World War I Era

West Hartford and World War I

Originally appeared in Joseph M. Donahue, The Connecticut Veterans Memorial West Hartford (2006).

Of the 314 West Hartford citizens who fought in World War I, 292 made it back home. Twenty-two men died according to the war memorial on the east side of the West Hartford Town Hall.

The United States likes to believe it played a pivotal role in the Great War. U.S. casualties equaled about one percent of the 10 million killed during the war. Testimony to the small sacrifice Americans paid compared to the British, French, Russians, and Germans is that the first West Hartford man died in battle on October 4, 1918 just five weeks before the five year war ended. Statistics on 14 casualties reveal that three men died in September, eight in November, and three in March of 1919. Of the 14, only four died of battle wounds.

In 1918, West Hartford had a population of about 8,000 people. About 15 percent of the men in town served in the war. The first call for men to sign up for the draft, required men between the ages of 22 and 35 to report. When the government asked, in September 1918 for men to register for the draft, it called for all men between the ages of 18 and 46. In West Hartford, at the Town Hall, then located in the old Congregational Church building on the northwest corner of Main and Farmington Avenue, they had three interpreters there to translate in French, Swedish and Italian.

The West Hartford men who went off to “keep the world safe for democracy” were a mixed bunch and reflected the diversity of the town over 80 years ago. One young man who served, Pietro Bradinini, arrived in France on October 4, 1918 and served in the motor corps. Both Adolphe Brodeur and Rudolf Krieger probably fought against former countrymen from Germany. The October 22, 1918 meeting minutes of West Hartford’s War Bureau reported that F.S. Echols of Walbridge Road, a neighborhood with larger homes in the east end was killed in battle. Frank Velhage, whose family owned a farm near the present day Charter Oak School was the son of French Canadian immigrants. Today the American Legion Hall is named after him. Clarence Scarborough also served in the war. His parents lived in the colonial Colton house on Sedgwick Road not too far from South Main Street.

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society retains a file of all people who fought in World War I. Sgt. Adolphe Brodeur was called back from the Mexican border, fighting Pancho Villa, to enter the fighting in the Great War. He saw fighting at Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, and Meuse Argonne. He was gassed on November 1, 1918 and found to be 10 percent disabled by the government. Source: Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, World War I Collection.

Walter O. Korder, the artist who painted the history mural in the Old Hall High Library, the nursery rhymes at Charter Oak, and the portrait of Frederick U. Conard, in Conard’s library, also served in World War I.

World War I was the first to allow women to officially serve in the military. Four women from West Hartford served: Ida Butler, Dorothy Dressler Carpenter, Beatrice Cook, and Mary Rees. After six months of training in New Haven and Boston, Carpenter served as a Reconstruction aide at Fort Dix in New Jersey, helping amputees in 1919 re-adjust to civilian life.

Making the world safe for democracy led to a draft which is not so democratic. President Wilson ran on a platform of keeping us out of war. But when the time came, he got the Office of War Information going to convince men that they should sign up. This draft, unlike that of the Civil War, did not allow men to buy substitutes. People of all economic strata had to sacrifice for the greater good, as defined by the wartime government.

West Hartford Women during World War I

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, May 2001

When the United States entered World War I, women’s role helping to win the war at home transformed the home front. Women’s domestic duties took on political overtones. Proper food preparation became a patriotic duty and domestic skills like knitting became another way to win the war. Women got the chance to publicly organize and work alongside men in ways not accepted during peacetime.

For the first time in U.S. History, women officially enlisted in the armed forces. Of the 314 West Hartford citizens who served, four were women. Ida Butler, Dorothy Dressler Carpenter, Beatrice Cook, and Mary A. Rees all served. For instance, Carpenter served as a Reconstruction Aid at Fort Dix in New Jersey in 1919 helping amputees learn how to manage in civilian life.

