IU and World War I

Read about IU's involvement in World War I and the plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war's end.

IU community honors those from its history who played a role in World War I

As the anniversary of the end of World War I approaches, the Indiana University community pauses to honor a few men and women from its history who played a role in the Great War:

Preston Eagleson and Wilson V. Eagleson Sr.

A rich family legacy connects Wilson Vashon Eagleson Sr., one of the first African American officers in the U.S. Army, to Indiana University all the way back to its very earliest history.

His grandfather, Halson Vashon Eagleson, was born a slave and moved to Bloomington in the 1880s. Five of Halson's six children attended IU, including his son Preston, the university's first African American intercollegiate athlete who played on the 1893, 1894 and 1895 football teams.

Preston's son, Eagleson Sr., was one of the first African Americans enrolled in the IU Reserve Officer Training Corps program in 1917.

Eagleson Sr. went on to marry Frances Marshall, the first African American woman to graduate from IU. The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center on the IU Bloomington campus bears her name alongside that of Marcellus Neal, the first African American to graduate from IU.

The family's legacy continued with the couple's son, Wilson V. Eagleson Jr., who served during World War II as a pilot in the 99th Fighter Squadron, part of the unit commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Adah McMahan

Adah McMahan, who held both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Indiana University, also attended the IU School of Medicine before transferring to the Women's Medical School of Northwestern University shortly before graduation in 1897. She then moved to Lafayette, Indiana, to open her own medical practice.

During World War I, after learning the U.S. Army would only allow women to serve as nurses, McMahan and other women doctors of the American Women's Medical Association formed the Women's Overseas Hospital and volunteered en masse with the French government. She spent seven months at a military hospital under the French government treating soldiers who had been gassed.

McMahan went on to fund an annual scholarship content for women at IU, and returned annually to deliver a series of special lectures that all female students were required to attend. She also served on the Memorial Fund Drive Committee, which built the Indiana Memorial Union, Memorial Hall and the original Memorial Stadium in the Bloomington campus. 

Lafayette Page

Following three months of military training, otolaryngologist and IU School of Medicine professor Dr. Lafayette Page and other physicians sailed in December 1917 to Contrexeville, France, for service at the Colonel Eli Lilly Memorial Red Cross Hospital, also known as Base Hospital 32.

Lafayette PageView print quality image
Lafayette Page commanded the Nose, Throat and Ear Department at Base Hospital 32 in France during World War I.   Photo courtesy of IU School of Medicine

Page was in charge of the Nose, Throat and Ear Department at Base Hospital 32. Of the 6,000 gas cases treated at Base Hospital 32, only two died of gas inhalation. During its term of service from March 23, 1918 to Jan. 7, 1919, Base Hospital 32 treated 9,698 patients, and only 118 died.

Serving alongside Page at Base Camp 32 was Dr. Leslie H. Maxwell, the oldest son of Dr. Allison Maxwell, the first dean of the IU School of Medicine.

After the war ended, Page and other members of the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association joined with Indiana University to build the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children in 1924.

Alice Fitzgerald

The daughter of Baltimore natives who was educated in France, Switzerland and Germany, Alice Fitzgerald enrolled in the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses against her family’s wishes.

After graduation, she worked with the Italian Red Cross, Bellevue Hospital in New York and Wilks-Barre General Hospital in Pennsylvania. In 1913, she became the first superintendent of nurses at the Robert Long Hospital at Indiana University -- the precursor to today’s IU School of Nursing.

During World War I, she was selected as the Edith Cavell Memorial Nurse from Massachusetts and served as an American nurse with the British Expeditionary Forces at Hospital No. 13 in France from 1916-17. Upon America's entrance into the war, she resigned to join the American Red Cross and served in France and Italy, at the Paris Headquarters, at zone headquarters in Bordeaux, as chief nurse in the Service de Sante in Paris, and at a hospital in Rimini for Venetian refugees.

She remained overseas after the war as chief nurse of the American Red Cross Commission in Europe.

Frederic R. Henshaw

Appointed dean of what was then the Indiana Dental College in 1914, Frederic R. Henshaw was granted a military leave of absence in World War I.

He wasn't the only person connected to the school to serve. By early 1918, 69 alumni of the Indiana Dental College, which preceded the IU School of Dentistry, were in active service during World War I in the U.S. Army Dental Reserve Corps. Another 104 were under commission as First Lieutenant.

In 1917 Henshaw wrote, "The Indiana Dental College is exceedingly proud of the showing made by her alumni in meeting this emergency, not only for the fact that so many have gone into active service or have qualified for a call to the colors, but because of the high-spirited manner in which they have responded to the call of the government to put the teeth of conscripts in condition to render them fit for the service. Indiana stands among the first states in this work."

Indiana University assumed ownership of the Indiana Dental College in June 1925. The IU School of Dentistry moved to 1121 West Michigan Street in 1933 and has resided there ever since.