The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Margaret Hall visits the Argonne

From my first days as a part-time transcriber for the Adams Papers to my current work as assistant editor of publications at the MHS, I’ve been lucky enough to work with the writings of strong, smart women--Abigail Adams, Louisa Catherine Adams, Ellen Wayles Coolidge, and Caroline Healey Dall being highlights. In the past few months, I added a fresh name to that list: Margaret Hall.

A Massachusetts native, Margaret Hall traveled to France in 1918 to work with the American Red Cross. She worked in a canteen in Châlons-sur-Marne, near the frontlines where the Great War continued to rage. In letters and journal entries, Hall recorded her experience of World War I, from her general fondness for the poilus (French soldiers) to her complicated responses to scenes of suffering and desolation. But no matter how grim things got, she infused her writing with a refreshing sense of irony and humor. This is to say nothing of the nearly three hundred remarkable photographs she took throughout her journey and pasted into the typescript.

Canteen WorkerThis photograph of a fellow worker illustrates the hectic pace of Hall's canteen work.

When she returned to the United States, Hall produced from those records a narrative titled “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, 1918–1919,” a typescript of which lives here at the MHS. In July 2014, the Society will publish an edition of her narrative (with selected photographs), edited by Margaret Higonnet, a professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

I leave you with a paragraph from the narrative that gives a sense of the adventures Margaret Hall gets up to. Here she writes of her trip to battlefield in the Argonne in the spring of 1919.

“The men threw hand grenades for us, one potato masher caught in a tree, and they screamed to us to drop, which we did in a hurry. Then they tried setting off all sorts of queer smoke things. One they thought was gas, and I must say I was glad when they stopped experimenting. Brought back a little shell with a parachute in it. Hope it is nothing more dangerous than a smoke screen.”

[A “potato masher” is a stick-shaped German grenade used in both World Wars.]

permalink | Published: Friday, 24 January, 2014, 8:00 AM