York Town Square

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Great War hero and pneumonia victim Jeannette Zinn of York: ‘She made the supreme sacrifice’

York native Jeannette Zinn died while serving with the YMCA in war-torn Europe in 1918. Background posts: From war bonds to pets and people and Spanish flu epidemic in York: ‘People died one right after the other’ and Easter in York County, 1919: Sadness, joy, hope.

In the months following World War I, Jeannette Zinn was feted as a war hero.
One source in the York County Heritage Trust files lists her as the first woman from York “to give her life for the great cause of freedom.”
It’s not clear if that means in all wars up to that point or in the Great War, as World War I was then called.
Clearly, women provided tremendous aid in previous wars. Cassandra Small Morris became ill, for example, after caring for Gettysburg wounded.
But she survived.
Unfortunately, not much is known about Jeannette Zinn… .

According to the Heritage Trust source, Clifford J. Hall and John P. Lehr’s “York County and the World War, 1914-1919:
She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Zinn of 452 West College Ave. and graduated as valedictorian and class poet in the York High School class of 1910.
She was known for her amateur theatrical work in benefit plays with the Girls’ Club.
She was working for C. H. Bear & Co. when America entered the Great War in 1917, and she became an enthusiastic war worker, captaining the winning team in the War Thrift Stamp contest.
Seeking a larger area of involvement, she enlisted in the Business Women’s Unit of the YMCA. She spent a week in New York and then sailed for England. Her destination was the Paris headquarters of the YMCA where a position awaited her.
But after reaching England, she died of pneumonia. It’s not known whether the pneumonia followed the Spanish flu virus, a pandemic at that time that particularly targeted young men and women. It savaged the military and associated services, where people stayed in close quarters.
In reporting her death, Hall and Lehr wrote that the record of her work would always be remembered by the people of York.
That turned out to be incorrect. Bear furnished a room in her memory at the Girls’ Club, but that organization is no longer visible in York.
Indeed, few know about her today, and the only other information in the York County Heritage Trust files lists her date of birth at 1892.
Still, Hall and Lehr boldly include her with the military men who died in World War I, and her name was listed with men who served and died in a special Gazette and Daily section in 1919. (Click here and her name can be detected at the end of the alphabetized list in the newspaper clipping, near the Withers brothers of York County, who were killed by a single shell.)
In fact, Hall and Lehr underscored her heroic death by stated a second time: “She made the supreme sacrifice, as did many of our brave comrades.”
For all those York Town Square posts relating to the Spanish flu, click here.