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Monday, June 15, 2015

Eleanor Donaldson and "Our Trip Home" Part II: "And This is How B.H. 46 Came Home"

The last post focused on Base Hospital 46 Acting Chief Nurse Eleanor Donaldson's critique of U.S. Army policy and practice toward members of the Army Nurse Corps on their journey back home to the States from France. Here is the rest of her description and challenge to the discrimination she felt in the last section of "Our Trip Home".

Eleanor Donaldson, "Our Trip Home," 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.
On the ship in stormy seas, officers were first at each meal, "except breakfast, when disliking to get up early they changed with the nurses." Initially there was no curfew; Donaldson likely believed that a curfew would curb rowdiness and celebrations. When chief nurses complained "an 11 o'clock curfew order was indeed posted but not enforced." Some units, like Base Hospital 46 "were placed on their honor and were faithful." The Army prohibited social relationships between nurses and enlisted men, something many nursing leaders applauded as they felt nurses should be officers (see Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva). It's not clear here in her text whether Donaldson implied that the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) had loosened this rule or kept it for the return trip.

Donaldson also complained that she and her staff had tried to comply with Army Nurse Corps orders to "pack our few un-military belongings." But they were "in the minority. Gay sweaters, jeweled hands and civilian one-piece dresses were the rule even with some of the chief nurses. The nurses in charge resigned themselves to the inevitable and asked only that we wear strict uniform when leaving the boat." Donaldson evidently felt that preserving military dress and decorum would be the best way for nurses to return home safely and responsibly, and was angry that this didn't happen.

There was, in Donaldson's mind, a final indignity and double standard for male officers and nurses. "We were nine days crossing; on the morning of the tenth day we disembarked. Ambulances were in readiness for their officers and their hand bags. After waiting an hour we were asked to walk to the Polyclinic. It was not a long walk and we wouldn't have cared, only we did a little. And this is how B.H. 46 came home."

How did other Base Hospital 46 nurses react? More in the next post.

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