Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Theatre Folks Do Their Bit

The Stage Women’s War Relief was founded during WWI by Rachel Crothers, one of Broadway’s most successful playwrights. Selling war bonds, collecting clothing, and providing entertainment for troops during the conflict, the organization later helped veterans and civilians recover from the effects of the war before disbanding in 1919.

Two years before the U.S. entered the World War II, the federal government asked Crothers to reactivate the group. Renamed the American Theatre Wing, volunteers raised money and supplies to aid British citizens. After Pearl Harbor, ATW turned its focus to the American home front and created the Stage Door Canteen. 

Recruiting was a serious business with candidates being told they would be expected to work for the duration of the war and would be obligated to provide substitutes if they had to miss a shift. Director Ruth Cowl informed them “These men are going to the Philippines. They are going to the Burma Road. Nothing is too good for them.” True to their word, the Canteen was open to servicemen of all Allied nations regardless of race and was the only facility in all of New York City that was not segregated.

Producer Lee Shubert donated the use of the 44th Street Theatre in New York City to the organization, and it was quickly renovated to accommodate as many as 500 servicemen per shift who were offered food and non-alcoholic drinks, dancing and entertainment. The men could also “hob nob” with celebrities who served, cleaned up, and worked in the kitchen. No small feat considering that on any given night the Canteen distributed 2,000 sandwiches, 3,000 slices of cake or doughnuts, 1,000 half-pints of milk, 80 gallons of fruit juice, and more than 5,000 cigarettes.

What’s the biggest event you’ve ever helped with?

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, blogger, and history geek. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a Trustee for her local public library. Active in her church Linda serves as treasurer, usher, and choir member. To find out more about Linda and her books visit http://www.LindaShentonMatchett.com. Sign up for her newsletter for links to free ebooks, book reviews, historical tidbits, and more.


  1. Thanks for sharing Linda. I haven't done anything big as far as preparing food for hundreds, but have been on committees for special fundraising events that draw in hundreds.

  2. Certainly nothing compared to this but I organized a book fair for our library. There were 24 authors who came to meet the public and offer their books for sale. We are in a rural community in Kentucky and we had authors from all over the state agree to come!
    Thanks for a great pisy. I always enjoy learning a historical happening!