One hundred years ago, the Great War began in Europe. Gene Stratton-Porter was a supporter of the war effort when America entered WWI. She purchased a $5000 Liberty bond from the Allen County Chapter of the Liberty Loan Club. Dr. Miles Porter, her brother-in-law, was chairman of the first aid committee for the Red Cross Chapter in Fort Wayne.
Under Indiana native Ernest Bicknell, the National Red Cross developed three committees: a National Relief Board, an International Relief Board, and a War Relief Board. According to the “Fort Wayne Sentinel” Gene was on one of the national committees. In 1935, Ernest wrote down his experiences in a book called “Pioneering With The Red Cross.” Before the war, the Red Cross had 17,000 members by the end of the war, there were 20 million members.
She watched while the men in her life were affected by the war. Her son-in-law, G. Blaine Monroe served as a dentist. Her nephew Donald Wilson served in the army aviation. Nephew Dr. Miles Porter Jr was according to Gene “a fine surgeon, who is to have charge of a base hospital near Paris.” He spent eighteen months in service. Another nephew, Dr. Charles Porter Beall, served as a doctor in France as did Dr. Corwin Price, a Geneva friend who would buy the Limberlost cabin in 1920.
Joyce Kilmer who wrote the “Tree” poem had corresponded with Gene. He was killed by a sniper in the war. In 1915, Kenyon Nicholson who became a playwright and screenwriter won Gene Stratton-Porter’s prize in literature while he was attending Wabash College in Crawfordsville. He served in France during the war. Gene’s own driver, William “Bill” Thompson, enlisted.
During the war years, Gene and her friends were knitting wool socks so that they could be sent to the troops overseas. Gene encouraged the average citizen to do what they could for the war effort whether it meant knitting socks or donating time, money or books.
There were book drives across the country to send books to American service men in Europe. There was a 1918 report from Kingston, New York newspaper about a copy of “Freckles” that was donated to the book drive. In it was the following inscription, “My mother gave me this book to send to those who read it keep courage like Freckles did. I have two cousins and one uncle at the front some place. I am only 10 years and you don’t know how I wish I was old enough to help you catch the Kaiser.” James G---Port Angeles, Washington.
In 1915, Queen Mary of Great Britain wrote to Gene to ask her permission to use her writings in a book that would be a collection of different popular writers of the day. The book was known as the “Queen’s Book” and was sold to benefit wounded soldiers and sailors (England was already in the war by this time). Unfortunately for Gene, in the end, it was decided to use short stories by English writers only.
Gene penned a poem called “Peter’s Flowers” that was hauntingly beautiful. It was first published on pages 3 and 4 of the April 1919 “Red Cross” magazine. It was illustrated by Thomas Fogarty. The story is about the World War I tradition that the first flower to spring from the soil of a battlefield is the red poppy. The poppy is a living sign that they will not be forgotten. Gene could have been inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae.
At the time Gene’s poem was published, John Sanburn Phillips was the editor of the “Red Cross” magazine. With the war over, Gene sent him a cheery Christmas greetings by writing, “I think “Peter” would want me to wish you all the joys of peace for the coming Christmas and all the blessings of prosperity for the New Year.”
Gene was sensitive to the soldiers and veterans. Her book, “The Keeper of the Bees” was about an injured veteran of the war named Jamie MacFarlane who left a military hospital without proper discharge. She had it completed at the time of her death in December 1924. In a letter to her publisher, Nelson Doubleday, she wrote about a “Harvester type” character that she was developing. It is possible that she was referring to this book.
In 1921, the “Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle” carried an article about President Harding appointing a woman as a delegate to a disarmament conference. In the article, Gene insisted that one woman is not enough to be appointed by President Harding as delegate to the disarmament conference. She wanted an equal number of men and women. She wrote, “After twenty years of experience in business with men, I have lost my awe of a man as an infallible business proposition. I have yet to find the time or the place in which a big-hearted, well-educated, commonsense woman could not be of the very greatest assistance in any business proposition of any nature that any man or body or body of men might attempt.”