In 1922, The Women’s Overseas Service League, a national organization formed the previous year to recognize women who served overseas in or with the Armed Forces, published a list of 161 American “girls” who gave their lives in the Great War. On the list were Jane A. Delano of New York, head of the Red Cross nursing service, who died at Savenay, April 15, 1919; Marion G. Crandell of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Y.M.C.A. canteener killed by a German shell at the Marne on March 26, 1917; Winona Caroline Martin, a former librarian, killed in a Paris hospital by a German bomb; and Army nurses Viola E. and Ruth M. Lundholm, two sisters from Petaluma, California, who died within six days of each other in October 1917 in France. The lone “gold star woman” from Florida was Y.M.C.A. worker, Bessie Gale, who died of influenza in February 1919. And “Miss Bessie Gale” is the only woman’s name listed on the Scroll. But there were other Florida women who, while did not die overseas, nonetheless served in uniform with the U.S. Armed Forces and made the ultimate sacrifice.
Cora Belle Davis
Born in Palma Lola, Florida, on February 20, 1895, Davis completed nurse training courses at Plant Park Infirmary in Tampa prior to volunteering her services to the Army Nurse Corps beginning September 1, 1918. She died of influenza in the Base Hospital at Camp Gordon, Georgia five weeks later, on October 6, 1918, in the midst of an epidemic that swept through the large military installation north of Atlanta. “Miss Davis was a young woman of excellent qualities,” remarked the Tampa Tribune, and “she had a lovable and kind disposition.” Survivors included two brothers, George and Charles, who were serving in the Navy and her mother, Mary Charlotte Bishop Davis, who was also a nurse. Although her name is not on the Scroll, it was included on the West Coast Memorial Highway Monument in Tampa.
Gravestone, Palma Sola Cemetery, Bradenton, Florida
U.S. Headstone Applications for Military Veterans
United States Veterans Administration Master Index
Margaret Virginia Dickey
Margaret Virginia Clements was born on August 13, 1879, in Bolingbroke, Georgia. She was married twice: first, in 1898, to William Alexander Patterson (1874-1930), a Spanish-American War veteran; second, in 1906, to Parker Mudgett Dickey (1870-1944), a marine engineer, revenue cutter and river boat captain. She had two children, one with each husband: Leolin Nicholson Patterson Dickey (1901-1971) and Albert Edwin Dickey (1902-1980). By 1910 the Dickeys had moved to Jacksonville, Florida with their two sons. Though underaged, both of them would join the U.S. Navy, with Leolin serving on a subchaser as quartermaster 2nd class, and Albert on the same ship as machinist mate 2nd class. Her husband, Parker Dickey, was commissioned an ensign.
When the call to arms went out for World War I, Margaret Dickey also volunteered. As in previous wars, women were prohibited from joining the Regular armed services. But vague language in the Naval Act of 1916 relating to the reserve forces did not prohibit women. The act declared that the reserve force within the U.S. Navy would consist of those who had prior naval service, prior service in merchant marines, were part of a crew of a civilian ship commissioned in naval service, or “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense.” This last element contained the loophole that allowed women to enlist.
Florida Service Card for Margaret Dickey, U.S. Naval Reserve Force.
And Margaret Virginia Dickey did so at the Naval Enrolling Office at Jacksonville on April 9, 1917, a few days after the U.S. entered the war and the day before her two teenage sons enlisted. Her service number was 131-18-53 and she held the initial rank of Yeoman (F) 2nd Class U.S. Naval Reserve Force. She was assigned to the Navy Yard in Charleston, South Carolina. The (F) of course stood for female, and Yeoman (F) was derisively known as “Yeowoman” or “Yeomanette,” though the Navy ordered such unofficial titles not to be employed.
More than one hundred Florida women are known to have served in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force during World War I. Perhaps the most famous of these women was 26-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who enlisted about two weeks before Margaret Dickey. Frank Bryant Stoneman, Marjory’s father and editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald, sent his daughter to cover the story of the first woman in the Miami area to enlist in the armed forces during World War I. Douglas was the first to arrive at the recruiting office, and became the very woman she was sent to report on after the other woman failed to show. She left the Navy the following year and joined the American Red Cross, serving in Europe.
The average age of Florida Yeomen (F) was 23 years, 9 months, well under Margaret Dickey’s 37 years and 7 months at the time of enlistment. The oldest to enlist was 47-year-old Ellie Deane Palmer of Key West, while the youngest was Juliette Russell, 16 years, 8 months old, also of Key West. Yeomen (F) would not see service aboard ships at sea. Instead, they would be utilized as radio operators, stenographers, file clerks, nurses, messengers, chauffeurs and in many other capacities necessary for the naval district operations. Some Yeomen (F) also worked as mechanics, truck drivers, cryptographers, telephone operators, and munitions makers.
On average, Florida Naval Reserve female yeomen served 149 days in uniform. But Margaret Virginia Dickey’s length of service was substantially longer— 581 days. Only 18-year-old Sadie de Leon of Key West, 43-year-old Nellie M. Clark of Jacksonville, and 20-year-old Hannah Mendelsohn also of Key West served longer, 585, 584 and 583 days, respectively.
Yeoman (F) 1st class Sadie de Leon (1897-1977) in her U.S. Naval Reserve uniform, from a passport photo in 1919.
Margaret Dickey died on November 3, 1919. Her death certificate indicated her cause of death as “weakness of the heart muscle,” complicated by “acute malaria.” A notice in the Palatka Daily News of November 5 said that she died at her parents’ home in San Mateo, Putnam County, Florida. There was no mention in either source that she had been in the military.
Dickey’s name is not memorialized on the Putnam County World War I monument that was dedicated in Palatka on Armistice Day, November 21, 1921. But more than thirty years later, when the Florida Adjutant General’s office came up with the Department of Military Affairs’ official list of World War I “Fatal Casualties,” Margaret Dickey’s name was among them, under “Enlisted Men.”
United States Veterans Administration Master Index
Florida Death Certificate
Palatka Daily News. 11/5/1919
Florida’s Fatal Casualties