who fought in the last war, have taken full part in this war. Kermit Roosevelt died, also on duty, in Alaska, and Archie, when I was in Australia, had already been in heavy fighting in New Guinea, and his men had named a ridge after him.

The kind of fighting which is done today takes young men, but some older ones seem to take a pretty active part in it, and the Roosevelt family as a whole, has never been backward when adventure called, or when patriotism led them to danger zones.

Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943)

It is dreadful to have to go abroad in this war; but it is even worse to stay here…. I entirely understand and realize how frightful it would be if you had not been able to go. And I am more proud of all of you than I can well express.

— Theodore Roosevelt Sr. to Kermit, 1917

Pencil drawing of Kermit Roosevelt

Kermit, the second son of Theodore Roosevelt, graduated from Harvard in 1912 after interrupting his studies to take a year-long trip to Africa and Europe with his father.  He escorted him again in 1913-14 on a scientific expedition to explore the River of Doubt in the Amazon Basin of Brazil which almost led to the death of the former president, saved only by the determination and skill of his son. Undaunted, Kermit returned to South America and worked in banking for two years in Buenos Aires.

As soon as the Great War started, Kermit returned to the U.S. and attended the Plattsburg Training Camp in the spring of 1917 but impatient to see action he became a captain in the British Army in Mesopotamia (Iraq) where he served from July 1917 to May 1918. His activities there would result in the award of a Military Cross. Kermit transferred to the U.S. Army in France in May 1918. By August he was a Captain commanding Battery C, 7th Artillery, First Division and was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Never wounded, he returned to the U.S. in March 1919, was discharged, and wrote a book about his experience in the Mideast, War in the Garden of Eden.

After the war Kermit went into the shipping business, accompanied his brother Ted (Theodore Jr) on a number of expeditions around the world, and wrote several books.  In 1939, after World War II began, he rejoined the British Army as a major and saw action in Norway and North Africa. He returned to the U.S. in 1940 with health problems. After recovering, President Roosevelt, his cousin, with whom he had always been on good terms, secured him a commission as a major in July 1942. Kermit was assigned to Fort Richardson in Alaska where he worked in intelligence and with Native groups. He died on June 4, 1943 and was buried in the Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage.

Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt (1894-1979)

Photo of Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt with cane

Archibald, the third son of Teddy Roosevelt, graduated from Harvard in May 1917 just in time to return to the Plattsburg Training Camp that he had attended two years earlier with his brothers TR Jr. and Quentin, and emerged as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry Officers Reserve Corps.  He was promoted to First Lieutenant in August, assigned to 16thInfantry, First Division, and with Ted Jr was on the first troop transport sent to France. He was promoted to Captain, 26thInfantry and wounded severely in March 1918 with a broken arm and shattered kneecap. He  returned to the U.S. as a Captain in September 1918, and was discharged with a full disability in February. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Silver Star for his activities in the Ansauville sector in France.

After the war, Archie went into the oil business, then joined Roosevelt & Son, an investment bank firm.  When America entered World War II, President Roosevelt (his cousin) approved his request to rejoin the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Regimental Combat Team. Archie fought in New Guinea for two years with Australian troops and his leg was wounded again in August 1943. He returned to action in 1944 and received several additional medals for his service, including the Purple Heart. After the war, Archie returned to the investment business and in the early 1950s became active in conservative political groups. He survived all his siblings except his half-sister Alice who outlived him by a few months.

Quentin Roosevelt (1897-1918)

There’s one good thing about going to the front. I shall be so busy worrying about the safety of my own neck that I shan’t have time to worry about the way the war is going. …I owe it to the family – to father, and especially to Arch and Ted, who are out there already and facing the dangers of it. 

— Quentin to his mother, Edith Roosevelt, January 1918

Photo of Quentin Roosevelt (standing)Quentin was the youngest, and only one of Teddy Roosevelt’s sons to die in combat in World War I. He had attended a summer Plattsburg Training Camp with two of his brothers. Enthralled with airplanes since childhood, he left Harvard as a sophomore to join the Canadian Aviation Corps and then, three months after the U.S. entered the war, enlisted as a Private First Class in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. He trained at a Long Island air field (later named Roosevelt Field in his honor) and then was promoted to First Lieutenant and sailed to France late July 1917. He was first assigned to headquarters of the Air Service in Paris, and then detailed to the Third Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun to train pilots. To improve his skills he attended the Aerial Gunnery School at Cazaux in February, continued work as an instructor, and was assigned in June to set up a training base as a supply officer for the 95th Aero Squadron, First Pursuit Group. On Bastille Day, July 14, 1918, he was part of an aerial engagement, flying out of his base near Chateau-Thierry at the start of the Second Battle of the Marne – the drive by the Germans to break the stalemate and advance. Quentin’s group was on patrol and encountered a German formation out to strafe Allied troops in trenches and marching on the roads. The groups engaged in a dogfight and Quentin was shot down behind enemy lines and buried with full honors by the Germans who regarded him as “a gallant opponent.”

For American aviators, it was often an unequal fight as the Germans had more and better planes, the Fokkers, and more experienced aviators; the American pilots countered with reckless tactics which pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, credited with the most air kills in the war, characterized as “Indian warfare” to break up the German formations.  Rickenbacker wrote of Quentin:

He was reckless to such a degree that his commanding officers need to caution him repeatedly… His bravery was so notorious that we all knew he would either achieve some great spectacular success or be killed in the attempt… But Quentin would merely laugh away all serious advice. His very next flight over enemy lines would involve him in a fresh predicament from which pure luck on more than a few occasions extricated him.

Surviving a direct hit was unlikely in these fragile machines. Indeed, while Congress had authorized funding for 5,000 American-built planes, few had been built and General Pershing purchased French machines, the Nieuport 18. Quentin had praised them in a letter home in December 1917:

These little fast machines are delightful. You feel so at home in them, for there is just room in the cockpit for you and your controls, and not an inch more. And they’re so quick to act.  It’s not like piloting a lumbering Curtiss, for you could do two loops in a Nieuport in the time it takes a Curtiss to do one.

After the war, Quentin’s burial site near the village of Chaumery became a pilgrimage site for Americans. (His body was moved after World War II to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer to lie next to his oldest brother Theodore Jr. who had died a month after leading his troops on D-Day.) His father learned officially of his son’s death on July 17. General Pershing wrote to him: “Quentin died as he lived and served, nobly and unselfishly; in the full strength and vigor of his youth, fighting the enemy in clean combat. You may well be proud of your gift to the nation in his supreme sacrifice.” The former president grieved the loss of his youngest, writing to a friend, “Since Quentin’s death, the world seems to have shut down upon me.”  Already in poor health, many believe that this tragedy hastened Theodore Roosevelt’s demise six months later.

Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby (1891-1977) and Richard Derby (1881-1963)

I am very proud of you both… that two of my family should have worthily met the call of high privilege to do their part in this great world tragedy…in helping those who suffer in this terrible cataclysm.

— Theodore Roosevelt, 1914

Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby and Richard Derby

Born at Sagamore Hill, Ethel was the middle child of Theodore Roosevelt’s second marriage to Edith Carow, with two older brothers (Theodore Jr and Kermit) and two younger brothers (Archibald and Quentin), all of whom would fight in World War I. Her half-sister was Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her first cousin was Eleanor Roosevelt.

Richard (Dick) Derby had attended Groton and Harvard, a year ahead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then Columbia University Medical School.  He was introduced to Ethel by her brother Kermit and they married in 1913.

A month after the war broke out in August 1914, Ethel and Dick went to Paris to work in the American Ambulance Hospital, she assisting the  nurses who were shorthanded and he as a surgeon. Ethel found the patients, mostly English soldiers, “wonderfully brave” in face of “appalling wounds… Nearly everything is infected.” She wrote to her mother of the ongoing slaughter, “I cannot believe that men should do such things to each other.”

