Socializing and Entertainment at Camp Devens - 1918

The need for socializing and entertainment for the troops at Camp Devens was undertaken by three primary organizations. The YMCA, The Knights of Columbus, and The Hostess House. The latter being primarily for the benefit of women who visited Camp Devens.


YMCA Hut Number 29 at Camp Devens.

YMCA Hut Number 29 at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a2213209

The greatest non-military organization which has ever become attached to the army is the YMCA To the soldier, the YMCA Hut is a fraternity, a church, a theatre, a common meeting-place, possessing none of the ordinary disadvantages of some of those institutions.

As soon as the workers learned that an encampment was to be built at Devens, they made plans to organize. Fourteen buildings were constructed in the various sections of the camp. There is one main administrative building near the field artillery quarters, an auditorium to accommodate 3000 men, and nine huts similar to that in the picture.

At one end of the building there is a stage where the entertainments and performances are produced. The main part of the room is filled with benches on which there is an ample supply of writing paper, pens and ink.

Movies are shown frequently; often the local talent of nearby units entertain their companies, and there are frequent boxing and wrestling matches, and similar forms of exercise and amusement. The walls are lined with bookcases which contain every type of book which a "live" man might care to read. In a box near the center of the room are piled the current magazines and newspapers.

On Sunday, the Association holds three services, which are the only religious activities on the weekly calendar. The rest of the week, the Y men seek to entertain, amuse and gain the confidence of their portages, and thereby exert a beneficial influence over them.

The success of this organization is undoubted; men who have never been in a church or a YMCA building before naturally flock to the army huts. Ask the soldier what he thinks of the YMCA, and his enthusiastic answer will surprise you.

The men realize that these huts are for them, and that every one of the fifty workers in Camp Devens is their friend, and is doing his best to make them comfortable and happy.

Kenneth Robbie, the General Camp Secretary, assisted by an administrative staff of seven, has charge of the Camp Devens Association.

The Knights of Columbus

Knights of Columbus Hut Number 3 at Camp Devens.

Knights of Columbus Hut Number 3 at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a251eb0d

This organization is doing excellent work at the camp. One notices on each of its signs the inscription : "All Welcome."

"I want to emphasize the significance of those two words," one of the secretaries told me. "Some people think that the K. of C. building is for Catholics alone, but that is by no means the case. It makes no difference whether a man if a Catholic, a member of the society, or not; is he isn't, he will receive the same cordial treatment as anyone else. We are not doing this work for the K. of C. men alone; we are doing it for our soldiers, and we want every American soldier to make our house his headquarters."

This is a typical example of the co-operative spirit of the non-military workers at the camp. The Knights of Columbus have three large huts at Ayer, and a dozen men in charge of them. The interior of the huts is similar to that of the YMCA buildings.

Each one is fitted with basketball apparatus, and has a piano, a complete library, and writing materials. Thomas C. Moore, of the Ayer Council, has charge of the cantonment work and is assisted by men from other New England Councils.

An innovation at Devens is the organization of an elimination basket-ball league. Each unit in the camp has been invited to form a representative team and will play at the K. of C. buildings for the championship of the division. There are also frequent boxing matches under the supervision of experts.

The entertainments are given not only by local talent, but also by visiting groups from the K. of C. Councils. Each Sunday a field Mass is held at building Number 1. On one occasion the service had an attendance of 18,000 men. The building shown in this picture is No. 3, near the base hospital; each morning the workers go from here to the hospital with writing paper and stamps and do what they can to make the sick men comfortable.

The Hostess House

The Hostess House at Camp Devens.

The Hostess House at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a240a53c

The Hostess House, which was built under the auspices of the YWCA, stands on a high bluff near the 301st Light Field Artillery, a short distance from the main road. It was erected for the benefit of women who visit the camp.

Formerly the wives and woman visitors of the soldiers had no place of meeting; the barracks and Y huts were obviously inconvenient for them, and when they desired to eat, it was necessary for them to return to the town. On November 26, 1917, this new house was opened to the public, and was placed in the charge of several lady attendants.

All women who come to the camp are invited to share the hospitality of the Association. If a mother arrives at nine in the morning and finds that her son will not be at liberty until noon, she goes to the Hostess House until that time comes. Not only women and their escorts are welcome, but also any of the boys who wish to wait for friends, or taste a little home cooking.

The dining room, which is of the cafeteria type, is becoming more popular every day. Men are accustomed to bringing their friends for dinner, tea or supper. A special breakfast is served on Sunday.

This organization has charge of the Woman's Employment Bureau, and is doing excellent work in that field. The Board attempts to obtain positions as housekeepers in the neighborhood for soldiers' wives, so that they can be near their husbands.

