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Nurses We Remember

Clara D. Noyes

by Roger Noyes, Slingerlands, NY (rlnoyes@gmail.com). He is the great-great nephew of Clara D. Noyes.

ClaraPromopressphotoWell before the U.S. entered World War I, the War Department and its medical auxiliary, the American Red Cross, sought a carefully guided process to recruit nurses for a global cause – caring for sick, wounded and dying soldiers at home and abroad.

American Red Cross Nursing Service Director Jane Delano had already begun this monumental effort; but she desperately needed help. “The work has grown to such proportions during the last two years that it seems to me most unsafe to have only one person with a knowledge of its various ramifications,” wrote Delano in a 1916 letter to Clara D. Noyes, the 46-year-old leader of Bellevue Hospital’s Nursing School in New York City.

The letter mounted a vigorous appeal. “There is a tremendous piece of work to be done and your country certainly needs you,” Delano pleaded, coaxing Noyes to join her in Washington.

By training, by aptitude, and by circumstance, Clara Noyes – my great-great-aunt and the subject of my new book, Clara D. Noyes, R.N.: Life of a Global Nursing Leader – was the ideal candidate to help lead what became the first large-scale mobilization of women (20,000 in all) to serve in wartime. Noyes had trained at the revered Johns Hopkins nursing program in Baltimore; she had proven her executive mettle running several nursing schools; and she had entered the upper ranks of organized nursing’s first professional associations, a network of like-minded peer nursing leaders whom she could call upon to further cultivate and help swell nursing’s ranks for wartime service.


Noyes was meticulous, conscientious and, above all, a staunch defender of nursing’s professional standards. This was vital, as the Red Cross sought to maintain a delicate balancing act: recruit as many nurses as possible for service with the U.S. Army and Navy Nurse Corps while maintaining rigorous criteria so that nursing’s wartime relief work was a truly skilled enterprise. As President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed, and as Noyes repeated in several speeches to nursing audiences, “This is no war for amateurs!”

Indeed, the mania of war had opened the floodgates, as would-be nurses applied in droves for Red Cross service even if they had little or no advance training as registered nurses. The influx prompted Noyes to famously quip: “There are moments when I wonder whether we can stem the tide and control the hysterical desire on the part of thousands, literally thousands, to get into nursing … The most vital thing in the life of our profession is the protection of the use of the word nurse.” 

Arriving at Red Cross National Headquarters in the fall of 1916, a few months before official U.S. entry into the war, Noyes was tasked with approving nurse enrollments for duty, standardizing surgical dressings for use in the war front, recruiting nurses, ensuring adequate nursing equipment and supplies, and guarding against efforts to weaken nursing professional standards as wartime anxieties buoyed the demand for Red Cross personnel.

But as the war raged, another, parallel crisis soon emerged: the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Noyes and Delano found themselves engaged in yet another balancing act – to ensure an adequate infrastructure of “home defense” nurses for domestic care during one of the world’s worst disease outbreaks while also supplying enough nurses for overseas reinforcement to serve the troops.

When the war ended, Jane Delano embarked on a fateful inspection tour of Europe in April 1919. On her travels, she succumbed to infection during surgery for mastoiditis, finding herself comforted in death by American Red Cross nurses at a base hospital in Savenay, France. Clara Noyes, having served by Delano’s side throughout the war’s duration, was a natural choice to assume the mantle as Red Cross Nursing Director. 

Noyes would later work alongside then-former President William Howard Taft in the post-war years to advocate – and gain – military rank for nurses who otherwise were ill-treated in the chain of command. She also developed of schools of nursing throughout post-war Europe. And she continued to oversee the Red Cross’s nursing response work during civilian disasters, most notably the Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Clara Noyes died just as she had lived: with her hands at the wheel. On June 3, 1936, while driving to Red Cross headquarters in Washington, she collapsed at the steering column of her Chevy, succumbing to a heart attack. Her niece, Lucy, “riding with her, prevented a collision by pulling the emergency break.”

As I note in the book, “even her death, like much of her work in life, involved a crisis that would have been even bigger had it not been for the quick thinking of someone by her side … Clara Noyes had pressed 20,000 nurses into wartime disaster work; and, in her time of death, her quick-thinking niece had similarly warded off disaster, preventing the hand of death from taking more than one life.”

These are just some of the broad outlines of Clara Noyes’s life story; but history gains its vitality in the exploration of the “how” and “why” behind these important events. My hope is that this book not only shines light on a little-known figure in the history of nursing but to also explore larger historical trends connected to Clara Noyes’s life story, from racial issues, to women’s rights causes and other important intersections between nursing and the larger currents of American history.

Roger L. Noyes is the author of “Clara D. Noyes, R.N.: Life of a Global Nursing Leader” (Shires Press) about his great-great aunt, Clara Noyes, a Red Cross nursing leader during and after World War I. He is also communications director for the Home Care Association of New York State, an organization which represents visiting nurse associations and other home care agencies in New York.

Photo credits: All photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Rose Mary Lovering McGonigal

Submitted by Kay Ollenrenshaw, her paternal great-niece.

