After the U.S. entered World War I, Dr. Sawyer accepted a commission as a major in the Medical Reserve Corps in December 1917.
In January 1918, he moved to Washington DC to take up his duties in the Venereal Disease Section of the Surgeon General's
Office, leaving his family behind in California. In June, after returning from a few days of vacation with his family in Michigan,
he received orders to go to Newport News, Virginia, to serve as Supervisor of Non-Military Activities. In this post he was
the military liaison with local authorities concerned with keeping order in a town full of new army recruits. Sawyer's
military service was his first extended separation from his wife and children (though not his last); his affectionate letters
show that he missed them greatly, but also provide extensive commentary on life in the Washington area during the war, and
on various activities of military and civilian public health organizations.
NOTE: The paper of the original document is thin, and some of the ink has bled through the pages, which shows on some of the
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
9 (635,958 Bytes)
14 July 1918
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Early Career in California and World War I, 1908-1919
Behold my new address! We moved yesterday. I have room 16, and an interest in rooms 18, 20, and 22, which will be occupied
by Lt. Irwin Smith, Miss Alecia Brown and other law enforcement people. The rent is paid by the Soc. Hyg. Assoc. The army
has issued me furniture for my room and an army phone. We are renting a second phone on the city central. I expect to be
quite comfortable, although the building is rather dilapidated in spots. It needs more cleaning, like most of the buildings
The army will give me a Field Clerk in uniform and I shall have the services of Mr. Embree's private secretary for the
next two months while he is in Europe. Mr. Embree is secretary of the Rockefeller Foundation, so I take it his secretary,
Miss Stoughton will be a "hum-dinger." Miss Wells is down here temporarily. She is one of the stenographers of the
Am. Soc. Hyg. Assoc. She is very rapid (in shorthand and typing and also in talking) and rather
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highstrung, but she is very faithful and enthusiastic. She just bubbles with excitement over the work of the law enforcement
squad and is almost overcome with awe and admiration for Mr. Stockdale, a low-brow but experienced detective, who is head
of the squad. Mr. Stockdale was in a few minutes ago to show her a large revolver which he took from a colored man last night.
Miss Wells is getting all the thrills of a dime novel. She seems to like the work down here. She insists on working, Sundays,
holidays, and evenings.
Speaking of thrills--there were several in your last letter. It always does me lots of good to hear from you and to learn
again that you love me. Of course it will be nice if we have been able to put Gertrude into a career which she will regard
as more her own than the one she has followed as a pot-boiler. I am so anxious to hear that she has fitted into the game
and feels that she is making good and will enjoy the work. I am so glad that she is having a preliminary period of observation
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study. Wouldn't it be a joke on her if they should send her here for some experience. She'd have to listen to her
little brother-in-law then.
Miss Alecia Brown is the new social worker here. They have sent her an ex-school teacher about 50 years old from North Carolina
to train in case-work. Gertrude is one-hundred times as smart and her mind is about 100 years younger than that of this temporary
addition to the staff. Miss Brown almost fell over when the new arrival told her that she never realized that such awful
things happened in the world, till three weeks ago. She also asked her how she learned about such things and had she ever
talked about them with men. Of course the newcomer is hopeless, but we shall have to give her a trial. I believe she was
a next door neighbor to Mrs. Daniels and she may have been recommended by her. Don't spread this gossip.
I am sending Peggy some coral beads right from the glass factory via Woolworth's emporium and Gertrude can have the blue
ones from the same
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source to match her eyes.
I just love your precious comment on "beads." When you speak of having been "just blue scared" it reminds
me of a time when we were sleeping together on the far side (from home) of a roaring mountain stream, and you woke me to tell
me that we were all going to be drowned. But we weren't. And the chances are a hundred to one that our precious association
will survive this war, and that our country and our children will again enjoy peace. And alone all I wish for a prolongation
of mental youth and physical vigor for us both. It seems as though the risks of being killed or wounded is much less than
that of getting serious and in a chronic state of fatigue. In my present work I am quite serene, perhaps a little lazy.
I haven't begun to write articles or laborious reports. Without writing and with enough sleep, I seem to be able to do
a vast amount of routine without losing ground, especially if the weather is not too hot.
