“Blanche B. Grand-Maitre has sailed for France with the third unit of the French-American toll service,” read an entry in the May 6, 1918 Minnesota Alumni Weekly.
Grand-Maitre was a 1911 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she was a member of the Mu Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. She hailed from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, from a French Canadian family. She spoke fluent French. While a collegiate member of the chapter, she wrote a musical comedy which was performed and the proceeds went to the House Fund. Its title was Cupid, Ph.D. and the plot revolved around the love affairs of Peter and Mary Featherbrain. One of the songs she wrote, When Ladies Go to War, was sung by the chorus. It title was very prescient.
She was working as a teacher in Minneapolis when she answered a call for who could speak French and were willing to learn to operate a telephone switchboard. Her chapter’s report in the March 1919 The Alpha Xi Delta (before it was called The Quill) noted, “Blanche Grand-Maitre who is with the Signal Corps is stationed at Bordeaux, France. She has been wearing a service stripe for over two months. Her main desires at present are to be in the United States, have some really ‘classy’ clothes, and no longer be a soldier, but a ‘regular’ girl.”
She was chosen as one of the 223 women the Signal Corps sent to France during World War I to serve as telephone operators. She served in General Pershing’s headquarters. The women were known as “Hello Girls.” Although they were treated like soldiers, the Hello Girls did not receive veteran’s status until 1979, when 205 of them had died.
She had a love who was also in Europe, fighting in the war. His name was Everett Hale, and he, too, had attended the University of Minnesota. Some say they were engaged to be married. When war was declared he was working in real estate in their home town of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. He promptly enlisted and, after training, was sent to the Argonne Forest. He died on October 14, 1918. His family was told he was “missing in action” and it was not until July 1919 that his family was notified of his death.
After the war was declared over, she made a trip to the Argonne Forest to find the grave of her love. With the help of soldiers who had detailed maps, she located his shallow grave. His body was then moved to the cemetary at Romange-Meuse. In 1921, his body was sent back to Chippewa Falls, as requested by his parents.
When she returned to Minnesota in Septenber of 1919, she visited with her chapter, and attended Alpha Xi Delta events. As an senior she had written an article for The Alpha Xi Delta on the importance of alumnae support, so it’s no surprise that she made that effort. She also attended the first national convention of the American Legion, which took place in November 1919 in Minneapolis. She represented the St. Paul Legion Post. She also served Alpha Xi as the Entertainment Committee Chairman at its 1920 convention.
After the war, likely broken-hearted, she returned to teaching. She never married. The 1940 census has her living in California. She died in 1970 before she and her 222 compatriots received veteran’s status.
My thanks to Jan Hutchins, Alpha Xi Delta, for her lead on Grand-Maitre. Those interested in Hello Girls might enjoy a book which will soon be available, The Hello Girls, by Elizabeth Cobbs, see http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674971479. The photo of Grande-Maitre’s identity papers is courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum.