After nine months on the Western Front during World War I, Boston blueblood Nora Saltonstall was fed up with housekeeping and glad to take the less responsible — but more exciting– job of chauffeur.
Nora, 23, was a volunteer with the American Red Cross as assistant to Mrs. Charles Daly, head of a mobile hospital unit attached to the French army. As the daughter of a Boston Brahmin family, she loved doing her part for the war.
Leverett Saltonstall, Nora’s older brother serving in the 301st Field Artillery unit of the U.S. Army as a lieutenant. Leverett and Nora Saltonstall would survive World War I. Nora Saltonstall would earn the Croix de Guerre, but she would die of typhoid at the age of 24 while on a trip to the West Coast. Leverett would have a successful political career as U.S. senator from Massachusetts and governor of the state.
Blueblood Nora Saltonstall Writes
On July 26, 1918, Nora wrote to her sister Muriel:
I just got your letter of June 30th with the photos — thanks Ever so much. I think the family group at the Farm very nice. I should like to connect with Leverett & if so we will have to have our picture taken together. If he could only get a few days off he might come to visit us here & I am sure that it would amuse him tremendously to see our unit. I am now learning to run the camion. I went to Paris with Mrs. Daly & Agnes this week & drove both ways. Last night we came out after supper & it was great fun driving in the dark. (We never use back to top lights for fear of showing up the roads.)
She then tells her sister about having an orangeade with friends she ran into in Paris. And she sounds a theme about a nursing shortage that resonates more than a century later.
The best luck was seeing Rose Peabody who has been having a thrilling time. I had to laugh at her because she was wearing a French blue tamoshanter with her goggles pushed up over it which made her look very business like & straight from the front. The foolish part of it is that she cannot technically belong to her unit in the American army as a nurse — therefore she does home service work, writing to families etc. Lately when nurses were so badly needed of course she helped out. It is very stupid of the American army not to allow aides — they are very short of nurses & then in the big moments they are obliged to call in absolutely untrained women. Urge Everyone you know to take up nursing — aides are sure to be used before long & the more partially trained the better.
Though Nora was right in the middle of the war, she complained she had no news about it.
….Also I wish you would always write me the news about who is abroad, who is killed, wounded etc. I never hear a word here, & I only just learnt the other day about Pete Sortwell and Bill Willets: it is too bad. You are wonderful about writing me & I hope you continue to be because my friends except for Mary Hunnewell are very bad (you might remind them that I still exist).
I don’t know whether I told you that I am changing my job in the unit & that very shortly a Mrs. Konnin (sister of Mrs. Richard Laurence) is coming to look after the housekeeping & the material. I am changing into a regular chauffeur. I like that better because the managing job is growing so large that to do it well you ought to stay always at home — it came down to getting another person for either one place or the other & I chose the chauffeuring which has more action & variety. It may not be such a Swell job but I am extremely glad to be finished with the house keeping. It was interesting looking after the material but as the chauffeurs always help I expect to do that just about as much as before. Mrs. Daly has a lot of new ideas & we are planning for great things in the future — as soon as they develop into reality I will tell you about them. One great addition to our unit is the advent of a rolling kitchen, a trailer, which is being made for us. We will then be completely independent with our tents, cots, folding tables for Eating etc. We have our own cars so that at a moment’s notice we can pick up stakes & move along. If this good news keeps up we hope to see ourselves advancing again; it is about time, don’t you think? Our hospital has Especially requested to take Americans on account of us — we like having them & of course they like coming to a place where they can be nursed by English Speaking women; I should think it would make a lot of difference.
Bees in the Sugar
Well, Enough for now. I must get back to work. My program has the following choice — mark a tent, clean the Ford, keep the bees out of our sugar, arrange some material, take a nurse to the train, get some green vegetables, do accounts, make the maids clear up, and possibly go on a trip to an out post where some of our nurses are helping out. You see my work is not particularly high toned, but almost any work is on the same order, 2/3 drudgery & 1/3 interesting, exciting or amusing which makes up for the rest.
This story updated in 2022.
Link wouldn’t work.
I got a strange message.
Terribly sorry. A little operator error on our part. It should work now.
I wonder if you have any information on the 700 girls who volunteered as French speaking telephone operators during WWI…? Many of these French speaking American girls ended up in the front lines during the war, some in Pershing’s staff….
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