War Work of the Hostess House Committee - 1919

Beginning, Growth, and Extent of Work

When the National War Work Council of the Young Women's Christian Association undertook to provide for the needs of the women affected by war conditions, both in industrial communities and in those affected by the presence of men in the training camps, there was no expectation that there would be any need for work for women inside the camps.

It was a special surprise, therefore, to be asked to meet the unanticipated situation which arose when, in June of 1917, the Officers' Training Corps was opened at Plattsburg barracks and where every man in training was visited by all his women relatives for whom there was no provision of any kind.

Consequently, because of its experience in construction and cafeteria management and because of funds immediately available for work in Plattsburg, the War Department asked the Young Women's Christian Association to erect at once, within the barracks, a building in which women visitors to the men in training might meet them, might rest and have food.

Since in this building the workers acted as hostesses to the visitors to the camp and the men in training there, the term, hostess house, was rather informally decided upon for that unique piece of work.

Unexpectedly and within a short time, officers in command of other officers' training corps requested similar facilities. Individual requests began to be received for hostess houses in camps and cantonments, then being created to train our army.

While the work was still in an experimental stage, urgent requests followed for hostess houses from aviation Fields, marine, and naval stations, from engineer and quartermaster training camps, the artillery, and the embarkation camps.

With the formation of the Student Army Training Corps came a flood of requests for hostess housework. From camps whose personnel included white and, [African-American] soldiers came requests for provision for [African-American] women visitors similar to that for white.

From permanent posts came requests that they might have the same hostess house facilities as were, upon request, be given to camps. From Puerto Rico and Honolulu came requests for hostess housework in camps needing it to an especial degree.

With two exceptions, the Young Women's Christian Association, through the National War Work Council's hostess house committee, acceded to each kind of request.

One exception was the request which infrequently proved to be for some other form of work. The second was a request from a permanent post.

According to Government ruling, hostess houses could not be built unless, in addition to the post's regular garrison, three thousand or more men were enrolled in training.

On the 31st of October, 1918, the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities, through its committee of eleven, ruled that the five visitors' houses promoted by the National Catholic War Council and hostess houses operated by the Young Women's Christian Association should be termed hostess houses.

A joint hostess house committee was thereupon appointed composed of representatives of the National Catholic War Council, the Jewish Welfare Board, and the Young Women's Christian Association, to receive and consider each subsequent request for a hostess house and to determine whether the National Catholic War Council or the Young Women's Christian Association should erect and administer a hostess house which the joint committee had decided should be built.

Upon the armistice's signing, the requests for a time ceased, and certain houses, partially built, were not completed. At that time, each decision not to begin promised construction, discontinue construction began, or complete partially or substantially completed houses was made after consultation with the War Department and in accord with the best knowledge and prediction that the Government could give.

The total number of hostess houses for which the committee assumed responsibility for November 1, 1919, is 124. Of these, 17 have been for [African-American] visitors. Work has been done in various buildings, from a tent or borrowed Colonial mansion to the latest type of "X" Hostess House.

The first house, built at Plattsburg Barracks, was hardly more than a Young Men's Christian Association hut, with kitchenette attachment, dressing, restroom, and comfortable wicker furniture, and intended to provide for the needs of visitors to five thousand men. It is very gratifying to see this house has continued to be adequate for that size camp.

As the demands upon the hostess house became greater in camps where 25,000 to 50,000 men were in training, the hostess houses' size and facilities had to grow in proportion until they reached the two built at the two embarkation camps Merritt and Mills.

Facilities in houses for white and [African-American] visitors were identical, the same plan of the house being used for each and the work differing in size only, not in content. The work called for adequate provision for toilet facilities, rest and emergency room, and free checking service.

It also called for cafeteria service to provide essential and straightforward food for the visitors and a supplement of desserts and sweets to the everyday mess. The hostess house provided sleeping rooms for the staff and servants.

At the outset, and until the demobilization period, hostess houses continued almost exclusively to be meeting places. They were designed to provide for the reception, refreshment, rest, shelter, and protection to the female relatives and friends of the officers and men in camp.

No lodgings were provided, although the chance women who missed the last train or who fell ill and whom the military authorities permitted us to entertain were taken in for the night and made as comfortable as possible.

No dancing was allowed, and no other kind of entertainment carried on since other volunteer organizations within the camp had been asked and authorized to carry that responsibility.

No public religious services were held for the same reason. On Sundays, the busiest visiting days, nothing in the house was allowed to interfere with the opportunity it gave for visiting. Soldiers, accompanied by their relatives, were always welcome.