Born in the Irish Free State, Rose Mary Lovering "served in the combat zone with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She served with medical teams in France. This photo of her is labeled on front, "U.S. Army Nurse Corps" and on back, "somewhere in France." (McGonigal is her married name.)

MCGONIGAL Rose Mary nurse


Otter Tail, Minnesota County Historical Society: Group of ANC and NNC veterans of World War One

by Missy Hermes, Education Coordinator, Otter Tail County Historical Society (mhermes@otchs.org)

The Otter Tail County Historical Society sponsors a program honoring young women who served as nurses during World War One. Missy Hermes runs the program and submitted this photograph and notations about these women. 


  1. Marie Kelly, Pelican Rapids, MN; Navy Nurse
  2. V. Bernice Kaulum, Fergus Falls MN; ANC served at Base Hospital #88
  3. Olga Olsen, Fergus Falls MN; Red Cross 
  4. Anna E. Riestenberg, Perham, MN; Navy 
  5. Hannah Peterson, Pelican Rapids, MN; ANC Evacuation Hospital No. 10
  6. Inga Brydahl, Sverdrup Twp, MN; ANC
  7. Selma Lindblad, Battle Lake, MN; Navy?
  8. Anna Rasmussen, Dane Prairie Twp, MN; ANC
  9. Marie Rasmussen, sister to Anna; ANC Camp Hospital No 10 St. Nazaire
  10. Beatrice Salisbury, Parkers Prairie, MN; ANC
  11. Mrs. Agnes Freeborn, Fergus Falls, MN; ANC


Agnes L. Swift

by Molly Daniel,  Charleston, IL (maryjdaniel@outlook.com)

SJBphotos 11 025Agnes Leona Swift was born on the family farm near Ainsworth, IA, on 16 July 1880, daughter of John C. Swift and Mary Rimmer. She attended rural School No. 4 and elementary and high schools at St. James in nearby Washington. She earned a teacher’s certificate and taught in a country school in Highland township, as well as a private kindergarten in Washington for a couple of years. In 1905, she graduated from St. Anthony’s Hospital School of Nursing in Rock Island, IL, and served as a private duty nurse in communities around Washington, IA. In 1907, she served as hospital matron (supervisor) at Pleasant View Sanitarium, Washington, IA, and later at the Keota Hospital until 1915.

Agnes volunteered for overseas duty with Unit R, organized by Dr. J. Fred Clarke, of Fairfield, IA. She took her oath of office on 7 December 1917 in Washington, IA, and received orders to report to Camp Bowie, TX. She remained there until 1 February 1918, when she reported to Ellis Island to prepare for embarkation. On 16 February 1918, personnel of Unit R boarded the SS Carmania and sailed for France to become part of US Army Base Hospital 32 at Contrexeville, France.

In her 24 March letter to family, Agnes describes the train journey to Contrexeville:

“Enroute across France we passed so many graves of French soldiers – of course the train was speeding along – there were some American soldiers on who had been on the road before – and all of a sudden – they took off their hats and stood with bowed heads – then we saw we were passing an American graveyard – the stars and stripes floating there from. As I say everybody choked up instantly. Nuff said.”

At Contrexeville, Agnes was assigned to Hospital A, the primary surgical hospital. For much of her time with Base Hospital 32, Agnes worked only with eye injuries. She also had the difficult role of comforting patients when they realized they were blind. In letter dated 18 May 1918 to her sister Julia, Agnes describes carrying for a local boy – “Capt. Byrnes did an enucleation yesterday morning. A poor French kid about 14 fell on a stick of wood and ruptured the eyeball. The awful part about it, he was totally blind in his left eye and the right could just see enough to get around. Now he is absolutely sightless and also has consumption. I often think what little we fuss about.”

Country vs City JF McAuliffe draws Miss Swift

In December 1918, she describes the special Christmas hosted by for local children: “The Red Cross had a Christmas tree in a large vacant room in Colonnade yesterday pm for the French children. It sure was entrancing. Needless to say, we stole away from the candy making a while to see those cute kiddos, their eyes snapping like jets. One of our corpsmen acted Santa Claus. They invited all children from 3 yrs. up – were 160. You see for most of them it was their first Christmas as they have not celebrated since the war. Couple of the sisters were there. Each youngster got the usual bag of candy, nuts, a toy and a nice little sweater.”


A few days later, Base Hospital 32 began packing up to go home. As others prepared to leave, Agnes joined 15 other nurses who volunteered to provide temporary relief for nurses at Base Hospital 90 in nearby Chaumont (AEF headquarters.) She served there from 17 January to 5 February 1919.

MShimerASwiftshoesOne of her many talents was candy making, which she put to good use when it was possible. When there was time and she or one of the men could find the scarce sugar, she would make batches of divinity or fudge for her ward. The patients appreciated this homey touch so much that one of the men from the Yankee Division drew a cartoon of Agnes and her ward, adding remarks to contrast her Iowa upbringing with their city life.

Agnes rejoined Base Hospital 32 in time to depart with the group on 19 February 1919, bound for home. But while most of the group boarded the SS America to depart from Brest on 4 March 1919, due to a lack of space, Agnes and eleven others were asked to wait for the next transport. She left France on 8 March 1918 on the USS Louisville and arrived in New York on March 22nd.

