Back Ellen N. La Motte, “Heroes”

Ellen N. La Motte (1873–1961)
From War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar and Peace Writing

Mary Borden-Turner, who recruited Ellen La Motte as an army hospital nurse on the front, receives wounded soldiers from an ambulance. (Jane Conway /

During the opening months of the World War I, Ellen Newbold La Motte met the future novelist Mary Borden, who convinced her to work at a French army field hospital that Borden had established about six miles from the front. La Motte’s best-selling book, The Backwash of War (published 100 years ago, in 1916), is drawn from those experiences, but it was suppressed after the United States entered the war because the unflinching descriptions of battleground injuries were considered “damaging to the morale.”

After the war La Motte devoted her energies to combating the scourge of opium trafficking and was awarded by both the Chinese Nationalist government and the Japanese Red Cross for her work. She also became a writer of short stories, publishing two collections; one of her stories was selected for the annual Best American Short Stories series in 1919.

For our Story of the Week selection we revisit her earlier work and present the opening vignette from The Backwash of War, describing the hospital staff’s efforts to nurse a soldier who had attempted to commit suicide.

Read “Heroes” by Ellen N. La Motte

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