“[The portraits] are a precious gift, and in years to come will form a valuable historical record of this locality’s participation in the great conflict, as well as a memorial to those brave boys and men who answered to the call of their country and fought and suffered for humanity.”
-Annual Report of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, 1919
Robert E. Bagel was born in 1889 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bagel was working as a draftsman for Cincinnati’s Worthington Machinery Corporation when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1917. Experience gained in the machine tool field is likely how Bagel became an engineer in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). The AEF participated in a wide range of engineering missions, including providing much-needed lumber to American troops. Allied lines of communication depended greatly on engineers like Bagel.
Earl Banks was born in 1894 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was still living in Cincinnati when Americans across the country were drafted into the U.S. Army. Banks became a cook for the American Expeditionary Forces, as African American men in the Army had limited opportunities for combat in the war. This photograph was taken at Fort Benjamin Harrison Training Camp, one of the largest Army training and mobilization sites in the country.
Eddie Champs was a member of the U.S. Army’s 365th Infantry, which was a segregated combat regiment for African American soldiers during World War I. This regiment was part of the 92nd Division, one of two combat divisions created in response to pressure from African American leaders and organizations protesting against the lack of combat opportunities for African Americans. Champs’ parents, Robert and Minnie Champs, wrote on the back of the soldier’s photograph that he was stationed “somewhere in France.”
The U.S. Army formed many pioneer infantry regiments during World War I. Soldiers like Arthur Chaney were trained in engineering and infantry tactics. These troops generally worked under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build roads, bridges and camps along the Allied front line. Mechanics, carpenters, farriers and masons used their special skills as members of pioneer infantry regiments. This was the type of non-combat work performed by most African American men in the American Expeditionary Forces.
Robert H. Cook was 22 years old when he was drafted into the U.S, Army. As a solider, Cook was stationed in France. He spent six months in the trenches before he was severely wounded on July 18, 1919, in the Second Battle of the Marne, the last large-scale German offensive of World War I. Cook returned home to Dayton, Ohio, after the war. For periods of time in the 1920s, he lived in community homes for disabled soldiers. Cook passed away in 1928 at the age of 33.
Women served as nurses at many U. S. Army base hospitals throughout France during World War I. Amie R. DeMar served at Base Hospital Number 25. This hospital was organized in 1916 at Cincinnati General Hospital, which is called University of Cincinnati Medical Center today. Hospital personnel trained for three months at Ohio’s Camp Sherman. In 1918, Base Hospital Number 25 was the second hospital to arrive in the town of Allerey in central France. The station later became a large hospital with more than 1,700 beds.
In 1917, Placid H. Doyle was a Franciscan priest and professor at Cincinnati’s St. Francis Monastery. On his draft registration card, Doyle requested exemption from combat service, but not from acting as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. Military chaplains offered spiritual support to many regiments during World War I, as they marched and lived with the soldiers. Doyle died in France in October 1918 while serving as chaplain for the Army’s 90th Division.
Archibald Droste served in a field artillery regiment of the American Expeditionary Forces. In October 1918, he sent this photograph to his father with this letter on the back:
26 October 1918
Hope you are well again and all through with the flu! This will show you I am in good health. Am also enjoying the work and looking forward to coming home.
Somewhere in France
Droste’s father, William, had probably contracted the deadly strain of influenza (flu) that spread across the globe in 1918. This flu epidemic killed more people worldwide than World War I. Fortunately, William survived the illness. After the war, Archibald traveled and worked with his family throughout the eastern United States. The family lived in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in the 1930s and Rochester, New York, in the 1940s.
Francis Herman Gow was born of Jamaican decent in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1886. He was educated in the United States, studying at the Tuskegee Institute, Lane Theological Seminary, Wilberforce University and Miami University. In 1912, Gow married Irene Burrell of Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the next few years, he served as minister at Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Cincinnati, then St. Paul AME Church in Charleston, West Virginia, where he was living when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917.
As a highly educated African American man, Gow was commissioned by Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the only U.S. Army training camp established for African American Officers. Gow was commissioned as a first lieutenant, commanding a platoon of soldiers in Company M of the 365th Infantry Regiment, part of the 92nd Infantry Division.
In the years after the war, Gow returned to South Africa. He was principal of the Wilberforce Institute at Evaton in Transvaal, South Africa. He later became pastor of Bethel AME Church in Cape Town, South Africa, where his passion for music became well-known and appreciated among the congregation. Over time, he rose to international prominence in the AME Church, gaining mentions in major media coverage surrounding various AME Church conventions held in the U.S. during the early 20th century. In 1956, Gow became the first African to be elected bishop of the AME Church.
Dr. George L. Mallet was a dentist by profession and served as secretary for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) during World War I. The YMCA provided the majority of all welfare work to the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the war. The organization operated approximately 1,500 post-exchanges (base retail stores) and canteens (food service places). As secretary in the YMCA, Mallett would have distributed goods to soldiers from canteens and provided various free educational, recreational, athletic and entertainment programs to enlisted men.
