Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Your Grandmother Wears Army Boots

“Your grandmother wears Army boots,” was once a taunt on the playground. Of course, women didn’t serve in the military during those times. Or did they? The photographs below show a woman in WWI era Army nurse’s uniforms. Well, my grandmother did indeed wear Army boots. The photos depict her upon enlistment and later on the base of Fort Sam Houston in Brownsville, Texas.

Alice Valentine Jennings was not a typical young woman of her times. At the age of 19, she had left home saying goodbye to her parents to never see them again. Setting off on a small skiff in the harbor at Cobh, Ireland, she was soon boarding the ship RMS Laconia. Along with her older sister Elizabeth, she was on her way to America.

Within two years of arriving in Boston, she had left her waitressing job and completed a course in nursing through Long Island Hospital, located in the harbor of Boston. This hospital was one for poor people with contagious diseases. There, the Boston government sponsored a program for young women of little means to becoming registered nurses.

Alice worked at Boston Women’s Hospital for about a year in the children’s ward where they called her “Miss Jenny”. The United States was entering World War I. She had heard that the army was offering citizenship with shorter residency requirements for men who entered the army. Knowing not much more about it, she stepped into a recruiter’s office and asked: “What about the nurses? Will you help us become citizens as well?”

On January 26, 1918, Alice Jennings of Roxbury, Massachusetts received her appointment in the Army Nurse Corps. And on January 29th took her oath of office. She was on her way to Texas.

While at Fort Sam Houston she worked with other nurses in support of the Calvary. They guarded our border. Pancho Villa, a hero of the Mexican Revolution, had been creating trouble there, making raids back and forth across the border. United States Intelligence recently intercepted the Zimmerman telegram hinting that an invasion through Mexico might be imminent. All in all, it was a busy place.

Alice kept a photograph album during this time. That is where we found these two pictures. In the album appeared pictures of many of her friends, both nurses, and men from the Calvary. As you flip through the album, there is one man who begins to appear in more of the pictures. A young soldier named Marion Wooster from the small town of Lysander, in upstate New York.

Two dates stand out during Alice's time in the Army. On December 1, 1919, in a naturalization ceremony, she becomes a citizen of the United States. At this time, not only did few women serve in the army, but also few obtained citizenship on their own. It was a time period where a minor child would become naturalized automatically if their father did and foreign women gained citizenship upon marriage to a US citizen as well as female citizens losing it if they married a man who was a citizen of another country.

The other date soon follows. A little over two months later, on February 18, 1920, Alice married Marion in a simple ceremony in Brownsville, Texas. My grandmother did indeed wear Army boots.

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