The hostesses endeavored to establish an atmosphere of home and peace and Christian friendliness where the lonely boy might find sympathy and the tired one, quiet.

The work of a hostess house was divided into five parts:

  1. The house's management, leadership, general supervision of the work, and contact with the military authorities.
  2. Reception and care of the guests.
  3. Management of the cafeterias, engaging of servants, and purchase of supplies.
  4. Bookkeeping, banking, and general business administration.
  5. Responsibility for information, a connection between the visitors and the men they have come to see, room registry, transportation, information about nearby organizations or institutions.

A hostess house required a staff of five to carry out these five kinds of work in some camps. In a small aviation field, a staff of three could divide the work among themselves with volunteers' assistance for busy days.

In one of the embarkation camps, the information desk alone required ten people's services, working in shifts and assisted by orderlies and details from the camp headquarters.

The total number of resident women engaged in hostess housework up to November 1, 1919, is as follows:

Type Serices Discontinued Employed 31 October 1919 Total
White 529 148 677
Whte Volunteers 86 3 89
African-American 65 2 67
Foreign Speaking 8 0 8
688 153 841

Those mentioned above as volunteers held permanent positions on the staff. Many other volunteers gave regular but temporary help, who should not fail to be mentioned.

In certain cities, which were embarkation and debarkation ports or in their immediate neighborhood several military centers, hostess housework was established in houses rented or loaned for that purpose.

The program here included additional personal service to women who were strangers in the city and further work in securing lodgings for them. The largest of these was the Debarkation Hostess House in New York City.

Working with the resident staff were two groups of people, the local hostess house committees and the supervisors and field referees. The local committees' responsibility was to assist the staff as an advisory board and render such specific assistance as the circumstances permitted.

Committees gave invaluable and indispensable aid in interpreting local conditions to the committee at headquarters and in an immense amount of many kinds of arduous work in the houses.

The traveling supervisor of hostess houses, with headquarters in the nearest field office, was the agent of the national hostess house committee authorized to open a house, install the staff, and interpret the policies and ideals of the work. She was the interpreter between the houses under her jurisdiction and the committee at headquarters.

As young women took up resident military work within camps, the Young Women's Christian Association received various requests to provide lodging and recreation.

Women workers in the Quartermaster's Department and women members of liberty theatre troupes became residents in buildings, in some instances erected by the Young Women's Christian Association and in a few cases loaned by the camp authorities.

Where space permitted, there were lodged, also, women entertainers of other volunteer organizations in camp and women workers of the Young Men's Christian Association and the American Library Association.

In camps where circumstances permitted, it was possible to be of some service to the nurses. These pieces of work were done by other council committees but centered in the hostess house since some of the activities took place there and since the hostess house director was responsible for the contact of the Young Women's Christian Association with the military authorities.

The hostess house's general work was divided into three periods: The time of training for overseas service, the period of the epidemic, and demobilization, beginning with the signing of the armistice and probably continuing through 1919. One can have no better illustration of the work than in the three following reports, which give a vivid impression of typical hostess houses' daily work.

Each camp had its particular problem, which differed only in detail, not fundamentally, and met in a true pioneer spirit by all the workers. No one who has not seen the actual operation of a hostess house many miles from any markets or supplies can have any idea of housekeeping difficulties for a fluctuating family, averaging fifteen hundred a day.

The following report of the work of a typical hostess house during the first period covers only two weeks but sums up the character of that house's work during six months.

  • Number served in cafeteria 25,503
  • Average number served per day 1,700
  • Letters posted from information desk 2,742
  • Questions answered at information desk 2,614
  • Parcels checked free of charge 529
  • People directed how to find friends 253
  • Telephone messages taken and delivered 545
  • Connections made between friends 217
  • Women using rest room 4,493
  • Children and babies using nursery 107

"Sunday, the 16th, is our record day. By reveille, crowds of civilians were banked outside the entrance gate waiting to come into the cantonment, and by 7:30, our building was beginning to hum with activity. The Hostess House management had given orders the night before to have special care taken in the cleaning.

"Fresh flowers and greens were everywhere, and the building looked very inviting and relaxed, and comfortable. We regret that as much cannot be said for it twelve hours later, for, despite careful watching and cleaning up during the day, the whole effect was as if a tornado had struck us. A big Wild West show was being held at the remount depot during the afternoon, and that, combined with the fact that it was a very lovely day, caused many visitors to come out from the surrounding towns.

