HISTORY OF LETTERMAN GENERAL HOSPITAL
Jewish Welfare Board
The Jewish Welfare Board is a Welfare Organization that co-operates with, and is under the supervision of the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities—know as the Fosdick Commission. It was organized in the year 1917, by representatives of the various Jewish organizations for the purpose of uniting all the elements of American Jewry into one large responsible and representative War Welfare Body.
The American Government, in the first days of the war, saw the necessity of calling into co-operation with it certain sectarian welfare agencies because it recognized the value of morale in warfare. The Jewish Community being the third largest religious representative body, when called upon by the Fosdick Commission to co-operate with it, organized the Jewish Welfare Board.
Directing the activities of the Jewish Welfare Board is an executive committee, the chairman of which is Harry Cutler of Providence, R. I., and the Executive Director, Chester J. Teller of New York City. The National Headquarters are at 149 Fifth Avenue, New York City. The headquarters of the San Francisco district is at the Y. M. C. A. Building. Number 1, Presidio, with a branch office at 436 O’ Farrell Street. The local representatives are S. Ghinsberg and Joseph L. Gould.
The J. W. B. serves all men in uniform but is making special effort to supply to the Jewish young men physical and moral aid, and to extend helpful assistance in all their problems of personal service. It co-operates with the American Library Association and it has appealed to the Jewish public to contribute books in liberal quantity on Jewish topics. Besides the good work it has done in various camps and cantonments, the J. W. B. has organized Community Branches in most of the cities adjoining those camps, which assist greatly in carrying out the full plans of the Board. It has also accomplished notable achievements in having Congress provide for Jewish Chaplains in the U. S. Army and Navy. It has placed over 300 workers in the various camps and cantonments and has erected over 50 J. W. B. buildings. It has also extended its work overseas and has over 200 welfare workers in France, Belgium, Italy, and with the Army of Occupation in Germany. It has organized a women’s division, among its overseas workers, who do canteen work, and also care for the women who suffered in the war. It distributes supplies, such as bibles, prayer books, letter heads and envelopes, newspapers and magazines, smokes and candies.
At Letterman General Hospital, the Jewish Welfare Board Representative, Joseph L. Gould visits daily the various wards, and extends personal service to the patients therein, by writing their letters, aiding them, cheering and encouraging them, and particularly visiting them at their bedside, chatting with them, sympathizing and comforting them. In social and recreational activities, and entertainments, the J. W. B. co-operates with the Red Cross, to secure talent, and also gives weekly dances, and arranges for home hospitalities, automobile rides, theatre parties, concerts, lectures, smokers and sociables, and other kindred affairs which tend to promote the happiness and well being of all the patients and convalescents.
The Chaplain’s Activities
When Chaplain Romer reported for duty at Letterman General Hospital, he found that he was the first commissioned Chaplain to be assigned there. Religious services were conducted up to the time under the auspices of the Y. M. C. A. on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. Chaplain Romer urged the continuance of these and in addition introduced Catholic services on Sunday mornings. Later Protestant services on Sunday mornings were also begun. Among religious welfare workers in the hospital during this time have been, besides Chaplain Romer, Chaplains Hutt and Kendell at the Presidio, Mr. Webb and Mr. Sanderson of the Y. M. C. A., Mr. Gould of the Y. M. H. A., also the Salvation Army from time to time. The religious needs of every individual are amply provided for and a minister of any denomination can be obtained for the asking.
Another phase of the Chaplain’s activities was supervision of the various entertainments given to the sick soldiers. Some of these were held indoors in the Post Exchange Hall, others were given on the law in the open quadrangle. Moving pictures were shown three times a week under the auspices of the Y. M. C. A. Evening indoor entertainments were given under the auspices of the War Camp Community Service, and under the personal direction of Miss May Sinsheimer. Later these were under the direction of Mr. Anderson. The afternoon performances were secured through the efforts of Miss Nettie Held who for an entire year gave her time and service to this work. About Thanksgiving 1918 the Red Cross assumed active charge of the entertainment features and since then all performances have been secured by them with the generous cooperation of many city organizations. Regular entertainments are given in their buildings on the open air platform.
The Chaplain is officer in charge of the Post Library. As this branch is conducted by the American Library Association, it is treated under another article. Suffice it to say, that its director, Mrs. McConnell, and her assistants have organized a well balanced library, and have rendered great reading facilities both for bed patients and others.
The work that is closest to the Chaplain’s heart is the visit to the bedside of the sick and wounded soldiers. These visits enable the patient to open his heart about any difficulty, worry, complaint or desire he may have, and it is the endeavor of the Chaplain to satisfy in every case. Particularly during the influenza epidemic when visitors were not allowed, fell to the lot of the Chaplain to write many letters for the boys. Likewise in case of death, a letter is written informing the relatives of the circumstances and any last messages their dear one may have sent. These letters have been grateful acknowledged by the relatives and form one of the Chaplain’s dearest possessions.
It has been the endeavor of the Chaplain to be present at every death and particularly when the relatives were not present, and many a lad has passed to the Great Beyond with none by save the brave and gentle army nurse to cool his fevered brow and moisten his parched lips and the Chaplain to whisper a last word of faith and hope and utter a final prayer.
Transcribed by Sharon Walford Yost.
Source: ”The History of Letterman General Hospital, Page 44. Publ. by the Listening Post, Presidio, San Francisco, Cal. 1919.
© 2010 Sharon Walford Yost.