They returned to the states by Christmas. In the spring of 1915 Richard attended the first volunteer military training camp at Plattsburg, New York, like many other members of the extended Roosevelt family, to prepare for fighting. Once the U.S. entered the war he was called up to an Army training camp and then in October 1917 sent to France as a Major in the Medical Corps, later becoming a Regimental Surgeon. He saw Archie when he was injured, checked Ted when he was gassed, and missed his own calamity when “a large shell exploded so near to me that I felt the hot waft of air and was toppled over.” He was with his brothers when they received confirmation of Quentin’s death, “when we all needed one another’s company and moral support so much.” Ethel took the news of Quentin’s death badly writing to her husband, “Until I heard he was actually buried I could not believe he was dead.” Five months later her father would die, on January 6, 1919, and she wrote to Dick who was still in France, “The whole country mourns him and I mourn for the country. There’s no one now to say what we want said.”

Gracie Hall Roosevelt (1891-1941)

Gracie Hall Roosevelt

Gracie Hall Roosevelt was Eleanor Roosevelt’s younger brother; she had looked after him following the 1894 death of their widowed father Elliott Roosevelt (Theodore Roosevelt’s brother). Once Eleanor married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, their home was where “Hall” stayed when not away at prep school or college.  After graduating from Harvard with a BA (1913) and M.E.E. (1914), he worked as an electrical engineer for General Electric Company in Schenectady. When the U.S. entered the war, Hall was exempt from service (except in aviation) because he worked in a war industry but he wanted to join up even though he was married with two children. He and his first cousin Quentin Roosevelt both enlisted on  July 14, 1917 in the Army Air Corps (a.k.a. Aviation Sector of the Signal Corps), Hall as a Private First Class. Eleanor later wrote:

I think both Hall and Quentin must have memorized the card for the eye test because neither of them had eyes which would allow them to pass the test otherwise. They were both brilliant, and a little thing like remembering all the letters on the card meant nothing to either of them.

Hall was sent to the School of Military Aeronautics at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, became an able pilot, and was assigned to Gerstner Field in Lake Charles, Louisiana in late 1917. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Service, his skills were so valued as a trainer that he taught aerial pursuit to hundreds of other pilots from May 1918 to the end of the war at Dover and Carlstrom Fields in Florida.  During his service he desperately wanted to go overseas but neither his Uncle Teddy nor Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin were able to effect this change in orders. Eleanor recalled in her memoirs:

In spite of the fact that we pointed out to him that he took his life in his hands more frequently in instructing novices than he would at the front, he was never satisfied. I think he has always felt that if some of us had just tried a little harder we could have put him on a transport and given him his heart’s desire.

After discharge in January 1919, Hall worked for GE, then for the Detroit municipal government, and as a consulting engineer. Ill health led to his retirement and then death on September 25, 1941 with Eleanor by his bedside, just over two weeks after the death of Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother. A private funeral service was held at the White House before his body was taken to a family gravesite in Tivoli, New York. Both Franklin and Eleanor attended the funeral. Afterwards Eleanor remembered her brother in one of her newspaper columns:

He loved life, he could enjoy things more than almost anyone I have ever known. He had fine qualities, generosity, a warmth of heart which brought him an endless number of friends, courage, which amounted almost to foolhardiness, a brilliant mind, and a capacity for work which, in his younger days, made him able to perform prodigious tasks, both physically and mentally. He was capable of great loyalty to the people for whom he really cared deeply…. There is much for his children to be proud of in their inheritance…. The time that one goes through between death and the final laying to rest of any human being is, for the people who are deeply concerned, a period when one feels almost suspended in space. Life must go on. The things that have to be done must be done…. Yet always in the background is the thought that out of life forever has gone somebody who is a vital, active factor, and who never again will be present except in memory.

The Robinson Brothers

Theodore Douglas Robinson and Monroe Douglas Robinson were the sons of Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (1961-1933) and Douglas Robinson (1855-1918). Corinne was the younger sister of Theodore Roosevelt, and her sons were Eleanor’s Roosevelt first cousins.

Theodore Douglas Robinson (1883-1934)

Theodore graduated from Harvard in 1904 in the same class as his fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt and like him was elected to the New York State Legislature in 1912. In 1917 Ted introduced a bill for a state census of men and materials for military purposes and another to revoke the charter of a branch of the German-American Alliance.  He left his Senate seat in 1918 to enlist in the Army, attended Field Artillery Officers’ Training Camp, and was commissioned a lieutenant. The war ended before he could be sent abroad and he was discharged late in 1918. He returned to the New York Senate in 1920 but left in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy, now following in the footsteps of both his Uncle Teddy and his cousin FDR, serving until 1929. In that post, he became particularly interested in the development of Navy dirigibles, made inspection visits to many U.S. bases in the Caribbean, and changed the recruitment slogan of the Navy from “Join the Navy and See the World” to “Join the Navy and Show the World.” When he died suddenly of pneumonia in April 1934, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to upstate New York to attend his funeral.

Monroe Douglas Robinson (1887-1944)

Monroe Douglas Robinson Another 1909 Harvard graduate, Monroe went to the Officers Training Camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in May 1917.  By the end of the year he was a captain in Company B, 302nd Supply Train, 77th Division and arrived in France in April 1918. He served with distinction at the engagements at Baccarat, Aisne-Oise, and during the huge offensive of  Meuse-Argonne.  Monroe returned to the U.S. in April 1919 and was discharged in May. After the war he worked in a family business, wrote for the New York Times, and grew interested in promoting a friendly U.S. policy towards South America.  He returned to government service during World War II, while his cousin Franklin was president, heading the New York office of the War Finance Committee for the Treasury Department. When he died of a heart attack in December 1944, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended his funeral and wrote in her newspaper column of December 11, 1944:

I was very fond of this cousin, who was somewhere near my brother’s age. Though the opportunities for seeing him had not been very frequent, we always enjoyed those occasions when we were together.


George, Philip, and John Roosevelt

John K Roosevelt

John K Roosevelt

George Emlen Roosevelt (1887-1963), Philip James Roosevelt (1892-1941), and John Kean Roosevelt (1889-1974) were the sons of William Emlen Roosevelt (1857-1930) and Christine Griffin Kean (1858-1936).  William was a first cousin of Theodore, and related to Eleanor Roosevelt through her father (Teddy’s brother), and distantly to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well.

These brothers were the sons of William Emlen Roosevelt, a prominent banker, communications executive, philanthropist, and a close friend and financial advisor to his first cousin Theodore. Like so many other Roosevelts George and Philip attended Harvard. After graduation, George joined the family banking firm and assisted second cousin Teddy Roosevelt during his 1912 “Bull Moose” campaign for the presidency while Philip turned to his interests in journalism and aviation.

George was a member of the New York National Guard, was called to federal service in August 1917, and became an adjutant in the 53rd Infantry Brigade, 27th Division. He sailed to France in May 1918, where he received further training in the Army School of the Line and Army General Staff College. He participated in engagements in the Mont Kemmel sector, the Ypres-Lys offensive, and the largest 1918 offensive  in Meuse-Argonne. After the Armistice he was first Assistant and then Chief of Staff in the Headquarters of the 82nd Division, returning to the U.S. as a Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1919 when he was discharged.

Because of bad eyesight, Philip could not become a pilot but was assigned to operations and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps in May 1917 and sent to Washington DC. After training with French airmen, he organized the First Pursuit and Training Service of the U.S. Air Service, became its operations officer, and then coordinated air actions with the 6th and 8th French armies in many of the major engagements of 1918, including the Champagne and Toul fronts, Chateau-Thierry, Aisne defensive, Marne-Aisne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. He was cited by General Pershing “For exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous services with the First Pursuit Wing, Air Services, First Army, France.” He was also noted for the “enthusiasm and energy” which inspired his pilots and “gave to the units of the First Army a splendid Esprit de Corps.” The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre for coordinating the extraordinary performance of American aviators in the battles of the Marne and of l’Aisne. Once hostilities ceased, he was stationed at General Headquarters, AEF, Chaumont, for several months and promoted to Major. He returned to the U.S. in March 1919 and was discharged.