"The cafeteria served over three hundred for breakfast, and at 11 o'clock, when the chains were lowered for the noon meal, a long line was waiting in the main room. Three thousand one hundred and eighteen people were served between seven-thirty in the morning and ten-fifteen at night. Enough to say for the workers' spirit that they were still able to smile and see the funny side of many of the days' occurrences at ten o'clock.

"All day long, the main desk was piled high with checked parcels, coats, bags, etc. Two secretaries and sometimes three were behind the counter all day long, answering a steady stream of questions and sending in telephone messages by the hundred. The women's restroom was packed and jammed.

"One secretary and the girl in the restroom stood all day long lining women up, one line coming in and one going out while another worker helped with the hundreds of babies who came into the nursery to rest and be made comfortable. People were hot, dusty, and tired, and their feet hurt from constant standing and walking about. One girl said: I came out to see the camp, but all I have seen is dust and men.'

"After the last visitor had left the building and the last light had been turned out, the family gathered around to have a little evening service, and everyone had a story of demands made upon them during the day to contribute to the general discussion. 'Will you please find John Proctor for me?' requested an old man, leaning over the office counter. 'What division does he belong to,' asked the secretary. I don't know, I'm sure,' he replied. 'He is my son, and they said that you could find him for me.'

"It took the efforts of several secretaries to locate the brother of a pretty girl with no more address than the 91st Division. A little Swedish woman approached one of the workers with tears pouring down her face, 'I must see the head worker,' she said. When we found a quiet corner in the office, it was discovered that she had lost her purse and all her money and that she and her sister were without funds to reach the city. The ever-ready emergency fund was used, and the two girls went off, grateful and happy.

"More and more, the realization of the need for emergency rooms is being brought to our minds. Hardly a night passes that someone doesn't come to us for emergency housing. In some way, our bedroom space always seems to be stretched to meet the situation's demands.

"The party we had for the girls at the musical comedy theatre was a great success. These girls had rehearsed nearly all night long for a play. They put on two matinees in the afternoon and were to have two performances that night. About five o'clock in the afternoon, we went over with hot coffee, sandwiches, and cake when the second performance was finishing.

"All the company members gathered on the stage, with the girls acting as ushers, and our secretary served the picnic supper. 'Well,' said one little chorus girl, as she sat on a stool resting her tired feet, 'this certainly tastes good to me. I am so dead tired I couldn't go out and get supper, and I am nearly starved to death.'

"The cooperation and help of all denominations are very wonderful to see. The most interesting gathering that we have ever had in the hostess house was a dinner given here in the early part of the month for all chaplains and church representatives in the cantonment. We invited these men to come as our guests to a seven o'clock dinner.

"There were about twenty-five in all, among them the Mormon chaplain, the Jewish rabbi, the Seventh Day Adventist, the Swedish Lutheran, the Christian Scientist welfare worker, the head of the Young Men's Christian Association, the head of the religious work of the Young Men's Christian Association, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and our secretaries.

"After dinner, we gathered around in a little circle and told of some of the work. We have all been so busy meeting the daily demands put upon us that never before have we stopped to grasp what the other fellow was doing.

''One of the saddest cases we have had with us since the building was opened was that of a little seventeen-year-old girl whose husband was dying of pneumonia in the hospital. This child was brought to us by the boy's father, who had come up with her from the state's southern part.

"She was only a baby and seemed stunned with the suddenness and tragedy of it all. We took her in and kept her the day of her arrival, and that night at three o'clock, our hostess went with her to the hospital, where they stayed until the husband passed away.

"The girl was brought back to the hostess house and by eight o'clock in the morning was in serious physical condition; in fact, so much so that at noon she had to be removed in an ambulance to the hospital for a small operation.

"It was such a tragic case, for she had come unprepared in the way of clothes and necessities, and her broken-hearted cry was that she wanted to put on black for her husband.

"She had no money, so we searched the united wardrobes of the household, and with a little expenditure, we fixed a complete black outfit for her. She is still in the hospital, but she will have the satisfaction of having the kind of clothes she wants to put on when she comes out.

"When our very good friend, Mrs. R., heard of this case, she donated five hundred dollars to be used in similar circumstances, so now we can feel free to do for many cases that come to our attention. Of course, the Civilian Relief takes care of all of the actual wants of soldiers' families, but there are many times when a fund like this will come in very wonderfully.

"At the end of May, we had been working for six months, and statistics for that time have been compiled. It is interesting to note that there have been 231,745 people served in the cafeteria in six months.

