On the front lines in Berlin, 1919

Alexanderplatz with the downed overhead lines of the tram, 8.3.1919 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

Only a couple of Marguerite Harrison’s German reports have survived, but they give some indication of how she went about collecting information for the Military Intelligence Division.

Fluent in German, Marguerite poured over German newspapers and painstakingly translated articles she believed would be of interest to her commanders. One included an account of a lecture by sociologist and philosopher Max Weber. In that report, she offered to translate any newspaper clippings sent to her, saying such information was not only important for the spy services, but also for the American public. She offered to reach out to George Creel, head of the U.S. Committee on Public Information, to relay to him German news she thought should be passed on to American readers.

Harrison also drew upon her social connections and familiarity with the best families in the United States and Europe. In one report, she noted a that member of Chicago’s famed Marshall-Field family was married to a high-ranking German official and was pro-German in her sentiments.

Another report was chock-full of demographic and economic data, including reports on employment, factory and mine productions, mortality rates and food rations. Some of the information came from Germans who handed the data to Harrison. In that same report, she also presented her views on Americans living in Germany and what she considered suspicious statements they had made to her about their views on the war.

Harrison was not shy if offering her assessment of the viability of the German government and in sharing her personal experiences. She recounted in detail her experience living off German rations—a report that also made its way into an article she wrote for the Baltimore Sun.

She was aghast at the crude humor and sexuality displayed in the Berlin cabarets and she barely contained her contempt for the wealthy Germans who spent money on luxuries while the poor people starved.

“I never saw more wonderful ‘articles de luxe’ and jewelry than those in the shops here, and they are being bought at favulous [sic] prices by people who say, ‘If we don’t spend it the government will get it,’ They feel no responsibility toward the country or the people,” she reported.

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