Fort Devens Museum
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Edith Nourse Rogers

Early Years

Edith Nourse Rogers (1881–1960) was a pioneering Congresswoman who represented the Massachusetts Fifth District for thirty-five years. Born in Saco, Maine, she was graduated from Rogers Hall School in Lowell and attended Mme. Julien's School in Paris. In 1907, she married John Jacob Rogers and lived in Lowell. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1913, he served until his death in 1925. During World War I, Edith Nourse Rogers served in the American Red Cross in France. There, she was impressed by the contributions of English women to the war effort, specifically on loan to the offices of the American Expeditionary Force. The American women, with the exception of U.S Army or Navy nurses, were civilians and had no benefits. After her husband died in 1925, she was elected, on June 30, to fill his vacant seat and was re-elected until her death in September 1960.

Politician

She was the first woman to be elected to Congress from New England and was also the first woman to preside as Speaker over the national House of Representatives. Her many years of service put her in a position to sponsor a number of important pieces of legislation, for example, she was a sponsor of the bill to establish the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, which was replaced by the Women's Army Corps in 1943. Rogers also sponsored the G.I. Bill of Rights (Servicemen's Readjustment Act, 1944) and pushed for legislation to establish a permanent Nurse Corps for veterans. Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rogers sponsored bills for Korean Veterans benefits and to aid and assist disabled war veterans. The Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford is testimony to Congresswoman Rogers's sustained work on behalf of veterans. She also worked to improve the American Foreign Service.

"Notables See Old Camp Devens Become New Fort Devens." During the dedication and flag raising ceremony, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers watched a review, with Colonel Albert W. Foreman, Commander of Fort Devens; Colonel Frederick H. Payne, Assistant Secretary of War; General Ahlston Hamilton, Commander of the First Corps Area; and General M.H. Walker, Commander of the 18th Brigade.

Establishing Fort Devens

Congresswoman Rogers was instrumental in obtaining the necessary appropriations and authorization to upgrade Camp Devens into Fort Devens. Named for Civil War Brigadier General Charles Devens of Massachusetts, the camp had been founded in the spring of 1917 on thousands of acres of scrub oak and birches in Ayer, Massachusetts. Almost 60,000 troops were stationed there by May 1918. After the armistice in November, the camp served as a demobilization center for many units, including the 26th Yankee Division, which then returned annually for training. During the early 1920s, the 5th and 13th Infantry, 7th Field Artillery, and 3rd Cavalry were stationed at Camp Devens. Then the camp was downgraded to a summer training facility for the National Guard, C.M.T.C., and the organized reserves. But Mrs. Rogers would not let the War Department abandon the post. Dedicated to both the history of Devens and to the constituents of her district, Mrs. Rogers helped to secure Congressional appropriations that revived Camp Devens "as a permanent army reservation" in November 1931.

In her speech on "The Development of Fort Devens," delivered on October 7, 1932, when Colonel Albert W. Foreman assumed command of the renamed Fort Devens, she traced its history. "In its empty buildings and acres of grounds," she said, "there was still the noble spirit of the courageous men of New England who trained there, some of whom are now engaged in peacetime pursuits and some of whom bravely made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of our country." (Edith Nourse Rogers, "The Development of Fort Devens," on October 7, 1932, Edith Nourse Rogers Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers decorates Colonel Frederick G. Knabenshue with a C.M.T.C. Medal, at the final review of the camp at Camp Devens. Standing behind Colonel Knabenshue are young men who won medals and a scholarship offered by Congresswoman Rogers: Norman C. Spencer, Concord; Lucien F. Valliere, Methuen; James T. Rodgers, Hudson; Otis M. Whitney, Concord; and James J. Sousa, Hudson.

Interwar Years at Fort Devens

A building program added 3 brick barracks, 18 sets of quarters for N.E.O., 35 sets of officers quarters, a hospital, a fire station, a bakery, and a stable. Under the 1932 Emergency Relief and Construction Act, Camp Devens received appropriations for new roads, a service club, post exchange, and a gymnasium. Rogers complimented the leadership of Colonel Foreman in making Fort Devens "not only one of the best in the country, but one of the most attractively landscaped. Under Foreman's command were about 800 soldiers of the 13th U.S. Infantry and the 1st Tank Regiment. On October 7, 1932, the 13th Regiment paraded in her honor on Rogers Field, named for her husband. By 1939, housing for 1,500 troops was completed.

