Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Benjamin A. Furman Collection, 1917-1919

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, August 2012

Summary Information
Title: Benjamin A. Furman collection
Creator: Furman family
Inclusive dates: 1917-1919
Extent: 0.5 linear feet
This collection is primarily made up of 1st Lieutenant Benjamin A. Furman's outgoing correspondence during his service as a United States Army surgeon in France and Germany between August 1917 and early 1919, as well as picture postcards that Furman collected during his time in Europe. Furman discussed his voyage to Europe, work at an evacuation hospital, encounters with wounded African American soldiers, and postwar travels.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by D. N. Diedrich, 2004. M-4335.3.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Benjamin A. Furman Collection, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Subseries I: Benjamin A. Furman Letters to His Parents
  • Subseries II: Other Correspondence
  • Series II: Photographs
  • Series III: Printed Ephemera and Maps
  • Series IV: Picture Postcards

The correspondence subseries are arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


Benjamin Applegate Furman was born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 18, 1883, the son of John Applegate Furman and Emma Conover Ayres. He had four siblings: Edna, Robert, Edith, and John, Jr. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1906, he earned a medical degree from Columbia University in 1910. He worked for Presbyterian Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, from 1914-1963, and concurrently owned a private practice. Furman joined the United States Army before August 1917, served as a surgeon with the 407th Telegraph Battalion and the 2nd Evacuation Hospital in France between August 1917 and April 1919, and was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant. On September 27, 1919, he married Helen Mary Pryor; they had two sons, John Pryor and Robert Ayres. Benjamin A. Furman died on June 22, 1967.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection is made up of 119 letters, most of them written by 1st Lieutenant Benjamin A. Furman during his service as a United States Army surgeon in France and Germany between August 1917 and early 1919; 2 photographs; approximately 290 picture postcards that Furman collected during his time in Europe; and 2 printed items. Furman discussed his voyage to Europe, work at an evacuation hospital, encounters with wounded African American soldiers, and postwar travels.

The Benjamin A. Furman Letters to His Parents subseries contains 97 letters that Furman sent to John A. and Emma C. Furman of Newark, New Jersey, about his experiences in the United States Army between August 1917 and March 1919. His letters form the majority of a numbered series that originally contained at least 87 items, plus additional unnumbered letters and postcards. In his earliest letters, Furman described his voyage from the United States to Europe, which included a close encounter with a German submarine, and his experiences with the 407th Telegraph Battalion. In July 1918, he transferred to the 2nd Evacuation Hospital, where he regularly treated patients suffering from wounds acquired at the front lines. On one occasion, Furman copied a portion of a soldier's letter about injuries sustained from a grenade explosion (August 11, 1918). By October 1918, he reported increased admissions of soldiers with illnesses, which included numerous cases of the mumps and the Spanish influenza. Furman occasionally treated African American soldiers and repeatedly shared his admiration for their bravery and dedication. After the war, he witnessed the plight of released British prisoners of war (November 17, 1918) and discussed his travels in France, which included a visit to no man's land. Furman spent much of early 1919 in Germany, and described trips to Koblenz, Köln, and cities across France.

The Other Correspondence subseries (22 items) is comprised of similar outgoing letters from Furman to other acquaintances, such as his brother John, friends, and a Boy Scout Troop. Several friends wished Furman good luck in a photographic postcard postmarked February 1918; the image depicts a building at Princeton University, his alma mater. Furman received a small number of other letters from friends in the United States during the war.

Two Photographs include a cabinet card portrait of Leon Unger, an American physician who also served in the war, and a snapshot photograph, which apparently depicts Benjamin Furman with his motorized ambulance and driver.

The Printed Ephemera and Map series contains an advertisement for the Hotel Atlantic & Annexe in Nice, France, and a map of the city of Nice.

Throughout his time in Europe, Benjamin A. Furman collected around 290 Picture Postcards of buildings and scenery in France and western Germany. He organized most of the postcards by place or region, and added brief notes.

Subject Terms

    • African American soldiers.
    • Cologne (Germany)--Description and travel.
    • France--Description and travel.
    • Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919.
    • Koblenz (Germany)--Description and travel.
    • Surgery, Military.
    • Transatlantic voyages.
    • United States. Army. Evacuation Hospital, 2nd.
    • World War, 1914-1918--France.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Hospitals.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Medical care.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Participation, African American.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Prisoners and prisons, British.
    • World War, 1914-1918--United States.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Ambulances.
    • France--1910-1920.
    • Germany--1910-1920.
    • Liverpool (England)
    • Princeton University.
    • Unger, Leon.
    • Furman, Benjamin Applegate, 1883-1967.
    Genre Terms:
    • Advertisements.
    • Cabinet photographs.
    • Card photographs (photographs)
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Maps.
    • Photographic postcards.
    • Photographs.
    • Picture postcards.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Benjamin A. Furman Letters to His Parents [subseries]
    Box   1 Folders   1-13
     August 16, 1917-March 30, 1919, and  undated
    Other Correspondence [subseries]
    Box   1 Folders   14-16
     December 25, 1917-March 4, 1919, and  undated
    Photographs [series]
    Box   1 Folder   17
    Printed Ephemera and Map [series]
    Box   1 Folder   18
    Picture Postcards [series]
    Box   1 Folders   19-22
    Additional Descriptive Data

    "Furman, Benjamin A." The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Volume 53. New York: James T. White and Company, 1971. 620.