Inventory of the George Armstrong and Nell Steel Armstrong Papers:
1863-1920 (bulk: 1913-1920)
George Armstrong was born 22 February 1884 in St. Louis, Michigan. He enlisted (1908) in the U.S. Army, serving in the regular army for eighteen years and in the Reserves for two, rising to the rank of major in the Military Police. For most of his army service during the period of this correspondence with Nell Floss Steel, later his wife, Nell Steel Armstrong, George Armstrong served with a Recruit Depot in the U.S. Army General Services Infantry, involved with training recruits.
Initially based in Columbus, Ohio, where he probably met his future wife, Nell Floss Steel, George Armstrong was transferred (1913) to the military training camp at Texas City, Texas, but also fulfilled assignments in Saginaw, Michigan (1913), St. Louis, Missouri (1913), and Vera Cruz, Mexico (April 1914). He also received training in El Paso, Texas (1914), before returning to Columbus, Ohio (1915).
During World War I, George Armstrong was periodically stationed (1915-August 1918) at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indianaand Camp Sherman, Ohio.George Armstrong subsequently served in the U. S. Army Infantry, 83rd Division, in France (September?- November 1918), inspecting prisoner of war camps.
After World War I, George Armstrong was trasferred to Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually retired from the army to avoid being reverted to his previous rank of 1st Sergeant. The Armstrongs lived briefly in Grandfield, Oklahoma, before moving successively to Burkburnett, Graham, Ranger, Breckenridge, Holliday, and Wichita Falls, Texas. They finally settled in Baytown, Texas to be close to family. George Armstrong began a career in the Texas oilfields, working for Texaco for many years before retiring from the company January, 1949. He died in Baytown, Texas on April 27, 1964.
Nell Steel Armstrong was born Nell Floss Steel in Ohio 21 November 1884. After graduating (1908) from the Protestant Hospital Training School for Nurses in Columbus, Ohio, she became a Red Crossnurse and worked in a "baby camp" (1909), as well as in a hospital in Toledo, Ohio (1913).
During World War I, Nell Floss Steel served six months (1914-1915) in a military hospital in Serbia, travelling there by way of Palermo, Greece, spending some time in Athens. Returning to the United States in 1915, she worked (1916) in hospitals and sanitariums in Columbus, Chillicothe, and Oxford, Ohio.
Nell Floss Steel was also one of the "Columbus Ten," a group of nurses who served in a military hospital on the Mexican Border at Eagle Pass, Texas during the winter of 1916. By March 1917 she had returned to Columbus, Ohio, and began teaching Home Demonstration at Ohio State University, and married George Armstrong 21 August 1917 in Columbus, Ohio.
Nell Steel Armstrong worked in a hospital in Detroit, Illinois before returning to the hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where she was promoted to Assistant Superintendent, and remained until moving with her husband
In addition, Nell Steel Armstrong served as president of the Graduate Nurses Association and Assistant Superintendent of the instructive District Nursing Association. She also did intermittent nursing until her death on January 7, 1968 in Baytown, Texas.
The Papers consist chiefly of personal correspondence (1913-1920) between George Armstrong and Nell Floss Steel, later Nell Steel Armstrong, over the course of their courtship and marriage, both before and during World War I (1914-1918).
The correspondence is unusual in that both George Armstrong and his sweetheart, later wife, Nell Floss Steel, both served on the front during World War I, either in Europe, or at home in hospitals or camps in the United States. Life as a U. S. Armyinfantry officer in charge of recruits, or a Red Cross nurse is therefore vividly depicted in their letters to each other.
The Armstrong correspondence is also unusual for war-time, since Nell Floss Steel was the first of the two sent overseas in September 1914 to serve in a military hospital in Serbia, while her future husband was serving in army military camps in Texas City, Texas, at El Paso, Texas and Columbus, Ohio. In turnabout, George was later sent to France (September?-November 1918), while, as a result of her recent marriage to George, Nell had to remain in the United States, despite her eagerness to return to active war duty.
During this time George Armstrong served primarily with a U. S. Army General Services Infantry Recruit Depot, training recruits, and was stationed periodically at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and at Camp Sherman, Ohio, eventually serving with the 83rd Infantry Division in France (September?-November 1918).
