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Emma Young Dickson papers

Identifier: Y.USA.8


The bulk of the collection consists of diaries, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, and other papers of Emma Young Dickson, dating from the period she served with the American Expeditionary Forces as a YMCA canteen worker in France. The diaries are organized like a scrapbook with letters, telegrams, and memorabilia pasted alongside the daily entries. They describe the voyage to France and her YMCA work in Chateauvillain, Autreville, Valdelancourt, Coulommiers, including service during the fighting at Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry; the Aisne-Marne, Saint-Mihiel offensive, Meuse-Argonne offensive; and with the Army of Occupation in Andernach, Germany. A series of correspondence includes letters addressed to Dickson, as well as originals and copies of some letters written by Dickson to her family. A few items of post-war correspondence are also included, primarily from William H. Danforth, the YMCA divisional secretary who supervised Dickson's work in France and who later became chairman of the board of the Ralston Purina Company. Miscellaneous additional papers include identifications papers, a passport application, news clippings, pamphlets, and other print material. Several books of travel reminiscences and motivational essays by William H. Danforth along with a book of letters, sermons, and services written by Methodist minister David S. Lamb for young men and women serving as soldiers and nurses during World War II, are also in the collection.

Also included in the collection is a bound transcript of the diaries, compiled and edited by her daughter, Cornelia Carswell Serota, along with useful annotations, biographical information, and background information on the YMCA women's work in France, the canteen program in particular. The volume, entitled "A YMCA Canteen Worker in The Great War: The Diaries and Letters of Emma Young Dickson," also includes extracts from notes written by William H. Danforth and her co-worker, Helen Bagoe.


  • 1917-1955
  • 1998
  • Majority of material found within ( 1918-1919).


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


Emma Young Dickson was born August 31, 1891 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was second of six children of William Brown Dickson and Mary Bruce Dickson. Dickson grew up and attended school in Montclair, New Jersey, where her family moved in 1901. Although born to a family of wealth and privilege, her father being a high-ranking businessman in the United States steel industry, she did not grow up ignorant of the social ills of the time. Her father resigned from his position as first vice president of U.S. Steel because of his disagreement with the inhumane labor practices prevalent throughout the steel industry during that period, and fought throughout his career for the abolishment of the twelve-hour, seven day work week.

When the United States entered in World War I in 1918, Emma knew she wanted to be part of the war effort, not by rolling bandages and knitting socks and scarves, but by going to France to help out in whatever way she could. She applied to the YMCA for an assignment as a canteen worker and after being turned down once was finally accepted. She sailed for France on April 3, 1918 and served with a unit attached to the Seventh Infantry of the Third Division. The work primarily involved supporting the soldiers by serving hot coffee and chocolate to the men in the trenches, visiting and writing letters for the wounded, and organizing recreational activities.

After returning home in March of 1919, Dickson married James Graham Carswell. The couple settled in Montclair and had three children.. Graham died suddenly of a heart attack in 1945, after which Emma took secretarial jobs for the Red Cross and the Montclair Art Museum, and as a companion to an elderly woman. In 1957 she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where her youngest son had been living with his family. She died on August 7, 1984, after a two-year struggle with cancer.

Biographical information was summarized from "A YMCA Canteen Worker in the Great War: The Diaries and Letters of Emma Young Dickson," compiled and edited by Cornelia Carswell Serota.


2.4 Cubic Feet (6 boxes)


Correspondence, diaries and other papers of Emma Young Dickson, documenting her service with the YMCA in France during World War I.

Digitized Materials

All of the contents of this collection have been digitized and are available through UMedia at

Links to the digitized contents are included in each folder listing in this archival collection guide.


Additional material about YMCA work during the first World War is available in the Armed Services World War I-related records, which are separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives collections.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Jessica Dagen; Lara Friedman~Shedlov, February 2004. The collection was scanned and made available online in 2013.

Accession number Y20221017 was added to the collection in 2022.

Catalog Record ID number: 4333708

An Inventory of Her Papers
Finding aid prepared by Lara D. Friedman~Shedlov.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area