World War I offered teenagers many opportunities to be killed, maimed, or shell shocked. The chance for heroism didn’t preclude the first two options. Jack Cornwell, a fifteen-year-old sailor, became famous by dying bravely, and eighteen-year-old pilot Alan McLeod passed away months after inhaling smoke during a heroic fight and rescue; the fumes may have weakened his lungs and made him susceptible to the influenza that killed him.
There aren’t any household names on this list, although the great violinist Jascha Heifetz may be known to some of you.
1910: MARY PHELPS JACOB, eighteen
While brassieres had existed in various forms, Jacob is often credited with creating the first modern bra in 1910. Dressing for a big night out, the New Yorker ditched her usual corset, a constrictive undergarment that extended from below the breasts to the hips, for something new. Jacob took two silk handkerchiefs, some ribbon and cord, and fashioned a lightweight undergarment far less cumbersome than a corset. Jacob soon started sewing bras for friends and family members and received a patent for her creation in 1914. ALSO: Fanny Brice, eighteen, made her Ziegfeld Follies debut, charming audiences with her comic songs and offbeat characterizations. Barbra Streisand portrayed Brice in 1968’s Funny Girl.
1911: RODRIGUEZ CARPIO, eighteen
Carpio served as a guide and supplied fourteen mules for Hiram Bingham’s famed voyage to the ancient Inca site at Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru. Machu Picchu was built late in the 15th century and abandoned a century later.
1912: JOSEPH KALLUS, seventeen
Artist Rose O’Neill originated the popular Kewpie image, but it was Kallus who sculpted the first bisque (a form of porcelain) dolls. The Borgfeldt Company of New York hired Kallus to sculpt doll images and cast the molds. ALSO: Rayna Kasabova, fifteen, became the first woman to take part in a combat air mission when she dropped propaganda leaflets over what is now Edirne, Turkey, during the First Balkan War. She was a member of the Bulgarian Air Force.
1913: HANNAH SILVERMAN, seventeen
One of the most visible figures in the 1913 silk-worker’s strike in Paterson, New Jersey, Silverman was a seventeen-year-old firebrand who endured three arrests and led more than a thousand of her cohorts on a fifteen-mile march to New York City to generate support for the worker’s cause. Industrial Workers of the World founder Bill Haywood called Silverman the “greatest little IWW woman in America,” and labor leader Helen Gurley Flynn called her “the heroine of this strike. Some 24,000 workers had walked off their jobs, shutting down three hundred silk mills, but the six-month strike ended in defeat for the workers.
1914: ERICH KORNGOLD, seventeen
The Viennese prodigy was just seventeen when he completed the one-act operas Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta in 1914; they debuted two years later at the National Theatre Munich. Mahler and Richard Strauss called young Korngold a “genius” and Puccini said, “He has so much talent that he could give half of it away and still have enough left for himself.”
1915: ÉMILIENNE MOREAU, seventeen
A great French heroine of World War I, Moreau provided key intelligence and medical aid to Scottish soldiers attempting to liberate the city of Loos from German control. No passive patriot, she tossed grenades to ward off enemy solders and shot two Germans who were advancing on her first-aid station. She received the Croix de Guerre for her heroism.
1916: JACK CORNWELL, sixteen
During the World War I Battle of Jutland, Cornwell remained at his naval post despite a shell splinter in his chest that would kill him. His ship, the HMS Chester, took seventeen hits from 150mm shells launched by German cruisers; fourteen British and eleven German ships would sink in the North Sea near Denmark. Cornwell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest honor for military valor in the face of the enemy. That year the British Boy Scouts adopted the Jack Cornwell Scout Badge and elementary schools celebrated September 30 as Jack Cornwell Day.
1917: JASCHA HEIFETZ, sixteen
Called “the greatest violinist who ever lived” by Itzhak Perlman, Heifetz left mouths agape with his New York, Carnegie Hall debut. “This Russian boy is beyond all possibility of cavil a divinely inspired marvel – the supremest genius of the violin,” wrote one critic. Born in Lithuania, then a part of Russia, Heifetz became an American citizen in 1925 and traveled an estimated two million miles on concert tours. Artists, authors, and other musicians were among his most spellbound admirers. After playing a London concert at age sixteen, Heifetz received a letter from playwright George Bernard Shaw that said, “No mortal should presume to play so faultlessly.”
1918: ALAN McLEOD, eighteen
The youngest Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, McLeod was a bomber pilot who took on eight World War I German Fokker triplane fighters in northern France. He shot down three of the enemy planes and took five bullets before his plane caught fire. McLeod made a crash landing and braved a machine-gun assault while pulling his observer from the burning wreckage of the plane. He dragged his comrade to safety before collapsing from exhaustion and loss of blood. He received the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor offered by the British and Commonwealth armed forces. Back home in Canada, the war hero contracted influenza and died in November of 1918. It’s possible that smoke inhalation during his heroic fight and rescue had weakened his lungs and made him susceptible to the disease.
1919: Dorothy Smith Cummings, sixteen
A native of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, Smith Cummings began entering archery competitions at age of nine and won the first of seven National Archery Association Women’s titles in 1919. She won again in 1921, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1931. Smith Cummings was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 1974.