Over There: Yes, Female WWI Reporters Did Exist

Today is the anniversary of the armistice that brought WWI to an end in 1918. In honor of it, let’s meet eight women who worked as war correspondents in Europe between 1914 and 1918.

Despite several fantastic resources now available about female WWI reporters, a variation of this sentiment still occasionally pops up on the Interwebs: “During the First World War women war correspondents were simply nonexistent; the U.S. military accredited only one, then sent her off to Siberia, far from the main fighting fronts.” (That little gem appeared in National Geographic.)

But the accuracy of that statement is simply nonexistent. Women were most definitely reporting from the front lines, permission slips be damned. So let’s begin.

Harriet Chalmers Adams

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Birth:
October 22, 1875; Stockton, California
Death: July 17, 1937; Nice, France
During WWI: Was the only female war reporter and photographer to cover the French trenches in 1916. Press credential was through Harper’sView her photos from the French trenches.
Quote: “I have never heard anything as ominous as the sound of those Titanic shells, each crushing out homes and human beings.”

Nellie Bly

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Birth: May 5, 1864; Cochrans Mills, Pennsylvania
Death: January 27, 1922; New York City
During WWI: Was in Austria as a tourist in 1914 when war broke out. Quickly arranged a contract with The New York Evening Journal and remained in Europe until 1919. Read “Dead Stew Trenches,” an account from Austria.
Quote: “Travel the roads from the scenes of battle; search the trains; wounded, frozen, starved thousands are dying in agonizing torture—not hundreds, but thousands.” From “Hospital in Budapest Is Arena of Horror,” Washington Herald, January 20, 1915.

Corra Mae Harris

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Birth:
 March  17, 1869; near Elberton, Georgia
Death: February 7, 1935; Atlanta, Georgia
During WWI: In September 1914, traveled to London, Paris, and elsewhere in France. Wrote articles about the Woman’s Emergency Corps, German atrocities as recounted by women and orphans, and a hospital run by Madame Marcherez. Worked primarily for The Saturday Evening Post.
Quote: “Men’s sacrifice in war is at least recorded by history, while women’s story goes untold.”

Peggy Hull (Henrietta Eleanor Goodnough Deuell)

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Birth:
 
September 30 or December 30, 1889; Bennington, Kansas
Death: 
June 19, 1967; Carmel, California
During WWI:
 Traveled to France in 1917 to report for the Chicago Tribune and El Paso’s Morning Times. Befriended officers and made her way to the front lines. Male colleagues complained because the front was off limits to accredited reporters. Was forced to return to the United States, where she launched an effort to earn accreditation. In 1918, became the first female correspondent to be formally accredited by the U.S. War Department. Arrived in Siberia as the war ended.
Quote: “To know the fullness of a well-rounded life it is necessary to have ventured into the world with ideas and hopes and projects.”

Inez Milholland

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Birth:
 August 6, 1886; Brooklyn, New York
Death: November 25, 1916; Los Angeles, California
During WWI: Went to Italy in 1915. Her articles led to her censure and deportation by the Italian government. Was onboard Henry Ford’s Peace Ship Expedition in 1915.
Quote: “Not to know what things in life require remedying is a crime. It leaves you at the mercy of events–it lets life manipulate you–instead of training you to manipulate life.”

Mary Boyle O’Reilly

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Louvain, Belgium, after the German invasion in 1915

Birth: May 18, 1873; Boston, Massachusetts
Death: October 21, 1939; Auburndale, Massachusetts
During WWI: Entered Belgium in disguise in 1914 and was the only English-speaking journalist to witness the burning of Louvain. Was in London during the 1915 Zeppelin raids and was captured and imprisoned. Released in Holland and returned to Belgium, again in disguise. Reported on prison camps and hospitals in France and England until returning to New York in 1917.
Quote: “The train crawling out of Berlin was filled with women and children, hardly an able-bodied man. In one compartment a gray-haired Landsturm soldier sat beside an elderly woman who seemed weak and ill. Above the click-clack of the car wheels passengers could hear her counting: ‘One, two, three,’ evidently absorbed in her own thoughts. Sometimes she repeated the words at short intervals. Two girls tittered, thoughtlessly exchanging vapid remarks about such extraordinary behavior. An elderly man scowled reproval. Silence fell. ‘One, two, three,’ repeated the obviously unconscious woman. Again the girls giggled stupidly. The gray Landsturm leaned forward.’Fräulein,’ he said gravely, ‘you will perhaps cease laughing when I tell you that this poor lady is my wife. We have just lost our three sons in battle. Before leaving for the front myself I must take their mother to an insane asylum.’ It became terribly quiet in the carriage.”

Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Birth:
 August 12, 1876; Allegheny City, Pennsylvania
Death: September 22, 1958; New York City
During WWI: Traveled to Germany in January 1915 and got within 200 yards of the front. Wrote articles for the Saturday Evening Post and is especially remembered for her coverage of inadequate hospitals for wounded soldiers in Belgium and France. Stayed in Europe until the 1918 Armistice. Listen to an excerpt from one of Rinehart’s dispatches. 

Alice Rohe

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Birth: January 15, 1876; Lawrence, Kansas
Death: April 7, 1957; New York City
WWI work: In 1914, went to Rome as the first female bureau chief for the United Press International Bureau. Produced articles for several major publications. Shortly after the war, photographed the Balkans for the Red Cross in 1919 and lived in Italy until 1935 to observe and report on the rise of Mussolini. View some of her photography of the aftermath of the war.

Many American women were in Europe during WWI as nurses, spies, and more. Helen Dore Boylston, Josephine Baker, Louise Arner Boyd, and Elizabeth Robins are a few names to start with. Check out the excellent American Women in World War I to learn about more.

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Featured image is by Harriet Chalmers Adams. Taken in France.

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