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Grace Mabel Bacon Papers, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA.
History of the Collection
Summary of Correspondence
Grace Bacon, while Associate Professor of German at Mount Holyoke, went abroad with the Red Cross in 1918 under the sponsorship of the College Chapter of the Red Cross. The collection includes typed extracts of her letters written between September 28, 1918 and January 17, 1919.
The S. S. Vestra, "a little gem of boat," sailed from Quebec with 130 Red Cross workers, most of whom were social workers, and a "great cargo of Argentine beef." Tragedy struck soon when passengers came down with flu and pneumonia. By October 7th, they were "adrift in an icy ocean," amid high seas and gale winds, separated from their convoy. No doctor was on board and the epidemic was spreading; many were desperately ill. The next day Ruth MacGregor, Mount Holyoke Class of 1910, died and was buried at sea. Fearing attack, everyone had to remain fully dressed in their heaviest clothing day and night.
They reached Paris safely on October 15th where "sadness reigns" and "heavy mourning everywhere." After getting settled and finding housing, she was sent (November 5th) to St. Nazaire to salvage a warehouse full of Red Cross clothing and supplies, damaged in transit by fire in the hold of a ship. They sorted in a school building, recruited women refugees and children to wash and dry and supervised prisoners of war in the packing of 50 cases. Attached to the excerpts, there is a copy of an article in a Red Cross bulletin entitled Mount Holyoke Girls Tell Story of Salvage Work...Saved Miss Bacon and Miss Meade (who was Belle Meade, Mount Holyoke Class of 1900, a friend of Grace). From there they went next to Augers to assist in the distribution of food and clothing to 35,000 refugees, most of whom had lost their homes and who were ill clothed and undernourished. Officials did not "anticipate the wants of men", wrote Grace, so nothing was available for returning prisoners of war who arrived in rags, many in the last stages of TB. The most they could offer them were small squares of wool intended as scarfs for women.\tab It was grim work but Grace felt the experience gave her first-hand knowledge of the terrible privation and suffering of populations caught in war.
Red Cross work was to close January 1, so Belle and Grace had to decide whether to return home or to work in the Red Cross canteens. Grace decided on canteen work; it is "one more experience" she wrote, and she was assigned to the Gare du Nord, where she was head waiter on the day shift with 15 girls under her charge. She found her knowledge of French a great asset since she had to deal with the kitchen staff and explain to French soldiers who came by thafthe canteen was intended only for American soldiers.
Nine days later she found the job for which she was perfected qualified. Up until then she had felt ill equipped for the work she was doing. She was to set up the teaching of German at Army Post Schools. under the YMCA Army Educational Commission. Actually she "walked around" to headquarters in Paris and introduced herself; German was not in the curriculum. A description of this assignment is contained in an article she wrote for the Springfield Republican of April 23, 1919. She was sent to Coblenz where 17,000 American soldiers were quartered in homes. Meals were served in 15 or more canteens operated by the Y and between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers attended evening classes studying a wide variety of subjects. There were no books and the Syllabus which Grace prepared is included in the collection.