"It is also interesting to note that our average per day in the cafeteria for the first fifteen days was a little over one thousand, and for the last fifteen days has been seventeen hundred. This is a considerable increase, yet it seems as if the cafeteria runs on with just the same ease, and the crowds do not seem any more significant than they did for the first two weeks.

The following are the statistics for the first six months:

  • Number served in cafeteria 231,745
  • Average number served per day 1,287
  • Letters posted at information desk 36,704
  • People directed how to find friends 3,795
  • Direct connections made between friends 2,655
  • Questions answered at main desk 61,034
  • Telephone messages taken and delivered 6,311
  • Parcels checked free of charge 5,972
  • Women using rest room 39,652
  • Children and babies using nursery 966
  • People using building 500,000

"We all realize that before long, the time will come when the division will be with us no longer, and we feel we can never say enough in gratitude for the outstanding recognition that our house has had from all of these men. We realize more and more how fortunate we have been to have a commanding officer like General G., who has seen the real service our building could render and who from the very first has stood by us with the most wonderful kind of help and encouragement; a man who has strong religious convictions and who has never hesitated to express in public his views of right and wrong; a man who is big enough to command the respect of the whole community and yet who never considers himself too big to attend to the personal details that mean so much. Only a few days ago, he stood, acting as godfather while Mrs. M., our hostess, stood as godmother for two enlisted men who were being confirmed in the Episcopal church.

"We shall see him leave us with a very keen regret and with a deep feeling of gratitude in our hearts for all he has done in removing obstacles from our pathway and helping us in the work we are trying to do. May the best of good fortune go with General G. and his division and the hearty thanks of all of the workers here who have had their work made easier because of the very wonderful support that has gone out from headquarters."

During the influenza epidemic, the demands upon the hostess house varied according to conditions in different camps and were in each case met to the satisfaction of the commanding officer. In some, the houses were used to lodge the relatives of desperately ill men; in some, the extra Red Cross nurses lived, and others were frankly commandeered as additional hospital wards, filled, even to the wide verandas, with cots. One such house was pronounced entirely suitable for a hospital and gained special praise for its recovery record. In every case, the Young Women's Christian Association received expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the house's service and the ability of the workers to adapt themselves to the needs of the camp.

Typical of work done in many hostess houses during the "flu" is the following part of a report:

"On the 28th of September, packages of all kinds and descriptions began to come in, were left by the relatives and friends of boys who were ill but not ill enough for them to secure a pass. I had asked the hospital's secretaries if they would deliver any packages, thinking we might have some, and they said they would gladly do it. But we hadn't any idea how fast they would come in. Packages filled one entire end of the office about three feet high several times a day.

"On Sunday, the 29th, we had immense crowds. They were not allowed to stand close together in a line or to congregate in the rooms. We used all the folding chairs we had in the yard, did our best with disinfectants and electric fans, and kept all doors and windows open to prevent anyone from contracting the epidemic here. We were inspected several times that day.

"On the second of October, we made a barrack of our living room. The Quartermaster's Department hadn't a cot on hand that night but expected 5,000 the next day. We were able to secure eleven cots from the Red Cross, which we put in the living room for women and then made beds on the floor. We put men in the writing room and on the cafeteria porch. We housed twenty-two extra people that first night. We kept only the relatives of the boys who were so desperately ill that their people's presence seemed advisable.

"That day, I asked for a YMCA man to help us, and on October third sent for another. Over fifty people slept here on the third. We had been keeping the house open day and night and were getting so tired 1 asked Mr. D., head of the YMCA in camp, for a man to sit up at night for us. The YMCA buildings had all been practically closed for days. Mr. C. volunteered for the work and was here for weeks. He was just the man for the place.

"General A. came in every day, sometimes both morning and evening. On the fourth, he suggested that we have tents put up to handle the visitor crowd, so we had ten tents put up that day with six cots to a tent and were given a detail to help with cleaning. It is the first help of the kind this hostess house has ever had. A couple of days later, we increased the detail. I do not know how we could have got along without this help. We had about twenty visitors a day for a while and now average fifteen a day.

"During the night of the fourth, with our first ten tents, we thought we would not have enough cots. Several visitors, however, always preferred to sit up, so we saved some blankets for them. On the fifth, sixty-two women, fifty men, and one baby slept here. The camp personnel came down with one hundred of their men and moved into our living room. That certainly changed the appearance of the room.

