Iowa Woman Reports On The “Real Life” Of Post-World War I Europe

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Courtesy of Library of Congress

Not a building standing in Vaux, France, 1919

“We start out sometimes and find a body but not a trace for identification. But we just won’t give up. We know some mother back home will be glad we stuck to the job.”

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Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.

Cheryl MullenbachCheryl Mullenbach is the author of non-fiction books for young people. Her work has been recognized by International Literacy Association, American Library Association, National Council for Social Studies, and FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Visit her website at: www.cherylmullenbachink.com

It was a gruesome task the American soldier in post-war France recounted for Betty Adler from Davenport, Iowa, in July 1919. The Davenport Daily Times had sent their correspondent to Europe to report on the “pulse beat and heart throbs of real life” in the cities and villages that had suffered tremendous death and destruction during the Great War.

Adler sailed from New York on the Rotterdam on June 12 arriving in Falmouth, England, on June 23. From there she traveled to Paris, arriving just in time to witness the jubilant reactions to the ending of the world war.

“All Paris celebrated in the streets. I was among them,” Adler wrote.

It appeared the whole world was there, singing and dancing in the city streets. Adler painted a picture with words of the cheering throngs as they filled the Champs-Élysees. “See with me this surging mass of celebrants as the search lights of the Eiffel Tower beyond plays upon them,” she invited her readers.

American soldiers marched carrying the stars and stripes and singing “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.” The crowds parted to make way for a rambunctious gaggle of young boys dragging a German cannon left behind by the retreating enemy. Blasts from automobile horns punctured the air, and fireworks decorated the night skies. The revelers raised their voices in singing the Marseillaise with a famous opera star who led the chorus from her perch on a balcony overlooking the festivities.

As the celebrating continued throughout the night, Adler wrote “The joy of peace reigns supreme in Paris.”

But Adler had traveled from Iowa to report on “actual conditions” and “personal incidents” of common people as they struggled to return to a normal life. She wanted to move out into the countryside and witness for herself the effects of war. Setting out by automobile Adler visited Château-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Soissons and Reims where she reported on “tired-eyed” people who were returning to the “broken fragments” of their homes.   

  Her vivid depictions of pine coffin boxes stacked against a fence, of American soldiers searching for remains of their comrades, roads running through fields of live shells and villagers clearing away debris “to begin life over” filled the pages of the Daily Times. She wrote about the city of Vaux with its “skeleton houses” and the village of Torcy where “many Davenport infantry boys” had fought. She traveled to Fismes, where a cemetery held 1,500 American soldiers, and to Reims, where “shattered structures” and “powdered plaster” greeted returning refugees.

Adler returned to Paris as French citizens honored their American friends with celebrations on the Fourth of July. Their “tremendous admiration” for America and the “two million men” she had sent to “rescue” the French people shone through as sounds of the “Star Spangled Banner” mingled with the “Marseillaise.”

Adler’s book, Within the Year After, released in 1920 and chronicled her time in Europe.

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Sources

  • Adler, Betty. “Peace Night in Paris an Event Joyous and Gay,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), July 25, 1919.
  • Adler, Betty. “What One Sees Now in an Automobile Tour to Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Soissons and Rheims Year After the Great American Drive,” Daily Times, July 26, 1919.
  • “Betty Adler’s War Book Out,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 26, 1920.
  • “Iowa Woman Tells in Book of War,” Daily Gate City and Constitution-Democrat (Keokuk, Iowa), Aug 4, 1920.
  • “Miss Adler of the Times is in France,” Daily Times, June 23, 1919.
  • “The Times Sends a Special Representative to France to Report Results of War,” Daily Times, June 6, 1919.

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