More than a few dying servicemen asked her if she would write to his wife or his mother to tell her they were comforted by the last sacraments or some special message they wanted to convey. One soldier left his gold ring for her to send to his mother, which she did. The grateful mother wrote a poignant letter in reply, a memento which remains to this day in the hands of Agnes’s family.

Upon her return from overseas duty, Agnes had a bittersweet homecoming. She was warmly welcomed by family and friends in Washington but learned for the first time that her father had died in her absence. After a brief rest, she resumed private duty nursing and was employed for a short time at a hospital in Leon, IA, before returning to Washington to care for a sister who was dying of cancer.

While in service, Agnes developed a coronary problem, due to the long stressful hours in the operating room and war duty. Thousands of Allied wounded were sent to Base Hospital 32, which operated as an evacuation hospital for much of the time after mid-September 1918. The urgency to move patients was paramount, and opportunities for rest were rare. In a few short years after her return, Agnes’s health began to deteriorate. She rallied briefly, but hopes dimmed in the summer of 1923 when her health rapidly failed.

Agnes died in on 14 July 1923 in Washington, IA, and was laid to rest with full military honors in Elm Grove Cemetery on her 43rd birthday. The ceremony was attended by hundreds, including sixteen doctors and nurses of Unit R and grateful patients who traveled many miles to pay their final respects. One grateful patient in Boston, MA, reported her death to the newspapers in that city so the word would reach the men of the Yankee Division.



Photo Credits:

All images except the newspaper clippings (public domain) are from me or family members who have agreed to their use.

Country vs City JF McAuliffe draws Miss Swift.jpg - this is the cartoon drawing by one of Agnes's patients, expressing gratitude for her candy-making skills and amusement at her country ways.

lettertoAgnes19190409.jpg - this is an excerpt from a letter to Agnes from a mother of a soldier who died in France but asked Agnes to see that his mother received his gold ring. Once she returned home, she mailed the ring to his mother and received several letters in reply.

MShimerASwift.jpg - these are the boots that Agnes wore toward the end of her overseas service. They originally belonged to Myrtle Shimer, an Indiana nurse with Base Hospital 32 who shipped out a few days earlier. Since the shoes were still in good shape and Agnes needed a replacement pair, Miss Shimer left her shoes for Agnes.

SJBphotos_11_025.jpg - photo of Agnes Swift (undated but was probably made around the time of her war service.) Courtesy of the Sister Joan Bailey photo collection.

SwiftAgnesObit4.jpg - copy of the announcement of Agnes's death in the Boston Post

SwiftAgnesObit5.jpg - copy of the announcement of Agnes's death in the Boston Globe


Mable Conner

Mabel Connor Evacuation Hospital 11 Savaney France 2014 1 of 61

Mable Conner served with Evacuation Hospital #11, in Savenay, France. (Photo submitted by Mable Conner's great-nephew.)

Note by Jo-Ann Power: The AEF hospital in Savenay, near the southwestern coastal ports of St. Nazaire and Nantes France, was the site of a composite hospital that received wounded needing long-term care and rehabilitative services. As an embarkation point for American troops, the area was a supply depot for arriving and departing AEF units. The Savenay hospital complex housed units that treated soldiers who suffered from all types of ailments, including diseases, fractures, and wounds. 


Kathryn Olive Graber

by Molly Daniel,  Charleston, IL (maryjdaniel@outlook.com)

KathrynOliveGraber BurlingtonKathryn Olive Graber was born on the family farm in Jefferson County, IA, on 30 January 1877, daughter of Jacob Graber and Mary Amanda Heckethorn.

She was schooled by private tutor in the Mennonite fashion, then attended Fairfield High School. After starting nurses training at Burlington Hospital, Olive returned home several times to care for her terminally ill mother and seriously ill sister, thus delaying her graduation until she was 28 years old. When she graduated on 23 June 1908 she was one of the first RNs to take the state board examinations in Iowa. For a short time, Olive was a private duty nurse and then returned to Burlington Hospital as an assistant to the superintendent. In 1910, she inaugurated a school nurse program at the urging of a group of doctors, school administrators and community members. Burlington was only the second city in Iowa (after Des Moines) to launch such a program.

Olive interrupted her work as a school nurse in 1917 to join the ranks of Unit R, a medical corps organized through the efforts of Dr. J. Frederick Clarke of Fairfield, IA, and attached to Base Hospital 32 at Contrexeville, France. She enlisted in Unit R along with 20 other nurses from southeast Iowa. The group assembled at Ellis Island in New York harbor on 30 January 1918, Olive’s 41st birthday, and departed the US on 16 February 1918 aboard the SS Carmania. They arrived at Le Havre, France on 7 March 1918, stopping briefly at Liverpool.

In Contrexeville, Olive was assigned to Hospital E, a medical hospital with 229 beds (323 beds in emergency capacity.) On 2 June 1918, she wrote in her journal that she had 55 patients of 11 different nationalities on her floor (spelling from the original text is retained):

“Also had on my floor an Algerian that went in a german dug out -- and killed 22 boch[e] & came out unhurt but loked a man of that type I could not help but being afraid and took my orderly with me every where I went but they all seamed so appreciative and wanted to take my hands. The French are so excited about the Boch[e] and afraid they will not win the war.”

