My Dad’s maternal aunt is an intriguing figure in my family tree. She was a French immigrant and an independent woman who never married and never had children. She also had a small role in aiding the US in World War I.
The Woman Known as Tante Marie
Marie Alexine Lassalle was known to most as Tante Marie. Tante being the French word for aunt. She, was born in Ogeu les bains, France, in 1891. She came to America 19 Jun 1908, just a year after my Grandfather, Jean Lassalle.
As a single woman on her own in America, she had to provide for herself. There was a large French community in San Francisco which I’m sure Marie stayed connected to. It stands to reason, then, that her first job in America was as a worker in a French laundry. My relatives owned several of them.
By 1910, she was out of the laundry business and working as a maid for a private family. Her employers were the Lyons family of San Francisco.
Aiding the American War Effort
As I mentioned, Marie stayed close to her French roots. But, that didn’t stop her from taking the offer when America made the call.
You may not know that women held different positions aiding the U.S. military during World War I. The U.S. Army Signal Corp. was one area where women could serve.
There was a dire need for French translators. When a special call went out for women who could speak French, Marie sent in an application.
The Photograph is Evidence of Her Service
According to my dad, while employed by the Signal Corp., Marie was sent to France to work as a French translator. These translators were called “Hello Girls”.
According to the National Archives website, 1,750 women applied. 450 went through training, but only 233 were sent to France. These translators manned switchboards spending their hours translating French and English.
The photo in this article was taken around 1918 and shows Marie in her Signal Corp. uniform. Until now, it is the only evidence we have that she served.
I think she bears a slight resemblance to Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.
This photo shows 29 women who employed by the Signal Corp. This photo and this photo also show many of the women translators. Was Tante Marie one of them?
After The War She Remained on Her Own
I am sure that Marie must have had gentlemen friends. Though, the only whiff I’ve heard of this is from a cousin who told me that when a certain gentleman showed up for family dinners, Maria fled out the back door suddenly in need to get home.
As far as I know, she lived on her own the rest of her life. In 1920, she was living on her own in San Francisco. She worked as a seamstress at a clothing store.
My dad inferred that she worked at a beauty salon. He saved several old beauty salon catalogues showing the latest hairstyles and the weird contraptions used to achieve them. I’ve found no recorded evidence of this work, though.
Marie Eventually Became a U.S. Citizen
Though Marie served the United States in World War I, she didn’t petition the court to become a citizen until 1926. Perhaps she had thoughts of returning home to France. It may just be the busyness of life prevented her for doing so.
She became a citizen on 1 Feb 1932.
Marie passed away at the age of 76 on 2 Dec 1967.
A Little History of the Hello Girls
You can learn a little bit about the Signal Corp. in the article History of a Hello Girl by Michelle Christides.
This is an interesting bit of history and one repeated far too many times in the United States. Although they were seen as part of the military and achieved the rank of Lieutenant, the Hello Girls were not granted military benefits after their service.
They began to fight for their benefits in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1977 that those benefits were granted.
With this recognition, the Hello Girls earned the honor of being the Army’s first official female veterans.
That honor goes to you, Tante Marie!
You can read more about their service and the battle for benefits on the National Archives Pieces of History site.