Service women: discover the experiences of your female ancestors who nursed soldiers and served on the home front during World War I

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Author: Lisa A. Alzo
Date: July-August 2014
From: Family Tree Magazine(Vol. 15, Issue 4)
Publisher: F+W Media, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,319 words

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A WWI SERVICEMEMBER from Pennsylvania was later named Chief Yeoman of the US Navy. A British ambulance service volunteer became a sergeant in the Serbian Army. An American journalist was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government. If you heard the stories of these individuals who served and sacrificed during World War I, you may assume you're looking at the resumes of men. But the experiences of Loretta Perfectus Walsh, Flora Sandes and Mildred Aldrich represent the countless contributions women made during this pivotal time in history.

The Great War mobilized women on all sides in unprecedented numbers from 1914 to 1918. While the vast majority of those women were drafted into the civilian workforce to replace conscripted men or staff expanded munitions factories, thousands also served in the military as nurses and in other support roles. In Russia, some women actually saw combat, including a peasant named Maria Bochkareva, who secured the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II to join the Imperial Russian Army. She led the "Women's Battalion of Death" combat unit.

"[Women] not only gained the gratitude of many in their own generation but they proved, for the first time on a global scale, the enormous value of a woman's contribution, paving the way for future generations of women to do the same," writes Kathryn J. Atwood, the author of Women Heroes of World War 1:16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies and Medics (Chicago Review Press).

Whether your female ancestors served in the trenches, tended to the wounded, worked in a factory or participated in conservation or patriotic efforts back home, here's where to find key resources for tracing your female ancestors and learning about their contributions during World War I.

Women on the battlefield

In 1917, more than 20,000 American women joined the US Army Nurse Corps. More than half of these sailed overseas, leaving their families and private jobs to work under hazardous conditions as nurses to more than a million battle-wounded and ill American soldiers. Learn more about US Army nurses at <>. Look for these clues to the service of women in your family:

* US MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS: Just as for male soldiers, records are available for women in branches of the service. Although a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis affected more than 16 million files of Army and Air Force personnel discharged in 1912 and later, you still might find records for female ancestors.

"Look for payroll records, morning reports and monthly personnel rosters, especially if service records no longer exist," advises Jennifer Holik, a military historian and author of Stories of the Lost: Discovering the Story of Our Heroes Through Genealogy (Generations). "Also listen to oral histories and read unit histories or books about the branch of service in which your female ancestor served. These histories will provide context, even if your female is not named."

To find women's service records, start your search online. Subscription site <> includes databases such as a...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Alzo, Lisa A. "Service women: discover the experiences of your female ancestors who nursed soldiers and served on the home front during World War I." Family Tree Magazine, vol. 15, no. 4, July-Aug. 2014, p. 22+. Accessed 25 July 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A372094944