"For two days, they used the living room during the day and moved across to the cafeteria at night. After that, they moved into their office tents which were pitched beside our front walk. Miss S. and Miss B. sat up several nights with the sick. After that, two YWCA secretaries came out from the city Association every night. The assistance we received from the Association was valuable. The YMCA moved down in force the day the personnel men arrived. Several chaplains made their headquarters here, and YMCA, K. of C., and other organizations worked hand in hand with the YWCA

"On the sixth, we turned the writing room into a check room and stationed orderlies there. We are still using the space for that purpose and are still keeping the house open for the entire twenty-four hours. It has not been closed day or night for weeks.

"We added tents until we had four office tents and eighteen for sleeping. The women visitors were quartered in the living room and on the cafeteria porch. We worked out a unique system for giving out the cots by filing cards to know just where each one was sleeping, in case of call at night. During the rush, it took about a dozen people to help with the arrangements for sleeping. Those who slept in the house and on the porches had sheets; those in the tents had not. We had a special detail to fold up the cots each morning and place them at night.

"The hotels laundered the bed linen without charge, taking it to town in the morning and bringing it back at night. We made no charge for using the cots, but we told our visitors we would be glad to receive a donation if they cared to make one. During the height of the epidemic, 3,553 people slept at the house. Many said it was the biggest single charity of which they had ever heard. In many cases, the relatives could not have stayed if they had had to pay much for lodging. Numbers of visitors had never before been away from home.

"So many telegrams were being sent that we asked the Western Union for an operator. Western Union sent one out immediately to receive the messages, and these were sent to town every hour by orderly. There was a waiting line even then for long-distance calls on the telephone. We were permitted to talk over our camp phones to any place in the city or nearby town.

"The cafeteria had the busiest time in its existence. The meal hours were greatly expanded, and at any time of the day or night, coffee and rolls were ready for the hungry. For ten days, we gave away coffee and rolls during the worst of the siege, particularly during the night. We served nearly thirty thousand people during the epidemic and estimate that we gave away about five thousand servings of coffee and rolls.

"We always had lunch for the night shift. The food was just the right sort to keep people fit and to tempt the appetite. People who, we felt, were not eating enough were given a bowl of soup or an extra serving of meat. We often charged only ten cents for a good dinner when we knew the visitor had little money. 23,910 paid meals, in all, were served during the time of anxiety.

"A house nurse was installed, and many women were kept from becoming seriously ill, yet we sent on an average one case of influenza a day to the City Hospital. The most significant work of the hostess house was the general care of the thousands who came. Everything possible was done. There was so much sorrow.

"General A. was our most appreciative visitor. He said we had the critical end of the work to handle and were doing it so well he would not presume to make a single suggestion. His summary was: 'The work here is marvelous. You can have anything you want.' Colonel E. told me the General had had several letters of appreciation of their treatment at the hostess house from soldiers' relatives.

"One tent, all through the epidemic, had a sign: 'Information for Relatives of Deceased Soldiers.' Information of every sort was sought here. The army has always met the relatives of deceased soldiers at the hostess house and visitors came here to find the location of their boys and for their passes as well."

With the demobilization, days came hard and often perplexing demands upon hostess houses. At times women visitors were less numerous but not less needy. The soldiers' morale was of paramount importance to the military authorities, and the War Department asked hostess houses to use their unique facilities for the entertainment and contentment of the men.

The committee tried to do this without abandoning its service to the women. The Hostess House held many kinds of parties and entertainments, and dancing was permitted when asked for by the morale officer. The joyful return to the hostess house of the many men who were its friends while in training and who missed it when overseas was a delight.

In the following reports are examples of work carried on in the demobilization period:

"The month of April brought many changes to the camp. Very few of the air servicemen are left in camp, and every week overseas troops numbering from 1,6OO to 3,000 men arrive.

"On leaving the transports, these men march directly to the camp, a long and weary tramp of six to seven miles, so their well-appointed barracks seem most comfortable and even luxurious on their arrival. Then, when they rush to the hostess house, as they do as soon as they are 'de Franced,' they feel, as they tell us many times, they have reached heaven.

"A personal note of invitation is sent from the director of the hostess house to the commanding officer of each incoming division, offering the hospitality of the house during the day and evening to his officers and men."

The breakfast hour from eight to nine, when two hundred have sometimes been served, is as popular as any during the day. Over the weekends, a few times, nearly a thousand a day have been served during all the meal hours, so it can readily be seen these are busy days at this hostess house, with a leap from 100 to 1,000 a day.

"The emergency bedrooms are in constant use, for there is still much sickness in the army. Mothers and wives are very frequently telegraphed to from the hospital headquarters and on their arrival in camp are most grateful for the quiet and rest of the cheerful little bedrooms which they occupy until accommodation can be found for them in the little villages nearby.

