DeForest Porter Willard diaries

Collection 3737

1884-1957, undated; bulk 1917-1919
(0.2 Linear feet ; 1 box)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Willard, DeForest Porter, 1884-1957.
DeForest Porter Willard diaries
1884-1957, undated; bulk 1917-1919
0.2 Linear feet ; 1 box
Finding aid prepared by James R. DeWalt.
Text (00015030) [Box]
DeForest P. Willard (1884-1957) was an orthopedic surgeon from Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and served in both London and France during the First World War treating casualties at several medical facilities and at the front. After his return to Philadelphia, Willard became a prominent physician in his field, married in 1926, and maintained a long and distinguished medical practice. The collection consists of four diaries: the first a collection of brief personal and professional entries that Willard maintained throughout his life, the other three (1917-1919) recording in much more detail his wartime service. A complete set of photocopies of the diaries is included with the original volumes. Researchers are encouraged to make use of these photocopies before consulting the original diaries.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], DeForest Porter Willard diaries (Collection 3737), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

DeForest P. Willard (1884-1957) was the son of prominent Philadelphia physician Dr. DeForest Willard (1846-1910) and Elizabeth Porter Willard. His father taught and practiced orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. DeForest P. Willard attended Penn Charter School and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, receiving his medical degree in 1908. He established his first practice in 1910, and in 1915 became instructor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army Officers Medical Reserve Corps, and was ordered into active service as a lieutenant. From May 1917 until December 1917 he served as surgeon at St. Katharine’s Lodge Hospital in London and at the Military Orthopaedic Hospital in Shepherd’s Bush, London. In December 1917 he was sent to France, where he served as an orthopedic consultant to various facilities near the front. In April 1918 he was assigned as head of the surgical team at the 42nd Division No. 1 Allied Expeditionary Force Hospital (Evacuation Hospital No. 1, Sebastopol Barracks) near Toul. He served also at hospitals in Vichy and Tours. After returning to America with the rank of major in 1919 he continued his practice of orthopedic surgery at hospitals in the Philadelphia region and in Wilmington, Delaware, and established private practice in Philadelphia at several locations during his career. In 1921 he was named professor of orthopaedic surgery and vice-dean of orthopaedics at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine. He married Margaretta Miller of Wilmington in 1926. Their marriage remained childless. During the latter part of his life, Willard was active in the Pennsylvania Medical Society (secretary 1930), Philadelphia Academy of Surgery (secretary 1931), Surgical Society of Pennsylvania (chairman 1932), American Orthopaedic Association (president 1934-1935), and held membership in several other professional medical associations. He retired from practice in 1951. Throughout his life Willard was also an avid traveler, sportsman and golfer. He died at his home in Brunswick, Georgia, on October 3, 1957, survived by his wife.

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Scope and contents note

The collection is comprised of four diaries created by Philadelphia orthopedic surgeon DeForest Porter Willard (1884-1957), including a Memorandum of Events in the Life of DeForest Porter Willard (Folder 1), consisting of brief entries concerning important events in his life: academic, professional, and personal, as well as major world events that Willard considered worthy of note. The other three diaries (Folders 1-2) are a more detailed account of Dr. Willard’s service as orthopedic surgeon in England and at the front in France during the First World War, from his departure for Europe on May 19, 1917 until his return to America on March 18, 1919. These diaries not only chronicle his professional service, but also recount impressions of daily life in a military hospital, surgical procedures conducted, military maneuvers and reaction of the civilian population, tours of the battlefields and personal recreation. The four diaries are accompanied by a full set of photocopied pages from all four volumes (Folders 3-5). Researchers are encouraged to consult these copies instead of the original diaries if possible. The diaries are generally easy to read, with clear handwriting, except in some instances in the Memorandum where much information is made to fit into a small space, since this was a commercially published work requiring monthly annotations. Abbreviations are often used, and date expressions, especially in the World War I diaries, often vary between American and European styles. Researchers should be careful not to confuse DeForest P. Willard with his father, Dr. DeForest Willard (1846-1910), who was also a prominent orthopedic surgeon.

