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Monday, March 30, 2015

Base Hospital 46 Nurses Triumph Over Laundry: "We Were Quite Proud of Our Establishment"

These memorable First World War Base Hospital 46 images from the Oregon Health & Science University Digital Commons help us visualize the environment in which the unit's nurses lived and worked. Pause for a moment and consider what these images convey about the dirt and mud that was part of every moment of their time there. Then consider what this meant for the surgical and medical work in which the nurses were engaged.

“Base Hospital 46 street and barracks,” OHSU Digital Commons, accessed March 28, 2015, http://digitalcollections.ohsu.edu/items/show/13212.
“Greeting at Barracks 3 at Base Hospital 46,” OHSU Digital Commons, accessed March 28, 2015, http://digitalcollections.ohsu.edu/items/show/14055.
Keeping clothes, uniforms, and bedding clean was crucial for the nurses, not only for comfort but for controlling disease. The Base Hospital 46 memoirs and poems in Record Group 112 at the National Archives about which I've been blogging most often listed an author, but several pieces do not have an author listed. One of these, "Our Laundry," likely written by Chief Nurse Grace Phelps or her successor Eleanor Donaldson, gives us a sense of the challenges Base Hospital 46 nurses encountered with keeping clean and their ingenuity and hard work in overcoming those challenges.

When the nurses arrived at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse in July 1918 there were no facilities for laundry set up. "We either had to wash our own clothes or depend upon the French villagers," the "Our Laundry" author noted.

Interestingly, the model for a base hospital unit included a bath but no laundry facilities.

General Layout of Hospital Unit Type A, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 2 p 242

When the army did establish a laundry the nurses had serious trouble with the loss of precious uniforms and the aprons they wore in surgery and ward work. "About the first of August the American laundry was erected but it refused to function. After much delay we were instructed to send our uniforms and aprons. This we did and the first time they were returned there were 18 uniforms and 42 aprons short, which we never recovered. The next attempt was 30 uniforms and 20 aprons [missing]."

The sheer volume of laundry for the entire seven base hospital complex at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse with a full capacity of 13,000 meant that it was "not possible for their plant to do the immense amount of work, and there was always a shortage of water."

Clean bedding was crucial for patients and staff. In addition to the dirt all around the unit patients' bedding contained body fluids and fleas were a constant threat to patients and staff. So the Base Hospital 46 staff "used the field sterilizer for caring for the bedding." This kept it close and under their control. "We could at least have the bedding made safe and have it when needed for changing beds." Their sterilizer was perhaps like the one pictured below, while not mounted on a truck for a mobile unit. It used hot water pressure and steam to sterilize. Imagine the work of laundering bedding, so much bedding, in such a unit.

Sterilizing Truck, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 8 p 197
Base Hospital 46 nurses relied on French civilian women and their own work to do their personal laundry with hot water, suds, and washboards. "We partitioned off [a] small end of our mess hall, [and] the Red Cross furnished a French range. It was a task for one person to keep the fire going when hot water was wanted. The Medical supply issued tubs to us and we bought wash boards. Our unit carpenter put up clothes lines about the walls. This was because we had rain most of the time, and clothes had to be dried indoors. A maid helped with the fire and carried water. Each nurse was responsible for her own laundry. We were quite proud of our establishment."


"Our Laundry," Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marjorie MacEwan, R.N. Part II: From Nurse to Veteran to University of Oregon Medical School Staff Member

Thanks to the incredible newspaper digitization projects associated with the Library of Congress Chronicling America program, including Oregon and Washington newspapers, we have a glimpse of Base Hospital 46 nurse and poet Marjorie MacEwan as an advocate for veterans in the aftermath of World War I.

Some base hospital nurses, including Winifred Franklin and Kathryn Leverman and Chief Nurse Grace Phelps joined the all-female Women's Overseas Service League veteran organization. Some focused their work for veterans by joining the American Legion. And some participated in both organizations. Marjorie MacEwan joined the American Legion when she returned to Washington after the war. In August 1919 she was the first woman on Gray's Harbor to be accepted into the American Legion.

"Hoquiam Woman in Legion," Oregonian, August 20, 1919 13.

MacEwan made the front page of the Seattle Star in October 1919 as a delegate to the Washington state American Legion convention.