Thus far, every application has been filled and many women have been enabled to earn money and at the same time remain in the vicinity of the camp. The Board stipulates that all people who hire soldiers' wives shall allow the husbands to visit them at the homes.

Women Design Hostess Houses for Army Camps

By ROBERT H. MOULTON. 23 August 1918

War brought the men of America to the camps of the country. It brought the women, too -- mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, sweethearts.

The government had made Its plans for the men, but it had made them without thought of the women. Then the women came to visit their soldier relatives. The camp commanders looked at the stream of femininity coming steadily toward them, and asked what was to be done.

Then the war department began to think of the women, and finally it asked the Young Women's Christian Association for help. The Hostess house was the answer.

Eighty-Five of these unique establishments are now either in operation or are definitely under construction. They are put up only at the direct request of the camp commandants. Some of the commanding officers were a little doubtful at first as to the practicability of the scheme.

Now these same officers are asking for second and third Hostess houses in their cantonments. Wherever colored troops are stationed, buildings are erected for their use and social welfare work under trained colored leaders is carried on.

These centers of hospitality are under the supervision of the war department's commission on training camp activities. They are a part of the government's war work. The war work council of the Young Women's Christian association promotes them as one phase of the association's work for the country in this national emergency.

Since women are allowed to come to cantonments to visit their soldier folk, places must be provided for their recreation. Camp Lewis at American Lake, Washington state is seven miles long. Camp Lee, Virginia, contains 40,000 men. Each camp covers acres of ground laid out in the. bewildering monotony of company streets lined with barracks.

The discomfort of the camps for visitors is often extreme. The thermometer went down to 27 degrees below-zero at Camp Devens, Mass., last winter. The Kansas mud at Camp Funston could be put in a mélange bottle and used for glue. Camp Donniphan, Oklahoma, sometimes hides itself in dust. And as for head in summer, no visitor has been able to decide where the thermometer goes the highest.

The Hostess houses are refuges for the elderly parents, worried wives, and admiring friends whose love, of the soldiers draws them to the camps.

One phase alone of the Hostess house work won't Justify their existence. Each house is a directory, a street guide, a map, a telephone exchange, a finding bureau, and a writing room for visitors.

When a soldier is "under orders for France" his family come to bid him good-bye if it is within coming distance. At one cantonment a father, mother and three sisters came hurrying. Their particular soldier was not at the entrance where they were to meet him. Like sensible people they went straight to the Hostess house. Then they learned that the camp had three entrances.

The hostess by the aid of telephone and messengers paged each of these stations. The man was found at one of them and brought to the Hostess house.

This is surely a great improvement on the game of "cross tag" so often played by excited families with their impatient soldier sons among the barracks. At Balbon Park, Cal., they call the hostess "the lady who finds your friends."

An interesting feature of the Hostess house is that the architects in charge of the construction are women. Miss Julia Morgan is on the Pacific coast. Miss Fay Kellogg has charge of the Southern field. Miss Katherine Budd builds in the middle West.

The general plan of construction is the same, adapted to local conditions. A large room is generally divided into two parts by a huge chimney with fireplaces on both sides. In winter, a leaping fire gives cheer and warmth. In summer evergreen branches on the big stone opening.

Interior decorators make the houses beautiful with the dignity of simple lines and harmonious colors. Gay curtains at the windows give brightness even in stormy weather. The chintz cushions in the chairs are good to look at as well as comfortable to lean against.

Half of the big room is used for a reception hall and the other half forms the cafeteria.
There is always a rest room for tired travelers. A nursery with bright quilts and curtains is waiting for the babies who come to visit their fathers. Not unusually the house contains sleeping rooms for the hostesses.

One or two spare cots are frequently provided for very exceptional cases where it is impossible for women to leave camp that night. Sometimes a hail storm effectually holds them prisoners. Or the mother of a sick boy waits anxiously for a crisis in the illness.

A Hostess house is manned by five women. The hostess director having general charge of everything. The social hostess is chiefly responsible for the reception of visitors. The emergency hostess looks after outside cases which come to the attention of the workers.

The cafeteria hostess is concerned with the food. The business hostess keeps the accounts and looks after the buying. Certain qualifications are essential for these offices. Of course the cafeteria director must be a trained dietitian, a graduate of a recognized domestic science institute and an experienced domestic economist.

The business hostess is one who is accustomed to running a large establishment on an economical and efficient basis. The emergency secretary is somewhat like the social worker. Experience in settlement work or some other form of welfare work affords a good training. She must know and utilize all the government agencies, charitable institutions and philanthropic organizations.

The term "social hostess" sounds somewhat vague but more than shaking hands is involved in her position. She must have had experience in dealing with large numbers of people. Tact which takes her to a desired goal without friction is necessary. Endless patience, a kind heart, and shrewd brain are fundamental.