Nell Floss Steel served six months as a Red Cross nurse in a military hospital in Serbia (1914-1915) and as part of "The Texas Ten" group of nurses in a military camp at Eagle Pass, Texas (August 1916-March 1917), before marrying George Armstrong 21 August 1917. She spent the rest of the war mainly working in hospitals and sanitariums in the Columbus, Ohio area.
Details of daily life in the military camps, or in Red Cross service are many, and recorded by both the Armstrongs in delightfully intimate and detailed letters. Subjects mentioned in the correspondence include domestic and international politics, housing issues, income, social customs in different cultures, such as Greek nationals encountered both in the United States as well as in their homeland, or Austrian soldiers, both as officers and an hospital orderlies, politics, sports, and the lives of both a professional soldier and a professional nurse.
As a career nurse during wartime, Nell Floss Steel faced typoid and typhus epidemics, patients with unimaginable wounds, along with the difficulty and challenge of learning to understand Greek and German. Mail is forever delayed, obstructed or censored, the nurses never venture outside the hospital area after dark, and the availability of serum to innoculate the nurses before they face sufferers of contagious diseases is not certain. Over the course of the correspondence a very plucky and independent Nell Floss Steel records such moving scenes as a child dying of typhus, a young soldier dying of lockjaw, and a young military wife whom Nell Steel Armstrong aids when she miscarries.
Nell Floss Steel is invigorated by these challenges, however, and keeps a keen eye on the socio-political interactions manifested by relations between, for example, Austrian orderlies who are prisoners-of-war and an Austrian officer, who though a countryman and dying patient, is abused as a result of his former tyranny to underlings. Her letters present a finely detailed and atmospheric portrait of life as a World War IRed Cross nurse in occupied territory far from home. The contrasts inherent in World War I are shown by the delightful sightseeing Nell enjoys in Athens, just a short journey from the horrors of a Serbian hospital.
Nell Steel Armstrong is also approvingly aware of the political struggles of the "suffrage ladies," and extremely disappointed after 1917 that her married status prevents her from returning to war work in Europe, although she rejects the option of "divorcing for the war."
Patriotic and convivial, George Armstrong is both an avid football player and horseback rider, a passion he shares with Nell Steel Armstrong. He recounts incidents of heat-exhuastion after a 16-mile march in Texas heat, resulting in the death of two soldiers, as well as other accidents and wounds. He voices doubts, however, about the advisability of the United States becoming involved in the political upheavals of Europe or Mexico. Much comment about political developments of the day are included. President Woodrow Wilson and former President Teddy Roosevelt are mentioned. George Armstrong also describes the early military training of Pancho Villa, and comments on Texas/Mexico border activities of the Texas Rangers with great admiration. Nell Steel Armstrong describes former President Taft speaking to a group of nurses including herself.
Military camaraderie is evident in George Armstrong's high spirited description of pistol matches, parades, training exercise, mule and horse training, as well as life among soldiers living in often makeshift army training camps. For example, life in tents on the dusty fields at Texas City, Texas is enlivened by socializing with the population of Irish soldiers, most of them "fresh from the old sod."
Also present are letters from Nell Steel Armstrong to her mother, Mrs. James G. Steel, or sisters, Jane Steel, Margaret Steel, and Ethel Withgott; official correspondence regarding Nell Steel Armstrong's nursing service and George Armstrong'smilitary service; family correspondence to the married couple; George Armstrong's diary for 1914; an American Civil War letter (1862) by William Steel to his brother James G. Steel (Nell's father), with two poems (1863) collected by William Steel, newspaper clippings, a few programs and Christmas cards; one box of photographs [some negatives lacking photographic prints] of George Armstrong and Nell Steel Armstrong, either separately, together, or in groups; one flat storage box of oversize diplomas and photographs.
Items separated include five drawings of Platoon Plans of Attack[missing as of 10/2002], and one map of the northeast of France for bicycle and automobile touring.
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Received from Henry N. Armstrong in July 1987.
Processed by Nancy M. Bertsch in July 1988, with additional processing by Liticia Salter and Aletha Andrew in October 2002.
Detailed Description of the Papers