Eleanor S. Patterson was a successful attorney from Cincinnati, Ohio. She served as a staff representative for the American Red Cross from 1917 through 1919. American Red Cross employees and volunteers provided medical and recreational services for enlisted Americans at home and abroad. Red Cross nurses and ambulance drivers were deployed throughout Europe to provide first aid to those on the front lines, as well as developed rehabilitation programs at veteran hospitals to help wounded soldiers.
Charles H. Payne registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, and trained at Camp Sherman, near Chillicothe in south-central Ohio. The United States began to create military training camps when the country entered World War I in April 1917. Over the course of American involvement, Camp Sherman became the third largest army base in the U.S., and one of a few which trained African American soldiers from all over the country. More than 40,000 soldiers received their training at Camp Sherman by the end of the war.
Nursing was one of the most significant ways women contributed to the war effort, often serving in U.S. Army base hospitals. Flora Schumacher worked at Base Hospital Number 54, organized in May 1918 in Camp Greene, North Carolina. The fourth hospital to arrive in the town of Mesves in central France, Base Hospital Number 54 occupied several wooden barracks and tents. There were more than 2,000 patients treated there in October 1918.
Lucy Kennedy Shaffer grew up in a wealthy family in Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated from Massachusetts’ Smith College in 1908. During World War I, Shaffer volunteered with the Smith College Relief Unit, which was founded in 1917 by Harriet Boyd Hawes to bring assistance to areas of France devastated by the war. The unit was recognized by the U.S. Department of State and affiliated with the American Red Cross and American Fund for French Wounded. Frank Shaffer, Lucy’s father, wrote on the back of her portrait that she assisted with French refugee work. After the war, Lucy returned to Cincinnati and was employed as a local schoolteacher.
Washington Simms, a caterer, and Elizabeth Simms, a domestic servant, lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had 10 children. Four of their children were enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I, including Leander, Lucien, Robert and Waddell. To celebrate their wartime service, another brother named Eugene loaned their portraits for display in the Allied War Exposition.
In the early 20th century, very few professional occupations were open to African Americans, and most of the Simms family members were employed in various Cincinnati service industries. They worked as butlers, waiters, chauffeurs, doormen and maids. Service in the Army offered new opportunities for these brothers, but a career in the military presented its own set of discriminatory barriers.
At least one of the Simms brothers was a member of an Army combat division. According to the inscription on the back of his portrait, Waddell served on one of the only two African American combat divisions during World War I, the 92nd Division of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Robert, Leander and Lucien likely served in AEF divisions that performed manual labor to support the Allied front line, as did the majority of African American men who served in the War.
After their service, some of the Simms brothers continued to work in service industries. Leander, however, became a teacher at the Frederick Douglass School, a Cincinnati elementary school dedicated to giving African American children an education that would improve their professional, political and economic prospects.
(Top left: Leander Simms , Top right: Lucien Simms, Bottom left: Robert Maxwell Simms , Bottom right: Waddell Simms)
Bessie Srofe was an osteopathic physician before she volunteered for the Salvation Army when the United States entered World War I. Srofe became a member of a Salvation Army envoy and traveled to war-torn France. Salvation Army volunteers provided assistance to soldiers fighting on the front lines, working tirelessly to boost the spirits of the exhausted men. After the war ended, Srofe returned to practicing medicine in Cincinnati.
Philip E. Stegmeyer was employed in radio service at the University of Cincinnati during World War I. At this time, colleges across the country wanted to offer support and contribute to the war effort. The Student Army Training Corps was designed by the federal government as a way to involve higher education students in becoming trained soldiers. This program had a huge impact on students enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, though it was only active from October to December 1918.
Norman Frank Vehr worked as a printer in Cincinnati, Ohio, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 10, 1917, serving in an American ambulance unit. By the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the Allied forces were in great need of medical assistance and supplies. American ambulance companies were deployed throughout Europe. The Army medical department was drastically expanded from around 1,000 personnel to more than 350,000 personnel at the war’s end.
Joel Ware worked as a laborer for Cumberland Valley Lumber Company at the time he was drafted by the U.S. Army during World War I. Ware traveled to France while serving in the Pioneer Infantry, 802nd Company. This regiment was one many non-combatant African American service units in the Army’s American Expeditionary Forces. These enlisted men loaded and unloaded ships, dug trenches, and built hospitals, roads, bridges and railroad lines. This work was similar to Ware’s job as a laborer before he was drafted.
Before the U.S. got involved in World War I, John Wm. Zeigler worked as a machine tool inspector at Cincinnati Planer Company, a machine tool manufacturer in Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood. This industry was vital to the American war effort and employed many Cincinnati residents. These companies manufactured machine tools that were capable of producing military trucks, tanks, ships and other weapons of war. Zeigler served as a member of a field artillery unit, returning to his machine tool career after the war.