John Kean was called up, trained at Plattsburg, and commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Signal Section of the Officers Reserve Corps in June 1917 but never called to active service.  He resigned and joined the Navy in March 1918 where he served as a lieutenant in the office of the Superintending Constructor of Aircraft, U.S.N., at 480 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, detailed as a Production Inspector on flying boats N.C. 1, 2, 3, 4 which were being built in Garden City, Long Island, by the Curtiss Engineering Corporation and sent for test flights in the Rockaways. He left active service in February, 1919.

After the war, George and Philp participated in family businesses and finance.  The former included a chain of coffee houses in Manhattan, popular venues during Prohibition. Their partners in this venture were Teddy Roosevelt’s three surviving sons – Theodore Jr, Kermit, and Archibald – and son-in-law Richard Derby. George eventually became the fifth family head of Roosevelt & Son, an investment bank founded in 1797. He was commodore of several major yacht clubs, including the New York Yacht Club of which his distant cousin Franklin was a member.

Philip also joined the family banking firm and served as director of companies with interests in transportation, real estate, and mining. He too was a nationally prominent yachtsman and owned many fast boats.  Philip and George continued a family tradition of philanthropy that had engaged their father, serving on the board of Roosevelt Hospital – founded with a bequest by their great uncle, James Henry Roosevelt, and opened in 1871.

After the war John worked for International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. In 1940 he became a partner in the family firm, Roosevelt & Son, also serving on the boards of several utilities and banks. Like his brothers, he was an enthusiastic sailor and member of leading yacht clubs.

Nicholas Roosevelt (1893-1982)

Another Harvard graduate (1914), Nicholas was a first cousin once removed of Theodore Roosevelt, and distant cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Fluent in French, he went to Paris in 1914 as an attaché at the American Embassy, and was then assigned to Spain in 1916. After the U.S. entered the war, he enlisted and attended Officers Training Camp in May 1917, was commissioned a Captain in the Infantry in August 1917, and sent to the School of Trench Warfare in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 322nd Infantry, 81st Division in September and went to France in July 1918. There he moved to the Operations Section of the 81st Division, and saw action in the Saint-Die sector.  After the Armistice he was attached as an aide to President Woodrow Wilson when he came to Paris in December 1919 and then detailed to the American Commission to Negotiate the Peace in Vienna because he was fluent in German. He returned to his military unit in June 1919 which was sent back to the U.S. where he was discharged. He worked as a journalist for The Herald Tribune and the New York Times, was a diplomat in Hungary under President Hoover, wrote books about international affairs, and was active in the Republican Party, campaigning for FDR’s opponents in 1936 and 1940. Nonetheless, in World War II he served in FDR’s administration as Deputy Director of the Office of War Information in Washington.

Frederic A. Delano (1863-1959)

Frederic Delano

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Frederic A. Delano, was the younger brother of Sara Delano Roosevelt. Although a Harvard graduate (1885), he learned the railroad business from the bottom up, eventually becoming a manager and then president of several railroad companies. Interested in city planning, he served as a member of the Chicago Plan Commission. In 1914 he was appointed by President Wilson to a six-year term as vice governor of the new Federal Reserve Board, later becoming board chair. He resigned that post in July 1918 to join the Army as a command Major in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Tours, France. His railroad background had prepared him well to be the director of the Transportation Corps in France and he left the service in October 1919 with the rank of Colonel. For his war work Delano was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor. After the war, while continuing with business activities, he gave much time to public service including a new appointment to the Federal Reserve Board and to the Smithsonian Board of Regents. His nephew, President Roosevelt, appointed him to the National Resources Planning Board (1933-43) which played an important role in World War II. He died at age 96, the oldest of all the Roosevelts, his life spanning almost a century from the Civil War to the Cold War, from rifles and cannons to the atomic bomb. And in the midst of it all, his nephew Franklin had been elected president, and Eleanor, his niece by marriage, had brought forth the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with her position at the United Nations founded by FDR.

James Alfred Roosevelt (1885-1919)

Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin graduated from Harvard in 1905 and became an engineer, specializing in electric-powered street railway companies in New York, Boston, Seattle, and British Columbia, and moved into management.  He trained at the first Plattsburg Camp and after the U.S. entered the war was commissioned a captain in August 1917. He was put in charge of C Company, of the 302nd Ammunition Train, 77th Division and the unit was sent to France in April 1918. He became the supply officer for the 308th Infantry, 77th Division in September and saw action in the Argonne at the Vesle River. He was promoted to major and awarded a silver star for carrying ammunition to the front “for exceptional bravery and courage under heavy fire…through one of the tremendous barrages that the enemy indulged in toward the later stages of the war,” as noted in his New York Times obituary.  In March 1919 his company was returning to America on the U.S.S. Great Northern when he died of spinal meningitis. After surviving the trenches and battles, numerous soldiers died on the crowded transports home from pneumonia, flu, and other easily transmitted diseases. James’s uncle, William Emlen Roosevelt, handled the arrangements and buried him at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Henry Latrobe Roosevelt (1870-1936)

Henry Latrobe RooseveltA fifth cousin of FDR, Henry attended the U.S. Naval Academy as had his father. Before graduating he served in the Spanish-American War assigned to the U.S.S. Mayflower in Cuba and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1899.  Over the following years he saw service in both the Philippines and Panama. In 1914 he was an Assistant Naval Attaché in Paris where he helped evacuate Americans trapped by the outbreak of World War I. He then moved to the USMC headquarters in Quantico, Virginia for two years before assignment to a Marine peacekeeping mission in Haiti (1916-17) as a Colonel of the Gendarmerie.  In 1917 he went to Quantico for war work as Assistant Quartermaster and retired from there in 1920 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

During the 1920s, Henry worked primarily in the radio industry, helping it expand in the U.S. and Europe until, in 1933, Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson urged President Franklin Roosevelt to appoint him as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  He became the fifth Roosevelt to serve in that position and, like FDR 20 years earlier, advocated for a strong Navy, “second to none.” He died suddenly of a heart attack in February 1936 while serving as Acting Secretary, having carried the responsibilities of that office for almost three years because of Swanson’s poor health. As FDR wrote at the time: “We are deeply distressed about Harry Roosevelt. He was an excellent Assistant Secretary and Claude Swenson leaned on him heavily.”  The Roosevelts attended the funeral and Eleanor wrote about it in her column:

A military funeral is always very impressive to me… The service for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was very beautiful, and then we followed in the long, slow moving procession across the bridge and into Arlington Cemetery. … Time and time again have I stood in that cemetery since the days of the World War and never can I hear the salute fired and the bugle blowing taps without seeing like a flash, all these little groups of sorrowing people standing by an open grave. There is a kinship among them all and a consolation for them all in that their loved ones have all made some contribution to their country.

War Poetry – American

Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger (1888-1916) was a Harvard graduate who joined the French Foreign Legion (August 1914) and was killed in the Battle of the Somme (July 4, 1916). The poem was a favorite of Quentin Roosevelt and later John F. Kennedy. Famous anti-war singer Pete Seeger was the nephew of Alan Seeger.

I Have a Rendezvous with Death (1916)

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

War Poetry — British

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), like Teddy Roosevelt, glorified war service and helped get his young, near-sighted son John a commission. John was declared missing, presumed dead, in his first engagement just six weeks after arriving in France during the Battle of Loos, on September 27, 1915. His fate was not unusual as the powerful armaments in use could obliterate all trace of a body. Till the end of his life the poet looked for the remains of his son.

My Boy Jack (1915)

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide.


