For WWI centennial, city Of Malden adds African Americans and women to war memorial

The Malden WWI veterans memorial, dedicated in 1920. Photo: Courtesy Kevin Jarvis, City of Malden

By Lucas Smolcic Larson

For the first time in 100 years, the city of Malden will publicly honor local women and African-American World War I veterans who were not included in the city’s existing memorial.

Ahead of WWI centennial ceremonies on November 11, the city is adding two bronze plaques recognizing 2,292 Malden veterans left off of the monument when it was dedicated in 1920, including all of the local black and female veterans.

“I always took it for granted” that the memorial was complete, said Kevin Jarvis, the veteran’s services officer for the city of Malden. But preparing for the centennial, Jarvis realized the 527 people recognized on the memorial were only a fraction of the 2,819 names of Malden veterans he received from the Massachusetts WWI Centennial Commission last year.

By comparing these names to census data, city directories and death records, Jarvis found that the memorial now lists only white men who lived in Edgeworth, or Ward 2 of the city.

Edgeworth was an Irish-American neighborhood at the time.

Brigadier General Leonid Kondratiuk, chairman of the Massachusetts WWI Centennial Commission, dismissed the idea that racial or gender bias would have played a role in who was included on the original memorial. “That’s not Massachusetts,” he said. “If you’re a veteran, you’re a veteran, even back then.”

But the memorial currently lists no Malden women, about 46 of whom served in the war. In the case of one family, the Chapmans, three sisters — all nurses — worked on the front lines in France. The memorial was first dedicated on July 4, 1920, just one month before women won the right to vote in US elections under the 19th Amendment.

The draft cards of many Malden veterans list birthplaces outside the United States.

“A lot didn’t even speak English,” said Jarvis. “They were recent immigrants” who trained in bilingual battalions with instructors who spoke Italian, Swedish, Russian, and Yiddish.

African-American veterans from Malden, 25 of whom will be added to the memorial, also served in separate units, due to the Armed Forces’ official policy of segregation at that time.

“Because African Americans, when the war was over, were considered to be second-class citizens, they were not included on memorials” in many parts of the U.S., said Doran Cart, senior curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

The integrated Kansas City memorial was unique for its time. Cart says many smaller communities across the U.S. bought identical statues to memorialize their veterans, called Doughboys. “It was the typical Anglo representation of an Anglo soldier,” he said.

Malden hopes to distinguish itself from many cities in Massachusetts by creating an all-inclusive monument. “Hopefully we’ll have all the men and women on bronze plaques who served during WWI,” said Jarvis. “Malden’s got a lot to be proud of.”

Malden officials estimate the updates will cost $50,000. A fundraising campaign soliciting donations from local residents and businesses has the city close to this goal.

The memorial will be rededicated during a ceremony on Veterans Day, November 11, provided the city’s renovations stick to schedule.