They Also Served

From 1914 to 1919, women all over America rallied to the aid of their country and volunteered for overseas service with the U.S. Army Expeditionary Forces of World War I. Over 11,000 Red Cross nurses served with the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. Others were assigned duties in the Ordnance, Quartermaster and Signal Corps, and the Treasury Department. The women served in France, Belgium, Italy, and the Balkans. When Armistice was declared, 90,000 American women had served. 348 had given their lives.

The women returned home and scattered across the country, most without the assistance and benefits afforded the male soldiers. Founded in 1921 by women who had served in World War I, the Women’s Overseas Service League initially existed as local units, but soon became a national organization that continues to this day. You can read more at

With support from a grant from the NHPRC, Michigan State University, in partnership with the University of Texas-San Antonio, processed and digitized 162 audio interviews with American women who served overseas during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

This is photograph from the U.S. National Library of Medicine of enlisted Army nurses at the American Red Cross Military Hospital #1 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. You can listen to an interview with one of the nurses, Alta May Andrews Sharp who talks about her service in the American Red Cross and the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War One.

Sharp says that she served in the Red Cross for two years at “Military Hospital No. 1” as chief nurse in ward 83, before finally volunteering for the Army. She talks about her basic training, learning to salute, the voyage to England in a convoy escorted by sub-chasers and battle ships, sleeping in her life jacket, and having lifeboat drills daily. She says that she was stationed in France and discusses her duties, her pay, her quarters, her gray chambray uniform with the “butcher’s apron,” and being shelled by the huge German artillery gun known as “Big Bertha.” Sharp says that the nurses were treated well but were prohibited from dating enlisted men and that the officers were only interested in French girls. When they learned of the Armistice she says that she and her friends traveled to Paris to celebrate “all day and night.”

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