World War I’s Missing Hero Statue–Once A Tribute to the Women’s Red Cross Motor Corps

Statue nicknamed “Tilly,” commemorating the Red Cross Women’s Motor Corps of WWI,. Colorized by the blog editor.

I realize it is unusual for me to write about events or people not from New Hampshire.  For this story I made one of those uncommon exceptions.  After several years of researching World War I and the women who served, I felt this story might shed a light on a problem.

When world War I ended in 1918 there was a flurry of activity to create memorials, monuments and statues in tribute of those who served. Women served in many capacities during that “Great War” mainly as nurses, telephone operators, canteen workers, production workers, and  chauffeur and ambulance drivers. In a few instances their names were inscribed on group memorial monuments, however women’s WWI contributions were mostly ignored or bypassed when it came to constructing gender-specific statues. Most did not receive any veterans benefits.

One exception to this rule, appeared at first glance, to have been that of the “Red Cross Motor Corps Driver of World War I.” Or at least for a while. The Inventory of Rutgers University Photograph Collection for Douglass College, compiled in August of 2016 includes the following: Box 23.1 Antilles Field. Construction, field scenes, and dedication, 1923-1924. Statue unveiling, 1928 (Red Cross Motor Corps Driver of World War 1, based on Mrs. David Mc L. Collins (Leonor F. Lorree’s daughter).
-Lorree, Leonor F. – Portraits, 1934 and undated.
[additional items are listed, but not relating to the dedication or Lorree family]

Leonor F. Lorree was a railroad magnate who not only donated the statue, but also the Douglass College athletic field, later called Antilles Field. But today you won’t find the Motor Corps statue there, nor in fact will you find any statue honoring women.  According to historian Fernanda Perrone, “there is art work by women throughout the campus.”

—Background: Qualifications for Red Cross Motor Corps Women—
Perhaps the best way to begin is to explain what was expected of the women drivers of the Red Cross Motor Corps. In August of 1918 The New Castle Herald newspaper posted a lengthy article stating “Women Chauffeurs Needed.” The American Red Cross was seeking 300 women motor drivers for duty in France. The first unit of 50 had already begun in New York and was soon to be mobilized. English and French women had already been working in this arena. To be eligible for this position, a woman “must have passed her 25th birthday, must be fairly robust, and possess an impeccable patriotic record.”

There were two divisions, the first included ambulance and truck drivers, and the second division passenger cars and messenger work (this second division required that women not only donate their services but also their cars). “They must be graduates of a mechanical course specified by the Red Cross and possess a first aid certificate.” In most cases candidates for ambulance work were sent to a hospital for 12 days experience to its emergency room, or on one of its ambulances. They are subject to sanitary and stretcher drills that teach how to life and care for wounded soldiers. “A woman who drives a Red Cross ambulance must know how to apply a bandage, install a new inner tube, fix a spark-plug, handle a stretcher, and lift a wounded man.”

Unveiling of the Red Cross Motor Corps statue. Colorized by the blog editor.

—The Dedication of the Statue Monument—
Yesterdays Newsreel: Angels of Mercy, stock footage of post-WWI found on the Internet Archive shows [at time 2:40 in the video] shows a brief reel of the statue unveiling.  The announcer said of it: “But heroics are not forgotten. After peace is won New Brunswick New Jersey becomes the site of a memorial to the heroism and sacrifice of the Red Cross ambulance driver in the midst of war. They too were courageous at Chateau Thierry, Meuse Argonne and the Marne.”

On 19 October 1928, The Central New Jersey Home News newspaper New Brunswick NJ touted: “Monument Will Be Unveiled At N.J.C. Tomorrow.” The slate of morning events included a reunion of Red Cross Women of WWI, beginning with a parade that ran from Rutgers Campus to N.J.C. The Willets Infirmary and Jameson on Campus was scheduled to be dedicated in the afternoon exercises. The article goes on to mention that two cannon, the gift of the city of New Brunswick would flank the statue, erected on Antilles Field.

The following day the same newspaper provided additional details. Several thousand uniformed Red Cross women filed in parade through the city of New Brunswick, along with Rutgers band, and the newly organized drum and bugle corps of N.J.C. [New Jersey College later becoming Douglass]. A reunion was held on the campus. Miss Frances Van Ingen, chairman of the Brooklyn Red Cross Nursing Committee who was chief nurse at the Naval Base Hospital No. 1 overseas represented the nurses of Brooklyn. A large number of canteen workers attended. Woman representations from the motor corps, and production department workers also participated. A good number of the women present arrived on a special train arranged by Leonor F. Loree between New York City and New Brunswick NJ.

