Nurses on the Home Front
In Asheville, as in the rest of the country during the Great War years, women were beginning to make strides in status. Many women in the United States utilized different opportunities to display their patriotism and support for those serving in the Great War overseas, and many women from the mountain regions of North Carolina were able to tap into this movement as well. The National League for Woman’s Service was one such way. The NLWS was a civilian volunteer organization that had been formed in 1917 in conjunction with the Red Cross to provide and promote the efficiency of women in meeting their every-day responsibility to home, to state, to nation and to humanity. This would include stateside objectives such as feeding and caring for veterans and soldiers of the war. In Asheville, the chapter that organized was the Asheville Community Cannery. In an area long known for canning and preservation of food, the Asheville Community Cannery aligned perfectly with the ideals of the NLWS.1
Nursing had long been an accepted occupation for women, and women healers in the Southern Appalachian region had been practicing their art for many decades prior to the coming of the Great War. In Asheville, a need for professional nurses was born with the creation of several military hospitals. The US Army built a 1,500 bed sanatorium in Asheville in 1918, called US Army General Hospital No. 19, to care for tuberculosis soldiers, as well as those whose lungs had been damaged from poison gases being utilized as weapons in the fighting overseas. Local nurses would find job opportunities extremely lucrative at this Army hospital.2
In fact, the US Army pay scale for nurses was higher than what the North Carolina State Nurses Association could afford to pay their own nurses. This would force the closure of a nearby sanatorium, called Dunnwyche in Black Mountain. Dunnwyche had been formed to care for nurses who had become ill themselves while caring for soldiers from World War I. The loss of nurses to the better paying US Army would force the Board of Directors of Dunnwyche to close the sanatorium and sell the building, although they did invest the money from the sale of the sanatorium in Liberty Bonds.3
In and around Asheville, many inns and businesses were actually utilized by the US Army as hospitals during the Great War years. The Kenilworth Inn had just been rebuilt after a fire, and was able to house 500 guests when the military transformed it into US Army General Hospital No. 12. Local nurse, Coral Newman Hood, worked at this convalescence hospital for soldiers during the Great War years. Coral had enlisted as a “Reconstruction Aide” on January 10, 1919 and went to work in the Asheville area soon after. Here at US Army General Hosptial No. 12, Coral would take care of hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers from camps in this country, as well as those who had served overseas. Coral left behind an immense photographic album which documented her time at US Army General Hospital No. 12.4
Asheville nurses were keen to display their patriotism in other ways as well. On April 10, 1917, a parade was held in downtown Asheville in response to the US declaration of war against Germany. Over 5,000 people were in the march, including many nurses in uniform. There were 25,000 spectators attending the event, and after the parade had ended there was a program held at the Asheville Auditorium where several speeches were delivered.5
“Glory” Battle Hancock
The most decorated nurse of World War I actually called Asheville home. Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock grew up in Asheville and was the daughter of Dr. S. Westray Battle, who was a well-known physician in the field of tuberculosis. As the war first began in 1914, Madelon enlisted with the British Hospital Unit and went immediately to the front lines of the war. She became known by her fellow nurses as “Glory Hancock” for her enthusiastic support of the Allied war effort. The Tarboro Daily Southerner described her as follows: “Mrs. Hancock is known to the whole British army as ‘Glory Hancock,’ a name which she won by her untiring and earnest work in the ranks of the Red Cross during the recent great war against Germany.”6
Madelon began serving in Antwerp, Belgium on August 13, 1914, and then spent several additional months there. She attended to many wounded Belgians and British, including some of the British Royal Navy Division. Madelon served at many locales throughout the area that were shelled and eventually had to be evacuated. Never far from the sounds of gunfire, and repeatedly in the midst of it, including being gassed at one point, she always managed to escape without injury.7
Madelon was actually married before the war began, to Mortimer Hancock, a British Army officer. The photo to the left is Madelon’s wedding portrait. For Madelon’s service in the war, she received 12 medals, making her the most decorated woman in World War I. Five came from Great Britain, five came from Belgium, and two came from France. At the end of the war, she returned to North Carolina to visit family and friends, but eventually returned to France and began caring for war orphans. She died soon after.8
The Rise of Professional Women
The changing role of women at home corresponded directly to the larger economic changes that were being elicited from the Great War. According to Maurine Weiner Greenwald, “Many women took literally the wartime propaganda… that the rhetoric of democracy and human dignity should have meaning in women’s work.”9 Even so, many women still found the path to more non-traditional jobs blocked by both individuals and collective groups of men. It wasn’t until the passage of Women’s Suffrage, or the legal right of women to vote, that many women found both social and political doors beginning to open for them.10
Lillian Exum Clement was born in the North Fork river valley, in the Black Mountains, just to the north of Asheville. In her teens, the family moved into the downtown area. There she started school at All Souls Parish and later attended college at Asheville Business College. Clement began studying law, and in February 1917, she passed the bar exam and became the first woman in North Carolina to become an attorney. Clement went on to open up her own law practice and soon became known as a skilled criminal lawyer. The Buncombe County Democratic Party asked her to run in 1920 for a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, which she won by a landslide. Clement eventually became known by the nickname, “Brother Exum,” a name given to her by a local judge and which stuck with her throughout her career. Clement was also instrumental in introducing some of the first legislation in North Carolina aimed at improving women’s statuses in the state.11
The Great War years were a time of turbulence and change for the Southern Appalachian region of Asheville and the surrounding areas. Women, more than any other demographic group, fiercely embraced this change through a variety of occupations during the Great War. Each one of them, Coral Newman Hood, Glory Hancock, Lillian Exum Clement, and many others from the region not mentioned by name, paved the way for future generations of women to reach out and grasp the opportunities that had long been denied to them due to culture and gender. These women helped to usher in an era full of promise and prosperity for the future.
Figure 1: “Asheville Community Cannery- National League For Women’s Service,” Image E775-8, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 2: “Some of the Convalescent Wards, U.S.A General Hospital No. 19, Oteen NC,” Image AB785, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 3-4: “Coral Newman Hood Photograph Album,” MS099, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 5: “Patriotic Parade on Haywood Street,” Image L325-DS, B, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 6: “Portrait of Leslie Glory Hancock in Uniform,” Image 746-4, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 7: “Gothic Church in Flanders During WWI, Glory Hancock,” Image B739-4, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 8: “Wedding Portrait Glory Hancock,” Image E809-DS, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 9: “Wartime Propaganda,” 1917, Susanna Cocroft Collection, Special Collections, D.H. Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina
Figure 10: “Portrait of Lillian Exum Clement Stafford,” Image J101-11, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina
- Ida Clyde Gallagher Clarke, American Women and the World War (Madison: The University of Wisconsin, 1918), 101.
- “Oteen,” Image AB785, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.
- “Buncombe County,” accessed March 31, 2015, http://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/counties/buncombe-county.
- “Photograph Album, Coral Newman Hood,” Image MS099, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.
- “Patriotic Parade on Haywood Street,” Image L325-DS, B, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.
- “The Daily Southerner from Tarboro, North Carolina-Page 1,” accessed March 31, 2015, http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/67753202/.
- “‘Glory’ Battle Hancock Heroine of
the Great War,” accessed March 31, 2015, http://northeasternncstories.blogspot.com/2011/07/glory-battle-hancock-heroine-of-great.html.
- Maurine Weiner Greenwald, Women, War, and Work: The Impact of World War I on Women (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 15
- Ibid, 45, 137
- “Papers,” Stafford, Lillian Exum Clement, 1903-Current, ID MS249, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.