Some of these women have been with us during days and nights of serious illness and even death, and they continue to write letters of gratitude and send small gifts of appreciation."

  • Number of people entering building 10,591
  • Questions answered at information desk 1,923
  • Parcels checked free of charge 454
  • Telephone messages taken and delivered 860
  • Direct connections made between friends 95
  • Women using rest room 2,405
  • Children using nursery 265

"Since the first of April, 1919, between five and six thousand men have arrived and been discharged from this camp. With so many organizations represented, we have met men of all types, all happy in the prospect of soon being at home with loved ones. While waiting for their discharge, they enjoy, when possible, the comforts of our home. As one man expressed it: 'I love to sit here and get an occasional whiff of something good cooking in the kitchen.' One young lad opened the door and timidly inquired: 'Please, may I come in, or is this an officers' mess? It looks so nice.'

"The coming of so many troops brought friends and relatives from all parts of the State who waited patiently or otherwise for the first sight of the dear ones. As the men are expected to turn in the equipment at once, and after that remain in the demobilization camp to sign papers necessary to complete their discharge in forty-eight hours, those waiting spend their time eating, asking questions, and looking up the road until rewarded with a glimpse of their soldier boy.

"A family consisting of father, mother, wife, and small child, after waiting for hours hoping that the boy might be free in time to have luncheon with them, finally decided to have the meal without him. They had scarcely seated themselves when the young man rushed in. His mother saw him first and, in an instant, was in his arms holding him as though she would never again give him up. The little wife with the child clinging to her skirt stood by. The man, excitedly trying to greet all of them at once, reached out and grasped his wife's hand and shook it frantically. She stood it as long as she could and finally gasped: 'Quit shaking my hand. I'm your wife.'

"Those troops fortunate in possession of good health are on their way rejoicing before we realize that they have been with us. But those in the convalescent camp and hospital come to us just as soon as they can move about. One boy surprised us several weeks ago by hobbling in his bathrobe and slippers. He had managed to slip away from the hospital a mile away without being observed by the orderly. He made himself comfortable among the cushions and, taking a book, informed us that he was going to remain all day, as our house was the only quiet, peaceful spot in camp. He wanted to get away from tin pianos and noise of all kinds.

"There are many interesting groups who come here from the hospital; a young father who spends the entire day with his wife and little son, and there are, too, three boys who when they first came used crutches. However, the treatment given them is working wonders, and now one boy no longer needs support, and the other two carry canes. They are pretty young, mere babies who want to be talked to, encouraged, and petted a little. They come from the hospital three or four times daily, sometimes forgetting that time flies and remaining too late for the Red Cross bus to take them home. When this occurs, we call in our good friends and neighbors, the Fire Department, who are always willing to provide transportation for the helpless ones. Sometimes they bring the hose carriage if the Dodge is not available, but we never call them in vain.

"An interesting incident occurred some weeks ago. Three almost helpless cripples came in for food. One of the hostesses walked beside them while selecting their meals and carrying their trays to a table, doing all she could to make them comfortable. One of the boys left some change on the tray—a tip for her kindness. The hostess whispered to him that she would love to accept the money, but it was against cafeteria rules. He was sorry but did not want to encourage her to break a rule and promised to remember her in some other way. It is needless to state how deeply touched we are with these heroes' gratitude and thankfulness for the privilege of serving them in any way.

"The coordinating committee, made up of a representative from each welfare organization, meets once a week to discuss plans for the diversion and pleasure of the men. Once a week a dance and dinner are given at the convalescent center. Girls from San Diego and La Jolla, vouched for by the War Camp Community Service, are brought to these dances properly chaperoned. Tuesday evenings a dance is given at the Knights of Columbus building for officers and another for enlisted men at the Jewish Welfare building.

"With movies, theatres and athletic stunts given nightly at various places, the men who are able to be out of doors need not spend a single dull moment. While it is not always possible for us to take an active part in all these affairs we are always cordially invited to do so. The most kindly and harmonious feeling exists among all welfare boards and our co-workers are good enough to tell us that we are doing greater work than they can ever hope to do, even though we may not appear in the limelight as frequently."

"The report of this month is a story of the entertainment in the camp of the Division. For months everyone had looked forward to their return, planning to give them the best of everything, to show proper appreciation of the splendid way they had done their part in the great war. When at last they came, they filled the camp with life, activity, and crowds of admiring relatives and friends, so that never in the history of the house were we so busy on Sunday and every day as during their stay here.

