Doctor or Doctress?

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A letter from Anne Dike, president of the American Committee for Devastated France to Dr. Hazel Bonness, director of American Women’s Hospitals at Blérancourt, asking for the AWH to continue their work. The American Women's Hospitals (AWH) developed from the War Service Committee of the Medical Women's National Association (later, American Medical Women's Association) in 1917 to provide, register, and finance American women physicians in order to aid those affected by World War I and provide medical and emergency relief to refugees. Dr. Hazel Bonness was the third director of the American Women’s Hospitals. She began her work in August 1919 at the hospital in Blérancourt.

Why It Matters

Although the returning French doctors did not seem happy about the presence of the AWH, the villagers and mayors realized that the post-war conditions of disease, poor food supply and shelter, combined with the upcoming winter, meant that the French doctors would be in need of assistance themselves. The American Committee for Devastated France asks for the AWH to remain throughout the winter and promises to aid them in working with the newly-returned French doctors.

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Analyze this evidence

  • Describe the tensions between AWH and French doctors. How is a compromise reached?
  • Why does Anne Dike plead for AWH to remain through the winter of 1919-1920?

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My dear Dr. Bonness: In confirmation of our conversation regarding the medical work in the four cantons of the American Committee for Devastated France, I wish briefly to state my sentiments concerning the future work of your splendid organization. The situation as it stands at present, caused by the presence of certain licensed French practitioners who are not willing to give you the fullest cooperation, has created, no doubt, a very embarrassing situation. The visit of Dr. Martial of the Prefecture and that of M. Ouvre, Secretaire General of Reconstruction, of the Prefecture, has opened the eyes of the Prefecture, not only to the magnificent work done by the American Women’s Hospital, but the inestimable value of conserving your interest in the population, at least through the winter. They are both in accord on this point, that this winter we shall have a very great deal of illness, probably an epidemic of grippe, influenza, and pneumonia, which will tax the resources of the French licensed practitioners, as well as the hospital, to its utmost capacity. But the hospital cannot be given full play until the authorities have paved the way to a complete cooperation by the French doctors and yourselves. This is a delicate matter and requires careful handling. The American Committee has been able to step in, however, by providing the region of Vic-sur-Aisne with a French doctor, on the payment of 500 francs per month, on condition that he gives us his fullest cooperation. We are prepared to do the same for the canton of Anizy. You know the conditions of devastated France as thoroughly as I do, and that since the Armistice, practically nothing has been done beyond actual emergency work, the upheaval and uprooting has been so complete, it will be a long and slow process to replace the social and civil conditions which existed before the War. You appreciate as much as I, the courage of those people who have returned to the remaking of pre-war conditions, and that at the moment of writing, have as yet, received very little support from the Government, and are therefore greatly in need of help from their Allies. I hope my letter in no way will be interpreted as a claim upon the further generosity of the American Women’s Hospitals. It is a strong appeal from me to a group of women for whom I have the greatest admiration, to continue, as far as it is in their power, their work during the coming winter. Very sincerely yours, Anne Dike Presidente