The monument statue to the Women Motor Corps Drivers, for which Mrs. Louise Loree Collins, daughter of Mr. Leonor F. Loree the statue donor, acted as the model for the figure was given to the school. The two cannon, gift of the city were presented by Mayor John J. Morrison. The Misses Marie Alix and Margarite Loree (nieces of Mr. Loree) unveiled the monument. Dean Douglass, of the New Jersey College for Women accepted the statue on behalf of the College. Addresses were made by James T. Nicholson, assistant manager of the eastern area of the Red Cross at Washington and Mrs. August Belmont, a member of the central committee of the American Red Cross.

Poster for the Philadelphia Salvage Committee encouraging scrap drives to aid the war effort during WW2. PA WPA Art. Library of Congress.

—The Women’s Motor Corps Statue is Scrapped—
By all accounts, this statue that commemorated the devotion and sacrifice of countless Red Cross motor corps drivers stood on Antilles Field for less than two decades. It is said that “she” was nicknamed “Aunt Tilly,” apparently a reference to Antilles field where she stood.  [SEE “The Institution and the Nation War Memorialization as Tool,” by Mark Hansen].

A New Jersey woman blogger using the pen-name Wandering WeyrCat visited a museum where she learned this “statue was scrapped for metal in WWII. Apparently, the students didn’t think much of the statue and were fine with donating it.”  By WWII the original donor had died (in 1940) and therefore would not object to its disappearance.   However I did not find any primary nor secondary evidence that indicates that anyone disliked or had an aversion to the statue.  Note that with the exception of the Red Cross statue and the cannons that rested beside it, the remainder of items dedicated on that same day still exist. Mary Kingsland Macy Willets Infirmary, gift of Mr.& Mrs. Walter Graeme (Kate Macy) Ladd, is now Willett’s Hall and Jameson Hall, donated by E.C. Jameson, is still in use today.

In all fairness to history, and what was going on in the United States during this time period, I am printing a story from the same newspaper that published the statue unveiling event years earlier, to provide better insight.   The Central New Jersey Homes News, New Brunswick NJ, 9 Aug 1942, page 4. “Round Up the Statues. Several weeks ago this column urged that metal statues which decorate–and overdecorate–streets and parks in this area, as well as the old tanks, guns and cannon rusting quietly away in front of numerous veteran headquarters, be donated to the scrap metal drive. The situation was serious then; now it is getting dangerously acute. Steel mills all over the country report production rates are getting dangerously near the point where scrap will be insufficient. In addition, WPB says 17 millions tons will be needed for 1943 to keep the tools of war rolling.  President Roosevelt pointed out the urgent need for action Friday, when he revealed Donald M. Nelson, WPB chairman, had asked him to publicize the nation’s call for steel. The Chief Executive also made the same point we made several weeks ago–that many of the parks would look better if the statues were converted into weapons and replaced after the war with something more artistic. In other words, a lot of our bronze heroes and their chargers could go into the melting pot without the least sacrifice on the public’s part. Statue-erecting has too often been the result of a burst of enthusiasm, instead of artistry, and four out of five sculptures are nothing but esthetic crimes. Anyhow, its official now that the government wants these statues and cannons. Historic weapons have gone into the drive from Navy yards and museums–why should we hesitate about the less historic World War I mementoes? The men who fought with those guns would like to see them defending their country now, and the heroes perpetuated in bronze would like nothing better, if they could, than to add their memorials to the battle.”

According to historian and librarian, Fernanda Perrone, “Apparently in 1932 some students objected to the cannons as too militaristic. I couldn’t find anything about the statue being melted down. I did find, in the minutes of the trustees’ committee (March 11, 1942) that the college was collecting scrap metal. The committee approved the sale of the two cannons on Antilles Field. Apparently the proceeds of the sale went towards the purchase of a defense bond for the Library Building Fund.”   One has to wonder what happened.  Did the people who arrived to remove the cannons for scrap decide to take the statue too?  At any rate, the Red Cross Motor Corps statue has been missing since World War 2 and there is no primary evidence on how it disappeared.