Most women in West Hartford participated in the war by helping the men overseas and by sacrificing on the home front. On West Hartford’s War Bureau, women used their skills in the public and private worlds. Seven of the 20 people on the committee at its first meeting November 21, 1917, were women. The Secretary, Mary Buckland, contacted all the “boys” in the service from West Hartford. She wrote a letter to each one, telling them that the Bureau would keep in touch with them and “render every possible service…” so that “we may all have the opportunity to demonstrate to you, to the best of our ability, our deep appreciation of your sacrifice for your country and for the ones at home.”

The federal government did not impose rationing or price controls during World War I, but it did urge people to voluntarily conserve. The West Hartford War Bureau established a Conservation Committee in February 1918 to address rising prices and shortages. In February, Chairman of the committee, Mrs. Newlands, who had recently attended a State Council meeting at the Capitol, reported that the cost of yarn had skyrocketed. Members attempted to control the price by buying the yarn through the War Bureau. War Bureau members also worried about the use of gasoline by delivery trucks. The War Bureau asked merchants, like those at Burnham’s Grocery in the center of town to make just one delivery per day, saving both men and gasoline. The Conservation Committee also urged the people to “carry their own bundles” rather than expect delivery.

By October of 1918, the West Hartford Branch of the Red Cross had sewing, knitting, and surgical dressing departments. They opened their rooms every day except Saturdays from December 1917 to August 1918. From then on, they opened Tuesday and Thursday. With a total population of less than 9,000, West Hartford women produced 1,225 pairs of socks on the five knitting machines. Nearly 400 women knit by hand and made 1,143 garments during the year. Most of these items were sent to the U.S. soldiers, weathering a tough winter in northeastern France. The surgical dressing department made 52,439 dressings through July. Members of the Sewing Department operated six sewing machines and made 3,217 garments. Women at the Elmwood Library Club and the North End Auxiliary also contributed to these totals.

It seemed like the war effort reached everyone. The Civilian Relief Committee, made up of three women officers and four men on the executive committee, divided the town into nine districts. Each district had a captain and assistant workers to thoroughly canvas the town for records of all men in service in the Army or Navy. By February of 1918, the Committee collected 145 names. The workers encouraged the families to buy War Risk Insurance, the first mass sale of life insurance in U.S. History.

This canvas also helped on the Liberty Loan Drives. The United States raised one-quarter of the money needed to fight the war through selling war bonds. The government sponsored four Liberty Loan Drives. Both men and women went door to door to sell them. Children in schools bought stamps and filled their books. When they were full, they turned the books in for a bond. The Fourth Liberty Loan Drive, to begin November 11, 1918, included efforts by the YWCA, Knights of Columbus, War Camp Community Fund, Jewish Relief, Public Library, and Salvation Army.

The citizens also organized community activities to raise money for the bond drives. The Women’s Committee put together a cookbook and raised $43.75 to donate to the bond drive. For the Third Liberty Loan Drive, West Hartford had a quota of $469,000 and raised $604,000. The Chairman of the committee, W.S. Griswold, praised the Women’s Committee for its help in raising the money.

Another way women got involved in the war effort was through the Home Garden and Food Production Committee. Certain processed foods could easily be sent overseas. The federal government urged citizens to grow Liberty Gardens and can their own food so that it could maximize the amount of food sent overseas. In 1917, the Town gave $7,000 to this committee to buy a thresher and reaper to assist the farmers in town. The Connecticut agricultural extension taught classes in canning. With the advent of factory canning, many women had lost the art, but with the war, the government taught women once again how to do this. In 1917, Connecticut led all states in the union in community canning work by canning over 25,000 quarts of produce “by the community method.”

On Thanksgiving Day 1918, after Armistice Day, a directive from the State Council of Defense told people what they should eat on Thanksgiving Day. The State Council sent a directive to the public reminding them, that even though the war was over, there were 180 million people in Europe either “ground down by the iron heel of Germany” or who suffered greatly during the war. The directive urged women “to make yours a real dinner of Thanksgiving and not a feast.” They recommended that women use home-grown or Connecticut grown products, that they not to use food that could be shipped to the “hungry millions,” and they not plan more food than was “needed for a comfortable meal.” Beef, butter, sugar, and canned vegetables and fruits could all be sent overseas. Women’s civic responsibility, according to the government, was to “show these millions that they may still have confidence in America.”