Colonel Foreman also provided leadership for the Third Civilian Conservation Corps District, First Corps Area, which was organized in April 1933. The home to one supply and two work companies out of the 56 CCC companies located in Massachusetts, Fort Devens processed 100,000 young men who enrolled in the CCC between April 1933 and November 1937. After the Third CCC District was deactivated, the CCC Supply Depot was established at the fort; its purpose was to furnish clothing and other supplies to all New England CCC camps. The CCC would be disbanded in July 1942 after U.S. entrance into World War II. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H.M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958, deposited in the Ayer, Massachusetts Public Library).

Fort Devens during World War II

The wartime commanders of the post were Colonel William A. Smith (September 1940 to September 1943), Colonel Howell M. Estes, Cavalry (September 1943 to June 1945), and Brigadier General William C. Crane (June 1945 to July 1946). Fort Devens began preparing for wartime by employing a civilian workforce of 14,600 to build, in 1940, over 1,200 temporary structures at the cost of $25,000,000. Permanent fort acreage increased to 10,000, with another 235,000 acres leased for military maneuvers. The newly constructed Fort Devens Airport, the home of the 152nd Observation Squadron, opened in July 1941. The Joseph Lovell General Hospital, named for the Army's first surgeon general, also opened in 1941. The Whittemore Service Command Base Shop, opened in March 1942, was called "the largest garage in the world."

The Recruit Reception Center, which opened in July 1940, processed all New England men reporting under the 1940 Selective Service Act. Between July 1940 and April 1946, 614,021 men were processed and equipped and clothed at a cost of over $100,000,000. In August and September 1941,some 65,000 troops were stationed at Fort Devens. In October 1943, the War Department established its Personnel Center at Devens, which included the Recruit Reception Center; the Reception Station #1, which processed over 205,000 enlisted men and officers; and the Separation Center that discharged more than 350,000 New Englanders until May 31, 1946. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H. M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958).

The First Division, known as the "Fighting First" for its record in France in 1917 and 1918, reassembled as a unit at Fort Devens in January 1941. To counter Germany's concentrated use of tanks, the First Division tried several experiments, finally leading it to place its anti-tank weapons in a separate battalion for a more effective response. That became the model for hundreds of other tank destroyer battalions. Infantry units then practiced operations with the tank battalion. Anti-Aircraft was also concentrated into a separate battalion. After Pearl Harbor, the First Division, following extensive maneuvers with other divisions in North and South Carolina, was sent into combat in North Africa and western Europe.

The 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division and the 45th "Thunderbird" Infantry Division trained at Fort Devens. During a month of war games in North Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, troops practiced a delaying action and then an offensive in the event of an invasion through Boston. Street fighting was staged in Townsend, Massachusetts. In February 1943, the Fourth Engineer Amphibian brigade was activated at the fort. Troops experimented with amphibious landings, using platforms on dry ground before moving to Robbins Pond on the base. Later training took place at Cape Cod and then at New River, North Carolina. The 366th Infantry Regiment that fought in Italy in the 92nd Division was formed at Fort Devens in 1941. The regiment received "negro selectees from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th Service Commands." It was sent overseas in 1944. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H. M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958).

The WAAC at Fort Devens

On November 25, 1942, the first WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) member to report for duty at Fort Devens was Third Officer Frances Wilson House, a1938 graduate of the University of Kentucky and a former teacher. House, the supply and mess officer for the 34th WAAC Post Headquarters Company, was followed, on December 31, 1942, by 149 auxiliaries and two other officers, who had traveled 1,500 miles from the Women's Army Training Center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The 4th Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Training Center officially opened at Fort Devens, in April 1943, with cadre drawn from the three existing WAAC centers at Fort Des Moines, Daytona Beach, Florida, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. (A fifth WAAC center was subsequently opened in Rushton, Louisiana.) Commanded by Captain Elizabeth W. Stearns of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the 34th Post Headquarters Company was, reported the Fort Devens Digest, on December 31, 1942, "the first unit to be permanently stationed at an Army fort in the nation." The Fort Devens WAAC Center functioned both as a basic training center and as a recruit reception center. WAACS worked as non-combatants in offices and mess halls, in hospitals as x-ray and dental technicians, and as truck drivers, freeing male soldiers for combat. At the fort, the women were housed in three separate barracks and had their own administration and recreation buildings (including a beauty parlor) and mess hall. The WAACS' "soldierly dignity" and "trim appearance" impressed the enlisted men, who warmly welcomed them, although a few longtime Army men reserved judgment.