"Prominent Figures at Convention," Seattle Star, October 9, 1919, 1.
My sincere thanks to the editor of the Seattle Star who decided to interview Marjorie MacEwan for that same day's edition. In the interview we learn more about MacEwan's personality, her postwar goals, and her continuing work in medicine.

"Girl Veteran of World War at Convention," Seattle Star, October 9, 1919, 2.
In the fall of 1919, we learn, MacEwan was working as bacteriologist at Hoquiam General Hospital and the general manager of the Medical Building, likely a suite of medical offices near the hospital. We learn from the Grace Phelps Papers at the Historical Collections & Archives at OHSU that MacEwan had trained as a nurse and also worked as a private secretary -- she was putting the combination to good use in her postwar work. We also learn that she received a standing ovation when she was accepted for membership in the Hoquiam, Washington post.

She sent a note for the reporter with the photograph she had taken for the interview: "In this publicitiy stuff, Mrs. Editor, please bear in mind that I'm just plain every-day Marje, and don't weave fairy tales about me. I'm not 'copy'-I'm me. Lots of other girls figured in the thick of it [the First World War] more strenuously than I. I'm no heroine." She was, she said, boosting the proposal for her hometown of Hoquiam, Washington to hose the next state convention for the legion.

Portland City Directories for 1921 and 1923, and the University of Oregon Catalog 1921-1922 list Marjorie McEwen as secretary to Richard B. Dillehunt. Dillehunt had served as a medical officer with Base Hospital 46 and had become Dean of the University of Oregon School of Medicine in 1920.

University of Oregon Catalog, 1921-1922 (Eugene: University of Oregon, 1922), 215.
Here she is, listed with Lucy Davis, Bertha Hallam, and Valentine Prichard on the U of O Medical School staff roster. MacEwan again combined her office skills with her medical training in this position. Perhaps someone out there knows more about her tenure at the U of O Medical School and these Portland years. Please share what you know with us. I will keep searching, too.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Marjorie MacEwan, R.N. Part I: A Poet of Base Hospital 46

Marjorie MacEwan, Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections &Archives, OHSU.
Base Hospital 46 Nurse Marjorie MacEwan was a 1916 graduate of the Good Samaritan Hospital Training School for Nurses, X-Ray technician, and one of the 4 Hospital 46 nurses assigned to early duty in 1917 at Camp Lewis.

MacEwan sent two poems to the collection of women's wartime memoirs and reminiscences of Base Hospital 46 life housed at the National Archives about which I've been blogging. The first, "When Man Would be Free," told of ghostly soldiers on the battlefield of Verdun. The second, "L'Envoi" ("The Dispatch") comes directly from her experience with military nursing.

L'ENVOI

So it isn't the doses of quinine,
And it isn't the "C. C. Pills",
Nor the iodine pictures we've painted
That have cured the most of their ills,

It's the fact that we look just like their sweethearts,
Or scold them just like their old dads,
Or mend their torn shirts just like Mother
That has cured many homesick young lads.

Marjorie MacEwan, Reserve Nurse

MacEwan referred to three common treatments of World War I medicine. Quinine was used as an anti-inflammatory and for pain relief. C.C. pills stands for "compound cathartic" pills used as a laxative. Nurses "painted" iodine liberally across a patient's skin to combat infection.

These medicines had their important place; but MacEwan emphasized the sense of well-being or comfort, the intangible elements in healing. Interestingly, MacEwan did not limit herself to the well-worn images of a nurse as a stand-in for a "sweetheart" or mother. Nurses could "scold" the soldiers "just like their old dads."

In the next post -- a postwar newspaper interview with veteran Marjorie MacEwan and tracing her postwar activities.

Marjorie MacEwan, "L'Envoi," Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland. This poem also appears on the last page of Otis Wight, et al., On Active Service with Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920).




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Eleanor Donaldson, R.N.: The Base Hospital 46 Nurses Club Part II -- "The Second [Road Outside our Doorway] Was The Railroad On Which Our Boys Went To The Battlefields, Singing, Waving, and Cheering; and On Which They Returned To Us, Silent, Broken, But Undaunted"

Eleanor Donaldson, in "The Nurses Club," her essay for Otis Wight's On Active Service with Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 151-153, noted the care with which nurses and Base Hospital 46 staff decorated their two nurses clubs on the base. Perhaps a key reason it was so important to furnish the club with every possible comfort and color was that it provided a physical and psychological buffer from the difficult and often horrible work of military medicine and the war outside their gates.