The Great War, as experienced by West Hartford’s women, offered an elevated role for their domestic duties and new possibilities for public action. Historians often ask whether the changes brought by the war led to lasting changes in gender roles. Because much of the government rhetoric asked women to do this work as a sacrifice for the war effort, when the war ended, much that was gained was then lost. However, no one could take away the experiences of independence, responsibility or recognition they received for helping to win the war.

Edith Beach’s Influence on West Hartford

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, April 2008

Edith Beach, aged 54, is listed in the 1910 U.S. Census with an occupation of “none.” This is not too surprising for an upper class woman at the turn of the 20th century, but for a historian, this word masks the life of Beach and many women like her who had an impact on their community.

Edith’s father, Charles Beach, was the head of West Hartford’s Red Cross War Bureau during the Great War from 1917 to 1918. Beach led a committee of about 20 people and the group coordinated volunteer activities, sent condolences to families who lost young men in service and ran the Liberty Loan campaigns to get people to buy bonds to support the war effort.

In the October 22, 1918 War Bureau meeting minutes, the committee voted for Miss Edith Beach and Miss Mary Beach to be “made members of the War Bureau.” The Misses Beach, including their sister Frances, had run a “French Market” at the Vine Hill Farm on October 12 which attracted 1,180 people and raised $56,938.62 (equivalent to about $1 million today). Getting a thousand people out of a population of about 6,500 and raising about $9 per West Hartford resident seemed to be quite a feat.

West Hartford’s French Market, organized by Edith Beach and her sisters Mary and Frances, answered the call from President Wilson for a Columbus Day patriotic celebration and to raise funds by selling bonds for the “Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.” The market ran from noon to 9 p.m. on October 12. Beach wrote that this Market “demonstrates the adaptability of women to a class of work which has heretofore been monopolized by men.” Source: Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

What attracted people to the farm and how did Edith Beach come to run the French Market?

Charles Beach first bought land in West Hartford 1859. The head of Beach Brothers Company, a chemical and dye making company in Hartford, Beach summered in a house on South Main Street just northeast of New Britain Avenue. He built one of the biggest dairy farms in Connecticut after buying out six farms on the four corners of New Britain Avenue and South Main. He owned clear down to Trout Brook.

Charles Beach hired Frank Stadtmuller to run the farm. They produced “baby’s milk” with over 200 cows, by cleaning up the farm, the cows, the barns, the tools, and the milk pails. “Baby’s milk” was shipped in bottles by train all over and gave Vine Hill its reputation. More than 30 men worked on the farm in its heyday before the Great War, taking care of the cows and the 12 work horses, working the grist mill, bottling milk, making cream and butter, cutting ice from the pond, and working in the blacksmith shop. Many of these men boarded in what is now the Sarah Whitman Hooker House museum on the southeast corner of New Britain and Main.

After Charles Beach died in 1910, and with the build up to the Great War, production on the farm declined. Farm hands became factory workers, Bloomfield’s Woodford Farm took over production of baby’s milk, and production declined.

In 1910, Edith, her two sisters, her brother Charles Beach and his two children, an Irish servant and a German servant all lived in the huge house their father built, now situated on Brightwood Lane. It is in this context that Edith organized the French Market.

Up until this time, she had been involved in many activities acceptable to upper class women. She and her sisters never married, but did help raise their nephews as their sister-in-law died in childbirth. Edith tutored young Teddy and took him on drives through town. She took driving lessons in 1905 and was one of the first women in West Hartford to own a car.

Her daily diary serves as more of a chronicle than a reflective journal, but a day in January 1902 included luncheon with Mrs. Washburn and Mrs. Bingham, framing photographs she had taken, sewing and working on a stole. On that day she received letters from Bishop Donne and Mrs. Elizabeth Colt. She also wrote a report to the newspapers on the work of the Visiting Nurses, a group for which she gave many volunteer hours.

