History Bytes: War Camp Community Service

October 3, 2018

Newport’s War Camp Community Service at 83 Mill Street. Samuel Kerschner photograph collection, NHS.

The moral and physical state of the troops was very much on the mind of the American Government, so shortly after the United States entered WWI, the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities was created to help coordinate wholesome recreational and education activities. The Commission worked with existing agencies who were already working to support the troops and, when necessary, supplemented their activities. One of these existing agencies was the Playground and Recreation Association of America, who at the request of the Commission established the War Camp Community Service (WCCS). Most of the existing war support organizations concentrated their efforts overseas or in the camps. The WCCS took on the task of supporting the troops and their families outside of the camps through the fostering of community hospitality and recreation. By 1918 Newport had established a branch of the War Camp Community Service with offices at 209 Thames Street, and later at 83 Mill Street. The Newport committee was led by Clark Burdick, chairman; Mrs. French Vanderbilt, vice chairman; Dr. Norman M. MacLeod, secretary; Hugh B. Baker, treasurer; and Charles H. Strong, director.

Some of the work conducted included hosting dances and dinners for citizens and soldiers; providing places for families and loved ones of soldiers to stay and places to socialize; organizing athletics, providing access to books, movies, and the theater. The work of the WCCS continued after armistice, in January 1919 the Newport WCCS financially backed the conversion of the Lafayette Theatre on Washington Square (now the Jane Pickens) as the new Community Theatre, where four performances a week would be offered. (Providence News, January 11, 1919).

Newporter spotlight: Dr. Norman M. MacLeod was the son of Angus MacLeod, co-founder of Newport’s The Boston Store of King & MacLeod Co. Dr. MacLeod practiced as a pediatrician and was instrumental in establishing the first children’s’ ward at Newport Hospital. In 1914 he was named the hospital’s city superintendent, the first regular physician to take that position since the founding of the hospital.