The Canteeners from Wells College were part of the YMCA program that sent alumnae overseas during the First World War, ten to a unit, stationed at various canteens in groups of two. Members were to be college graduates, over the age of 25. All had to fulfill the other qualifications imposed by the YMCA.

The YMCA group conducted canteens, and before the armistice was signed, devoted itself to entertaining and encouraging the soldiers who came for rest from the fighting front. The women’s sole duty (unlike the women who worked for the Red Cross, whose work had to do with aiding the sick and wounded soldiers) was to cheer up the boys. The YMCA job meant service, and keeping  the soldiers morale up was first and foremost. They planned entertainment and kept everyone interested and busy. They arranged movies, the entertainment for the camps, exchanged the money for the troops, sent home remittances for the boys, and ran the stores, as well as aiding in religious work.

When the American soldier had been fighting in the trenches for a certain length of time, they were granted seven days leave. They couldn’t go home, so they were sent somewhere as close to home as possible – where there were American girls to look at, to talk to, and to dance with. For all the soldiers’ amusements, they went to the Y, where they bought food between meals, talked to the Y girls, read books, wrote letters, played games, went sightseeing and danced. Such were the general characteristics of a leave area, though each leave area had its own peculiar and distinctive atmosphere.

The majority of the contents of the Wells College Canteeners Collection are letters that the Wells Canteener women sent home from abroad. The remainder of the collection contains newspaper articles which describe their work and living conditions, as well as the article entitled The Y Girl in the Leave Area.

More information can be found in the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro ’12

October 2011