Dr. Cynthia Wachtell, research associate professor of American studies and director of the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College for Women, delivered a lecture titled “The Lost Author of a Lost Classic: Ellen N. La Motte and The Backwash of War” in November 2017 at “Women and World War I,” an international conference sponsored by the Slovenian Research Agency and held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Gorizia, Italy.

Ellen Newbold La Motte, born in 1873, was a trained nurse, public health advocate and administrator, suffragette, journalist, anarchist, expatriate in Gertrude Stein’s Paris circle, lesbian and war nurse. The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse was a short story collection about her experiences in World War I.

“In graduate school, I came across The Backwash of War in the course of my dissertation research and was deeply disheartened that such an extraordinary work had slid into literary obscurity. The book has fascinated me ever since, and I also have grown ever more interested in the accomplishments of its author. My lecture also traced the book’s publication, reception and censorship in the United States, England and France.”

She also contributed a major essay on antiwar writing, as well as three shorter essays, to the newly published volume Opposition to War: An Encyclopedia of U.S. Peace and Antiwar Movements. “I contributed a linchpin essay on American antiwar literature, from the colonial period to the present, and shorter essays on Mark Twain (an outspoken opponent of the the Philippine-American War and a prominent anti-imperialist), Jeannette Rankin (a prominent suffragist, peace activist and the first woman elected to Congress) and Madeleine Doty (a co-founder of the Woman’s Peace Party).”

“My research centers upon American antiwar literature, in its many manifestations,” Wachtell said. “I am interested in the overall development of the genre as well as individual works, such as La Motte’s long-overlooked The Backwash of War.”

Comments are closed.