Category Archives: Alexine

Alexine Mitchell’s training in San Francisco


Alexine at the Presidio Page-from-79-LMT-Scrapbook-WWI-1917-1918

Alexine, my grandmother, sailed for France at the end of December. Cables home say she reached London on January 20th, 1917 and Le Havre on January 30th. Her mother, Lily Von Schmidt Mitchell Tilden kept a scrapbook of war clippings including anything that mentioned her daughters. Clippings from the same period say such things as “Liners held as U-boats lie in Wait”. I can only imagine how she waited for those telegrams. 

I hope to find out more about her training in San Francisco before she left. She did first aid training at Lane Hospital. I have not yet been able to find anything out about the “pioneer soldierettes at the Presidio national training school.”

A later post will cover what we have learned about her traveling companion, Dorothy Gerberding. 


Newspaper clipping – paper unknown – found in Lily Tilden’s scrapbook of war clippings – transcribed here so it is searchable.


December 29, 1916

Miss Alexine Mitchell Will Leave Tomorrow For Paris to Take Up Her Work

Miss Alexine Mitchell, who with her sister, Miss Marion Mitchell, is widely traveled and who has enjoyed many interesting adventures, will leave tomorrow morning for Paris, to take up the work under Mrs. Lathrop, who is head of the American women in charge of the American Fund for French wounded. Miss Mitchell, who had a cable from Mrs. Lathrop about a month ago, notifying her of a vacancy in the hospital at Toulouse, will go there immediately on her arrival and will later return to headquarters at Paris and from there take part in the distribution of supplies to the different hospital stations with the supply machines, which is the work of the women.

Miss Mitchell said in answer to questions regarding her going: “It is hard work, I know, but I intend to do what I can. I have been intending to go for three months, and have been taking a course in the men’s surgical work at Lane hospital and was rushed through in order to complete the course to leave tomorrow.”

Miss Mitchell will have a companion in Miss Dorothy Gerberding, who will take up the same work, and who is a niece of Mrs. Elizabeth Gerberding of San Francisco, well-known through her efforts for woman’s suffrage.

That Miss Marion Mitchell may develop the same enthusiasm is possible as the interest in the woman’s work in the war countries is great in their home. Miss Mitchell has had interesting experiences with her sister in Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands and the Orient, and both are quick-witted, resourceful and adventurous which are qualities that are much in demand for the work that the Alameda girl has pledged herself to.

Miss Mitchell was one of the pioneer soldierettes at the Presidio national training school, where she was the winner of an honor cockade for excellence in first aid and signaling and for constant attendance for the full six weeks’ term of encampment. Miss Mitchell is the second soldierette to go to the front, the first being Miss Emmeline Childs of Los Angeles, who has joined the Vanderbilt ambulance corps at the French capital.

Kodak and Aerial Photography

Alexine by Lt. Hoyt_WWI001v2While Marion was busy journaling their experiences during WWI, Alexine, Marion’s sister, was taking photographs as they traveled about doing their work. Alexine first mentions ‘investing’ in a Kodak in a letter home from Paris (April, 1917) and actually writes about taking pictures in a letter dated May, 1917. In the photo at left she is holding the Kodak that she used. While we don’t have her original camera, we have many photographs that she took, most with outstanding clarity and detail. So many of the pictures are the exact size of the film, making us think that the developers made ‘contact’ sheets of the negatives.

Kodak introduced film as we know it today in 1885, with the folding pocket Kodak camera coming to the public in 1898. We know the family had one at the turn of the century because of all the camping pictures  of Yosemite in 1901-1906. This ad is from a National Geographic magazine dated April, 1917 when Kodak started producing this particular model. We think it is very similar to the one that Alexine used, perhaps even the same ad 01

Also, in 1917, Kodak developed aerial cameras and trained aerial photographers for the US Signal Corps to help in France during the war. Some recommended books to read about this time period in photography’s history are: The Last Summer of the World by Emily Mitchell (no relation), a novel about Edward Steichen; and Terry Finnegan’s book Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War;

Alexa and I both had fathers that enjoyed photography as a hobby, each of them using high-end camera equipment with fantastic results. My father went so far as to take me up in his airplane and teach me how to do aerial photography. You never know when that special skill may come in handy! He also constructed a darkroom in the house I lived in as a teenager and I learned the fine craftsmanship of every phase of photography while in high school and later after college I worked in a camera store for three years. It’s no wonder we feel a special affinity to the photographs and equipment that was used by the Mitchell sisters.

Alexine and ‘Trench Dogs’

AM-dogs001Alexine Mitchell, Marion Mitchell’s sister, went to France in December, 1916 and did not return until the Spring of 1920; she was there for almost 3 1/2 years. When she did come back to the US, she brought with her two dogs, Takou and Basoche. Takou was given to her as a puppy by a wounded soldier recovering in the hospital in Nancy where she was stationed; he had found the puppy in a trench. She acquired Basoche while hiking through the Pyrenees after the war. Both dogs only understood French commands. She bred the dogs and sold their puppies after returning to Alameda.