The Memorandum records major events in Willard’s life, usually brief entries of a few words along with a date. Sometimes there are no entries for a month or more. Front matter records family history and vital information such as birth, baptism, childhood diseases, and the deaths of relatives, including the death of his only sibling, a sister Gladys, who was born and died on January 1, 1887. It is evident that the early entries were entered in another hand; by 1898 it seems that Willard is making all or most of his own entries, as evidence his great enthusiasm over the Spanish-American War. Standard entries during Willard’s childhood include education, illnesses, travel, and world events such as the Chicago World’s Fair. Especially noteworthy are insights into Willard’s personal life: He “swore off smoking” at the age of fourteen in February 1898, and that April “put on long trousers.” Willard continues to maintain the Memorandum throughout his life, recording academic achievements, medical positions held, professional memberships, publications, conferences, and more personal notes such as the acquisition of a new bicycle or automobile. During the latter part of the Memorandum Willard is making more entries concerning his life with wife Margaretta Miller, whom he married in 1926, usually mentioned in the text as “MMW.” Travel, especially to Europe and Central America, takes up much of their life together, and Willard writes more concerning his professional memberships. Extended travel to the Sea Islands of Georgia brought found him there in 1957. In February his personal entries conclude. A final entry is written by his wife. (“My darling husband left me Oct 3rd M.M.W.”)

The remaining three diaries give an account of Dr. Willard’s military career in England and France from 1917 until 1919. Contents are arranged as follows: May 19, 1917 to October 31, 1917; November 1, 1917 to October 31, 1918; and November 1, 1918 to March 19, 1919. The London portion of the diaries, when he was stationed at St. Katharine’s Lodge Hospital, ends when he is transferred to France in December 1917. Willard uses both American and European conventions in dating, even in the same date expression, resulting in some confusion. The entries are clearly written, and the open arrangement of the bound volumes allows him to devote much more attention to detail and incident than in the Memorandum. These accounts present a truly insightful and engaging account of the daily life of a surgeon close to the front lines of the battlefield during the war. Willard describes conditions of travel, military training, and daily life among the officers, including recreation (baseball, bridge), and the not infrequent tours of the French countryside. He devotes great attention to surgical procedures and methods throughout. He also recounts major incidents of the war such as the German bombing of London in June 1917, the French July 14 celebrations, and the effects of the armistice on the population. The last months of Dr. Willard’s assignment in France are spent touring several battlefields, which he describes in some detail. Willard presents a humane and thoughtful appraisal of the war and its effects on soldiers and citizenry. He recounts the horrors of war and recognizes the need for both physical and psychological rehabilitation, but it is clear from his entries that he has no doubt concerning the moral correctness of the Allied cause. These war diaries will be useful primarily as an account of daily life and procedures in a World War I military hospital, and for the personal insights offered by a prominent and well-placed witness to those events.

Researchers should note especially added end matter in some of the volumes. In the volume November 1917 to October 1918: poems recited at Memorial Day ceremonies, account of an American offensive with news clipping attached, allied and German offensives, Christmas card list, medical procedures; in volume November 1918 to March 1919: last French communiqué (in French) and list of important dates of travel and assignment locations, useful in reconstructing chronology.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2015.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107


Open to researchers without restrictions.


Gift of George P. Bissell, Jr., 1995.

Accession number

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Related Materials

Related collections

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Willard family papers (Collection 1444)

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Bissell, George P., Jr.


  • Medical Profession--Surgery--Pennsylvania--20th century
  • University of Pennsylvania--Medical College
  • World War, 1914-1918--France--Personal accounts
  • World War, 1914-1918--Great Britain--Personal accounts
  • World War, 1914-1918--Hospitals

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