Monday, October 3, 2016


Florence Taber Holt is a bit of a mystery.  I know only a few basic facts. She married Henry Holt in 1886, he was an author and president of Henry Holt & Company, publishers. They had six children, three sons and three daughters. I could not find any information relating to the dates of Florence’s birth and death.*  She gained recognition in the United States as a poet. She wrote two plays relating to the first year of World War One.

These two one-act plays were published in one volume in February, 1918 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The publisher provided five editions of this work in that year.  The first play is titled They the Crucified and the second is Comrades.  A newspaper article on June 18, 1918 in the Burlington Free Press, Burlington, Vermont states: “this volume has been highly praised, as ‘two plays typical of incidents of the war in France and Belgium, presented with poignancy and dramatic power.’  Mrs. Holt’s proceeds from the sales will be given to the war relief fund.” 

They the Crucified is set “somewhere in France on a hot late afternoon and evening in June, 1915.”  The place is the living-room of an old farmhouse in northern France. Two old men in peasant costumes are sitting in front of the fireplace—one is The Old Farmer and the other is The Maker of Crosses from Belgium, who is following the soldiers in order to place a cross on the grave of each fallen man no matter his nationality. He is also searching for his daughter.  Both men have lost nearly all their children during the early days of the war. 

The Maker of Crosses’s daughter as well as The Old Farmer’s daughter were taken by German soldiers in separate incidents.   There is a teenage girl who has a baby with light color hair like the enemy soldiers, who lives with The Old Farmer.  She is named The Girl. Another female arrives at the farm house called The Woman. There is even a German spy involved in the story. I do not wish to give away this intriguing plot and the final suspenseful pages of the script. I found the story to be a heart gripping drama.

Comrades is the second play in the book. This one-act play has two scenes. Scene I takes place in the garden of Count de Montpalet’s chateau outside of Brussels.  The time is the summer of 1914.  Claire de Montpalet is a girl of sixteen and a half years. German soldiers occupy the chateau and Claire makes friends with a young German officer named Fritz von Beckner, who has a sister at home in Bavaria the same age as Claire. These two characters have a friendly conversation that covers several pages as they establish a relationship as “comrades”. The meaning of comrade for these two individuals is that during a direr situation one commits the act the other one requests.

During the course of this play, Florence Taber Holt makes a point of clearly delineating between Von Beckner and Colonel Goltz, the Commander of his unit.  Von Beckner declares that the Colonel is “no German—.” Claire then states “He’s a Prussian!”  Von Beckner: “Not like the Germans I know; they’ve hearts!” This exchange could have provided a significant message for the American reader in 1918 since there had been a major immigration of German people between 1840 through 1890 to the United States.  German immigration continued to rise at a rate faster than that of any other immigration group till 1920.* Holt apparently was sensitive to painting an entire nationality with a negative, cruel image.

After Claire and Von Beckner establish their relationship as comrades, problems relating to her father and the military occupants begin to infringe on the scene.  Count de Montpalet is accused of being a spy and eventually taken away by soldiers. Before the scene ends it is disclosed by Claire to Von Beckner that Colonel Goltz has evidence against her family.

Scene II is a dark room late that night.  It is where Claire is sleeping. Colonel Goltz enters the room with a plan to rape her before killing her as a spy. Von Beckner, who has been sent on a mission, returns unexpectedly and carries through with his vow as her comrade. This play has a very melodramatic ending, but it illustrates that all German soldiers were not cruel and heartless.

Another point made by these two plays signified how civilians needed protection and assistance beyond what was available during the first year of the war.  Since They the Crucified and Comrades were published after the United States had entered the war, their messages reinforced the need for the United States to assist the European Allies in their endeavor to end the war.

The publication of these two plays was widely announced in newspapers across the United States, but I found no articles referring to readings or performances. In the years following the war, when new poems appeared by Florence Taber Holt, They the Crucified and Comrades were mentioned to remind readers of her earlier achievements.
·         This information is available online: 

       NOTE: I have received the dates relating to Florence Taber Holt's birth
        and death from a distant relative. Florence Holt was born in 1859 and
        she died in 1947. 
       (Note added to post 10/18/16)

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