A couple weeks later, Olive volunteered to join a small group from Base Hospital 32 detailed to serve on the front at Baccarat from 18-24 June 1918. The group provided immediate care to men wounded by machine gun fire, shrapnel or gas attacks. They stood in the trenches, where the ground was never dry and soaked feet and legs were a way of life. She recorded these observations in her journal (reproduced as in original):

“Jun 28 – At Baccrat [Baccarat] was in an air rade – the German dropped 8 bombs -- and had a large machine gun in air plane -- the machane [gun] was about 100 feet above our place of sleeping. Miss McDonald was head of the evaquation hospital – she was wounded in an air rade with the British service had one eye lost by schrapnel – was there from Monday until Sat. and worked 12 hrs a day. Was very tired -- but was glad to do what I could for the boys -- came home June 29 – went to church Sunday am – and on duty Sunday pm at the Cosmopolitan Hospital.”

IMG 3186 Olive Graber journal page

After the Armistice, Olive was granted leave from 11-24 December 1918 and traveled to Nice, France. When she returned to Contrexeville, the unit was making preparations to be shipped home. Olive joined 15 other nurses who volunteered to provide temporary relief for nurses at Base Hospital 90 in nearby Chaumont (AEF headquarters.) She served there from 17 January to 5 February 1919.

After her return to the US on 4 March 1919, Olive resumed her career as a school nurse in Burlington, IA. She raised funds to provide medical and dental care for children who had no other means. Her own wages often paid bills for tonsillectomies, glasses, or other needs of children. She set up vaccination and immunization programs and collected winter clothing for kids under her care.

In 1949, she retired to the Hotel Burlington after nearly 38 years as a school nurse and one and a half years spent in the Army Nurse Corps. She never owned an automobile and walked many hundreds of miles around the city during these thirty-eight years. Sen. Jack Miller sent her a letter containing a first-day issue of the stamp honoring the nursing profession. His letter stated: “Of the many deserving nurses you are doubtless Dean of Iowa nurses. As such you may take pride in the love and respect we all have for you.”

In 1930, Olive served as president of alumni association of the Burlington Hospital School of Nursing. She was active in the Burlington Business and Professional Women’s Association and the Iowa State Registered Nurses Association (serving as president of the District No. 2 in 1932.) She was a member of Post 52 of the American Legion at Burlington, IA.

Reflecting on the years of Olive’s service, her great niece Joyce Keller noted, “She left a secure job to volunteer for service on the front lines – at the age of forty. She didn’t seem much interested in amassing a fortune or possessions. I’ve thought of her walking the streets of a moderately large city on feet and legs damaged during wet conditions during the war. This is not the act of a selfish person…. I hope her selfless devotion to others comes through in her story.”

Olive Graber died on 10 July 1964 at the Soldiers Home in Marshalltown, IA, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Fairfield, IA (division S, plot 2-027.)


Graber, Kathryn Olive, personal journal, unpublished, among items at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Hitz, Benjamin D. A history of Base Hospital 32, including Unit R. Indianapolis, 1922.

Keller, Joyce. Kathryn Olive Graber, RN, World War I nurse, unpublished manuscript, among items related to this topic at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Photo Credits:

IMG_3186_Olive Graber journal page.jpg - my own image of a page of Olive Graber's personal journal, taken with permission of the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, which has the journal and other personal items from Kathryn Olive Graber in its collections.

KathrynOliveGraber_Burlington.jpg - my own photograph, taken with permission, of the image of Kathryn Olive Graber in the collection at the State Historical Society of Iowa. As you can see, she is wearing the Advance Sector patch on the shoulder of her uniform. The journal of Maude Essig (Base Hospital 32) notes on 19 January 1919: "We have been officially notified to provide ourselves with service strips (2) for our one year of foreign service [drawing of two chevrons] gold to be worn on our left sleeve just above the cuff. Also we are to have the insignia for the Lorraine Advance Sector." So perhaps this photo was made as late as January 1919 or even after Olive returned home.


Grace van Evera

by Molly Daniel, Charleston, IL (maryjdaniel@outlook.com)

Grace van Evera IHS IMG 3262Grace van Evera was born 9 January 1877, in Davenport, IA, daughter of Charles and Henrietta van Evera.

In 1912, Grace was a student at a Chicago University, where she received nurse’s training and graduated with a completed degree. In 1917, she responded to the call for nurses to join Unit R, organized by Dr. J. Fred Clarke of Fairfield, IA. In Chicago, she joined other nurses from Iowa enroute to New York. They arrived 30 January 1918 and underwent additional training at Ellis Island. On 16 February 1918, the full contingent of nurses, officers and enlisted personnel of Unit R boarded SS Carmania and sailed for France to become part of US Army Base Hospital 32.

