Humphrey Joseph Sullivan

No. 13104 Humphrey Joseph Sullivan

Photograph contained in an album at the Dorchester Historical Society of about 150 photos kept by Nathaniel R. Perkins, MD, who examined thousands of men who were going into the war, 1914-1918. Given by Mrs N. R. Perkins in accordance with instructions from her late husband, Dr. Nathaniel P. Perkins of 1122 Adams St, Dorchester. Index catalog has entries for the individuals.

Humphrey Sullivan 1st Lieut ? Enlisted at Plattsburg sailed for France figured in many battles, been gassed

Humphrey Joseph Sullivan.  Written by Camille Arbogast.

Humphrey Joseph Sullivan was born January 31, 1884, at 5 Putnam Street in Charlestown. His parents were Bostonians of Irish descent who married in 1880. Five of their children died in infancy or young childhood. In addition to Humphrey, seven children survived to adulthood: Estelle born in 1881, John in 1885, Mary in 1888, Eugene in 1890, Maurice in 1894, Sylvester in 1900, and Catherine in 1906.

Living with the Sullivans at 5 Putnam Street was Humphrey’s maternal grandfather, John Farrell, a Navy veteran, who had been a Man-O’-War’s-man during the Seminole and Mexican Wars and who was awarded two Medals of Honor for “Gallant Conduct.” After 20 years’ service at sea, he was appointed Ship Keeper at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where he remained for 30 years. A profile of John Farrell, written when he was 91, noted that the grandchildren he lived with “contribute greatly to his happiness in his declining years.”

Humphrey’s father, Eugene S. Sullivan, was the Master Plumber of the Charlestown Navy Yard. In the late 1880s, Eugene was appointed superintendent of the Mystic Water Works in Medford, a position which paid as much as $2,500 a year. The Water Works was a political career as well as a professional one, and Eugene was active in the local Democrat party. In 1900, due to changes in the water system, he was laid off. That year, the census reported he was a real estate broker. His career in the Water Department was not yet over; in early 1902, Mayor Patrick Collins appointed him the Boston Water Commissioner, with a salary of $5,000 a year. He served until January 1906, when he resigned upon the election of John. F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald as mayor.

While his father was Water Commissioner, Humphrey attended Harvard College. He was a student at Harvard through his sophomore year, the fall of 1902 until the spring of 1904. He transferred to Boston University and graduated with a “Bachelor of Laws” (LLB) in 1907.

That year, his family moved to 41 Tremlett Street in Dorchester. After leaving the Water Department, his father was involved in a number of business ventures, including serving as the president of the James Flynn Architectural Iron Works Company of 60 and 62 Devonshire Street, Boston, manufacturers of “architectural iron.” In 1910, the family moved to 15 Wyoming Street in Roxbury. By 1911, they were back in Dorchester, having purchased 15 Englewood Street.

After college, Humphrey lived with his family. In 1909, he appeared in the Boston directory as a reporter. In 1910, the year his family moved to Roxbury and Humphrey moved to Oklahoma City. A 1911 newspaper article found him in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on the job as the publicity agent of the Pioneer Telephone Company. In December 1912, he was hired as the publicity agent of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and lived in Saint Louis, Missouri. The company’s female telephone operators attempted to organize the next year, and Humphrey, as Southwestern Bell’s mouthpiece, had to explain the company’s actions to reporters. Asked about the firing of union employees, Sullivan told a reporter, “Many of the girls have become so enthusiastic over the union that they have neglected their duty as operators” and were fired due to incompetency.

In the summer of 1917, Humphrey helped to organize a battalion made up entirely of Bell Telephone employees from Missouri, Kansas and Texas, the 10th Reserve Telegraph Battalion (later the 412th Telegraph Battalion), Signal Corps. The battalion was “comprised of practical telegraph men” and was “quipped to construct and operate telegraph and telephone lines.” Southwestern Bell promised that men would be given a leave of absence “for such periods as may be necessary to comply with the orders of the Secretary of War, either for active service or for instruction,” and during that time they would receive full pay and retain eligibility to benefits. On July 17, the battalion began thirteen weeks of training in Leon Springs, outside of San Antonio, Texas. Four days later, Humphrey was commissioned a First Lieutenant and Adjutant of the battalion and assigned to General Headquarters. He sailed overseas on January 11, 1918, leaving from Hoboken, New Jersey and arriving in Liverpool, England. The battalion was in camp in Winchester, England, until January 26, when they travelled to France, landing at Le Havre.

After training in southern France, they built the main telegraph system from the American General Headquarters at Chaumont to Dijon, along the road to Bordeaux. A letter Humphrey wrote to his boss at Southwestern Bell reached the St. Louis newspapers, which published his humorous tale of St. Louis boys trying to improve their French language skills during lessons in the homes of pretty French girls. Humphrey also wrote of “banging along a slush-covered road in a side car;” of his realization that nearly all Frenchmen, no matter how old or infirm, were in uniform; and his observation that Frenchwomen were left do everything else, including plowing fields, driving oxen, and working as freight handlers for the United States Army.

