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Remarks by Peter Weis, NMH archivist, on Nov. 11, 2018, the centennial of the end of World War I

Today as we commemorate a centennial and remember the full sacrifice of the 69 Mount Hermon men and the hundreds more of their fellow alumni who served their country in the Great War, it cannot be out of place to look north and east, across the river to Northfield and remember that school, its alumnae, and their part in service to the same cause. Indeed, one hundred and one years ago, Clara Count Emerson, of the Northfield Class of 1887 began a commencement toast with the words, "Everyone (italics mine) is trying to do his bit in bringing about some constructive work in these destructive days that are trying men's souls and tearing women's hearts."

The same issue of the Alumnae Chronicle in which these words appeared described the efforts of seven women in France, from Mary Dingman, working in a gunpowder factory in Lyons to Mary Wright and Ruth Weeks in the Ambulance Corps, to Ruth's sister Dorothy, working in a tent hospital.

Many more names would appear on this honor roll as the war wore on, but perhaps no Northfield alumna did more important work for the war effort than Florence M. Marshall, who was graduated with the class of 1895. She was the first head of the Women's Bureau of the Red Cross. In a statement released in the winter of 1918 she said, in part, "The special task of the Women's Bureau of the Red Cross is to stimulate women, both in and out of Red Cross chapters, for the kind of non-professional war work they can do most quickly, and with the minimum of special training ... No doubt, the sewing of garments will sometimes seem hard and dull. But it will never seem hard to the woman who really knows what war means, or who have said good-bye to their sons. No letters can ever mean to the boy more than the muffler knitted by his mother's fingers -- or somebody else's mother's -- will mean when the wind tears and chills the trooper's face in the icy rain and blinding storms of northern France."

If former Northfield students played their part in the war effort, so too did those young women who were still in school at the seminary. In the fall of 1917, each of the seven Northfield dormitories arranged a care package to be sent to one of the seven women mentioned above.

"Victory gardens" were planted on the lawn in front of East Hall, a Northfield dormitory, and on the sloping hill below D.L. Moody's birthplace, and tended by Northfield students. These gardens were part of a national campaign to produce food in a decentralized manner, obviating the need for the costs in fuel and manpower necessary on large mechanized farms, at the same time, reducing costs for transporting foodstuffs to market.

In addition to these "victory gardens" Northfield students broadened their duties in domestic work, beyond cooking and cleaning, and performed grounds keeping duties on the campus, raking leaves and mowing lawns.

And when the guns stopped firing, word was still heard from Northfield alumnae in places far away. On December 4th, 1918, Mary Frasca of the class of 1913 wrote from Palermo, Italy, "The war is over," is a pleasing phrase which we hear on all sides, and naturally the reaction is pleasant, and our yearning for home very strong...The experiences here have been varied and the opportunities for service a real privilege. I have enjoyed every bit of it, and I am sure I shall be sorry to leave...

Northfield too, played her part. Lives of humanity and purpose, indeed.


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