Donaldson wrote with understated power about that outside world by describing the three roads that came together at Base Hospital 46 at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France:

"One of our doorways faced a panorama of wood-crowned hills, a river and three of the most noted roads in France. One road was tree-bordered, a silver line where trucks and motors passed up and down endlessly. The second was the railroad on which our boys went to the battlefields, singing, waving, and cheering; and on which they returned to us, silent, broken, but undaunted. There was a special train known as 'old 56,' and when it was missing from the tracks we knew the errand on which it had gone and unconsciously watched for its return. It used to come around the hill so slowly that one could scarcely see it move or be sure it halted until the three short whistles that meant 'a convoy is in' called us to our posts in the wards."(152)

Many other writers and artists dealing with the subject of war have focused on this moment of a convoy's arrival -- or in the case of films and television representations of the Korean and Vietnam eras and beyond such as M*A*S*H* and China Beach, the arrival of the helicopters. Here Donaldson suggests the closing of the devastating circle and cycle of war -- the soldiers leaving for the front "singing, waving, and cheering," and returning "silent, broken, but undaunted." In some ways the nurses and other medical personnel were outsiders to war, but in many other ways they were in its very midst. They had the devastating knowledge that 'old 56' would be coming again and again with its wounded and dying occupants. And they used their training, skill, and each day's energy to try to save them.

There was a third and last road, Donaldson wrote. "The third road ran just a few yards from our tent door, with the river beyond--the last road of all, for the boys we left in France. It was a short road, ending in a plot at the foot of the hill where the sun's light touched the white crosses 'row on row.'" (152)
"American Cemetery at Bazoilles," Otis Wight et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 9.
Wartime service brought Donaldson and her colleagues to these three roads, which symbolized the "business" and consequences of war for soldiers and medical personnel. Donaldson's "three roads" description was so moving that Otis Wight and the editors of On Active Service selected it for specific inclusion in their history of the unit. It is also significant, I think, that Lavinia Dock and the editors of The History of American Red Cross Nursing chose Donaldson's three roads as their entry for Base Hospital 46 in the First World War:
Lavinia Dock, et al., History of American Red Cross Nursing (New York: MacMillan, 1922), 508.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Eleanor Donaldson, R.N.: The Base Hospital Nurses Club Part I -- "In This Setting We Spent Our Time Looking Over Oregonians, Journals, and Telegrams, and Reading Letters from Home"

Eleanor Donaldson, R.N. left both published and unpublished reminiscences and memoirs about her World War I service. I've been blogging about some of the voices of women from Oregon's Base Hospital 46 in the First World War, including letters home reprinted in newspapers and reminiscences of war service held at the National Archives. Donaldson is the only woman to have a section in Otis Wight's On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (1920) attributed to her by name. She also had a great deal to say about nurses' treatment in France during mobilization in an unpublished memoir now at the National Archives. Donaldson will feature in a number of posts across these Base Hospital 46 entries.

Eleanor Donaldson, R.N.
Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.
Newspaper accounts and Base Hospital 46 personnel information in the Grace Phelps Papers at OHSU let us know that Eleanor Donaldson was born in Ireland in 1874 and graduated from St. Vincent's Hospital Training School for Nurses in Portland in 1902. Donaldson became the acting chief nurse of Base Hospital 46 after Chief Nurse Grace Phelps was transferred to head the nursing work at Base Hospital 81 on February 1, 1919. She served in that capacity as Base Hospital 46 personnel were demobilized that spring.

Donaldson's "The Nurses Club" appears on pages 151-53 of Wight's On Active Service with Base Hospital 46. She had a gift for writing and detail and linked her emotions and wartime experiences with her descriptions. She wrote: "In one of the British tropical tents our "Club" began its brief life; brief, but a separate memory for each minute, for things happened in those days. The tent was roomy, one hundred and twenty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, and nearly five feet high at the sides. The cerise lining and yellow interlining gave a wonderfully soft and restful light. Black oilcloth covered the floor." The nurses scrounged for furnishings and used things at hand in creative ways for chairs, tables, and sofas. This tent was the first of two club spaces for the Base Hospital 46 nurses.

The nurses, she wrote, spent their time in this club space reading copies of Portland's three major newspapers: the Oregonian, the Oregon Journal, and the Portland Telegram, and "reading our letters from home. Here we discussed the probable end of the war, the downfall of kings, the Owl drugstore robbery [in downtown Portland], and the latest rumor." (151)
 
They gathered for afternoon tea and if supplies were sometimes meager "there was always tea and chatter." When the war came close and brought casualties from Chateau Thierry, "the time spent in the room was short and the chatter confined to a hurried question" about a case or patient. (151-52).