Section Four

The Presidents and the War

The Presidents and the War Wall of Images

Per la Liberazione sottoscrivete!, 1915 [Subscribe for liberty!] Poster


Per la Liberazione sottoscrivete!, 1915 [Subscribe for liberty!] Achille Lucien Mauzan (1883-1952) Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

After studying art in France, Mauzen moved to Italy where he became an illustrator, painter, and sculptor.  He was a prolific designer of posters and post cards for the film and music industries, as well as numerous powerful, patriotic images during World War I. This poster depicts an Italian soldier with an axe about to strike the monstrous hand that symbolized Austria-Hungry, Germany’s ally, which was poised over Italian territory along the Piave River on the Adriatic coast. Italy had changed allegiance in May 1915 and joined the Allies, subjecting itself to assault and pushed back to the Piave. In June 1918 the Italians defeated the Austrian army there and stopped its advance, the last major initiative for a failing empire.

William Howard Taft and His Sons Aid War Efforts

William Howard Taft and His Sons William Howard Taft

Republican William H. Taft (1857-1930) succeeded Theodore Roosevelt, whom he had served as Secretary of War, as the 27th president (1909-1913). Defeated for re-election by Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 campaign, he became Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School in New Haven. As the U.S. entered World War I, party differences among American political and professional leaders were muted. Taft supported mobilization, chaired the American Red Cross Executive Committee, campaigned to sell Liberty Bonds, and in 1918 accepted from President Wilson appointment as co-chair of the National War Labor Board which was charged with mediating labor disputes that could disrupt wartime production. Taft’s background, prior to the presidency, as Solicitor General of the United States and a federal circuit appeals judge suited him well for this task. The board handled more than 1,200 cases in its year of existence, with Taft noting “My labor with the National War Labor Board is considerable.”  Many of the decisions favored the workers. Generally supporting the right to organize and bargain collectively, an eight-hour day, and equal pay for women, the Board’s actions are credited with significantly increasing union membership and, most importantly, preventing wartime strikes. After the war Taft returned to teaching at Yale until President Warren G. Harding appointed him in 1921 as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1914, Taft’s younger son Charles Phelps Taft II (1897-1983) enrolled in Yale College, preceded there by his father and other Taft relatives. Charles joined the Yale ROTC right after US entered the war, and then left in May 1917 to enlist as a private in the Army. In January 1918, he sailed to France as a Sergeant-Major of the Headquarters Company, Second Battalion of the Twelfth Regular Field Artillery, 2nd Division. He saw action on the front east of Verdun, received additional artillery training and became an instructor. As an aide to Brigadier General Westervelt he was promoted to First Lieutenant just before the war ended and he returned to the states in 1919.  During World War II, in the same spirit of bipartisanship that had motivated his father, he held several federal operational and policy positions in President Roosevelt’s Democratic administration and advised the American delegation to the San Francisco conference organizing the United Nations.

Robert A. Taft (1889-1953), Charles’ older brother, was a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. He tried to enlist but was rejected for poor eyesight. Instead, he went to work for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington where he met Herbert Hoover, later accompanying him to Paris. There, Taft served as the legal advisor to the American Relief Administration, headed by Hoover, which managed the immense operation distributing food aid to populations disrupted by the war. After the war Taft became active in Ohio politics and in 1938 was elected to the first of three terms as a U.S. Senator. In that position he criticized the New Deal and opposed American intervention in World War II until Pearl Harbor.

Herbert Hoover and the American Relief Administration

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was a wealthy mining engineer and executive when the war started in Europe in August 1914.  Already in London, he agreed to organize the evacuation of 120,000 Americans caught by the outbreak of hostilities in France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Not long after, with other well-to-do friends, he created the Committee for the Relief of Belgium, raising funds to purchase food and medicine to send to that war-torn country. Overrun by the Germans, and turned into a giant prison camp whose food, clothing, tools, horses, and other life items were requisitioned by the occupying army – and whose men were soon deported to Germany to serve as slave labor – Belgium’s civilian population suffered terribly (as did the population of occupied Northern France). The millions of dollars raised by Hoover bought precious supplies to keep people alive as they were distributed by American embassies and volunteers.

Once America entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover to lead the U.S. Food Administration to urge domestic food conservation so precious supplies could be sent to American allies in Europe. His success with this campaign led President Wilson, after the Armistice, to appoint Hoover as head of the American Relief Administration (ARA) authorized by Congress with an appropriation of $100 million ($1.4B in 2017), supplemented by private donations of the same amount. The ARA was similar to the Belgium relief effort but on a much larger scale. It sent supplies to almost two dozen nations, including the new Soviet Union, and coordinated with local and national governments as well as other American organizations such as the Red Cross and the YMCA and the YWCA. The ARA supplies could literally alleviate starvation. Vernon Kellogg, one of Hoover’s representatives, wrote to him about the need for food for Polish children:

We see very few children playing in the streets of Warsaw. Why were they not playing? The answer was simple and sufficient: The children of Warsaw were not strong enough to play in the streets. They could not run; many could not walk; some could not even stand up. Their weak little bodies were bones clothed with skin, but not muscles. They simply could not play.

Hunger Map of Europe, December 1918

Acclaimed after the war his skillful work as “The Great Humanitarian,” Hoover was appointed Secretary of Commerce by Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Hoover received the Republican presidential nomination in 1928, winning by a landslide against Democrat Al Smith. Unfortunately, when the U.S. slid into the Great Depression, Hoover was unable to understand that starving and homeless Americans needed the kind of help he had so generously extended to Europeans after the war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal proposed providing jobs to those he later termed “ill housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” and he won by a landslide in 1932 with an even greater margin than Hoover’s win four years earlier.

Harry S. Truman on the Front Lines

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) would be the only president to serve on the front lines in World War I.  After high school he had worked in small businesses, farmed, and joined Missouri’s National Guard for six years (1905-11). Just as the U.S. entered the war, Truman rejoined the Guard, trained with other soldiers from Missouri and Kansas in the 129th Artillery regiment, and sailed to France in April 1918. As a captain, he was the commander of Battery D, 129th Artillery Regiment, 35th Division and shaped up the 200 men to fighting discipline. The group fought in the Vosges Mountains, Meuse-Argonnes, and Verdun, with long marches to their combat assignments. He wrote to his future wife Bess, “There were some three or four weeks from September 10 to October 6 that I did nothing but march at night and shoot or sleep in daylight…I have just finished putting 1,800 shells over on the Germans in the last five hours. They don’t seem to have had enough energy to come back yet. I don’t think they will.  As one scholar has noted, “Verdun was a particularly grizzly posting. The area where the unit was stationed was part of the 1916 battlefield, so every shell that landed around the battery would churn up graves from the previous action. Truman described seeing skulls lying in the mud. Truman’s unit kept firing at Verdun until right before the armistice at 11:00am on November 11, 1918.

Truman’s leadership style evoked from his men intense loyalty and the nickname “Give Em Hell Harry.” He was awarded the U.S. World War I Victory Medal, the Missouri Medal for the War with Germany, and several French medals commemorating the communities where his unit fought.

Soon after his discharge from the Army in Spring 1919, Truman married Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace (1885-1982) whom he had known since childhood and courted for several years. He went back into business in Missouri, won election as a state judge, and in 1934 was elected to the U.S. Senate. There he supported New Deal legislation and later President Roosevelt’s preparation for U.S. involvement in World War II, including legislation for Lend-Lease and the Selective Service Act. Truman was drafted to run as Vice President in Roosevelt’s fourth election campaign in 1944. When FDR died on April 12, 1944, Truman became the 33rd president of the United States. In that position he decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to try and end the war and save American lives. His World War I combat experience amidst constant death and destruction doubtless informed his decision.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Prepares the Troops

Dwight D. Eisenhower poses with a Tank

Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) played a key role in training American troops for combat.  A 1915 graduate of West Point, Captain Eisenhower’s first assignment after the U.S. entered the war was to train officer candidates at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. In December 1917 he moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as an instructor, and then again to Camp Meade in Maryland to organize the first Army Tank Corps unit, 301st Tank Battalion. While it went to France in March 1918, Ike was assigned to command Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (at the Civil War battlefield), where 10,000 men would receive training with the new technique of tank warfare. While awaiting the delivery of the seven-ton French Renault tanks, Eisenhower improvised their operation by mounting machine guns on trucks to give recruits experience with firing at a target while in motion. Although he had asked several times to be assigned overseas, his skills as a planner and instructor were so highly valued that he remained stateside reaching the rank of Lieutenant  Colonel. Finally scheduled to go abroad with the tank brigade he had trained, the war ended before they could depart. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his valuable contribution to the war effort.

