- ›› Eras and Sub-Eras : The Progressive Era to the New Era, 1900-1929
Throughout American history, millions of people around the world have left their homelands for a chance to...
The unpublished diary of Ella Jane Osborn (1881–1966) in the Gilder Lehrman Collection opens an extraordinary window into the daily experiences of one American woman stationed in a US army hospital in a dangerous and contested battle zone during the final year of World War I. Osborn’s daily entries serve as an uncensored record and provide an interesting counterpoint to the published writings by Ellen La Motte and Mary Borden, two American volunteer nurses whose polished, edited accounts of their activities documented the brutal nature of war devoid of nobility or ideals. Osborn’s handwritten diary permits us to peek over her shoulder and be there to observe the life of an American nurse stationed just miles away from the bloody battles of 1918-19.
“Disappointments,” wrote Private William Shepp, “are common in the army.” At the time, Shepp, an aspiring teacher from a small community in West Virginia, was pondering the seemingly unrewarding and unending work that he and the men of his engineering company were doing in support of the American Army then arriving by the thousands near Paris. He had himself arrived in France in the first week of April 1918 just as the German spring offensive, commonly known as the Ludendorff Offensive after its chief architect, had begun to threaten Paris. Shepp, however, seems to have been only vaguely aware of what was happening. Most of his news of the war came from old copies of the New York Herald or Stars and Stripes that he found along the way. To him, the date of his arrival meant nothing except for the coincidence of it landing on the first anniversary of America’s declaration of war.
The letters to Annie E. Cole and the schoolchildren of PS 5 on Staten Island chronicle the experiences of ordinary Americans of diverse ethnic backgrounds who were involved in an extraordinary event. They provide an enduring record of the wartime experiences of American servicemen during the First World War and demonstrate the important bonds formed between a community and its veterans. Writing to their former teacher enabled the men to open up and show their vulnerability. Their letters provide a critical glimpse of the emotional impact of war too often overlooked in discussions of combat and life in the military.
Glossary Term – Event
Race riots erupted across the nation from late spring through the early fall of 1919. In dozens of incidents of racial violence, African Americans were beaten, terrorized, and murdered. The NAACP appealed to President Wilson to investigate the attacks, but federal and local governments did little to address the violence.