When President Wilson called for towns to raise money for the Liberty Loan and Red Cross Drives, Edith Beach was there to help. In May 1918, she and 75 West Hartford women organized a drive to raise $10,000 for the Second Red Cross War Fund. The campaign kicked off on May 20th with an automobile parade through the principal residential portion of the town. The cars were decorated with the “Stars and Stripes,” the colors of the Allied Countries and with Red Cross banners. Even though the wealthy East Side of town was rolled into the Hartford campaign, the women still believed they could make their goal.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the 75 women, divided into 14 teams, each headed by a woman who owned a car, canvassed every home in town. With a population of 6,500, they got 2,400 pledges and contributions. They raised $12,100, going 21% over their goal. Those who reported on the drive believed that the “percentage to total residents equal, if not better, than any town in the country.”

Their unparalleled success was most likely helped by the passage of the Sedition and Espionage Acts in 1917 and 1918. These laws allowed officials to arrest people who spoke out against the war. Perhaps refusing to buy bonds could be construed as an anti-war stance.

When Edith organized the French Market in October 1918, she was responding to President Woodrow Wilson’s call for a Columbus Day patriotic celebration, and his call for bond money to give to “Food for France” and to the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.

Edith borrowed the strategy of the summer drive and divided the town into 11 sections and her teams led a canvass of every house in town. The canvassers sold tickets to the French Market for 25 cents each and asked for donations to the market which included canned goods, preserves, a pig, and fruit.

At the market, the Beaches set up 12 booths with the donated articles. They arranged for seven speakers, five of whom were soldiers, and a nine-piece band.

Vine Hill Farm was transformed to look like a French Market. The automobile corps transported people to the market. Edith Beach led the drive with 86 women volunteering to help.

The highpoint of the afternoon was a pageant known as the Marseillaise Battalion. There on the corner of Main and New Britain Avenue, Beach’s friend Inez Temple produced a “dramatic incident of the French Revolution when the national anthem of the French attained its fame.”

In Beach’s write up of the drive, she wrote that the organization of the drive “is not only an interesting story but demonstrates the adaptability of women to a class of work which has heretofore been monopolized by the men.”

Beach’s activities, at age 61, put her in a public sphere that showed women’s patriotism and a role that far exceeded the delineation of “none” as found in the census. Wartime often altered the roles of men and women and the Great War was no exception. For Beach, the community building led to her running New York City’s YMCA just four years later. Historians have to wonder how much of her public activity was caused by her father’s death and how much by her own sense of independence and feminism.

New Departure Plant in Elmwood

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, February 2013

On Thursday, September 9, 1915 the New Departure Plant Superintendent Charles M. Gearing fired three men, Dewey Cavnaugh, Alfred Arnold, and Arthur Lishay for refusing to work overtime that night.

On Friday, September 10, 1915, seven cup and cone grinders walked off the job and joined the three men at the New Departure Plant in Elmwood to protest the firing and demand better working conditions. The workers posted placards in the factory, announcing that, whatever concessions were made to the employees of the main Bristol New Departure factories would apply in Elmwood by September 14. The Bristol shops began a 9 hour day schedule, with the same pay as for 10 hours. The New Departure Superintendent promised to reduce the workweek to 5 ½ days.

This event tells much about the situation with labor in the early 20th century and provides a small window into life in industrial Elmwood about 100 years ago. The story of this small labor action, so carefully reported by the Hartford Courant, displayed the pro-business leaning of the paper in the early 1900s. The story is full of working conditions, gender and machine tools.

Labor unrest permeated Connecticut’s work culture in 1915. Workers went on strike more than 1,200 times and employers locked them out of factories over 150 times over the course of the year. At the same time as the Great War broke out in Europe, and the number of European immigrants declined, manufacturing and the machine tool industry boomed in Connecticut. Workers felt a power they had not experienced before as they exercised what they saw as their right to demand better wages, better hours and better working conditions from their employers. Before the National Labor Relations Act (1935) workers could not make their employers negotiate; going on strike took a lot of courage.