After the war, Eisenhower continued to rise in the ranks while he received advanced training, studied European battlefields, worked in the War Department and with General MacArthur in the Philippines, and prepared plans for mobilization in case of another war. Once the U.S. entered World War II, his operational experience led to commands in Europe, over the Allied invasion of North Africa, and then appointment  by President Roosevelt as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expedi-tionary Force for the invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He retired from active service in 1948 but continued to advise on military matters, and became Supreme Commander of NATO during the Korean War. The Republicans selected Eisenhower as their presidential candidate in 1952. He defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, and repeated this victory again in 1956. He settled the Korean War and there were no other conflicts with Americans involvement during his two presidential terms; he had experienced enough with two wars.

Christy Navy Poster Clear the Way Poster

Clear the Way, 1918. Howard Christy Chandler (1872-1952). Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.
Gee I Wish I Were a Man, 1917. Howard Christy Chandler. Reproduction.

One of the best known illustrators of the era was Howard Chandler Christy. With early training at the Art Students League in New York, he had his first great success with published illustrations of the Spanish-American War, accompanying Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  His career flourished with patriotic topics as well as images of a slim, lightly-clad American girl, “The Christy Girl.”  Both war and beauty are combined in this poster with a young woman wearing a laurel wreath and enveloped in an American flag floating above a group of sailors readying a gun for firing. The Navy commissioned a number of posters from him and one that achieved great popularity was “I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy.” The Fourth Liberty Loan campaign raised almost $7 billion.  His poster for the Fifth Liberty Loan, “Americans All,” is also in this exhibit.  In the 1920s Christy added portraiture to his portfolio. In the 1930s he began to paint murals, including his largest project of the 1940s, The Signing of the Constitution, in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol Building.

These Men Have Come Across Poster

These Men Have Come Across, c.1918 Frank X. Leyendecker (1877-1924) Museum of the City of New York, John Campbell Collection.

Born in Germany but brought to America as children, Frank and his older brother Joseph Christian Leyendecker studied art in Paris for a year. They returned to Chicago in 1897 and began to work as illustrators, moving to New York several years later. Frank painted many covers and story illustrations for Collier’s as well as similar assignments for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and the Saturday Evening Post. He also prepared advertising art for leading brands like Palmolive soap, and illustrated books and pulp magazines. His pictorial skills were well regarded by his contemporaries in the field. This recruitment poster for the Navy commands the viewer to join up with those already in the fray serving on battleships.

Section Five

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Red Cross

“The war was my emancipation and education.”


When Franklin became Assistant Secretary of the Navy in March 1913, Eleanor and their children moved to the nation’s capital after renting their New York home to banker Thomas Lamont. They leased a house in Washington at 1733 N Street from Eleanor’s aunt, Anna “Bamie” Roosevelt Cowles (Teddy Roosevelt’s sister), until they outgrew it in 1916 with the birth of their fifth and last child, John.  In the capital, Eleanor took up the social activities that were required of Cabinet wives, including almost daily teas and dinners which she soon found tedious. As the United States approached a decision to enter the war against Germany and its allies, she went to listen to Congressional debates and finally heard President Wilson ask for a declaration of war on April 2, 1918:  “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.”


The rounds of boring social calls were suspended and Eleanor became deeply engaged with the Red Cross to supply American soldiers and sailors with clothing and services. Eleanor joined the Red Cross canteen, helped Mrs. Josephus Daniels, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, to organize the Navy Red Cross chapter, and distributed free wool for knitting socks, sweaters, hats, and other garments. She also volunteered at the Naval Hospital once a week and saw “many tragedies enacted” that she attempted to address by securing private funding.  The Red Cross also sent her to inspect St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a federal hospital for the insane, where a unit had been established for Navy men suffering from “shell shock” (known today as PTSD). She was so appalled at the lack of appropriate care for the men, because of a shortage of attendants, that she reported the conditions to Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane. He finally found additional funding and Eleanor convinced the Red Cross to build a recreational room and organize occupational therapy.

In the summer of 1918 Eleanor decided to stay in Washington to continue her work and sent her children to Hyde Park. Wearing her Red Cross uniform, she put in 12-hour days at the Red Cross canteen at Union Station dispensing food to soldiers traveling through the capitol to training or deployment overseas.


Eleanor’s experience with the Red Cross, and her visits with FDR to hospitals and battlefields in France in 1919, made her an ardent post-war supporter of the organizations that might help maintain peace, namely the League of Nations and the World Court. She strengthened her organizational and management skills, and felt a much greater sense of independence, later writing “The war was my emancipation and education.” Once Eleanor returned to New York City with her family in 1921, she continued to work for the betterment of society with a number of political and civic groups. She maintained her support for the Red Cross to the end of her life. She remembered: “Out of these contacts with human beings during the war I became a more tolerant person, I had gained a certain assurance as to my ability to run things, and the knowledge that there is a joy in accomplishing a good job. I knew more about the human heart.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Red Cross Experience

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Red Cross Wall of Images

In Her Own Words


I did very little war work that summer beyond the inevitable knitting which every woman undertook and which became a constant habit.  No one moved without her knitting. I had always done a certain amount but never had achieved the ease which the war brought as a natural result. Even if your life seemed to call you away from where you could tender some kind of direct service, you could be knitting all the time. My time was now completely filled with a variety of war activities, and I was learning to have a certain confidence in myself and in my ability to meet emergencies and deal with them.


I wished that I might offer my services to go overseas. I was very envious of another Eleanor – Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s [Jr.] wife, who had gone over before her husband and, in spite of the regulation against wives of officers going to France, was serving in a canteen in France…

I spent all day and most of the night at the canteen… No place could have been hotter than the little corrugated shack with the tin roof and the fire burning in the old army kitchen. We certainly were kept busy, for we were sending troops over just as fast as we could train them, and we knew now that it was man power that the Allies wanted as much as our financial resources or the assistance of the Navy. It was not an unusual thing for me to work from nine in the morning until one or two the next morning, and be back again by ten A.M. The nights were hot and it was possible to sleep only if you were exhausted. When my month was up and others came to take my place, I went to Hyde Park to be with the children and my mother-in-law.

Whose Knitting Poster ACR Knitting Poster

Red Cross Uniform for Refreshment Service (replica)

 Sketch of Red Cross Uniform from WW1

The use of simple uniforms by women workers in various Red Cross Chapter activities, other than nursing and hospital service, has been found desirable for protective, hygienic, and other valid reasons. —July 2017

Men and women who were Red Cross volunteers were distinguished from one another by uniforms specific to their tasks and location (in the U.S. or abroad). Medical workers such as doctors, nurses or hospital aides in military or civilian hospitals, drivers, and supply and clerical workers, all had their own outfits, as did the Refreshment Service which included Eleanor’s work in the Union Station canteen. Since most of the volunteers were responsible for providing their own uniforms, the Red Cross issued very detailed design instructions for both indoor and outdoor clothing as to color, length, insignia, fabric, and head gear.  While wearing a uniform was not mandatory, it is clear from historic photographs – such as those of canteen workers on display here – that volunteers followed the dress code as did Eleanor who mentions wearing a uniform in her memoirs. She probably wore her regular clothes for visits to the Naval Hospital and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a federal unit for the insane which was taking in shell-shocked patients from the war. During World War II, when Eleanor traveled to the Pacific in 1943 to visit soldiers and sailors at American bases, she again wore a Red Cross uniform, now a gray suit with a white blouse.