Base Hospital 32 was initially staffed with personnel from Indianapolis, who arrived in Contrexeville on 26 December 1917 and worked for three months to prepare the hotels in the spa town for hospital operations. Originally planned for a capacity of 500 beds, Base Hospital 32 was expanded to 1,250-beds before its first patients arrived. Unit R arrived in Contrexeville three months after the Indianapolis group and provided additional personnel for the increased capacity. When Allied casualties mounted in September 1918, the hospital was ordered to increase its capacity once again (with no additional personnel) to an “emergency capacity” of 2,115 beds. By the time it was deactivated in February 1919, Base Hospital 32 had admitted 9,698 patients from 31 nations, including 189 German prisoners and many members of the local population of Contrexeville. Grace she was assigned to Hospital A, the principal surgical hospital with 500 beds, and later Hospital C, a medical hospital with 125 beds.

In a letter to her mother (published in an unidentified Davenport newspaper in 1918), Grace expressed compassion for the soldiers and confided her longing for a place to keep warm:

“We sent another bunch of boys back to the front this morning. If only they could go once and then home. None of them had seen an American woman since they left the U.S. We have a Y.W.C.A. now, not fully ready to use, however, and we will be so glad when it is. Now we do not have a place to assemble, and chilly rainy afternoons there is no place to keep warm. They plan to have a fire and serve tea. The Y.W.C.A. secretary started a French class so the night nurses could attend. The Red Cross secretary has her French class at 7:30 p.m. just when night nurses go on duty. The Red Cross has gotten a Victrola for each hospital building, and how we enjoy them, especially the boys from the front who have heard no music for so long.”

Though the lack of proper food was a frequent complaint among the service personnel, Grace told the folks back home that wastefulness was not tolerated when so many in the war zone were going hungry:

“Tell any who will listen that our plates are inspected now and any one leaving food is reported, especially bread.”IMG 3268

After she returned home, Grace shared her observations about the US soldiers (from the April 8, 1919 Davenport Daily Times newspaper):

“The American soldier on the battle front is wonderful,” said Miss Van Evera. “But the American soldier wounded in the hospital is more than that. I think there is no word. It is not only bravery that I am thinking of. You see at Contrexeville, about 30 miles south of Nancy, it is, we had over 2,000 soldiers who were wounded. And they were all so splendid. When they had recuperated a little, these half-recovered men would turn in to help. There was such cooperation. The hours were long, but we did not mind that. One does not think of time and one forgets all weariness.”

After the Armistice, Grace van Evera was granted two weeks leave (13-26 December 1918) and visited Nice, France. Shortly after Christmas 1918, Base Hospital 32 began packing up and transferring its patients. As others prepared to leave, Grace joined 15 other nurses who volunteered to provide temporary relief for nurses at at Base Hospital 90 in nearby Chaumont (AEF headquarters.) She served there from 17 January to 5 February 1919.

Rejoining Base Hospital 32 in time to depart Contrexeville with the unit on February 19, 1919, Grace was homeward bound. Most of the group departed from Brest on board the SS America on 4 March 1919, but due to a lack of space, Grace and eleven others were asked to wait for the next transport – the USS Louisville, which left four days later and arrived in New York on March 22nd.

Following her war service, Grace van Evera served as a public health nurse in Scott County, IA (Davenport) from 1921 to 1930, when county supervisors abolished the post. Her starting salary was established at $150 a month, with $50 per month for expenses. Her responsibilities included “instruction of home economics and nursing in the farm homes and visits to the rural schools for the purposes of reaching the children.” [The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, Volumes 68, August 1921, p. 162] During this duty, she was injured in a car crash while on her way to work, breaking her shoulder and requiring several weeks for recovery. In January 1934, she was appointed Jackson County nurse (Maquoketa, IL) and employed through a federal relief program of the Civil Works Administration (CWA.)

She was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, assisted with the Junior Red Cross in rural schools, and in 1929 was elected president of the Iowa State Registered Nurses Association. She was a member of the American Legion for 42 years.

She died on 8 May 1960, in Davenport, IA and is buried in Summit Cemetery in that city.

Photo credits:

Both images (undated photos of Grace van Evera) are photos made by permission of items donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.


Maude Frances Essig

by Molly Daniel, Charleston, IL (maryjdaniel@outlook.com)Essig nodate

Frances Essig was born 29 November 1884 on a farm near Elkhart, Indiana, daughter of Lewis Essig and Mary Eliza Leininger; she died 6 September 1981 at the VA Center in Dayton, OH at the age of 96.

She received her nursing education from Passavant Memorial Hospital School of Nursing (Chicago, IL), graduating in 1907. Prior to accepting a position at Elkhart General Hospital (Elkhart, IN), she worked for the Chicago Visiting Nurse Association as a school nurse, infant welfare nurse, tuberculosis nurse, and industrial nurse.