The ten New Departure grinders hoped that 60 male grinders and 30 female grinders would follow them out on Saturday to reinforce their demands for a reduction in the work day from ten hours to nine hours, and a 10% increase in wages. They wanted half day Saturdays and time and a half for overtime over 55 hours.

According to the Hartford Courant’s report, Superintendent Charles M. Gearing, who had been on the job for a year, described that the three working men were attempting to stir up trouble. The sixty grinders did not go out on strike, he said. And, because the original three strikers were unruly, Geary paid them off and dismissed them.

Those who went on strike worked cup and cone grinding machines. These machine tools made the cups and cones that were integral parts of the bicycle hub. The grinders worked their grinding machine with a wooden foot treadle. According to the Courant article, and the accompanying photograph from the Connecticut Historical Society, women were also grinders.

Starting in 1909, the Connecticut State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor held hearings on a bill that would deny women the right to be polishers and grinders. Middle class reformers, the Metal Polishers Union, state industrial investigators all testified that this work was too difficult for women and that it affected their health far beyond the health of men. Little bits of metal in the air, they argued, caused workers to get tuberculosis, and at that time, they believed tuberculosis could be spread in childbirth. Proponents of the bill claimed that allowing women to work would hurt the next generations.

At the same time, women chose to work in polishing and grinding jobs at the typewriter factories and other metal industries. In this New Departure case, of the 120 polishers, fully one in four were women. The women were not paid as much as the men who got upwards of $18 per week, while the women earned between $9 and $12. Though the wages were substantially lower than the men’s, women were able to make more in this work than they made in traditional women’s work like garments where they earned about $6 per week.

Employers argued that they were giving women a chance and the women workers seemed to be happy with their jobs. At the hearings, women from the typewriter and ball bearing factories testified to their fitness and their satisfaction at metal polishing and grinding.

Women Polishers show their patriotism at the New Departure Manufacturing Company in Elmwood during World War I. Their main product was ball bearings. During the war, one in four of polishers were women. Source: Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

The New Departure machine tool factory opened in 1889 in Bristol to manufacture a doorbell that the owner Albert Rockwell invented. Nine years later, Rockwell patented a coaster brake for bicycles and then in 1901 he invented a new ball bearing for bikes, which became the ball bearing for the new automobile industry.

New Departure bought land from the Whitlock Coil and Pipe Company, the first big manufacturer in Elmwood and built a plant in Elmwood that manufactured small ball bearings. Hugh Rockwell was the first manager who was succeeded in 1914 by Charles M. Gearing. In 1914, the company produced 5,000 bearings a day in six different sizes. About 300 people worked at the plant. The company expanded until by 1917 they produced 8,000 bearings a day.

The company bought a big parcel of land between Newington Road and the railroad tracks. The company developed the land into 150 homes. Management gave workers a break on the cost of the lots. By 1929, the lots were almost completely built up. While some workers went on strike for their rights in 1915, the company began to provide benefits beyond the workplace.

New construction in 1919 doubled the floor capacity allowing for 12,000 bearings a day to be produced with 600 workers. When General Motors bought out New Departure in 1919, even more benefits flowed to the workers. Unlike the pattern of corporate takeovers today when it seems the bigger corporations take away benefits, General Motors expanded benefits for the New Departure workers.

Those who worked in the 1920s got a savings and investment plan, group insurance which included sick benefit provisions. Their wages gave them the ability to buy their own homes, “enjoying more of the comforts of life than would otherwise have been his.” Industrialization helped many Elmwood citizens find their way to the American dream in the suburbs.

What started with labor unrest and strikes, smoothed itself out as employers found the benefits of good working conditions and benefits for their workers.

About this book

Copyright © 2018 by Tracey M. Wilson. Life in West Hartford is freely available online at and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Readers may share the work for non-commercial use, by including a source credit to the author.

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Print copies of this book are available for sale from the publisher, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, in West Hartford, Connecticut. Proceeds of sales benefit the Society