In late April, the battalion was attached to the British Second and Fourth Army, then fighting in Amiens. In June 1918, Humphrey was transferred “to the photographic section of the Army,” and was attached to the 3rd Army Corps. During the summer, he was slightly gassed during an attack and spent time in a hospital recovering. His engagements included the Soissons Front, Aisne Defensive (Chateau-Thierry), and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the Armistice, he was with the Army of Occupation in Germany. He returned to the United States on April 25, 1919, sailing from Brest, France, on the USS Cap Finisterre. The ship arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on May 5. Humphrey was discharged later that month in Washington, D.C.

After the war, Humphrey returned to St. Louis. His 1921 Harvard Class report stated he was a real estate broker. By 1922, he was head of the American Legion’s news service, and the personal representative of the Legion’s commander. In this role, Humphrey advocated on behalf of disabled veterans. In a Letter to the Editor, he wrote about “a real man, a real patriot, … at home among the people who for one reason or another, good or bad, saw no fighting. He has been told that he is entitled to the eternal gratitude of these his countrymen. Well, just now he’s interested in getting another leg.” Bureaucracy, red tape, and incompetency kept this veteran from the treatment he needed. At an American Legion conference in San Francisco, Humphrey blasted General Sawyer, President Harding’s personal physician and head of the Federal Board of Hospitalization, for “attempting to economize at the expense of the wounded ex-service men,” and for delays in building new hospitals for veterans that had been approved by Congress. Humphrey remained active in the American Legion for many years.

Around 1924, he married Elizabeth Druce, who had been born in Colorado in 1894 to Scottish parents. Humphrey and Elizabeth had two children, Humphrey Junior born in 1925 and Stewart in 1929. They settled in the Chicago area and Humphrey continued to work in public relations and real estate. In 1940, the census reported he was an appraiser for Cook County, making $3,802 a year. In 1942, he reported that his employer was the U.S. Savings and Loan League in Chicago. It is possible that he was the Humphrey Sullivan of Chicago who, in the 1950s, was the Assistant to the Director of the Illinois State Agency of Civil Defense, and who frequently spoke about Civil Defense at community meetings in the Chicago area.

Humphrey Sullivan died on March 26, 1960. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and sons.


Birth Record, Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts,

Family Tree;

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 Federal Census;

“Hero’s Record,” Boston Globe, 26 February 1901, 6;

“Funeral Services for Eugene S. Sullivan,” Boston Globe, 31 August 1925, 10;

“To Fill Place,” Boston Globe, 15 March 1902, 1;

“Department Shaken,” Boston Globe, 28 June 1895, 7;

“116 More Men Dropped from the Water Department.” Boston Globe, 10 May 1900, 1;

The University Council, ed. Boston University Year Book, Vol XXXIII. Boston: University Offices, 1906, 27;

Secretary’s First Report, Harvard Class of 1906. Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1907;

Harvard Alumni Association, Harvard University Directory, Cambridge: Harvard University, 1910; 654;

“The Man on the Street,” The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, OK), 8 Jan 1911, 7;

“Hires Phone Press Agent,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 Dec 1912, 7;

“Bell Phone Men Fired at Railway Exchange Building,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 9 May 1913, 1;

Harvard College Class of 1906 Secretary’s Third Report. Cambridge, MA: Crimson Printing Co., 1916;

Mead, Frederick S., ed. Harvard´s Military Record in the World War, Boston: MA: Harvard Alumni Association, 1921, 922;

“70 St. Louisans in Signal Unit Start for Texas Tonight,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 July 1917, 4;

Lists of Outgoing & Incoming Passengers, 1917-1938.  Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, The National Archives at College Park, Maryland;

“Highly Exciting Lessons in French Told of in Letter from St. Louisan.” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 May 1918, 3;

“Lieutenant Sullivan Gassed,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 Sept 1918, 10;

“64 St. Louisans Among Arrivals at Newport News,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 March 1919, 5;

Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Vol 22, Boston, MA: Harvard Alumni Association, September 25, 1919, 694;

Class of 1906 15th Anniversary Report (No 4); Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1921, 324;

Letter to Editor, St Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 April 1920, 20;

United Press, “Charges Made at Meeting of Disabled Veterans,” Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, IL) 29 June 1922, 3;

20th Anniversary Report Harvard College Class of 1906 (No 5), University Press, 1926; 285;

United States, Selective Service System. Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Fourth Registration. Records of the Selective Service System, Record Group Number 147. National Archives and Records Administration;


Letter to the Editor, The Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL) 30 May 1954, 8;


Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland.




Posted on

April 11, 2022

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