Maude joined U.S. Army Base Hospital 32 on 7 September 1917 and served overseas at Contrexeville, France, from 26 December 1918 to 20 February 1919. The hospital received its first American wounded in March 1918, with greater numbers arriving in July 1918 from battles near Château-Thierry. During this time, Maude cared for 130 patients on her floor – with only herself and one orderly to provide care. In the main surgical hospital, housed in Hotel Cosmopolitan, one of the town’s many hotels, patients were carried down seven flights of stairs to surgery and then back up seven flights to recover in the ward. There were no elevators. Maude wrote in her journal:

“These are busy nights and busier days. Miss Elder, charge nurse is anxious for me to get off night duty and relieve her, says she can't take it, our patients are coming directly from The Front and they say it is terrible, lying there waiting for help to come. All come

in awful condition, no previous care has been given to their wounds. It takes a lot of soaking to clean their wounds, dried blood, filth and dirt and lice. The bath house is not

able to cope with the situation and neither can our limited staff and walking patients. Four of our nurses left for the Front, conditions are worse there. We do have a roof, a floor and everyone is fed after a fashion. No one works less than 12 hours in 24 and most of us do more. I see no one these days but my patients. I am happier than any time since in France, I feel I am really needed. No deaths yet.”BH32 0021b

From the end of September to November, casualties from Meuse-Argonne were heavy and the hospital was busy. The census on Maude’s floor swelled to 190 (covered by two nurses and two orderlies.) Finally, news of the Armistice came and Contrexeville rejoiced:

“When the news became official at 11 AM the Mayor, through the Town Crier, declared a Holiday, flags were immediately displayed and there was much rejoicing and many tears were shed. The local people were sick at heart to realize their sons would never return. Our firing squad fired the twenty-one volleys as an Honorary Salute. The Mayor kissed Col. Clark on both cheeks, and their [sic] was much hand shaking, no shouting, no band and very little drinking, many of the local homes, lawns, doorways and roofs are decorated with colored lights and the whole town was lighted for the first time since our arrival. Everything looks festive, I was on duty, all day but made some divinity in evening to celebrate.”BH32 0021a

The hospital continued to receive patients through December, but preparations began for ceasing operations. In mid-December, Maude received a token of gratitude from a local citizen:

“Yesterday, a former civilian patient, the husband of our floor maid presented me with a skinned rabbit, beautifully wrapped in a snowy white napkin, some one who knows said the gift would have cost $4.00. The patient had a badly infected hand, I took care of him and he was satisfied with results. Mary Houser fried the rabbit on our wee stove. I will never know how, but it was delicious as were the fried potatoes. Bread, butter and cherry preserves, a real banquet!”and he was satisfied with results. Mary Houser fried the rabbit on our wee stove. I will never know how, but it was delicious as were the fried potatoes. Bread, butter and cherry preserves, a real banquet!”

BH32 0034b

On 20 February 1919, Maude departed Contrexeville with others from Base Hospital 32 to begin their trip home. On March 2, most nurses boarded the SS America at Brest for the voyage home. (Due to lack of space, eleven nurses and one civilian employee were asked to wait for the next debarkation, which occurred ten days later.) Maude’s ship docked at Hoboken, NJ, on 13 March 1919, and after she released from duty on 4 May 1919, Maude returned to civilian service.

From 1920-1922 Maude resumed duties as Director of Nursing at the Elkhart General Hospital, with a brief stint as an instructor of the training school of the Women’s Christian Hospital in Jamestown, NY. From 1924-1940, she served as the director of the Brokaw Hospital School of Nursing, Normal, Illinois; director of nursing at the hospital; then administrator of the hospital from 1930 to 1940. During World War II, Maude served as the assistant director of nursing at Passavant Memorial Hospital in Chicago, from which she retired in 1948.

From 1952 to 1981, Maude Essig lived at the Veterans Administration Center in Dayton, Ohio, a retirement home for persons with military service. When she died on 6 September 1981, she was buried, at her own request, in the Dayton National Military Cemetery, Section 19, Site 1699. (In addition, a stone was placed in her honor in the Prairie Street Cemetery in Elkhart, IN.)

After her death in 1981, Maude’s nephew found among her belongings an unpublished 68-page manuscript about her time in Contrexeville. He presented the journal to one of Maude’s former students, who donated it to the archives of Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL. Her journal provides a descriptive and personal account of Maude’s experience as a WW I nurse. A digital edition of Maude Essig’s wartime journal is available from Illinois Wesleyan University Historical Collection and can be viewed online at this link:


N.B.: Another former student, Alma S. Woolley, published an account of Maude’s experience with some excerpts from her journal. See Wooley, Alma S. A Hoosier Nurse in France: The World War I Diary of Maude Frances Essig. Indiana Magazine of History (a publication of the Indiana University Department of History), Volume 82, Issue 1, March 1986, pp. 37-68. Access online at https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/10683/15078

Photo credits:

Three images are from the Unit History of Base Hospital 32 (Hitz, Benjamin D. A history of Base Hospital 32, including Unit R. Indianapolis, 1922.) These images are in the public domain.

BH32-0021a.jpg - Hotel Cosmopolitan, Contrexeville (Hospital A, in which Maude worked on the second and fourth floors)

BH32-0021b.jpg - Personnel of Hospital A (not individually identified)

BH32-0034b.jpg - the Town Crier of Contrexeville (not identified by name in the unit history); because of the shortage of paper, official news and public announcements were communicated by the town crier

The (undated) image of Maude Essig is from the Tate Archives & Special Collections, The Ames Library, of Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL. This image and permission for use on the Army Nurse Corps website of the US World War One Centennial Commission is provided by the Tate Archives & Special Collections (per correspondence with Meg Miner, University Archivist & Special Collection Librarian, email address: mminer@iwu.edu.) Unless approved in advance, the image must be used unaltered (not cropped, overprinted, etc.) Appropriate acknowledgement in a caption is "the Tate Archives & Special Collections, The Ames Library, of Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL."


