Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

« Read the full story

A report of the American Women’s Hospital Service hospitals in Neufmotiers and Luzancy, France, written by Dr. Barbara Hunt, director of the AWH, and describing the conditions of the areas surrounding the hospital. The American Women's Hospitals (AWH) developed from the War Service Committee of the Medical Women's National Association (later, American Medical Women's Association) in 1917 to provide, register, and finance American women physicians in order to aid those affected by World War I and provide medical and emergency relief to refugees. Dr. Barbara Hunt was the first director of the American Women’s Hospitals. She oversaw the operations of the first hospital in Neufmotiers, France from its opening on July 28, 1918, and assisted with the move to Luzancy, where she continued her work until November 1918.

Why It Matters

AWH provided the only relief work for World War I-era France organized and carried out by American women physicians. The doctors filled a void left by local (male) doctors, who were serving in the army, and treated not just injured soldiers, but cared for the civilians, often providing preventative treatments and much-needed, long-awaited surgeries.

Loading the Internet Archive BookReader, please wait...

Analyze this evidence

  • What are the biggest challenges faced by AWH personnel in France?
  • How did the signing of the armistice change the conditions in which AWH operated?

Listen to this document read aloud

Loading JW Player...
The advance guard arrived in Paris in June, and about the middle of July…at a chateau in the small village of Neufmotiers, Seine-et-Marne. This village was then housing about 60 refugees from the Aisne…in a radius of 20 miles there were perhaps 300 more from the Aisne. Because of our location in the war zone, necessitated by the presence there of the people we had gone to help, we were notified that our hospital must be prepared to take military cases; to be part military and part civil, what is called a “Hospital Mixte,” provision being made to keep each part entirely separate. The struggle for the possession of the Marne at Chateau Thierry was still swaying back and forth in uncertainty. There were nightly air raids on Paris only 20 miles away, and at dawn we would be aroused by the dull thunder of guns and flashes of light toward the northeast. [At that time transportation] from America was much delayed, and it had been planned to purchase the bulky equipment from the American Red Cross…they had no hospital equipment to spare so the fifty regulation army hospital beds were purchased from the Bon Marche. It was found out that operating tables…were very scarce…The next difficulty was surgical instruments as the very complete outfit which we had bought in the U.S.A. had not arrived. [In July, we sent two physicians and two nurses to Meaux] to assist in the treatment of the wounded French soldiers brought there by ambulances from the front…The wounded soldiers received their first hasty dressing at the frontline dressing station, were given a dose of antietanic serum and a card tied to the buttonhole stating the nature of the wound. We found the hasty dressings placed at the front often under fire, had frequently slipped, the cleansing of the wounds very slight if attempted at all, and a good many wounds overlooked entirely. In August…our refugees had gone back to their homes to harvest the grain which the Germans had not harmed in their retreat, so in September we too packed up “our little things” and moved to the little village of Luzancy. [The townspeople] were badly affected by their previous fright and grief during the hasty evacuation and also by the poor food and lack of care of the previous three and a half years. The undevastated districts were suffering from scarcity of food caused by the passage of the allied armies through their villages, the unsanitary conditions left by the armies, general low state of resistance caused by bad food conditions, fright, and nervous tension…The distress was the most dire imaginable. Next, came influenza with its pneumonias. The question of tuberculosis must be considered. While there was no way of gathering statistics, a good many cases were encountered living under difficult and distressing circumstances. With the signing of the armistice, all hope of military work was given up and the unit settled into purely civilian relief organization as was originally intended. The building at Luzancy has been electrified, coal has arrived from the army, a very important point in France this winter, the full unit is there with its full equipment and the hospital is functioning to full capacity medically and surgically. The organization has been asked by French government through the American Committee for Devastated France, to remain and continue its work for the next two years…We must not fail them.