Thanks to Susan Watson, Annie Werbitzky, and Shirley Powers of the Red Cross for information about World War I Red Cross uniforms. This replica was made by Olga Romanova, Cambridge, England.

ARC Canteen red cross train WW1

Eleanor Roosevelt Describes her Red Cross Work

Two or three shifts a week I spent in the Red Cross canteen in the railroad yards. During the winter I took chiefly day shifts in the canteen, for I was obliged to be at home, if possible to see my children before they went to bed, and I frequently had guests for dinner. I can remember one or two occasions when I arrived in my uniform as my guests arrived, and I think it was during this period that I learned to dress with rapidity, a habit which has stayed with me ever since. We had some wonderful women in charge of the canteen and were very fortunate in the direction they gave us…. Everyone in the canteen was expected to do any work that was necessary, even mopping the floor, and no one remained long a member of this Red Cross unit who could not do anything that was asked of her.

We had an army kitchen in a little tin building where we made coffee. We cut the bread with the cutting machine, spread it with jam, and wrapped the finished sandwiches in paper. Large caldrons of coffee and large baskets of sandwiches were ready for the trainloads of men as they came through.

We sold post cards, candy and cigarettes to the boys and we had to censor the cards so they would not give any forbidden information. Later on, as the warm weather came, we had some showers in a building near us, a very make-shift arrangement, but very welcome, as the heat increased, to the boys who had spent days and nights on trains.

Eleanor Roosevelt. This Is My Story. New York: Garden City Publishing, 1937.

ARC Canten UnionStation Hospital Projector

Founding of the Red Cross

Clara Barton (1821-1912) found her vocation during the Civil War in organizing hospital care and services for Union soldiers. Postwar, she helped identify missing and dead soldiers and arranged proper burials.  After assisting with hospital work in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, she returned to the United States and sought to create a Red Cross organization upon the international model she had seen in Europe. The American Association of the Red Cross was founded in May 1881 and Barton was elected president. Barton was already in Cuba when the U.S.S Maine exploded on February 15, 1898 and arranged care for wounded sailors. During the ensuing war she organized services for military hospitals as well as for civilians and prisoners of war. She met Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and provided care for his wounded Rough Riders, resulting in his lifelong devotion to the Red Cross to which he later donated part of the proceeds from his 1906 Nobel Prize for Peace. Following the Spanish-American War, the American Red Cross received its first charter from Congress as the national disaster response organization. The Red Cross was one of three official charitable organizations working in World War I and it was the only one allowed at the front.

Have You Answered the Red Cross Christmas Roll Call? PosterI summon you Poster


Have You Answered the Red Cross Christmas Roll Call?, 1918, Harrison Fisher (1875-1934), Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Trained initially by his artist father, Harrison Fisher studied art in San Francisco and began his career there as a newspaper artist. He continued that work in New York where he was also hired by Puck, the famous humor magazine, to do cartoons and illustration.  His paintings of young women became as recognizable a type as those of Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girl.”  Cosmopolitan Magazine, which had commissioned many covers from him, saluted Fisher’s style in the 1920s: “His ideal type has come to be regarded as the type of American beauty: girls, young with the youth of a new country, strong with the vitality of buoyant good health, fresh with clear-eyed brightness, athletic, cheerful, sympathetic, and beautiful.”  The Red Cross nurse in this poster reaches out to the viewer, asking for contributions while soldiers march behind her. Fisher did a number of World War I watercolors for posters, post cards, and magazines. Among his most famous is the “I Summon You” poster.

Hold up your end!: War fund week, one hundred million dollars Poster

Hold Up Your End! — War Fund Week, One Hundred Million Dollars, 1917 William B. King (1880-1927) Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

There is almost no information about this talented artist. The Red Cross nurse holds up a stretcher with a bomb burst in the background. The implication is that the viewer’s contributions will support the other end of the stretcher.

The Greatest Mother in the World Poster

The Greatest Mother in the World, c. 1918 Alonzo Earl Foringer (1878-1948) Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Alonzo Foringer studied art in Pittsburgh and New York before launching a career that included the design of bank notes as well as illustrations for Scribner’s Magazine and Ladies’ Home Journal. Following an apprenticeship painting murals with Edwin Blashfield, Foringer obtained his own mural commissions for courthouses, churches, and municipal buildings before the war. The heroic scale and classicism required in that medium clearly influenced the imagery in The Greatest Mother in the World. Very much like Michelangelo’s Pieta, a mother, personified in the Red Cross nurse, tenderly cradles the stretcher holding a wounded soldier.

This poster was widely reproduced, reprinted in the millions in billboard size as well as smaller versions for the home, and used by the British Red Cross too. In its popularity it was the female equivalent of James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam poster. Foringer’s poster helped raise $150 million for the Red Cross in 1918.

Jane Delano (1861-1919)

portrait of Jane DelanoLike the Roosevelts, the Delano family arrived in America in the 17th century. From one branch descended Sara Delano Roosevelt, from another Jane Delano. Trained at the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York, she worked and taught in the field and her considerable administrative skills and innovative treatment methods led to her appointment as Superintendent of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1909 (founded in 1901 following the first large scale use of trained nurses in the Spanish-American War) and at the same time as the Director of the American Red Cross Nursing Service.  She completely reorganized the Red Cross training and recruitment, and the nurses in it were transferred to the Army Corps when the U.S. entered World War I.  Half of the 21,000 skilled nurses who served were sent to Europe, working in base, evacuation, and mobile surgical hospitals, as well as on transport ships bringing wounded soldiers back to the U.S. Close to the battlefront, and sharing the same unhealthy living conditions as the soldiers, it is not surprising that almost 300 nurses died in the war from attacks and disease. Delano’s nurses had to devise care for wounds from the terrible new weapons of war, especially the chemical agents that caused such harm, mustard gas foremost among them. They were on the front line too when the massive flu pandemic struck in 1918.  Jane Delano received the Distinguished Service Medal for her rapid mobilization of nurses and organization of services.  Visiting France to review services and attend a conference, she became ill with a mastoid infection, no doubt exhausted from the intense work of the past few years, and died after several months in April 1919.  She was reinterred with honors in Arlington National Cemetery in 1920 where a memorial was erected to honor her work and that of all the nurses who died in the war buried in the same section.

Red Cross Christmas Roll Call December 16th to 23rd Poster ARC Poster on Wall


Red Cross Christmas Roll Call December 16th to 23rd, 1918, Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848-1936). Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Edwin Blashfield originally studied to be an engineer but went to Paris to study art and began his career there. He returned to the U.S. in 1881, doing illustrations for magazines and private decorative commissions. Blashfield’s full artistic debut came with his murals at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. From then on he received commissions for both public buildings and residences in a number of major American cities, including four state capitols, court houses, churches, and the reading Room of the Library of Congress. In New York his murals can be found in Manhattan at the Appellate Division Courthouse, the Great Hall at City College, and the National Academy of design. Blashfield was active in major art organizations and honored by many. Towards the end of his life, his classically-infused work fell out of style as New Deal muralists took new directions inspired by genre painting and modern art.

This Red Cross poster is actually the top half of a full poster. The original, shown here in reproduction, reads “Where Columbia sets her name, let every one of you follow her.” The two powerful women resemble classical figures with their draped Red Cross uniform and dress. The figure of Columbia carries a sword and flag, while the Red Cross woman holds a holly branch for this Christmas season appeal. Although the war was over by December 1918, additional funds were needed to help wounded soldiers in hospitals in America and abroad.

