Davenporters of Note: Betty Adler

Portrait of Betty Adler by Davenport photographer J.B. Hostetler, ca. 1920. RSSC Image Collection, #VM89-002220

One hundred years ago this summer, Betty Adler was traveling through post-WWI Europe, sent by the Davenport Daily Times to “write special articles showing the effects of the war on the people of the allied countries” and “tell some of the hitherto unwritten stories of the things the women and children had to endure in the vicinity of the zones of actual fighting.” [1]

Betty Adler’s April 10, 1919 passport application, via Ancestry Library.

Miss Adler had moved to Davenport from Ottumwa and begun working as the society and woman’s editor for the Times in 1902, shortly after her brother, E.P. (Emanuel Philip) Adler, became its manager and publisher. Several years covering the city’s philanthropic women’s organizations and promoting her own social welfare causes via the paper’s “Glimmerings” column prepared her well to report with sympathy on the struggles of soldiers and average citizens during the war and in its aftermath.

Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), May 12, 1913.

Between June and September 1919, Adler witnessed the signing of the peace treaty at Versailles, thrilled to the victory parade marching through the streets of Paris, toured the Rhine Valley occupation zone with officers of the Third American Army, enjoyed a musical performance by the departing First Division of the A.E.F., lunched with Egyptian ambassadors, and met General Pershing in person, but she was also taking time to note the decimated French villages, the many “Refuge from Shells” signs marking cellars throughout the countryside, and the “…tired-eyed people, returned to the broken fragments of what had once been home…” [2] She listened to the stories of the boy who had lived in a cellar with his mother and four siblings for the entire duration of the war, the Flemish farm family robbed of their food and forced out of their cottage by German soldiers, the men of Lebbke shot and buried while still alive, and the massacre of civilians in Dinant, Belgium, including a man shot in front of his wife and and seven children.

Adler visited many battlefields and memorials to the soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting. She told of French soldiers buried alive by an explosion near Verdun, their guns still sticking up through the debris (p. 81), the remains of a German soldier –“just one leg encased in a riding boot” (p. 217) — in a shell hole near Ypres, among many other horrors. The “grave faces, reflecting memories” of the surviving doughboys still serving in France did not escape her notice. She described the grim work of the men assigned to the Graves Registration Service of the American Army, tasked with recovering the remains of the “hero dead,” (p. 23) and the Paris waiter who struggled to speak because his throat had been damaged by multiple gas attacks.

Adler praised the work of the American Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A and never failed to relay the gratitude expressed by the French and Belgian people for the aid received from the United States. She was suprised to find “plain, coarse, cotton flour sacks printed with mill names from the Mississippi to the Pacific, in glaring red and blue letters” kept as “treasured souvenirs” and placed on display in an Antwerp castle. (p. 243)

Within the Year After, facing p. 174.

She paid special attention to women’s participation in the war effort, devoting ink to the story of Anne Ross, the Cherokee “canteen girl” with the A.E.F. in Germany, the work of the eighty women of C.A.R.D., the Committee Americaine pour Les Regions Devastees de la France (American Committee for Devastated France) in Vic-sur-Aisne, and the plucky English women of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who drove wounded French soldiers to hospitals during the fighting and prisoners of war from Germany back to France after the armistice. (p. 239)

Betty Adler’s dispatches to the Times were collected and published in the following year as a book titled Within the Year After, available at the RSSC Center.

SC 914 Adl

The work was well-received [3]:

“Her grasp of international affairs, keen insight, aggressiveness, sagacity and human understanding found brilliant reflection in her observations set forth with a directness which permitted the reader to vision the epochal events of that period, and the conditions in Europe with  a completeness that brought them into intimate touch with all that came to the notice of the writer.”

General Pershing sent Adler a letter of congratulations, which we are fortunate to hold in our manuscript collection:

Acc.#2014-20

For the greater part of her life, Betty Adler was an independent career woman, traveling freely, supporting causes, and living on her own at 409 E. 15th Street (after a few years with her brother and his wife at 629 E. 14th Street). She wrote short stories and other pieces, such as “The Tr-City Young Jewish Woman” in a special Iowa edition (Jews of Tri-Cities, December 14, 1912) of the Reform Advocate, a journal of Reform Judaism out of Chicago. That same publication included a profile of Miss Adler, and just following it, one of Henry Waterman, her future husband.

SC 296.0977 Jew
p. 33
p. 34

Betty Adler married Henry Waterman in Davenport on May 3, 1923. It was the first marriage for both; she was 48 and he 51. They lived together in Geneseo, IL, where Henry practiced law, for just under two short years — Betty succumbed to illness and passed away on February 16, 1925. She is buried in Mt. Nebo cemetery in Davenport.

(posted by Katie)

  • [1] Daily Times, (Davenport, Iowa), June 12, 1919, p.1.
  • [2] Adler, Betty. Within the Year After. Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co., 1920, p. 21. Page numbers given hereafter within the above text refer to this title, a compilation of Adler’s dispatches and columns for the Times.
  • [3] “Betty Adler Waterman,” Daily Times, (Davenport, Iowa), June 12, 1919.

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