The director of a Hostess house must be all the four others rolled into one. Poise is a prerequisite. When a tornado rolled the roof back from the house at Camp Taylor, Louisville, and then returned it to its place with a bang, the work went right on as if nothing had happened.

Every sort of a demand is made upon the women employed in Hostess houses. They made 4,000 sandwiches for ex-President Taft at Camp Fuston. The number was not too many for him -- and his admiring audience. A worker at Camp Cody, Tex., was taken aback for a moment when a woman inquired "Can you tell me where I can get a baby?" But she recovered her breath in time to find one for adoption.

Wandering mothers, lost in company streets, are returned to anxious sons. Homesick soldier boys are accompanied to movie shows. Rooming and boarding places in the neighborhood are found for soldiers' relatives. Mothers are chaperoned, babies fed. letters written, and information given on every subject from the future life to fountain pens.

The Hostess house does not shut up shop when visiting hours are over. Not only for guests does it exist, but for the soldiers themselves. In one house it has been discovered that as soon as the boys have seen their friends off on the train they came pell-mell back to seek comfort and food. Then the cafeteria, which has worked so hard all day, hands out pie and coffee to the disconsolate ones.

The cook at Camp Meade forgot her pass one morning. She told a soldier at the gate who she was.

"Are you the cook who makes that tomato soup?" asked the sentry.

"I am," she replied.

"Pass." decreed the soldier, saluting. "I want some of that soup this noon."

The cost of building and equipping Hostess houses has Increased during the past year Just as has everything else. Originally $10,000 expected to build and equip a house suitably. Lumber has gone up. Wages are higher.

Furniture is almost unattainable. Transportation is difficult. Constant delays occur. Nevertheless Hostess houses must be built. The appropriation must be sufficient to cover all these difficulties. Twenty-Seven thousand dollars is not too much to invest in one of these hospitality centers.

Even after the house is built , alterations and additions must go on. The military sanitary regulations must be fulfilled. even if they increase in severity. With summer comes the screening necessary. Yet every house is worth to the community and to the nation in general all the money invested in it. Of the $5,000,000 budget appropriated by the war work council of the Young Women's Christian Association $1,750,000 is being devoted to Hostess houses.

Another work of the greatest importance which has just been undertaken by the Young Women's Christian association is the housing of women workers in connection with our great industrial establishments.

While this is not strictly a new problem created by the war, the calling of many women workers to war service makes the situation immediately acute. Obviously the providing of proper housing for these newly called women workers, since it is a part of the war program, must be done by the government.

The Young Women's Christian Association is now constructing, at its own expense, two buildings as a demonstration; one at Camp Sherman Annex, Chillicothe, and another at Charleston S. C.. for the women employees in the navy uniform factory. The latter is being built at the request of Secretary Daniels.

If the government shall decide to make provision for the housing of its women workers, the Young Women's Christian Association offers to provide the needed social and recreational workers.

Based on its experience in housing girls during the last 50 years, the association believes that younger girls should be grouped where they can have social life and an opportunity to entertain their friends, and still be under some of the restrictions of the home; that older women want independence of living, many of them objecting to living in large groups because of the noise and confusion and ensuing fatigue; and that it is more successful to house non-English speaking foreign girls in small groups, until they learn English and become used to American customs.

The type "A" building, the permanent structure which the association is building at Charleston, is designed for use in places where only one building will be erected.

The dining room and recreation hall, several parlors, and bedrooms for 44 girls are on the first floor. There is but one entrance for the residents. This makes it possible for the matron or social head of the house, who is in the office near the door, to see everyone who comes in or goes out.

The entrance hall is attractive and homelike. Opening out of it are several parlors separated from the hall by arches. To the right is an entrance to the wing containing the recreation hall and dining room. These rooms are so arranged that they can be thrown into one for a large social gathering.

There are bedrooms for 51 girls on the second floor. There is also a sitting room separated from the hall only by pillars. This is for the use of the girls only. Next to this is a small sewing room with facilities for sewing.  On the third floor are bedrooms for six girls, an infirmary and a private bath.

In industrial communities the buildings are intended to be grouped as effectively as possible with due regard to natural advantages. There can, of course, be as many units as are necessary.

It is also proposed to provide a number of three and four-family houses to accommodate the elder women and the non-English speaking foreign girls. In all of these buildings, an attempt has been made to use a style of architecture which is distinctly American.

Return to Top of Page

World War I
Training Camps
GG Archives

WWI Training Camps

Camp Devens

Camp Dix

Camp Funston

Camp Pike

Camp Zachary Taylor

Third Officers Training Camp - Camp Devens 1918

1st Battery - FA

1st Company - Infantry

2nd Company - Infantry

3rd Company - Infantry

4th Company - Infantry

World War 1 Collection

Primary Military Collections