This letter was written by Eleanor "Nora" Saltonstall (1894-1919) to her family to assure them that she was safe while volunteering with the American Red Cross in France during World War I.
Eleanor "Nora" Saltonstall was one of more than 25,000 women who served overseas during World War I. As a member of a leading Massachusetts family, Nora was perhaps destined for public service. The daughter of Eleanor (Brooks) and Richard Middlecott Saltonstall and the sister of Leverett Saltonstall, later Massachusetts governor and U.S. senator, Nora descended from Sir Richard Saltonstall, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Company who sailed to America in the Arbella in 1630. Following her graduation from Miss Winsor's School in 1911, she attended Miss Ferris's School in Paris. At the outbreak of hostilities, she joined her mother in war work at home, sewing soldiers' nightshirts and rolling bandages.
When America entered the war in the spring of 1917, Nora, like so many of her counterparts who served as nurses, librarians, canteen workers, and operators, felt the need to join the action. In October of 1917 (just after her twenty-third birthday and one year before her brother Leverett arrived in France), she sailed to Paris to work as a volunteer with the Bureau of Refugees and Relief, a division of the American Red Cross that provided lodging for refugees. In November, she transferred to an American Red Cross dispensary in Paris. A desire to see more action and to be of more use to the war effort impelled her to seek a transfer after the new year to Mrs. Charles Daly's autochir (pronounced Auto Sheer) No. 7, an American Red Cross hospital unit attached to the French army.
The autochir was a mobile hospital that followed the troops, serving as the primary medical unit after the first aid station (see online presentation of autochir No. 7). During the spring of 1918, Nora served as Mrs. Daly's assistant, as the unit's secretary and housekeeper in charge of supplies and accounts, and later as the chauffeur, while the autochir served along the Western Front in France east/northeast of Paris, the site of the great German offensives and the most decisive battles of that year. For her service under fire, Nora was awarded the Croix de Guerre, an honor she called "tommy rot."
Following the war, Nora traveled to the south of France and returned home in March of 1919. She then embarked on a trip with friends through the western United States where she contracted typhoid fever in Portland, Oregon, and died on August 2, 1919 at the age of twenty-four.
Nora Saltonstall's papers form part of a large, multi-generational collection of Saltonstall family papers at the Historical Society. Judith S. Graham has published Nora's letters home to her family in "Out Here at the Front" : The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall (Northeastern University Press), 2004.
Gavin, Lettie. American Women in World War I: They Also Served.Niwot, Colo.: University of Colorado Press, 1997.
In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Saltonstall, Nora."Out Here at the Front" : The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall, edited by Judith S. Graham. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004.
Schneider, Dorothy and Carl J. Schneider. Into the Breach: American Women Overseas in World War I. New York: Viking, 1991.
For more information on Nora Saltonstall and women's military service in World War I, see also the Object of the Month for June 2002.