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County celebrates women of WWI

WOMEN WORTH REMEMBERING: To honor the women of WWI, Miami County leaders unveiled a memorial marker that will remain near the Courthouse“as long as Miami County exists,” Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey said at the celebration on Saturday.

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

On Saturday, citizens and leaders of Miami County honored the women of World War I with the unveiling of a new memorial in the Courthouse Square and reading of a joint proclamation.

Overseas in France, “our nurses discovered the mud and blood of their mandate and the inhumanities of mankind in war-torn Europe,” Mayor Gabe Greer said.

On the home front, “it was up to the women of the land to carry on with their family life and life of the country, and carry on they did,” Greer said.

“It was during these moments of time that women of Miami County became mother and sister to a serviceman in desperate need of normality,” Commissioner Larry West said.

“We hereby recognize their contributions of a century ago to the safety of our society by the unveiling of this memorial to their memory,” said Chamber of Commerce President Sandy Chittum.

A 1917 quote from General John J. Pershing is inscribed on the plaque.

“This war is being fought by women. It is women who suffer and lend courage to us. Women are the ones to whom honor will be due when the war is over and they will deserve honor for their aid in establishing democracy,” reads the inscription.

“The memorial will last as long as Miami County exists,” said Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey.

Directly after the unveiling, the Miami County Museum opened up its doors for music, doughnuts, and stories about the Miami County women of WWI—both spoken accounts and acted first-person portrayals.

To begin, Isabella Ingalsby sung “Rose of No Man’s Land,” with Mark Shaffran on the piano.

Katherine McCauley, the executive director of American Red Cross of Northeastern Indiana, shared a few words about the individuals who advanced the role of women during war time, and the organizations that “gave the women who were left behind the opportunity to do some of greatest support work they could have ever done.”

The stories of some of those Miami County individuals were shared during the presentation.

Kelly Meadows donned era-appropriate habiliment and acted out three Miami County women using the words from each of the ladies’ own letters.

The first was Harriett Louise Carfrae, known as “Hattie.”

Hattie studied nursing in St. Louis with just 17 other women in 1903.

Hattie wrote she lived in an “exciting time for the advancement of women,” especially in regards to women’s suffrage, and became a suffragette in 1916.

At the 1916 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Hattie helped form a line with women wearing yellow sashes stitched with “votes for women.” An all-male delegation had to walk through them to get inside the convention center, and the delegation added women’s suffrage to the national platform.

Hattie later traveled to France to serve as a nurse during WWI, and witnessed “rows of soldiers suffering day after day” with “rotting flesh (and) screams of delirium.”

After being honorably discharged in 1920, Hattie returned home to Peru. She discovered cancer of the left lung—most likely due to mustard gas exposure—and died in 1921.

The second woman was Gertrude Thiebaud.

A Peru High School student, Thiebaud became the head librarian at the Peru Public Library.

During war time, Thiebaud joined the Miami County chapter of the Council of Women’s Defense.

Thiebaud was in charge of the educational propaganda to counteract the apathy and bad feelings about the war through moving pictures and Independence Day celebrations.

In 1918, Thiebaud joined the American War Library Service, and helped collect and ship thousands of books overseas.

Thiebaud later moved to Washington, D.C., served as an assistant librarian in the U.S. Patent Library, and finished her B.A. at George Washington University.

The third woman was Daisy Marine Blakely Morgan (who later had two more husbands’ names to add on, according to Regine Brindle, a MCWR researcher and event planner).

Morgan was “surrounded by music by the time I could hear,” as her father constructed violins.

During WWI, Morgan became a traveling entertainer for war camps and was described by others as “clever with the violin.”

While a lot of her efforts were jolly and good-spirited, Morgan recounted in her letters that she often thought about how long the young men would be around, and “how many of you will come back.”

After the war, Morgan moved back to Peru, then Indianapolis, and played in local orchestras.

“Music continued to be my solace,” Morgan wrote.  

Among other stories, one man shared the tale of making deep fried “doughnuts” using a wine bottle for a rolling pin, empty cans for cutters and a percolator top to make the holes.

Several Maconaquah High School students from Ann Hileman’s theater class read letters and acted out the role of that person using her or his own handwritten words:

“Peru is pretty dead since they took all the young man out of the city,” one Peru citizen wrote. “Restaurants are closed, in fact everything is closed up.”

Some letters from children or parents simply shared expressions of love.

Cole Porter recounted in a letter about a time he heard sirens in Paris, “finished the toilet in the dark,” stepped outside to see the action because “the curiosity got the better of me,” and witnessed that “the sky was alive with French airplanes.” 

One young man sent a letter saying he wasn’t allowed to share information about his whereabouts or what he was doing; a practice still used in today’s military.

The students finished with reading a Mother’s Day letter from Luther Brown.

Mary Louise Dexter was part of the reason that these various letters were able to come alive.

Researching women’s history is her hobby—as there were “not many women in the history books” while she was growing up—so Dexter said she gladly accepted the challenge of digging into the past of Miami County’s WWI women.

“What I discovered was a world of the neatest women,” Dexter said. “They were independent and brave and nonconformist, and had a whole lot of moxie, and they were right here in Miami County.”

Towards the conclusion of the program, Ingalsby sung “Keep the Home Fires Burning” about the soldiers’ “far away dream of home.”

“This has been a fantastic day, and I’m so glad to work with these people and educate our children about a history that is not in books,” said Miami County Worth Remembering Vice President Brenda Weaver.