"Not only relatives and friends, but the mayors and committees of various towns came, bringing gifts, to do honor to the returned heroes. Never were there so many visitors daily nor so much interest and excitement. Every regiment had its band, and the camp seemed suddenly to come to life again, assuming the look and air of an actual army training area.

"Our information desk was again the busiest spot in the room, hundreds coming to find the boys and to be directed to the part of the camp where they were billeted. Our information desk sent over three hundred telegrams from here. This last service was largely requested by the officers who made this their headquarters. Requests to locate the boys came by letter and telegram as well.

"Many times the visiting parties, after wandering all over the camp, would come to us as a last resort. With hardly an exception, they could locate their boys, and then they would say: 'Why didn't we come here first. It would have been so easy.' Everybody came for information of every kind, and everybody got what they asked for. Two were necessary at the desk during the busiest times of the day. I shall never be able to tell of the appreciation of this place.

"The most exciting time was when the "Patricia" came, bringing some of the last units. The trains came in late in the afternoon, and the officers and men found our place just at the end of the supper hour. They had had little to eat that day, so dinners were served. The line was a steady one, and soon the regular dinner gave out. Fried eggs and cold ham were substituted, one of our workers preparing the eggs. Apple pie and ice cream were the favorites, of course, and each boy told us just how long it had been since he had eaten any. The whoops of joy at the sight of a pie attested to their great satisfaction in getting it. One boy said, 'We have dreamed of eating pie and ice cream.'

"They came in such a steady line that the supplies began to give out, but happily there was always something to substitute. When at ten-thirty the night baker took out the first apple pies, we served them hot. The boys, we learned afterwards, thought we had baked especially for them. At eleven we felt we must close, when a new group suddenly appeared, and their eager, expectant faces told so much of the joy of being home and all it meant, we couldn't refuse as long as there was anything to serve. Finally, at 11:45 we realized we must close. Putting the lights out and guarding the doors seemed the only way of stopping the stream of hungry men which had been coming in since seven o'clock. Some had to be turned away, much to our regret, but another busy day was almost upon us. The number served in the cafeteria during the month was 43,806; the largest number served on one day, 2,562."

An idea of work done in hostess houses conducted for visitors to [African-American] troops can be had from the following report:

"The joy of working in the hostess house just now is without parallel. In the first place, the camp authorities and welfare workers' cooperation is all that one could desire. Members of our staff have been with the morale officer, giving talks to men in Sunday School classes, in the barracks, and aiding in men's entertainment in the convalescent house of the Red Cross.

"The commanding officers of the several companies are permitting the men to have big spreads, and our house has been the scene of several pretty parties given by the soldiers for their friends.

"When the men of the Division were here, they filled our house from early morning until late at night. For the most part, they were young, educated, cultured men of Ohio. A more cosmopolitan group could scarcely be found —Scotch, [African-American], American, and Chinese. They were striking examples of the wonderful lessons of fellowship and sympathy that these splendid fellows had learned.

"The former commandant of this camp has returned with these boys and has assumed charge of the camp once more. A few days after his arrival, he visited us, found the house filled with his men, and recognized them, greeted them most cordially, and inquired about their health.

"A joint celebration of Lincoln-Douglass Day was held in the main auditorium on February 12. The organizations participating were the hostess house, YMCA huts 75 and 78, 10" Tr. Bn., 418 Labor Bn., 2" Tr. Bn., convalescent center and nurses from Quarters No. 7 at the base hospital. This entertainment brought nearly all the men in camp and had the highest rank in the camp as its audience. The general and his staff were present. Two members of our staff took part. One spoke on 'Personal Reminiscences of Frederick Douglass,' and the other sang a solo.

"The men are enjoying our house to the full. Many regret that the house was not here last winter when it was severely cold and the boys had no place to take their women friends. They are making up for lost time now.

"The Sunday following the coming of these boys found loving mothers, wives and sweethearts here to welcome their much be-decorated sons, brothers and lovers. Some of these men are wearing one, two and as many as three decorations for valor upon the battle field. These boys bear their honors most modestly and are rather reluctant to tell of their experiences, unless one literally draws them out."

"Some interesting incidents happened while this group was here. A soldier, Willis by name, had gone overseas when his little girl was two and a half years old. Having stayed eighteen months, his little daughter had forgotten her "daddy." They met in the hostess house, and it took several hours for her to accept him, but finally, she took him by the hand and led him all over the room, telling each person: "This is my daddy."