The nurses claimed space for a sturdier club in the fall of 1918 after wounded German prisoners were evacuated and a ward building became available. Wight's On Active Service features a posed photograph of nurses and a male officer in this second "club." This wonderful image is also available at the OHSU Library Digital Commons at http://digitalcollections.ohsu.edu/items/show/12424.
Otis Wight, et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 151.
 
German prisoners of war constructed a fireplace of rock and cement, "the only fireplace in any club we knew--how the fame of that fireplace went abroad!" Hospital 46 staff members helped and added kitchen and dressing rooms, seats, shelves, and "window boxes according to Miss Phelps' blue prints." (152) Wallpaper, curtains, cushions, and posters came from an Armistice Day trip to Paris.

"Afternoon tea went on daily," Donaldson recalled. Then the nurses prepared for the celebration of Christmas, with decorations, garlands and wreath pictured above. In this slower-paced period, when the group expected to be able to return home, she remembered "the impromptu parties and little dinners beside the fire" and ghost stories. The "climax of memories comes," she concluded, "when the music over, the dancers gone, one turns for a last look down the long room through the ivy garlands to the glowing fire." (153)

Within this "safe" space nurses created community and maintained links with the world back home. They also created a refuge from the horrors of the war surrounding them. More on what that war brought to their doorstep in the next post.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kathryn Leverman, R.N. Part III: "And Now That Most of Us Are Home Again . . . There Will At Times Come a Wierd Feeling, Almost of Homesickness For That Life We Had Been Leading So Strenuously"

In the third section of her World War I Nursing Reminiscence "My Personal Experiences After Arriving Overseas" Kathryn Leverman recounted her experiences at the close of the conflict and with the American Occupation force in Germany in the war's aftermath.

As with others who shared their memories of wartime service, Leverman recalled church bells ringing and the shooting of guns and other weapons in celebration of the Armistice on November11, 1918. The immediate aftermath brought "delightfully bright sunny days" and some freedom to travel in the area. "We would start out on the road early in the morning and the first soldiers coming alon[g] that asked us to ride we accepted. 'Hopping trucks' seemed to be the favorite sport, and how eager the boys were to get to talk to us. Even the officers in their limousines seemed anxious to give us a life occasionally and we went everywhere." (5)

As she had in the first section of her memoir, Leverman reprinted a letter of commendation she and her colleagues with Evacuation Hospital #3. This letter from Major General C. P. Summerall praised the staff but also placed the nurses on a pedestal. "To the noble women nurses of this Hospital the Corps is especially indebted. They brought comfort and assistance to our wounded which none but women of such high attainment and ideals could administer. Their labors were an inspiration and they have written a new chapter in the annals of womanhood which in future will be cherished by our people." I would give a great deal to know Leverman's take on the letter but she offered no comment.

On December 2 Leverman and her colleagues left France and eventually came to Trier, Germany, with the American Army of Occupation. They worked at a German hospital that had been used to house and treat Allied prisoners of war. "A Protestant order of nuns were in charge," she wrote, "twenty of them to look after as many as five hundred wounded men at times. Depending on some of the less disabled ones to help them. There were quite a number of American soldiers there, some very sad cases, where the wounds were so extensive that there was hardly any flesh left on the bones." The conditions were horrible but the soldiers praised the nuns for "being very good to them." Leverman and her colleagues had to make do with what was there as their equipment had not caught up with them in Trier. "Picture the expression on the faces of these unfortunate heroes who did not even know that an Armistice had been signed, when they saw their own countrymen coming to take charge." (6)
That December American troops began the occupation of Germany and "our Hospital was literally swamped with influenza and pneumonia cases." It seemed that "these days almost rivaled the bloody ones during the big drives." (7)

Census records (1930, Walla Walla, Washington) indicate that both of Leverman's parents were born in Germany. She devoted a good portion of this section of her reminiscence to a description of her travels and sightseeing in Trier, then known as Treves, "the oldest town in Germany" with Roman sites such as the Porta Nigra gate and the Basilica. Christmas in Germany was "a real happy one for everybody at our camp" with "firs of all sizes, like we have in Oregon." (6-7)

The final section of "My Personal Experiences" frames Leverman's last days of in the context of bureaucratic headaches, trying to supply shifting populations of staff and patients, and the "rush" to apply to go home and the frustration of waiting to find one's name on the list on a bulletin board.

