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Monday, January 19, 2015

Finding the Oregon Women of Base Hospital 46 in France during World War I

The centennial commemoration of the beginning of World War I in 1914 began world-wide this past summer and as we prepare for the centennial of the US preparation in the conflict (April 1917 to November 1918) we have many available resources. A most interesting group of Oregon women are the nurses and civilian personnel who served with Base Hospital 46 in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France.

The most detailed source we've had for Base Hosptial 46 has been Otis Buckminster Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur S. Rosenfeld, eds., On Active Service with Base Hospital 46 U.S.A. March 20, 1918 to May 25, 1919 (Portland, Oregon: Arcady Press, 1920) available in digital format from the Library of Congress. This compilation details the personnel and history of various portions of the unit, with some important information about the experiences of nurses and civilian women.

But now we can investigate much more about the women on staff, thanks to materials from the wonderful Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland  the Grace Phelps Papers (Accession 2010-005); the Eleanor Donaldson Collection (Accession 2008-020), including personnel information and some correspondence. And materials from Record Group 112, Army Nurse Corps Historical Data File 1898-1947 at the U.S. National Archives contain narratives written by several women from Base Hospital 46 that did not make it into Otis Wight's On Active Service. We can now hear more of their voices and analyze their specific experiences in much more detail. I'll share some of this information with you in upcoming posts.
Some additional materials from HC&A at OHSU include the Base Hospital 46 Collection (Accession 2004-026 John Guy Strohm Scrapbook: Base Hospital 46); and the Otis B. Wight – Base Hospital 46 – Glass Plate Negative Collection (Accession 2006-012). Many thanks to Archivists Maija Anderson, Max Johnson and Archivist Emerita Karen Peterson for their support with my research in these collections. OHSU has a wonderful online exhibit about Grace Phelps, R.N., the chief nurse for Base Hospital 46 through January 1919: "Grace Phelps, R.N.--A Reverie in Sepia." Another published work is Colonel Joseph H. Ford, M.C., Administration, American Expeditionary Force, Vol. 2, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington, D.C.L Government Printing Office, 1927) available in digital format from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Let's start with some context. Beginning in 1916, before the United States entered the war, doctors and nurses in the U.S. began to organize base hospital units associated with civilian hospital or schools of medicine to prepare for wartime medical service. Nurses enrolled as reserve nurses with the Red Cross. The idea, according to organizers George Crile, M.D. of Cleveland and William J. Mayo, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, was to capitalize on the working relationships already in place at these institutions, to create a full staff, and to practice and learn together (See Kimberly Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008] 125-129.) 

In Oregon, faculty physicians at the University of Oregon Medical Department (now OHSU) in Portland began to organize in May 1917 and mobilized for service in May 1918. Dr. Robert C. Yenney was chief of medical services and Grace Phelps, R.N., Superintendent of Nurses at Multonomah Hospital, was chief nurse. The unit arrived at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse on July 2, 1918 and the unit served until the end of January 1919 (See Wight, On Active Service, Ford, Medical Department, 672-3, and "Reverie in Sepia").

Bazoilles-sur-Meuse is located in Northeastern France, as this Google Map shows:
Base Hospital 46 became part of an extensive, combined hospital center that included six other base hospital units (units 18, 42, 60, 79, 81, 116). For Base 46 alone hospital capacity was 1,000 beds in barracks and 1,000 in tents with some 300 more in tents possible in crisis shifts. The Bazoilles-sur-Meuse complex of hospitals had a crisis capacity over 13,000. Images from The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War give us a sense of the scope and environment the women of Base Hospital 46 experienced.

Outline Map of France Showing Fixed Hospital Center, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol. 2, facing p 288.  
Two images gives us a sense of the massive complex, with both barracks and tents, of the hospital center of which Base Hospital 46 was a part.
View of Bazoilles Hospital Center, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 2, p 238
General Layout Hospital Center Bazoilles, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 2, p 261  

Two more images give us a sense of the specific spaces of Base Hospital 46, a "Type A" hospital.
General Layout of Hospital Unit Type A, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 2 p 242 

Nurses Quarters Type A Base Hospital, Medical Department US Army WWI, Vol 2 p 246
More on the women of Base Hospital 46 in upcoming postings.