After posting a question about WWI ambulance driver insignia, and after some great information posted by Beast (Erick), I started doing some searching and reading on the internet regarding American female ambulance drivers.
The book, “Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in the First World War", has a chapter regarding “Some Female Drivers and Other Noteworthy Volunteers". I found the first paragraph in the chapter very interesting:
“The complete history of American ambulanciers in the Great War will never be satisfactorily told because a significant part of the record is incomplete; that involving the work of female volunteers. American women who drove ambulances in France usually got there by sheer force of their ability, ingenuity and resolve, and yet their extraordinary work is seldom treated in detail in either public or private accounts of the war. Still, sparse though the evidence may be many women did in fact swap their stateside lives for a term of ambulancing that was largely without exhilarating moments. “
From what I have found so far in my searching, I agree with the above paragraph. American women were volunteers who served in various units or volunteer capacities so their service is either mixed in with foreign units or poorly documented volunteer units. American women were not accepted into the American units so they found other means of serving during the war.
One thing I found to support this thought process was information found while searching for information on an ambulance driver named Mary Dexter:
“The Hackett-Lowther Unit, was comprised mostly of British women with a sprinkling of Americans who had been studying abroad and joined up.”
Here is a picture of Mary Dexter with the Hackett-Lowther Unit:
Another interesting statement in the book mentions: “British women were far more welcome as contributors than their female counterpart. Few American female drivers ever got such favorable press or respectful attention as Kauffman’s driver (British), even from other women. “
I also agree with this statement. Americans women were not as welcome and not as “newsworthy” as the men. The American population did not want to read about women serving overseas.
I did find reference to a hospital that had women ambulance drivers:
“The American Women’s Hospital, formed by female doctors who had been turned down by the all male US Army Medical Corps, had its’ own section of women ambulance drivers. “
One of the drivers was Helen Douglas who later became a politician. While Helen did arrive late in the war, there were other women who drove ambulances.
This is from Wikipedia:
“During and after the First World War, Mankin served as an ambulance driver in the American Women’s Hospital Unit No. 1, a Red Cross unit attached to the French army in 1918 and 1919. She was there as a civilian and was not officially a military veteran.”
This is also from the book, “Gentlemen Volunteers”:
The New York Times occasionally mentioned women who were headed for France to drive ambulances.
“Leilah Pugh will sail for France to offer her services to the American Ambulance Corps as a driver. She is a sergeant in the Motor Corps of the National League for Women’s Service and has met the requirements of the Police Department as a motor driver.
Miss Janet Boland Sutherland, who is forming a Women’s Ambulance Unit announced yesterday that her organization is practically completed……”
The most interesting ambulance driver that I have found so far is Mary Dexter. Here is some more information from the book “Gentlemen Volunteers” regarding Dexter.
Perhaps the only female American driver besides Amy Bradley whose experiences are amply documented was Mary Dexter, thanks to her mother’s decision to publish Dexter’s letters.
Preparing for their spring assault, the Germans bombed and shelled Creil continuously from Feb 6 to 10. Dexter worked steadily through the bombardments driving her GMC – of which she had grown particularly fond- day and night. During the bomb attacks of mid-March, Dexter proved again to be indifferent to danger. She risked her life constantly in her efforts to pick up wounded and deliver them promptly to the Creil hospital.
On May 12, 1918, Dexter learned that her unit was finally to go to the front. Although she could specify only that she was somewhere in France, a few days later Dexter and the rest of the unit were headquartered near Com-piegne, as close to the trenches as any ambulance section.
Her published letters mentioned above are in the book “In the Soldier's Service: War Experiences of Mary Dexter, England, Belguim, France, 1914-1918”.