 Merle Wright Carter

By Molly Daniel, Charleston, IL (maryjdaniel@outlook.com)

Merle Wright Carter in 1919 from Palimpsest V67 N5 SepOct1968

Merle Wright was born 29 Sept 1892 in Wright, IA, a town named for her ancestors. She was the daughter of George M. Wright and Mary Emma Moss, both of whom died before Merle was eight years old. Merle was raised by her paternal grandparents. Though she wanted to become a nurse, her aunt insisted that she become a teacher. She enrolled at Penn College Academy in Oskaloosa, completed training for a teacher’s certificate and taught for twelve months in a rural school before convincing her family that she was not cut out to be a schoolteacher.

She attended three months of nurses training at Mahaska County Hospital in Oskaloosa, and then heard about the nurses training school at the newly built Jefferson County Hospital in Fairfield IA. She enrolled there in 1912 and was one of five nurses in the first graduating class in 1915, completing a three-year course. She remained at Jefferson County Hospital as the night supervisor for a couple of years, and in October 1917, accepted a position as assistant superintendent of the Washington County Hospital.

A few months later, Merle was invited to join a unit preparing for overseas duty. Amy Beers, hospital superintendent of Jefferson County Hospital, invited Merle enlist in Unit R, a volunteer group organized by Dr. J. Fred Clarke of Fairfield. Despite an attempt to block her enlistment by a Washington hospital administrator who arranged for a doctor to diagnose Merle with “chronic appendicitis,” Merle received a clean bill of health from a different doctor and was accepted in the unit. She took her oath of office on 26 January 1918 and joined other 20 other nurses assembled at Ellis Island on 30 January 1918. As she recalled years later for the Fairfield Ledger newspaper, the Army provided the nurses with uniforms:

"On February 9 we received passes to the city to be equipped for overseas duty. We were happy with the street uniforms: two-piece navy blue suits, two white blouses, a red-lined Red Cross cape, hat, shoes, and everything. However, when we saw the ugly gray duty uniforms, we were sure that the officers' wives and enlisted men's sweethearts had been instrumental the designing. They were awful! So, sure enough, we were in the army now."

On 16 February 1918, the officers, nurses and enlisted personnel of Unit R departed the U.S. aboard the SS Carmania. After a brief stop in Liverpool, the nurses traveled separately to France, landing at Le Havre on 7 March 1918 and reaching Contrexeville three days later.

In Contrexeville, the personnel of Unit R joined Base Hospital 32, staffed and equipped by an Indianapolis group which had arrived a little more than three months earlier.

BH32 0025b"We found nursing in the war zone very different from civilian nursing. For one thing, we did not have the satisfaction of watching our patients recover. We were constantly urged by the surgeon general to keep our patients moving. As soon as they recovered from the first shock and were diagnosed and classified, they were sent to hospitals farther back for recovery and convalescence or, in some cases, for return to the lines."

Merle formed close bonds with other nurses of Unit R.

"Once I was sent to nearby Vittel when some of the nurses there were hospitalized with influenza. I was put on night duty and I got so lonesome for my friends in Contrexeville that after breakfast, I would bum a ride in an empty ambulance, or with a policeman on a motorcycle, or any way I could get there. Sometimes I even walked back to Vittel in time for duty at 7 pm. Fortunately this lasted only about a month and then I was back with my friends."

The day after the Armistice was signed, Merle and Sarah Greenhalgh, another nurse from Unit R, were granted leave, and they traveled to Nice and Paris. In Paris, the city was crowded with troops celebrating the end of the war, but they found Major J. Fred Clarke, the commander of Base Hospital 32, who joined them for dinner. As Merle recalled, “Sarah was more experienced than I in dining out and knew how to order the wine. I said ‘I think I’ll pass,’ but Major Clarke said, ‘Oh, no, we’re in Paris, we must have wine. I’ll order for you.’”As the AEF hospitals began to pack up and head home, a call was issued for volunteers to relieve nurses at the nearby Base Hospital 90 in Chaumont. Merle volunteered to go, and from 17 January to 5 February 1919, she was in Chaumont. “However,” she recalled, “I became ill with an attack of influenza and had few days of service at Base Hospital 90. Shortly thereafter we were recalled to Contrexeville to await traveling orders.”

BH32 0036b

Unit R departed Contrexeville on 19 February 1919, bound for home. But while most of the group boarded the SS America to depart from Brest on 4 March 1919, due to a lack of space, Merle and eleven others were asked to wait for the next transport. She left France on 8 March 1918 on the USS Louisville and arrived in New York on March 22nd. On 14 April 1919, she was back home in Wright, IA. She was discharged from active duty on 29 April 1919.