—What Statuary Remains—
One gender-specific statue that managed to survive World War II still remains on the joint Rutgers-Douglass campus.  That and a second one erected in 1997 and are both of men.  A statue of William I, Prince of Orange, nicknamed William or “Willie the Silent” survived the scrap metal drive of WWII. Following several incidents of vandalism, this latter statue was restored in 2006.  A second, and more recently erected statue (1997) commemorates “The First Football Game.”   There are also a number of other public sculptures Rutgers Discover Our Public Scupture].

Photo of Red Cross Monument from the Caellian campus newspaper of 23 Oct 1928. Provided by Fernanda Perrone.

—Research Help—
I wrote first to Meghan Rehbein, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Douglass Residential College inquiring about more information regarding this statue. She seemed genuinely interested in my research project, and referred me to Kayo Denda, Head, Margery Somers Foster Center & Librarian for Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Rutgers. Kayo Denda offered valuable information so I was able to verify the statue’s original location. It was “situated the statue between the narrow strip of grass between the parking lot next to College Hall and the Antilles Field, adjacent to a small stone structure still standing,” and that it was nicknamed “Aunt Tillie.” On February 18th she cc’d Fernanda Perrone, Archivist and Head, Exhibitions Program, Curator of the William Elliot Griffis Collection, Special Collections/University Archives, Library Faculty, Special Collections and University Archives, at Rutgers University. She wrote the Douglass Century chapters on the early days of NJC until 1955.

I  heard back from Fernanda Perrone and requested small details about the sculptor and perhaps insight into its scrapping. On 4 March she replied with some additional information, and I am very grateful to her for this.    Not only did she shed a little light on the “scrapping” details, but she brought to light the sculptor of the statue, and provided a photo of the statue (see above).

—–The Sculptor—–
According to Fernanda Perrone, “I did find some more information about the statue in the Campus News, NJC student newspaper. The sculptor was Antonio Salemme, who was born in Italy and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 4. His father was a shoemaker and he grew up in Boston.” Antonio Salemme was a talented artist, producing both paintings and sculpture.  His work can be found in museums and galleries around the world, along with private collections.

—–End Remarks—–
The objective of this article is not to disparage any of those involved in the removal of the statue, for history is complicated.  However, I would like to shine a light on the fact that tributes to women are still, even in these days of supposed enlightenment, rare.  By researching even a statue that used to exist, hopefully we can learn something interesting or important about the era in which it existed.    According to an article by Simon John in History Today: “Statues can teach us about history, but they do not convey some immutable truth from the past. Instead, they are symbolic of the fixed ideas of a specific community regarding its past, as captured at a particular point in time.”


Iron Will: Scrapping History

History Today: Statues, Politics and The Past

Washington D.C. Monuments — Where are the Women?

Nurse’s Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery


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3 Responses to World War I’s Missing Hero Statue–Once A Tribute to the Women’s Red Cross Motor Corps

  1. Stephen P Mahoney says:

    Thank you for the history. I knew that English and French woman had worked as ambulance drivers but I was unaware American woman had deployed as such. Given that recruiting seemed to be starting in August of 1918, did many make it to France before the armistice?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Stephen, first thank you for reading and commenting on my blog story. In an article of the New Castle Herald newspaper of 30 August 1918, about women chauffeurs needed during WWI the article mentions “this call is issued by the Director of Motor Service at national headquarters of the American Red Cross in answer to a cabled request from the Paris office, which states that there is a great need for women messengers, ambulance and camion drivers behind the lines–a need that will only temporarily be met by these first 300 drivers. Already more than 6,000 English and French women are reported to be engaged in this work, but many more are needed. This is only the first call..” This group was ready to go to Europe a week before Armistice (based on a later newspaper article). I have not been able to find more specifics, though the woman who recruited them did indeed travel to Europe in October of 1918 reportedly with 50 recruits and I am presuming she took some of these women with her. Besides the work of these women overseas, they performed work in the United States, transporting wounded soldiers when they arrived in the ships from Europe, and in this same time frame, I read a story where they were busy transporting children who contracted polio, so their work was not limited to military-related needs. At any rate, their overall service was amazing, and yet this group of dedicated women are often not mentioned or barely mentioned in much of WWI History. Including another story here for your info.

  2. Pingback: New Hampshire and National Women’s History Month–March 2021 | Cow Hampshire

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