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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Julia Stimson to Grace Phelps: "I Can Imagine Nothing Worse For a Chief Nurse Than the Death of One of Her Staff"

Materials relating to the September 1918 death of Base Hospital 46 nurse Norene Royer in the Grace Phelps Papers at the Historical Collections & Archives at the Oregon Health & Science University reveal a great deal about Rogers and expand our understanding of life for women on staff with the unit.

Chief nurse Grace Phelps received a letter from Julia Stimson, then the chief nurse of the American Red Cross in France, and soon to be the chief nurse of the American Expeditionary Force. The letter reveals some of the concerns chief nurses experienced, and also details about what Phelps should do with Royer's effects. It appears that Stimson wrote the letter in response to one from Phelps informing her of Royer's death. [For more on Stimson, see Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 136-141]

Julia Stimson, ca. 1919, Library of Congress.
"I am so sorry you have been through such a trying time," Stimson wrote to Phelps on September 30, almost two weeks after Royer's death. "I can imagine nothing worse for a Chief Nurse than the death of one of her staff, for not only is it often a personal loss, but the effect upon the whole group of nurses is so great, that the burden of the Chief Nurse is increased by the necessary efforts she must make to counteract and relieve the depression of the whole group. You have my deepest sympathy." (Julia Stimson to Grace Phelps, September 30, 1918, Box 1, Folder 7, Grace Phelps Papers, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University).

Stimson and Phelps took their leadership positions seriously and felt responsible for the nurses under their direction. Their writings and papers also suggest that both felt that nursing was on the world stage as a result of the war and wanted to make a strong showing for women's professionalism in wartime medicine.

Phelps had apparently written Stimson to ask what she should do with the equipment the Red Cross/Army Nurse Corps had issued to Royer. "Use Miss Roger's [sic] equipment as you think best. The only times when we want Red Cross equipment returned to us are on those occasions when its return is necessary in order to prevent the unworthy or unauthorized use of it." Stimson's comments suggest the pride with which she viewed the uniform and equipment of wartime nursing and also the logistical challenges of returning things from the war zone.

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