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, "the `mother' of the WAACS and the `godmother' of Fort Devens made a motherly visit to both" on January 2,1943. Having conceived of a women's auxiliary military unit, similar to the English model, during her service overseas with the Red Cross in 1917, Mrs. Rogers "told the highly interested and thrilled WAACS that she had and would continue to battle for them daily in Washington." In addition to her bill, then before the House Ways and Means Committee, to provide the WAACS with life insurance, available to male soldiers, she sponsored a bill, then before the Military Affairs Committee, to make the WAACS a regular part of the Army. Mrs. Rogers, together with Colonel William A. Smith and Captain Elizabeth W. Stearns, reviewed the WAAC company. For dinner, they had roast beef and apple pie for dessert. Afterwards, Mrs. Rogers discussed with the WAACs her fight to make Devens into a permanent fort in 1931. She praised both Colonel Smith for his work in continuing to build up Fort Devens and the WAACs for their unselfish patriotism. The young women told Mrs. Rogers that they joined the WAACS because they wanted to serve overseas, and that they were willing to meet more demanding discipline as part of the Army. The WAACS concluded their meeting by singing their official song, "The WAAC 34th."

On May 14, 1943, the first anniversary of the founding of the WAACS, three WAAC regiments marched in review at Fort Devens past a group of military and civilian dignitaries. After completing their basic training on June 4, 600 WAACs departed from Fort Devens for assignments both within the United States and overseas. Due to the efforts of Representative Rogers, Congress enacted Public Law 110 that conferred on the WAAC full military status within the U.S. Army. Four days after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act creating the Women's Army Corps, Mrs. Rogers attended as a guest of honor the ceremony at Fort Devens, during which thousands of WAACs took the oath as members of the WAC. Nationally, the conversion of the WAAC into the WAC would be effected on September 30, 1943. Meanwhile, in August 1943, Fort Devens began to wind down the 4th WAC Training Center, which was closed as of September 3, 1943. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H.M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958. "First WAAC Reports for Active Duty," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 30, Friday, November 27, 1942, pp. 1, 20; "WAACS ARRIVE HERE TONIGHT," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 35,Thursday, December 31, 1942, p. 1; Sgt. Dick Murphy, "Fort Impressed By Trim Appearance," pp. 1, 15, and Pvt. Bill Dorman, "Enlisted Men Give Approval," pp. 1, 4, Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 36, Friday, January 8, 1943; "Devens' Benefactor, WAACs `Mother' Greets Her Girls," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 36,Friday, January 8, 1943, p. 20).

Nurses and Other Military Schools at Fort Devens

Beginning in July 1943, civilian nurses also received basic training at Fort Devens, an innovation from prior practice, which sent them immediately into Army hospitals. The first class of 27 enlisted nurses graduated from basic training in August. The number of graduates rose to 100 a month to meet New England's quota of 800 that could serve overseas. The quota was exceeded by March 1944. In addition, Fort Devens became the site of a New England Training Center for student Cadet Nurses in April 1943. Other schools transferred or established at Fort Devens were the U.S. Army Chaplain School (transferred from Harvard University in August 1944). The Bakers and Cooks School, which had been transferred in 1931, trained about 600 cooks and 75 mess sergeants each year. The First Service Command Special Training Unit, at Devens from June 1943 to early1946, provided English language training for recruits. Some 45,000 African Americans were trained for the Quartermaster Service units, out of the 50,000 troops at the Army Service Forces Training Center from March 1944 to May 1945. The ASFTC's three training regiments and nineteen training schools made it one of the largest and busiest training centers at Devens. Colonel Howell M. Estes, who was appointed post commander in September 1943, also commanded ASFTC for brief periods. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H. M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958).

POWs at Fort Devens

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers attending a military review outside the Army Security Agency Training Center, Fort Devens, August 26, 1952.

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers delivering a speech at the Army Security Agency Training Center, Fort Devens, August 26, 1952.

On March 3, 1943, the War Department issued its proposal to establish a Base Camp for German Prisoner of War Installations in New England. The official opening of the POW camp was February 23, 1944, under the command of Colonel Harold G. Storke. In all, about 5,000 POWs, enlisted men, most captured in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy were interned at Fort Devens. For their labor, they were paid 80 cents a day and a $3.00 monthly allowance for the purchase of personal items at the Camp Canteen. Organized into companies under an American officer, POWs worked in road gangs, the laundry, mess halls, and motor pools; others cut timber in Maine and New Hampshire. The POW camp closed in the 1946,after the release of the internees who were repatriated to Germany and Italy. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H.M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens, "Revised 1 January 1958).

