“I shudder to think what the economic condition of the country and of all other countries involved will be when this awful war is over.”
Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.
Cheryl Mullenbach is the author of non-fiction books for young people. Her work has been recognized by International Literacy Association, American Library Association, National Council for Social Studies, and FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
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Alice Beatle wrote to friends and family in Iowa from her post in Budapest, Hungary, in December 1914. And while Beatle expressed alarm about economic effects of war, her immediate concern was for treatment of the wounded soldiers under her care.
Beatle had served as superintendent of nurses at the Homeopathic Hospital in Iowa City for a time; and when war broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, she was working in Ohio. When the Red Cross put out a call for nurses, Beatle responded. Although the United States had not yet entered the war, Beatle and a group of fellow nurses set sail from New York on September 5.
In late December a friend received a letter from Beatle from her post at the American Red Cross Military Hospital in Budapest. She described the hospital as a former school for the blind, where as many as 200 patients could be treated. Beatle and her team of 12 nurses cared for wounded soldiers, with the help of 20 orderlies.
“The soldiers, no matter how badly they are wounded or in how great pain, are so grateful and polite and uncomplaining,” Beatle wrote.
She told about two Romanian soldiers with severe face wounds who were being treated in the hospital. Both were violinists; and when the staff found a couple of violins for them, they sat up in their beds and performed. Beatle wrote, “It was very funny, but very pathetic also. I laughed to keep from crying.”
In spring 1915 the Davenport Daily Times reported on another letter from Beatle in which she described the “horrors” of conditions in Hungary. Food was scarce and expensive when available. Tea sold for $1.50 per pound. White bread was not available. And the brown bread was made with corn meal. Beatle wrote that typhoid fever was a serious problem in nearby towns, but that her hospital had not been afflicted.
The government of Austria-Hungary recognized the work of Beatle in 1915. She was presented a gold medal of honor, the first “foreign woman” to receive the honor.
After the war Beatle returned to the United States, working for a time at Fort Whipple in Arizona Territory. In November 1919 it was announced she was engaged to Frederick Cobb, an attorney and brother of famed baseball star, Ty Cobb. The couple planned to live on a ranch in California.
“Archduke Honors Miss Beatle,” Daily Times (Davenport), March 16, 1915.
“Hungary Takes Horrors Calmly,” Daily Times, Apr. 14, 1915.
“Iowa Woman to Europe,” Daily Times, Sept. 3, 1914.
“Iowa City Nurse to Marry Brother of Famous Ty Cobb,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 17, 1919.
“Miss Beatle Writes From War Scenes,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 29, 1914.