"Not long ago, a relatively youthful looking woman came into the house, saying she had word that her husband and son were expected in the camp that night. She had not intended that they know that she was coming to meet them and came to the house to await word of their arrival in camp. As she sat in the cafeteria, removed from the main entrance, the door opened, and the eyes of her boy fell upon her instantly. He had no idea his mother was there. The father had gone to town, but the boy said something drew him to the hostess house as soon as he saw the Blue Triangle and the letters, YWCA

"There were many musicians in camp besides those who were with the band. Early one morning, a group of them got in the house before the staff came downstairs and gave them a delightful sacred concert. They also played one Sunday afternoon to a large group of admiring friends.

"We were the recipient of several victrola records.

"General G. has called for regular weekly meetings of all welfare workers in the camp. We are to report all things of mutual interest and help devise plans to uphold the army's morale. The meetings are held in the library of the community house each Thursday afternoon.

"Below is the report of the Information Hostess:

  • Civilian visitors 500
  • Women in restroom 170
  • Babies in restroom 12
  • Soldiers located 34
  • Lodging secured 12
  • Parcels checked 998
  • Letters mailed 1,465
  • Stationery —envelopes 3,500
  • paper 4,000
  • Telephone calls 322
  • Telegrams sent 74
  • Telegrams received 18
  • Books distributed 35

With the demobilization came new work. The Debarkation Hostess House in New York City opened early in February 1919, had for its object the care of the women relatives and friends of servicemen.

The typical reception facilities, rest, information, checking, other personal services, and food were lodging accommodations for one hundred women and children.

We had housed 3,049 women and 405 children during the first nine months, and 129,348 served in the cafeteria. In cooperation with the Red Cross, this hostess house received and cared for all those war brides entering the Port of New York who husbands or relatives did not meet.

The Red Cross conducted its office for service to these women, and the house thus became the first home in the United States for over 3,000 brides, representing seventeen nationalities.

The two houses asked for by the Red Cross at Base Hospital No. 19, Oteen, N. C, and Base Hospital No. 28 at Fort Sheridan, 111., were completed and running on October first, serving to excellent purpose among the sick and convalescent in these two hospitals.

Little by little, the hostess houses' work grew less and finally reached what might be called a peace-time basis. On October 16, the War Department sent to the affiliated welfare organizations, which had done work in camps during the war, a statement that on November 1, 1919, the War Department would absorb and take over the work of these welfare organizations under a branch of itself, called the Education and Recreation Branch of the War Plans Division of the General Staff.

They specifically requested of the Young Women's Christian Association that buildings with such equipment as the War Work Council should see fit to turn over, in camps including aviation Fields, regular posts, cantonments, and general hospitals, should be given to the War Department on that date.

The YWCA had buildings in 37 of these camps listed, and, since in some camps there was more than one building, it meant that on November 1, the War Work Council of the Young Women's Christian Association turned over to the government 50 buildings. At the request of the Navy Department, the War Work Council continued to supervise and carry on the work in naval and marine Stations until the Navy lately absorbed it.

In 22 of these 37 camps, hostess housework was still active at this date, but in the other camps, work had ceased because the war department had so reduced the camp's personnel that the camp no longer needed the service of the house.

In the camps where hostess houses had been closed for some time, buildings only were turned over to the Government, like theft, deterioration, or need in active work elsewhere caused the equipment to be taken from these buildings.

It was, however, the intention of the hostess house committee to turn over the active hostess houses equipped in such a way as to preserve the comfortable, homey look which had been their peculiar characteristic.

At the War Department's request, the hostess house committee recommended that many of those working under this organization continue to work with the War Department.

Still, they made these workers' appointments through the Education and Recreation Branch of the War Plans Division of the General Staff, subject to the approval of the commanding officer of each camp.

The cafeteria continued in many of these camps but was financed by the Post Exchange, which retained many former YWCA workers.

Each hostess house had as its goal the giving of the kind of service most needed in each camp, according to the resources, the experience, and the responsibility of the Young Women's Christian Association, and to make that service as efficient and as telling as the ability and spirit of the workers made possible.

The erection and operation of hostess houses were done under increasing Government cooperation and supervision, which made certain possible work that the YWCA otherwise could not do and defined and restricted the collaboration which has done and limited and restricted the cooperation which would have been desirable between that war emergency service of the organization and the remainder of its war program.

Based on the Report of Hostess House Committee, Issued by the War Work Council, National Board of the Young Womens Christian Association, New York, 1919.

Return to Top of Page