Contract Surgeons

While the U.S. military would not accept women physicians in the Medical Corps, they did allow women physicians to serve as contract surgeons. Contract surgeons were considered civilians who worked for the Army medical department but were paid a lower salary without military rank or benefits. In all, 56 women physicians became contract surgeons, most serving in the U.S. Only 11 of the women were assigned overseas and most worked as anesthetists.

The overseas contract surgeons included:

Additional contract surgeons (most who served in the U.S.) included: Dr. Myra Babcock, Dr. Edythe Bacon, Dr. Ollie Baird, Dr. Lucy Baker, Dr. Mary Botsford, Dr. Rose Bowers, Dr. Edna Brown, Dr. Minnie Burdon, Dr. Anne Burnett, Dr. Nell Carney, Dr. Frances Chapman, Dr. Ella Cleverdon, Dr. Margaret Dassell, Dr. Julia Donahue, Dr. Grace Elmendorf, Dr. Florence Gebhart, Dr. Margery Gilfillan, Dr. Bertha Haessler, Dr. Julia Hill, Dr. Leila Jackson, Dr. Mary Johnstone, Dr. Kate Karpeles, Dr. Anna Kleegman, Dr. Esther Kratz, Dr. Bella Lewison, Dr. Loretta Maher, Dr. May Mathewson, Dr. Loy McAfee, Dr. Gertrude McCann, Dr. Mary McKnight, Dr. Jean Mendenhall, Dr. Lady Morgan, Dr. Dolores M. Pinero (San Juan), Dr. Agnes Ruddock, Dr. Jessie Scott, Dr. Edna Sherrill, Dr. Charline Smith, Dr. Olive Smith, Dr. Pearl Stephens, Dr. Nellie Stephenson, Dr. Gertrude Streeper, Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff, Dr. Marie Walker, Dr. Frances Weitzman, Dr. Maud Williams, Dr. Sylvia Wilson, Dr. Anna Young.

Uniform of a contract surgeon          Contract of a contract surgeon          Read more here.          More Uniforms

A letter from Dr. Caroline Purnell of the American Women’s Hospitals Service to Dr. Martha Tracy, then Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania describes the position of the contract surgeon (courtesy of Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine).

“Regulations regarding contract surgeons:

  1. Contract-Surgeons do not receive pensions except by special act of Congress
  2. The Government pays for transportation, quarters, heat and light, the same as furnished the 1st lieutenants.
  3. There is no additional pay for foreign service; the contract specifies where the service is to be and the amount to be received for this specific service.
  4. $1800 a year is the maximum, the minimum being whatever agreed to for the particular service to be rendered.
  5. The amount is regulated by agreement; the surgeon states his price and the Government accepts or rejects; or vice versa.
  6. The immediate superiors are commissioned officers of whatever rank in command at the station where the contract-surgeon serves, even though they be only 1st lieutenants.”

Service in French Military Hospitals

Some American women physicians served in French military hospitals and were recognized by the French government for their contributions.

Service with the American Women’s Hospitals Service (AWHS)

The American Women’s Hospitals (AWH, named after the Scottish Women’s Hospitals) was organized by the War Service Committee of the Medical Women’s National Association (MWNA, later renamed AMWA) to provide care for the civilian population in the war ravaged areas of Europe. AWH worked with groups like the American Red Cross and the American Committee for Devastated France to set up hospitals and treatment centers, ultimately sending 128 women physicians abroad by the year 1920. American Women’s Hospital No. 1 began in Neufmontiers, France and later moved to Luzancy, France. After the armistice, AWH would stay on to help with the restoration efforts in Western Europe. Read more.

The American Women’s Hospitals was chaired initially by Dr. Rosalie Slaughter Morton and was based at 437 Madison Avenue (New York City) in rooms donated by Mr. Otto Schlessinger.  Public meetings were held weekly in the Masonic Hall, drawing attendees from local women’s clubs, local and national organizations, foreign delegates and officials, and more.  “Under our Foreign Service Committee we not only registered three hundred and forty-five doctors, eight dentists, seven nurses and eighty-five lay workers to the Red Cross; seven doctors to the Commission for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in France; two to the Rockefeller Institute; one to the Smith Unit; one to the Wellesley Unit; ten to the British Expeditionary Force in Egypt; and two to the Refugee Hospitals in Serbia.”  — Dr. Rosalie Slaughter Morton (A Woman Surgeon, p. 279)

By the end of the war, AWH had registered over 1000 physicians and sent 78 women physicians overseas.  

Drs. Regina Flood Keyes and Frances M. Flood (cousins) were the first to serve in an AWH uniform.

Reports by Dr. Hunt and Dr. Hurrell on AWH Hospital No. 1.

Service with the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross (ARC) staffed hospitals and ambulance services to meet the needs of both the armed forces as well as the civilian communities. They organized the formation of base hospitals and also helped staff the military and veterans hospitals throughout war zones and at home. In all, the American Red Cross established 54 hospitals overseas and sent 11 commissions to Europe.  Some of the physicians who worked with the Red Cross included:

Service with the Women’s Oversea Hospitals

The Women’s Overseas Hospital (WOH) was a mobile unit organized by the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and supported by the National American Woman Suffrage Association to provide primary care for women and children in areas devastated by war.

“These women went through hell just to get the opportunity to serve, and they became mostly footnotes in history books.” — Kate Clarke Lemay

American Fund for French Wounded / American Committee for Devastated France

“The American Fund for the French Wounded was organized by Anne Morgan, Francophile of millionaire U.S. financier J. P. Morgan, to provide medical supplies to the French Military. In March 1918, the organization split into two bodies. The first, bearing the same name as its parent, continued to care for war casualties, and the other, incorporated under the name American Committee for Devastated France, worked with various other organizations to provide relief for French citizens in the badly battered war zones.” (Excerpted with permission from American Women in World War I:  They Also Served by Lette Gavin).

Learn more about the work of Anne Morgan through the Morgan Library, the American Friends of Blerancourt, or the Musee Franco-Americain de Blerancourt.  Read a report of the American Fund for French Wounded.

Women Physicians with the American Fund for the French Wounded:  Dr. Alice Barlow Brown

Other Hospitals or Overseas Units

Women physicians also served with some of the hospital units sent overseas to help provide medical care during the war. Dr. Anna Tjomsland (a contract surgeon) served with the Bellevue Hospital’s Base Hospital No. 1 as its only woman doctor.

Dr. Alice Weld Tallant served as director of the Smith College Relief Unit. Members of the Smith College Relief Unit were key during war efforts, helping pack supplies in facilities such as the YWCA Hostess House in Paris during World War I. More information is available in the Smith College Relief Unit Records and the book by Ruth Gaines, Ladies of Grécourt: The Smith College Relief Unit in the Somme.

Dr. Frances Edith Haines (a contract surgeon) served with the Presbyterian Hospital of Chicago’s Base Hospital as its only woman doctor.

Dr. Mary Merritt Crawford served with the American Ambulance Hospital in France.  Some of her letters were published in the Cornell Women’s Review. Dr. Crawford was one of six American surgeons who was funded by the Duchess of Talleyrand to help with the war work in France. She was the only woman physician at the American Ambulance Hospital.  Biographical information   Exhibit   Oral Interview

Wellesley College sent four units towards the end of the war as well as after the war.  Dr. Augusta Williams was physician for the first Wellesley Unit though she was from Radcliffe. Dr. Elfie Graff served with the third Wellesley Unit (after the armistice).  Dr. Mary W. Marvell and Dr. Louise Tayler-Jones served with the fourth Wellesley Unit (after the armistice).