Through one woman’s eyes
American Alma Adelaide Clarke had been abroad for a year when the Great War broke out. As the daughter of a well-known artist Thomas Shields Clarke, her adventures warranted recounting by society columnists in both New York City and Washington D.C. While her younger brother Jack became caught in the initial skirmishes of war, eventually requiring rescue by the American ambassador to France, Alma made her way from Baden Baden via Geneva to Paris. Arriving at the end of August of 1914, she volunteered as a nurse in the just-opened American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly-Sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris.
Alma Clarke remained at the American Ambulance, as it was known colloquially, for only a month before returning to the US. Precisely what she did from the fall of 1914 to the fall of 1917 is unclear, but on November 16, 1917 the Comité Franco-Americain pour la Protection des Enfants de la Frontière, a child welfare organization, accepted her application for service, and in January of 1918 she sailed back to Europe. By the fall of 1918 Clarke had returned to the hospital in which she nursed in during 1914, now renamed the American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 1, where she remained until the last convoy of patients was evacuated at the end of January 1919.
Had Alma Clarke not kept two souvenir albums, her wartime experiences might have faded into obscurity, acknowledged only generally in the lines historians have penned about the thousands of female Red Cross volunteers who served Europe. However, in the sole surviving wartime letter to her brother, Alma Clarke explains “the album is the pride and joy of my life” and she arranged before her death to have it, along with her wartime papers and a second album documenting her work with refugee children, placed in Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.
From 2014 to 2017 Rosemont College students under the direction of Michelle Moravec Ph.D. are creating a digital history of Alma A. Clarke’s Great War. In the fall of 2015 graduate students at Villanova University work on Clarke’s scrapbook, along with others, under the supervision of Professor Deborah Boyer. For further reading about Clarke, see
Credits: Fall 2014 Rosemont College Student Participants: Jenna Kaiser Mary Manfredi, Anna Nuzzolese, Kyle Robinson, Eve Romanowski, Marygrace Urmson. Villanova University graduate student Christina Virok. All images from Alma A. Clarke papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.