Following her war service, Merle served as the public health nurse in Jefferson County, IA (1920-1922.) She married Dr. Charles Carter (Professor of Biology and Geology at Parsons College in Fairfield) on 9 Sept 1921, and they had one daughter, Joan. In 1944, Dr. Carter died suddenly of a heart attack, and Merle returned to nursing. She was the director of nursing at Jefferson County Hospital from 1947-1950 and resident nurse at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, IA (1946-47) and Parsons College in Fairfield (1950-51.)

In 1951, Merle moved to Santa Fe, NM, and continued working as a nurse. In 1974, she moved to California. When she died on 3 March 1988 at Veterans Administration Medical Center in Sepulveda, CA at the age of 95, Merle was believed to be the last surviving member of Unit R. She is buried at Libertyville, Jefferson County, IA.

Photo credits:

BH32-0025b.jpg - Hotel de la Providence served as Hospital E, where Merle Wright was assigned for much of her time in Contrexeville. This image is from the Unit History of Base Hospital 32 and in the public domain.

BH32-0036b.jpg - the "nurses' garden," as depicted in the Unit History of Base Hospital 32 (though I have yet to see any mention of gardening in the letters or journals of the nurses -- the most frequent leisure time activity I read about was taking walks in the countryside or to nearby villages)

Merle Wright Carter in 1919 from Palimpsest V67 N5 SepOct1968.jpg - this is the only photo I could find of Merle Wright Carter. It was published in both the Fairfield Ledger (1986 articles) and in the Palimpsest, a publication of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The image is from Merle's own collection.


Burial Records of 3 nurses from Base Hospital #4 who died in auto accident, May 25, 1919

Ella Dalton, Alice Hagadorn and Florence Beatrice Graham

Source: 3 sets of pdf documents sent to Jo-Ann Power by David Benson, Superintendent, Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, Meuse, France in 2013.

By Jo-Ann Power

Three nurses traveling together in an automobile in France died in an accident May 25, 1919. All three were stationed at Base Hospital or Camp Hospital #4, Chateau Thierry, near Joinville, and are buried in the American Cemetery at Suresnes, France.

The burial records here describe in detail injuries how the bodies were identified. Initially, they were buried in pine boxes and after the establishment of official American Cemeteries in France, their bodies were re-interred in metal caskets. The records are typical of those of all military personnel who lay in repose in American cemeteries.  Documents also include communications with the deceased’s family approving burial abroad and invitations as per Gold Star Act+ to visit the nurses’ burial sites.

Two of the nurses, Florence Graham and Alice Hagadorn, had taken their oaths at the same place in New York City, May 23, 1918 and May 24, 1918, respectively, and reported to Holley Hotel, Nurses’ Mobilization Station in that city May 25, 1918.  They sailed for Europe July 4, 1918 and reported to their Commanding Officer at Camp Hospital #4 July 21,1918.

Nurses Dalton and Graham had been awarded “Victory Medal with Clasp for France.” Nurse Hagadorn had received the French medal, Medaille d’Honneur des Epidemics, and had worked in a Mobile Operating Unit.

+GOLD STAR MOTHERS and WIDOWS Act of Congress March 2, 1929 allowed for visit to graves by mothers or widows of those buried overseas or at sea at government expense. They also authorized assistance of nurses to accompany those elderly or disabled.

This was Act of Congress 1929, each year thereafter until 1933.

The War Department sent a letter to each deceased’s mother or widow each year to ask of their interest to travel.

 Ella Dalton, Burial Records—View pdf

Alice Hagadorn, Burial Records—View pdf

Florence Beatrice Graham—View pdf


Nora Emelia Anderson, ANC, Her Service, Illness and Death as written by her attending clergyman

Source: Copies sent to Jo-Ann Power from Nadia Ezz-Eddine, Cemetery Associate, St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France.

Nora E. Anderson ANC
Nora E. Anderson, an Army Nurse Corps volunteer, lies at rest in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in France. Nora who was born in Rock Dell, Minnesota in 1881, joined the Corps in 1918 and sailed abroad to work in Base Hospital #68. There she became very ill and died. As she lay dying, she asked for the last rites to be given her, if possible, by a Lutheran minister. Chaplains, always busy at the front and in hospitals, were scarce. But a Lutheran minister happened along and those who nursed Nora asked this gentleman to attend her.

This article is his story, a three-page original, reproduced as jpeg from Lutheran Church Herald written by Gustav Stearns, Chaplain, 127th Infantry, AEF, preaching in France.

Details of Nora’s life, recounted in Chaplain Sterns’ article include:

Her birth. 1.15.1881

Her death: 1.17.1919

Sworn in to service:  2.18.1918

Overseas duty: Base Hospital #68, Mars-sur-Alliers, France

Died in Base Hospital #68 1.16.1919.

Buried initially in Mars-sur-Allier, France, 1.17.1919

Moved to and Buried: St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Grave #30, Row 11, Block A.

The photo of Nora’s grave was taken by Jo-Ann Power when touring St. Mihiel Cemetery with Nadia Ezz-Eddine in 2013.

Nurse Nora E. Anderson ANC 

Lutheran Jouranl Nora pg 1Lutheran Journal Nora page 2Lutheran Journal Nora page 3


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