Leverman returned to Portland and worked at the Veteran's Hospital there until 1928, transferring from Veteran's Hospital #77, Marquam Hill Campus (today's VA alongside OHSU) to the Walla Walla, Washington VA Hospital. She married James Thompson there in 1933. Leverman was a member of the Women's Overseas Service League, a veteran organization for women. (Carry On, Volume 7 (1928), 21; Volume 12 (1933), 45.

Kathryn Leverman, R.N.
Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.

Leverman's identification with veterans and as a veteran comes through in her concluding section of "My Personal Experiences":

"Today after an entire year has passed, since we set foot on good old American soil once more, I feel that our work is not yet finished. There are still hundreds yes thousands of these brave men and women who are still paying the price. Had I not joined this vast army of soldiers, I would always be counting these years as wasted opportunities. It takes so little to bring sunshine and cheer, and yet millions of us go chasing our own little desires through life and never stop to think of the ones who are down.

"And now that most of us are home again, and the greetings and the hurrahs have begun to pall, there will at times come a wierd feeling, almost a homesickness for that life we had been leading so strenuously." (7-8)


Kathryn A. Leverman, R.N. Base Hospital 46, "My Personal Experiences After Arriving Overseas,"pp. 5-8, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Kathryn Leverman, R.N. Part II: Influenza -- "The Nurse Who Had Been Running In to Look After Our Wants Was Sent to Help Elsewhere, and During the Big Rush We Were Entirely Forgotten"

This second of three posts featuring the World War I reminiscences of Oregon nurse Kathryn Leverman focuses on her own experience with illness as part of the global influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Influenza killed between 20 and 40 million people across the world, including some 675,000 Americans. Historians estimate that half of the Americans who died in service with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe died from influenza. Her narrative emphasizes that the influenza pandemic incapacitated many military medical and nursing personnel who were needed to help the wounded.

In service with Evacuation Hospital #3 at Red Cross Hospital 114 near Fleurry, France, Leverman contracted influenza at a time when she felt particularly needed. "This was terribly discouraging to us," she recalled, because she "wanted especially to be on the job" during the fall Allied offensive. "But it was our turn to swallow the pills and quinine we had been feeding to our fellow sufferers so much. After a freezing nighttime train to the Champagne sector for service with the Mont Frenet Hospital, "five nurses and myself were isolated in a corner room of the French receiving ward" as they recuperated. "All day and all night long we could hear the Poilus [French soldiers] coming and going and their excited discussions," she remembered. When they had "passed the aspirin and quinine stage" of the disease Leverman and her colleagues were "anxious to be on the job again." But they needed to regain their strength and depended on a colleague to look in on them. "And then an awful thing happened. The nurse who had been running in to look after our wants, was sent to help elsewhere, and during the big rush we were entirely forgotten. A piece of dry toast and some watery chocolate early in the morning was all we saw of food until about 9 P.M." Then "some of our pals getting off late from the day shift came over to inquire about our health . . . our health was much improved, but oh! our dispositions." Leverman felt like she was "in jail" and was frustrated when there was "so much to do. Gradually one or two at a time were now allowed to go to work again. I was one of the last to get out."

Back at work, and given these conditions, it was no wonder that Leverman and her colleagues scrapped some parts of their official uniforms to get their work done and survive the rain and mud. She didn't wear the Red Cross cap, which she considered "a nuisance" when she had to duck "in and out of tents" and along the low sides.

Model Red Cross Army Nurse Corps Reserve Uniform, National Archives.

"The most popular costume" that fall, Leverman asserted, was "a raincoat over either a jersey or gray crepe uniform, rubber boots, and sou'wester hat. Our boys told us we looked like the advertisement on '[Scott's] Emulsion'" Cod Liver Oil. There was little time to think of one's appearance and Leverman joked, "No wonder the mad[e]moiselles asked our soldiers 'Are all American women so homely?'"

Scott's Emulsion Cod Liver Oil. http://dustoffthebottle.blogspot.com/2011/04/scotts-emulsion-cod-liver-oil-bottles.html

Kathryn A. Leverman, R.N. Base Hospital 46, "My Personal Experiences After Arriving Overseas,"p. 4, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.