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So I am feeling fine! Are you? I could only feel finer if I could be with you. Another thing helps my state of mind, and
that is the memory of how nice you were in Chicago and Idylwilde, and the prospect of seeing you again somewhere and somehow
and soon. It is only 48 days to September first! Isn't time flying! Of course I can't say for sure when I shall
return to Washington, but I am at least thinking of Sept. 1 as the probable date. I think Maj. Snow will come to Newport
News at the end of the week with Mr. Wickliffe Rose of the Rockefeller Foundation, and then I can get a better idea of future
plans. If I am to stay here long, I shall most certainly want you all here (notice the Virginia expression "you all."
They use it in the south even when addressing one person.). Won't you write me about your wishes and plans? How long
do you and mother want to stay at the cottage?
Enclosed is a letter from Grace. John evidently sailed for China on June 29.
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Today is Sunday. I was planning to spend the morning writing this letter, but as I came up the street I meet Miss Brown and
her friend Miss Scott, a social worker visiting from Baltimore. They invited me to go with them to the Episcopal Church in
Hampton and to see the grounds of Hampton Institute. So I went along. The church is made of stone and is surrounded by a
cemetery, the proper setting for an old church. The congregation is 300 years old, although most of the people looked considerably
younger. Some people don't show their age in this era of camouflage. The building is not as old as the congregation.
I suppose the original structure melted away or was torn down. The service was Episcopal and fairly "high" church.
After the service we walked down to Hampton Institute, the colored institution founded by Booker Washington. They have extensive
grounds and many beautiful buildings, doubtless financed by the friends of the negroes in the north. There were expansive
lawns, and the buildings
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were mostly of reddish brick or brown stone, and they were decorated with ivy. Everything was spotlessly clean. Cleanliness
was part of Booker Washington's philosophy. We stepped inside their large chapel. It is a handsome stone church with
a tower. There are about 900 students in the regular sessions, but the war has cut the male attendance down. Next Wednesday
a Dr. Roman (colored) is to speak there to the Hampton Roads Medical Association (colored) and I shall go to hear him. He
has been added to the Surgeon General's Office (Section on Venereal Diseases) for the purpose of giving lectures to the
The picture for Champion has not come yet, but I suppose it is on the way and will be here to-morrow (Monday). Did you ever
get a letter asking for the status of my acc't with the First M. E. Church in Sac'to. I don't think I am stingy
in wanting to close up my affairs there. The delay means 50 cents a week because I shall not have the face not to pay up
to the date
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on which I ask for my letter of membership.
Your registered letter containing the bank book and another nice little letter and two checks came this morning. I am still
scratching my sparse scalp trying to make out just where things stand, and I shall soon have it figured out. Did you draw
out the other savings acct and put it all with checking acct? I think I shall leave all of the Oakland B. of S. acc't
in Berkeley until I need to transfer it or use it. I certainly would not want to open a savings acc't here for only a
couple of months. I'll just let the interest accumulate there. I suppose we'll leave the children's acct's
undisturbed in the same way. They can buy war savings stamps for a while.
As I have figured it out, I am ahead in the payments to the Life Ins. Acct. owing to the payment for the recent premium to
the Northwestern. The next bill will come in September and I shall just let matters rest till then, keeping the bank book.
There are four Life Ins. bills due in about March, July, Sept, and Oct. and also one Accident Ins. premium.
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I shall follow your advice and send only $150 for a while, but you have more than that coming to you, old Sweetheart, out
of our increased income. So let me know if you want money, as I have a balance in the bank now. Our expenses will be increased
by $10 a mo. storage on our furniture in Washington. Don't you need an increased allowance? I hope you will write mother
that we can let her have money if she needs it. How does she happen to be so flush?
Victor writes that Blythe has gone home but does not say whether he was successful in his business ventures. Meads is rooming
with him. He arranged to have our furniture sent crated to the Security Storage Co., 1140 15th St. N.W. between L and M.
The charge will be $10 per mo for 100 sq ft floor space piled 10 ft high. Won't it be nice when we can pay rent on space
we can use? Fortunately the rent will not begin until the freight arrives.