Post World War II at Fort Devens

Fort Devens was deactivated as of June 30, 1946 and placed under a caretaking detachment of 46 enlisted men commanded by Lt. Colonel Charles Knowlton. From 1946 to 1948, Massachusetts State College operated Fort Devens Extension; temporary housing, called HARVARDEVENS, for veterans attending the college was provided in the former buildings of Lovell General Hospital North. Because of the deepening cold war with the Soviet Union, Fort Devens was reactivated as a Class I Installation on July 13, 1948. By 1952, Devens was again a separation center for processing soldiers for discharge. The United States Army Security Agency Training Center (USASATC), activated on May 1, 1952, had 5,200 military personnel and 43 civilian employees as of January 1, 1958. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers visited the center on several occasions.

In the letter accompanying these photographs sent to Mrs. Rogers, Colonel B.F. Hurless wrote: "Your visit was instructive and made a very favorable impression not only upon the ROTC students but the members of the Training Center as a whole, and we are looking forward to the opportunity of having you pay us a visit again." Congresswoman Rogers also facilitated the transfer of Pfc John S. Barnes of Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, to the Army Security Training Center at Fort Devens.

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers at Fort Devens, standing at the back of a jeep, with an Army officer and a soldier, who saluted the troops and honor guard passing in review, 1953.

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers talking with Fort Devens's Commanding General before an empty reviewing stand, 1953 or 1954.

Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers talking with Sp4 Malcolm B. Ploof of New York, N.Y., one of two patients she visited at the U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Devens, September 30, 1958.

Fort Devens and the Korean War

A Reception Center was activated during the Korean War to process inductees. Among the units sent to Fort Devens was a WAC detachment on March 10, 1951. A number of smaller units trained at Fort Devens for different lengths of time during the Korean War, among them the Signal, Engineer, Quartermaster and Antiaircraft personnel. Several special training schools were activated at Fort Devens, for example, the First Army Food Service School. Lovell General Hospital South, which was reopened and subsequently redesignated as a U.S. Army Hospital, began receiving Korean War casualties in October 1950. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H.M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958).

Photograph:

In the late 1950s, Fort Devens was New England'sprimary Army installation. As of December 1957, Fort Devens was home to 14,500 military personnel and their dependents, and about 1,400 civilian employees. There were 1,700 buildings on its 10,121 acres or 15.8 square miles. On January 2, 1958, Fort Devens became the home of the XIII Army Headquarters (Reserve), in charge of all Army Reserve and ROTC units in New England. Its commander, Major General Sidney C. Wooten, was also post commander. (Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H .M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958). Congresswoman Rogers died in September 1960. The Edith Nourse Rogers Museum was dedicated at Fort McClellan, Alabama in 1961. In 2000, the collections of the Women's Army Museum were relocated to and rededicated at new facility at Fort Lee, Virginia.

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Research and Writing by Dr. Marcia G. Synnott, Professor of History, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. Presentation revised with the assistance of Kelli C. Walsh, doctoral candidate in History at the University of South Carolina.

All photographs courtesy of The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sources: Edith Nourse Rogers, speech on "The Development of Fort Devens," October 7, 1932; speech on the Women's Army Corps, May 14, 1946; and finding aid, Edith Nourse Rogers Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. See also "First WAAC Reports for Active Duty," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 30, Friday, November 27, 1942, pp. 1, 20; "WAACS ARRIVE HERE TONIGHT," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 35,Thursday, December 31, 1942, p. 1; Sgt. Dick Murphy, "Fort Impressed By Trim Appearance," pp. 1, 15, and Pvt. Bill Dorman, "Enlisted Men Give Approval," pp. 1, 4, Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 36, Friday, January 8, 1943; "Devens' Benefactor, WAACs `Mother' Greets Her Girls," Fort Devens Digest, Vol. II, No. 36, Friday, January 8, 1943, p. 20, obtainable from the New England Deposit Library through Widener Library, Harvard University. The major source for the military history of Fort Devens is the following document, Headquarters, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Devens, H .M. Thompson, Lt. Colonel, AGC, Adjutant General, "The History of Fort Devens," Revised 1 January 1958, deposited in the Ayer, Massachusetts Public Library.