D U e

Deliver Us from Evil
A Southern Belle in Europe at the Outbreak
of World War I
Mary W. Schaller
On August 1, 1914, as the Great War erupted in Europe and financial and physical
resources were realigned toward the war effort, some 120,000 American travelers
scattered across the Continent suddenly found themselves in the midst of a vast
warzone without means of escape. Among the stranded Americans was twenty-fiveyear-old Nancy Johnson, the daughter of influential U.S. Congressman Ben Johnson of
Kentucky. Using Nancy Johnson’s letters and photographs, her granddaughter Mary
W. Schaller recounts the harrowing chronicle of Johnson’s flight from war-torn Europe. Augmenting Johnson’s correspondence with original research into the plight of
American refugees, Schaller deftly constructs a remarkable tale of Johnson and others
for whom an idyllic European holiday descended without warning into a nightmarish
quest for survival.
A native of Bardstown, Kentucky, Johnson (1890–1982) had grown weary of five consecutive seasons of the Washington, D.C., social scene in her father’s shadow. In May
1914 she opted to undertake a modern Grand Tour of Europe with her friend Ethel Norris. Armed with letters of introduction written by President Woodrow Wilson, Johnson
and Norris anticipated lavish travels through Europe. The duo was in Switzerland en
route from Venice to Paris when they learned of the German declaration of war on Russia. With civilian train service to Paris cancelled, Johnson and Norris retreated to Venice,
where Johnson discovered that she could no longer cash checks at the Italian banks.
The young women struggled to reach Genoa, where a group of wealthy American
travelers, including Frederick Vanderbilt, were chartering ships for their fellow citizens.
Johnson and Norris were among the elite four hundred passengers on the first ship
to leave Genoa, but the two-week voyage home proved to be as tension-filled as the
flight that came before it. Their vessel was repeatedly stopped by British warships and
had to evade attack by German submarines. Despite her trials Johnson returned safely
to Washington in late August.
Deliver Us from Evil is one woman’s adventure of a lifetime set against the backdrop
of World War I, with all the drama and suspense of that volatile age.
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A native of Washington, D.C., Mary W.
Schaller is the award-winning author
and editor of sixteen books and plays,
which have collectively sold more than
one million copies worldwide. She lives
in Burke, Virginia, with her husband,
Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South
Carol Bleser, series editor
May 2011, 192 pages, 38 illus.
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