A woman’s American Legion hat was the smoking gun that helped to uncover the fascinating story of an all-woman Legion post in Scranton, Pa.
I am a member of Gardner-Warner American Legion Post 154, Montrose, Pa. I was working on my special project to identify and honor past women veterans from Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties.
Once I identify them and research their history, I get them registered with Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA). WIMSA manages the Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery. A special part of the memorial is the database of women veterans of every era.
I decided to start with two women veterans from my own family.
My cousin’s grandmother, Mary R. (Mae) Seese, was in the military. I contacted my cousin to ask if she had any pictures of Seese in a military uniform, and would she send them to me. She did and would.
One of the pictures she sent was a complete surprise. It was a picture of her grandmother’s American Legion hat.
I was a blue hat at the time, but I recognized that this hat represented someone who was more than a member of a post. She was a district-level officer.
More important, I had never heard of Post 550. I am curious, so I started researching and the story I uncovered was intriguing.
In 1921, a group of women Army and Navy nurses decided to start an American Legion post. They named it after Gladys Watkins, a young woman nurse who enlisted in the Army who was from the area.
She died while in service, and was buried in a cemetery in France.
All the members of Post 550 were women veterans, as were all of the officers. In addition, Post 550 was what was called a “paper post.” That meant they had no building where they met. The locations where the post met changed to suit their needs.
My research showed that the post was in operation from 1921 to 1968, when the few remaining members were assimilated into another post.
I am determined to discover the names and stories of as many of the women veterans from the post as I can find. As I research information and raise money for registration, I will get their names registered with the Women’s Memorial.
To date, I have found the names of 62 women veterans and there are more to find.
How do I know?
The Scranton Republican, a local paper from the World War I era, reported in 1919 that there had been 250 women veterans from this area. Five had died in service, primarily from the decimating influenza epidemic of the time.
Also, when Post 550 disbanded, a question on the document asked the highest number of members (in a year). The answer was 117.
I have a ways to go to find all these women veterans and honor them.
In the meantime, I decided to find as much information as I could about Gladys Watkins.
If very few people knew about Post 550, even fewer knew anything about its namesake. In fact, the cemetery where she was buried only knew that she was an Army nurse from Pennsylvania.
Watkins was born in Wales, and moved to the United States with her family when she was 2.
She lived in Shickshinny, Pa., when she became a student nurse at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton. She graduated with the Class of 1915.
She answered the call for Army nurses on Jan. 4, 1919, and was sent to France on Sept. 2, 1919.
She contracted influenza and died of pneumonia on Oct. 16, 1919. She was buried in Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial, Plot A, Row 8, Grave 17, at the city of Thiaucourt-Regnieville, Department de Meurthe-et-Moselle, Lorraine, France.
She was 27.
Her friends at home remembered her, and Post 550 was named after her.
I wanted to remember her too, so I used newspapers.com and ancestry.com to research her story. I used the data I found to compile a short biography.
I sent a copy of that biography to the Lackawanna Historical Society in Scranton. I sent a copy to the Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton.
I made sure that the cemetery at Saint Mihiel in France knew the story of the “Army nurse from Pennsylvania” who was buried there. The American Battle Monuments Commission has a copy of her biography too. They manage overseas cemeteries.
I particularly wanted to get a copy of her biography to the American Legion Headquarters Library, so that they knew the story behind the namesake of Gladys Watkins Post 550.
Gladys Watkins is now registered with the Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery.
Her patriotism and her service will always be remembered.
Janice Gavern, USAF, & USAFRes, Retired
Deputy Commander, Women Veterans Issues
15th District, American Legion
Department of Pennsylvania