A Real Doughboy from the Bronx: Private David J. Moran

Materials in Exhibit Case

Spartanburg Trenches

Most people featured in this exhibit came from comfortable middle-class families or well-to-do families like the Roosevelts and served as Army or Navy officers or in the new air services. But many who fought or manned the fighting ships or merchant marine were from farms and the urban working classes like Private David J. Moran (1896-1969). Born in New York City into an Irish Catholic family, he graduated from high school and soon became active in the Bronx Democratic Party. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to Company G, the 105th Infantry Regiment (New York National Guard), 53rd Brigade of the 27th Infantry Division. After several months of basic training at Camp Wadsworth in  Spartanburg, South Carolina – including trench warfare, rifle, bayonet and bomb (grenade) techniques, and fitness –  his company was sent to France in May 1918 where they were given additional training in tactics and machine gunnery by the British and assigned to fight with them. Sent to Belgium near the city of Ypres, they “received their baptism of fire on 30 August-1 September 1918, when they engaged veteran German forces on one of the area’s highest points, Kemmel Hill, and the surrounding villages of Vierstraat, Vormezeele, and Wytschaete.  The Germans had gained the positions in April of that year but were in retreat when the Americans arrived. Nonetheless, they refused to retire quietly and, in the process, taught the eager doughboys a lesson in combat along the Western Front.” The regiment was fighting on the front lines, taking the offensive against the last major German redoubts in Belgium.

Portrait of Private Moran Photograph of Boys in the Trenches Photograph with note Signed "arrived safely" card Letter needlework postcard letter map of battle location

Private Moran was seriously wounded by a shell explosion on September 2, 1918, taken to a field hospital, and his mother notified by telegram of his condition. His regiment continued pushing the Germans back in the Somme offensive against the Hindenburg Line, even under withering machine gun fire, until finally relieved in late October. The Regiment had suffered 1,609 casualties including 253 deaths. By then Private Moran’s parents had received a letter about his wounds but were reassured that he was stable at a base hospital in France.

Newspaper clipping two photographs from hospital telegram typed letter

Private Moran lost part of his right elbow and hip in battlefield surgery and he recuperated for over a year in a hospital in England. When he returned to the U.S., the Veterans Administration provided him with training in the textile industry and he eventually became Chief Textile Analyst of the U.S. Customs Service located in Lower Manhattan. As a result of his wounds, his handwriting was hard to read and he had to wear specially built up shoes: every year he received two pairs from the government, one black and one brown. New York State awarded him a medal for his service. In spite of his handicap, he married and enjoyed time with his extended family. He was a lifelong member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, serving as an officer in his local Bronx chapter. To the end of his life he proudly kept his dog tags, medal, and service ribbons.


handwritten letter on red cross stationary dogtags

Loan of Private Moran’s materials courtesy of his great niece Claudia Justy.

Section Six

End of the War

END OF THE WAR wall of Posters

The War Comes to an End

On November 11, 1918, the real Armistice was signed and the city of Washington, like every other city in the United States, went completely mad: bells rang, whistles blew, and people went up and down the streets throwing confetti or anything else they could find at hand. The feeling of relief and thankfulness was beyond description.

— Eleanor Roosevelt


Once the war was over, Franklin was asked to go abroad, as Eleanor noted, “to wind up Navy affairs in Europe; dispose of what could be sold and ship home what could be used here again.” She accompanied him when they sailed from New York on January 2, 1919 on the George Washington. A few days into this voyage she learned that her beloved Uncle Ted had died: “I knew what his loss would mean to his close family, but I think I realized even more keenly that a great personality had gone from active participation in the life of his people.”

They went first to France, landing in Brest, the primary debarkation port during the war. There she saw the lingering effects of the daily German bombing on the civilian population: “Most of the people in town carried all their water from taps which you saw at intervals along the streets.” They went on to Paris where they visited with family and friends, and had official visits with President Wilson and President Poincare of France. The Roosevelts saw Eleanor’s Uncle Frederic Delano and Aunt Dora Forbes, Sara Delano Roosevelt’s siblings. They also visited with Eleanor’s first cousins Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt Jr, and her uncle by marriage David Gray who had served as a Captain in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, AEF, and been awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Eleanor went to several hospitals.  With Mrs. Wilson, she visited the American Hospital, noting that the president’s wife “left a few flowers at each boy’s bed, and I was lost in admiration because she found something to say to each one. I stood tongue tied and thankful that all that could possibly be expected of me was a smile.” Yet during World War II, Eleanor would visit thousands of injured soldiers and sailors and be remembered for her kind words and empathy. She also accompanied Aunt Dora to visit two hospitals, including “the oldest military hospital in Paris, the Val de Grace, where the most remarkable plastic surgery was being done. I dreaded this but it was not quite as bad as I feared… to see people whose faces were being made over by one operation after another.” They went to the “Phare, the hospital for the blind where the blind were being taught to manage for themselves as best they could and perhaps acquire a skill that would enable them to earn a living.”

The Roosevelt’s left Paris to take a winding route to Amiens, and then to Boulogne where they crossed the Channel for England. Everywhere Eleanor saw evidence of the obliteration of the countryside: “We drove along the straight military roads with churned mud on either side of us, and deep shell holes here and there. Along the road there were occasional piles of stones with a stick stuck into them with the name of a vanished village. On the hillsides occasional stumps showed that once there had been a forest there.


In London, there were more meetings for Franklin, and visits for Eleanor. While FDR returned to Belgium and then to see the Marines stationed as the occupation force at Coblentz-on-the-Rhine, Eleanor  recovered from pleurisy while staying with Muriel Delano Martineau, Franklin’s  cousin. In her home she saw another side of the war:

I discovered what it meant to live on restricted war rations. Everything was rationed – butter, meat, sugar, and so forth, and books were given out to you according to the number of people in your household, and you could buy nothing except with these little books. This gave me a far better understanding of the real deprivations the people of England had been through. I thought that when we had been asked to do without things such as certain food and gasoline by our Food Administrator Mr. Herbert Hoover, that we had undergone hardships. I realized now that we had lived in an unrestricted land, for in England you could not buy more than a certain amount of any kind of food…Rich and poor alike obeyed these rules.”

Returning to America

Returning to Paris, she met FDR there and in early February they boarded the George Washington again, traveling back with President and Mrs. Wilson. The Roosevelts had obtained a copy of the New York  Times with the complete text of the proposal for the League of Nations. Eleanor was thrilled: “President Wilson had been acclaimed by the French people as a Savior, his position in his own country seemed impregnable. No organized opposition had developed over here as yet. His trip had been a triumphant one…What hopes we had that this League would really prove the instrument for the prevention of future wars, and how eagerly we read it through! Little did we dream at that time what the future held.”

The U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles on November 19, 1919, and thus America did not join the League of Nations. President Wilson never recovered from this defeat. But 25 years later Wilson’s vision would be realized: President Franklin Roosevelt would be a founder of a new League – the United Nations – and Eleanor would join the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. and oversee the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Remembers World War I

We must remember that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the Nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war.

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnumbered hours, thinking and planning how war may be kept from this Nation.

Chautauqua, New York, August 14, 1936, during FDR’s second presidential campaign.


Joan of Arc Saved France, c. 1917-18
William Henry Haskell Coffin (1878-1941) Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Joan of Arc Saved France, Lithograph

William Henry Coffin trained at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington and then in Paris. Working as an illustrator, his images of beautiful women were on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, and Redbook, among others, and on music, calendars, and fashion catalogs.  He painted World War I posters for the government, the Red Cross, and the YWCA. This image of a determined woman encased in armor, holding up a sword and illuminated by a ray of white light, much as the original Joan of Arc might have appeared to her followers. The militant images of women in this section’s posters contrasts sharply with the slight, ethereal women painted by Howard Chandler Christy though Coffin also used that visual trope too when called for in his work.