A more famous ‘trench dog’ was found as a puppy in a bombed dog kennel by Lee Duncan who was serving in France as an American Gunnery Corporal. He named his dog Rinty, also known as Rin-Tin-Tin and brought the dog home to the US. Realizing how smart his dog was, he took him to the Warner Bros studios to see if he could get him into the movies.  Rin-Tin-Tin ended upRin Tin Tin IV starring in 26 WB silent movies before he was ‘let go’. At one point it was reported that he was receiving 50,000 fan letters each month. His descendants went on to star in the 1950’s-1960’s TV show The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin and today a Rin-Tin-Tin, reputed to be the 12th descendent of the first one, is the spokesdog for the American Humane Association. A recent book – Rin-Tin-Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean has more information, if interested.

Every side fighting in WWI used dogs in the trenches; their jobs included being a sentry, scout, messenger, mascot, sniffing for explosives, finding the casualties and chasing the rats out of the trench. Sometimes they just helped boost the morale of the soldiers. It’s estimated that about 20,000 dogs were in the trenches with the British soldiers.

Bears of WWI and Winnie-the-Pooh

Margaret and Bear

For over a year now Alexa and I have been sorting and ‘cataloguing’ the photographs, slides, glass negatives and lantern slides in this collection (we have 100’s) and one of the pictures that intrigued us was this one. The caption is ‘Margaret and Baloo, the bear.’  Margaret was a friend of Marion and Alexine’s  who went to France with them and served as a first aid worker with the Red Cross. I thought perhaps bear cubs during WWI were plentiful as there were many forests in France and perhaps the cub’s mothers were being killed. My research, however, did not support my theory.

However, I did come across something very interesting (at least to me; I have a great affection for children’s literature). In August, 1914, a train carrying Canadian troops was making it’s way from Manitoba to Ontario. Stopping at one of the stations, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn photo-2paid $20 to a hunter for a female bear cub that the Lieutenant named Winnie (for his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba). When Colebourn was being sent over to France to fight in December 1914, he left the bear at the London Zoo for safe-keeping. A.A. Milne took his young son, Christopher Robin, to the zoo and the bear and Christopher became good friends. There is a picture of the young boy actually in the enclosure feeding the bear. In 1924, A.A. Milne decided to put his son’s childhood ‘friends’ and stuffed animals into print with his first book and the Bear of Very Little Brain was introduced. His son had named the bear Winnie-the-Pooh after his friend at the zoo and a swan that he knew named Pooh. The real bear, Winnie, stayed at the London Zoo until she died in 1934. Lieutenant Colebourn did come back for her, but when he saw how popular she was with everyone, he decided to leave her there. We only have this one picture of Baloo, the bear, and the bear is not mentioned in Marion’s journal, so who knows the story behind this. What we do know is that Marion admired Rudyard Kipling so she was probably the one to name the bear and take the picture.  Posted by Vicki Rondeau

Three + Two = Lantern slides

It took nearly fifty years, the invention of the Internet and social media plus three Alex’s and two librarians for the most surprising event to occur.

As a result, I am in the possession of hundreds of lantern slides along with the projector that belonged to my great grandmother Lily Von Schmidt Mitchell Tilden.

It is a complicated story and we are just now filling in the blanks. It started shortly after we rebooted this blog. I got a note through the contact form that said:

I believe my boyfriend and I have a journal written by your grandmother, Alexine Michell, during World War I with a set of glass lantern slides from the same time. There are also glass slides from a trip around the world that Alexine took, perhaps in the early 1920’s. We’d love to share these items with you.

This is the kind of serendipity genealogists and social historians dream of.

Jackie, who wrote this note, is a librarian. Vicki, my partner in crime, is a retired librarian. Thus the two librarians.

Jackie’s boyfriend is named Alex. I am Alexa and my grandmother was Alexine. Thus the three Alex’s.

Norma, Alex’s mother, bought these slides at auction in the sixties. Alex enjoyed looking at them growing up. Fifteen or twenty years ago they showed them to Jackie. She kept them in mind, determined to help the collection find their way back to the family of origin. Then on Sunday, two weeks ago, Jackie searches again for Alexine Mitchell and finds this site.

Norma writes:

Alex told you about my finding the slides/journal at an auction preview. I was struck with the conviction that I had to have the lot. We bid on it and since there were very few [none?] other bids, we won the lot. I did not know anything about the contents or the names or why this happened to me. This must have been @50 years ago. I have never understood what this matter was about.

Over the years my husband and I talked about donating everything to a local museum or historical society but I could never decide to actually do it. Just had to keep all. This has never happened to me before and has never happened since.

Now the mystery is resolved and I have closure and a peace about it. Alexine and Marion and the family are going home. I am sooo happy that you want them.

When my great-aunt Marion died in 1966, she left me the family photo albums and diaries. Apparently, some of the household items were auctioned off when the Tilden family home was sold.

It has taken nearly 50 years but the lantern slides, some from the Great War, and others from round the world trips taken by the family in the 1920s are back with the rest of the family archive.

The projector works. The slides need to be catalogued and digitized. It will take some time. As we make discoveries we will share them here.

Next year, as we build interest in Marion’s book, we hope to do slide shows using the old projector and the original lantern slides.

As I told Alex when he gave me the slides, I feel like I have found lost family. We will be forever grateful to Norma, her husband Leonard Gilbert, MD, Anthony, Alex and Jackie for their tenacity, perseverance, and generosity. Thank you!