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Guide to the World War I Collection
1896, 1915-1939
 MS 671

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Dundy. Machine readable finding aid created by Alison Dundy.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 30, 2012
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents note

The World War I Collection is an "artificial" collection of subject-related materials that were donated by or acquired from a variety of unrelated sources at different times. The war experiences of servicemen as well as civilian supporters of the war effort are documented in the collection, which also includes official military documents.

Correspondence written by servicemen from training camps in the United States and from battlefields in Europe are unique personal narratives of World War I. The richly-illustrated letters (1917-1919) by Private First Class Salvator Cillis, from basic training at Camp Upton, Long Island, and then from battlefields in France where he fought with the 306th Field Artillery, are a highlight of this collection. His humorous writing and artwork trace the arc of this soldier's experience, as patriotic enthusiasm yields to yearning for an end to the war and a safe return home to New York harbor. His letters also document a serviceman's political opinions of contemporary events, from women's rights to the formation of the League of Nations. There is also a group of letters by Private Samuel Bendelson, writing from Camp Wadsworth, (S.C.) in 1917.

The collection includes a riveting account of the last hours of the war by Captain Raymond J. Walsh in a 1939 radio broadcast. Walsh served with the 15th Field Artillery of the Second Division of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and fought alongside the French in the Battle of the Argonne Forest until the Armistice (November 11, 1918). There is also an October 1918 photograph of Captain Walsh on horseback on the Champagne front--a typed legend on the reverse side of the photograph notes "horse killed next day." Correspondence, documents, and notes by other soldiers, including the military record book of an African soldier who served in the French colonial troops in World War I, are in a folder of materials collected by William Robbins.

Civilian support for the war effort is also exemplified in the collection. The typescript of an (undated) article by Mary Louise Basset commemorates the work of "Mother Davison" (Rachel Frohman Davison, 1862-1931), who visited, entertained, and baked cookies for "her boys," many hundreds of hospitalized soldiers in New York City. A folder of correspondence by Craig Colgate (1875-1953) documents his leadership of the Liberty Loan campaign in New York City. During World War I, Colgate was chairman of the Allied Trades Committee, which obtained Liberty Loan subscriptions from industry, raising some $250,000 for the war effort and mobilizing 100,000 canvassers. Correspondence and reports by the Diocesan Committee on War and Chaplain's Equipment (1917-1919) shows how clergymen ministered to hospitalized soldiers, nurses, and medics.

There are also folders of military documents. An Allied Agreement--stamped "secret"--from the first conference of the allied powers in Chantilly, France on July 7, 1915 is included in the collection. The document is in French and signed by seven military leaders representing France, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Serbia, and Russia. The treaty urges the Serbian Army and the Italian Army to coordinate efforts for an offensive against the Austrians and Germans. While noting that the British and Belgian forces are already in need of their own reinforcements, the agreement stipulates that they support offensives by the French army, to the degree possible. There is also a U.S. Army memo (October 7, 1918) requesting that a new set of carrier pigeons be placed in a basket and dropped to Major Charles White Whittelsey, who led the "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne Forest. The day after the memo was written, Whittelsey broke through German lines. He received a battlefield promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and was awarded the American Medal of Honor.

The story of the Battle of Verdun--one of the longest, bloodiest, and most deadly battles of World War I--is recounted in the manuscript of an historical novel (in French) in the collection: Verdun: journal de guerre d'un civil by Henri Fremont (1920).

Arrangement note

The original order of this collection has been maintained in folders arranged alphabetically by the individual or organization that generated or collected the materials. Correspondence and documents are arranged chronologically within each folder.