© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

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

Descriptive Summary

Title: Guide to the World War I Collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1896-1939
Dates [bulk]: Bulk, 1915-1919
Abstract: The World War I Collection is an "artificial" collection of subject-related materials acquired by the New-York Historical Society at different times. The collection provides an intimate view of the war through personal narratives and correspondence by servicemen as well as letters and reports by civilians who supported the war effort. There are also official military documents and the manuscript of a French antiwar novel about the battle of Verdun.
Quantity: 0.43 Linear feet (1 box)
Language of Materials note: English and French.
Call Phrase: MS 671

Return to Top »

Return to Top »

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.

Return to Top »

Access Points

Subject Names

  • Basset, Mary Louise
  • Bendelson, Samuel
  • Cillis, Salvator
  • Colgate, Craig
  • Davison, Rachel
  • Fremont, Henri
  • Walsh, Raymond J.

Subject Organizations

  • Diocese of New York, Committe on war work and chaplains' equipment.

Subject Topics

  • Argonne, Battle of the, France, 1918
  • Homing pigeons
  • Liberty bonds
  • Verdun, Battle of, Verdun, France, 1916--Fiction
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Finance
  • World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives, American

Subject Places

  • Camp Upton (N.Y.)
  • Camp Wadsworth (Spartanburg, S.C.)
  • Chantilly (France)

Return to Top »

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access note

Open to qualified researchers.

Portions of the collections that have been microfilmed will be brought to the researcher in that format and can be made available by Interlibrary loan. Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading Room for details.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.)

Items that include presidential signatures will be presented to researchers in duplicate form.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a pubication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission reequests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to:

Manuscripts Curator
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park Weest
New York, NY 10024

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation note

This collection should be cited as the World War I Collection, MS 671, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Materials at the New-York Historical Society

The library's extensive holdings of World War I-related materials can be located by searching in our online catalog.

The print department holds two photographs of "Mother Davison."


This is an "artificial collection," meaning that it consists of subject-related materials donated to or acquired by the New York-Historical Society from different sources at various times.

Return to Top »

Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Allied Agreement--Minutes of the first conference of the Allied Powers in Chantilly, France
1915 July 7
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Tribute to "Mother Davison"--Typescript of an article by Mary Louise Basset commemorating Rachel Frohman Davison's support to the troops
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Samuel Bendelson Correspondence
1917 October-December
Box: 1 Folder : 4 U.S. Army Memorandum ordering a new basket of carrier pigeons be dropped to Major Whittelsey in the Argonne Forest.
1918 October 7
Box: 1 Folder : 5-6 Salvatore Cillis Correspondence

Biographical/Historical note

Salvator Cillis was born in Italy in 1892 and immigrated with his family to New York in 1901. He worked as a sign painter for the Levy Co. at 27 Wooster Street in Manhattan, before being drafted for service in World War I. Cillis corresponded with his former employer, Mr. Van Veen, and several co-workers from the Levy Co. while he was stationed in Camp Upton, Long Island for basic training, and then from battlefields in France. Salvator Cillis was discharged in 1919. His passport application from 1923 indicates that he intended to go to France and Italy to "study art." He died in 1966 and is buried in the Long Island National Cemetery.

The letters were given to the New-York Historical Society by Mr. Van Veen on February 4, 1946.

Box: 1 Folder : 7 Craig Colgate Materials on the Liberty Loan Drive, including correspondence, awards, and a photograph.
1904, 1917-1919
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Diocesan Committee on War & Chaplain's Equipment--Correspondence and Reports
1917 December 21-1919 September 19
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Manuscript of 1920 French historical novel on the Battle of Verdun: Verdun: journal de guerre d'un civil
Box: 1 Folder : 10 William Robbins Collection of World War I servicemen's letters, military documents, and ephemera
1896, 1915-1918
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Raymond J. Walsh transcript of radio broadcast about the Armistice
1918 October, 1939 February 25

Return to Top »