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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.


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).

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