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Carrie Williams Clifford, "Our Women of the Canteen" Note
12022-06-25T08:04:03-04:00Amardeep Singhc185e79df2fca428277052b90841c4aba30044e12131Carrie Williams Clifford Noteplain2022-06-25T08:04:03-04:00Amardeep Singhc185e79df2fca428277052b90841c4aba30044e1This poem alludes to a small group of African American women who volunteered in France in 1918-1920, in support of the War effort. They were specifically assigned to segregated black soldier regiments (such as the 92nd infantry). Nikki Brown mentions three such women in particular, Addie Hunton, Kathryn Johnson, and Helen Curtis. Hunton and Johnson later teamed up to write a narrative of their experiences, "Two Colored Women Among the American Expeditionary Forces" (1920). It's certain that Clifford was inspired by the story of Hunton, Curtis, and Johnson in writing this poem; it's less clear whether she specifically read Hunton and Johnson's book. As an intriguing side-note, Hunton/Johnson book contains a poem as an epigram by Georgia Douglas Johnson ("Potency"), which describes the black contribution to the war effort.
Who shall tell the story of our women of the canteen? Our women, golden, dusk and brown Ministering in France to our brave boys, Our brave, black boys Fighting in Flanders! Our stevedores in France unloading the ships, Building the roads in Picardy, That world-democracy might be a dream come true! Was a soldier broken, dazed and exhausted by the hell of war? Was his heart breaking with thoughts of home? Did he yearn hungrily for mother, wife or sister?
Then would come these women Dusk and gold and brown, And with the tender, ministering hand of mother, Or with the camaraderie of sister Or the soul-sympathy of an understanding wife, These dark women of the canteen Would mirror to our boys A bit of home, in France, Heartening them for a return to the trenches, And to the building of the roads, And the unloading of the ships. Oh, who shall sing the glory Of our women of the canteen!