The appeal to women to buy war savings stamps gave them a role in winning the war. The stamps required only a small investment, in contrast to the cost of a $50.00 ($952 today) Liberty Bond, though these could be purchased on an installment plan. Since many people could not afford the bonds, U.S. Treasury stamps could be bought for $5.00 ($95) or for 25 cents ($4.75) and accumulated towards a $5.00 certificate or a $50 bond. The government raised almost a billion dollars by selling stamps. While this was a small portion of the $26 billion raised altogether for the war, it represented the participation of a vast population with limited discretionary income.

U.S.A. Bonds Third Liberty Loan Campaign, Boy Scouts of America, 1917
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874–1951) Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Poster: U.S.A. Bonds Third Liberty Loan Campaign, Boy Scouts of America

Joseph Christian Leyendecker studied in Paris, with his brother Francis Christian (also featured in this exhibit), and returned to make a brilliant career in New York as an illustrator.  He was the premier artist of covers for the Saturday Evening Post, before his protégé Norman Rockwell became associated with that magazine. He was also known for his path breaking advertising campaigns for the Arrow Collar Man, Kellogg’s, and Ivory Soap, and created the New Year’s Baby symbol for a Saturday Evening Post cover. Leyendecker provided patriotic and recruitment art for use in both World War I and World War II.

In this World War I image, the artist employs several iconic American images, positioning the Statue of Liberty clothed in an American flag about to take a sword from a kneeling Boy Scout.  The sword is inscribed with the Scout motto, “Be Prepared” which would be equally true for an America at war. The purchase of Liberty Bonds was as much a weapon as the sword, providing the funds to manufacture armaments to defeat the enemy. President Wilson asked the Scouts to help with this bond drive which collected over $3 billion.

Sottoscrivete al Prestito, 1917
Giovanni Capranesi (1852- 1921) . Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Sottoscrivete al Prestito, 1917 Poster

Born and trained in Rome, Giovanni Capranesi became a painter of murals and decorative work in churches, villas, palaces, and theaters. He also designed various denominations of Italian currency (lire) for the Bank of Italy. Capranesi favored classical and mythological themes in his work, a style that is evident in this poster. The woman representing Italy has Roman armor and sandals drawn from Renaissance depictions of classical history, with a shield and Italian flag over her shoulder. Her sword is thrust towards a brutal Austrian figure wearing armor and armed with a vicious studded club, trying to cross the Alps to Italy, a region where some of the most ferocious fighting occurred between the Italian and Austrian armies.  Another strong woman, she has been likened to Marianne, the symbol of France, and Italy too, like the Statue of Liberty in Joseph Leyendecker’s poster, is encouraging the purchase of war bonds.

Books Wanted, c.1918

Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960). Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

We Want Books Poster Books Wanted Poster

Charles Buckles Falls began his career in Chicago and then moved to New York where he became an illustrator of books, magazines, book plates, as well as posters, fabrics, furniture, and theater scenery. Later he wrote and illustrated charming children’s books, and was known for working with wood block and for his interest in lettering.  Falls designed a number of Marine recruitment posters during World War I but this one, Books Wanted, may have been his best known and most enduring – it is still popular. A Marine holds a tall pile of donated books and urges viewers to bring theirs to a local library. The poster was printed in many sizes and a large version, 15 feet tall, was placed outside the New York Public Library at 42nd Street.  The books collected were distributed to libraries set up by the American Library Association in U.S. training camps and sent abroad to boost morale. As one recent study has noted, “Soldiers preferred novels, tales of adventure, and detective stories. Other popular subjects included travel, foreign languages, history, military subjects and biography. As the end of the war neared, however, requests from the military camps changed markedly. Soldiers requested books on engineering, the trades, business, farming, and other subjects that would help to establish new careers after their return home.”

During World War II, Falls was hired by the Office of War Information and the American Library Association to design the official poster for the Victory Book Campaign. It distributed millions of paperbacks to American soldiers and created a post-war market for the small, inexpensive books.

Section Seven

Remembering The War

Americans All! Victory Liberty Loan. 1919
Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) Collection of the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.

Americans All! Victory Liberty Loan Poster

Howard Chandler Christy studied at the Art Students League in New York.  He had his first great success with illustrations of the Spanish-American War, accompanying Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, which were published in several major magazines. His career flourished with patriotic topics as well as images of a slim, lightly glad American girl, “The Christy Girl” (see also Clear the Way!). The young woman represents Columbia, symbolized by the flag, and reaches for the laurel wreath of victory. She points to the Honor Roll with names representing the diverse ethnic groups who fought for America, among them men who were Czech, Greek, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Mexican, Norwegian, and Russian.  The Fifth Liberty Loan campaign raised over $5 billion.

War Poetry — British

Dulce Et Decorum Est (c.1917-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (1893-November 4, 1918) was tragically killed in battle just a week before the Armistice. The title of the poem is a partial quote (the full quote is used in the last line of the poem) from an ode by the Roman poet Horace, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori which means “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” In contrast to the title-and much pro war poetry of the time-it is filled with vivid images of suffering and death.

War Poetry — Canadian

In Flanders Fields (1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, MD, (1872-1918) was inspired to write this famous poem by the death of a close friend in May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. The association of poppies with death was strengthened by this poem and they were worn after the war during commemorative ceremonies. McCrae died in January 1918 of pneumonia, a common wintertime illness that took many lives.

Memorials: Grief and Patriotism

After the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, there were parades and other ceremonial welcomes for those who returned. Some did not come home. Two sons –John Kipling of Britain and Quentin Roosevelt of America — were distinguished only by their famous names, leaving heartbroken fathers at their deaths. Millions of English and French families, and 116,000 American families, grieved privately while the larger community chose to mourn and honor the dead in major memorials.

In the U.S. there were individual funerals and dedications of thousands of public monuments. After pressure from many families, the government had agreed to bring bodies back for burial on request – although a good number remained in the new military cemeteries America built in France. These representative gravestones from cemeteries in New York and Maine include the standard stones provided by the government as well as unique designs, with a family’s choice of inscription, engraving, or sculpture. The stones memorialize the veterans and volunteers, all beloved of families from diverse ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds, all patriotic Americans willing to fight for freedom.

Installed in the 1920s and 1930s, there are hundreds of public memorials in New York City, ranging from simple plaques to stele, columns, and pavilions. Free standing “Doughboys,” the nickname for American soldiers, were popular. Memorial plaques commemorated groups, such as graduates of a school or college, as well as residents of a neighborhood or members of a regiment. Long lists of names of the dead were inscribed, successors to Civil War memorials and predecessors to the Vietnam Memorial. Some monuments are well cared for, others defaced. A lot of memory has been lost in a century.

Photographs of Memorials and Graves

Princeton Memorial

Photograph of MemorialPhotograph of Memorial

Photograph of MemorialPhotograph of Memorial

Ridgewood 1Ridgewood 2

Photograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of MemorialPhotograph of Memorial


Thanks to Jeff Richmond, Historian of Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, for permission to depict its graves, information, and the photo of James Alfred Roosevelt’s gravestone. All other photos of graves and public monuments are by Deborah Gardner. Additional gravestones are from the cemeteries of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Thanks to Tracy Kaufmann and The Princeton Club of New York for permission to photograph and reproduce its World War I memorial plaque.

For more information on New Yorkers and World War I memorials see:

  • Green-Wood Cemetery website for an extraordinary compilation on World War I veterans buried there: Biographies of World War I Veterans.
  • Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, World War I New York (2017).
  • Richard Rubin, The Last of the Doughboys (2013).
  • Cal Snyder, author of Out of Fire and Valor: The War Memorials of New York City from the Revolution to 9/11 (2005).
  • Additional materials were provided for this exhibit by: Rachael Goldberg, Liberty Hall Museum, Union, New Jersey; and Michael Frost, Manuscripts and Archives, the Yale University Library.