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Monday, June 29, 2015

Without the Dignity of Rank and the Respect Which It Insures, They Have Both Individually and Collectively Been . . . Misprized and Professionally Thwarted"

As we've seen in the last several posts, Oregon Base Hospital 46 Nurses joined nurses across the nation in protesting their second class status in the U.S. military. They had no official rank in an institution that was based on rank. From 1918 - 1920 nurses and their allies, including supporters of woman suffrage, worked to achieve rank for nurses. By 1919 most supported a middle ground proposal of "relative rank" that would give nurses a sort of official status but without the same pay and benefits as male officers (See my Mobilizing Minerva, pp. 123-141 for a discussion of this process). Congress passed the Jones-Raker Bill with "relative rank" for nurses as part of an army reorganization plan, and President Warren Harding signed it into law on June 4, 1920.

Many Oregon nurses supported action on rank for military nurses. The Oregon State Graduate Nurses Association, established in 1904 as an advocacy organization for nurses in the state, had Oregon Senator George Chamberlain, a member of the U.S. Senate's committee on Military Affairs, present a statement of support for rank from the association to the senate in 1919.

"Rank for Nurses Likely," Oregonian, May 23, 1919, 28.
Mary C. Campbell, R.N. of Milwaukie, Oregon, was secretary of the Oregon State Graduate Nurses' Association and presented the statement to Chamberlain, which read:

"Without the dignity of rank and its evidence of authority to give orders, the nurses have been forced throughout their service to see the efficiency of their professional labors impaired.
"Without the dignity of rank and the respect which it insures, they have both individually and collectively been personally discommoded, embarrassed, ignored and misprized and professionally thwarted.
"Hence, it is indeed to be hoped that the new congress will give this matter its specific attention and by the conferring of rank on nurses eliminate the causes of these unfortunate consequences."

The nurses chose strong language to emphasize the weight of the offenses and emphasized their claims to dignity and respect. We don't often use the term "misprized" today, but it means to hold in contempt, to despise. I have argued in Mobilizing Minerva that nurses worked for rank, in part, to address gender based hostility and discrimination in the wartime workplace. This statement by the Oregon State Graduate Nurses' Associaion certainly supports this idea. And we also know that rank, even full rank that came during World War II, did not resolve the problems of the military workplace. But it was an important part of women's claims to economic citizenship and access to military professionalism and service.

The graduate nurse association also threw a party for returning Base Hospital 46 nurses as we'll see in the next post.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Base Hospital 46 Women Come Home: "Nurses To File Protests"

As we've seen in the last two posts, Eleanor Donaldson, Acting Chief Nurse of Oregon's Base Hospital 46 in the spring of 1919, outlined nurses' poor treatment and second-class status in the military in "Our Trip Home." Newspaper coverage suggests that many of the Base Hospital 46 nurses agreed with her.

"Nurses Come Unheralded," Oregonian, April 28, 1919, 7.
In "Nurses Come Unheralded," the Oregonian reported their "unannounced and unexpected" arrival on the evening of April 27, 1919. "No reception committee greeted the nurses when they arrived. Miss Emily Loveridge, superintendent of the Good Samaritan hospital, was at the station to offer temporary homes to any of the girls who had no friends here." Evidently Loveridge had some advance notice of their arrival. And it appears that most had made arrangements to meet with friends and family.

"Nurses to File Protests," Oregonian, May 3, 1919, 4.
Five days later the Oregonian reported evidence of the discrimination the nurses experienced that echoed Eleanor Donaldson's "Our Trip Home" in specific detail, with anger and frustration apparent in the recounting. "They were treated like cattle on the transport which carried them across the Atlantic, being left to take the crumbs which fell from the officers' tables, according to some of their stories. Another complaint is that when they landed at New York they were left to make their own way up town, carrying their own luggage and equipment while officers on the boat were transferred to their hotels in taxis and limosines."

This report indicates that some other Base 46 nurses shared Donaldson's outrage and were determined to act. "A document of protest signed by many of the nurses is expected to reach the proper authorities in due course of time." But first, the women needed to leave the army to avoid negative consequences for the protest. As the Oregonian noted, "the sensation . . . will have to await the day when the nurses have shed their uniforms and are safely separated from the military establishment by official parchments acknowledging their faithful services and their honorable discharges." Like other nurses' stories of protest I covered in Mobilizing Minerva, they waited until the military could not retaliate against them as individuals.

At present I don't have a record of any "document of protest". But many nurses and their allies worked for rank for military nurses as a way to resolve what Eleanor Donaldson noted as a key lesson she learned: "a nurse has no standing in the army."

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.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eleanor Donaldson and "Our Trip Home" Part I: Nurses "Felt the Injustice Keenly"

Base Hospital 46 Nurse Eleanor Donaldson became Acting Chief Nurse for the hospital unit during the months of demobilization and return to the States in the spring of 1919. Donaldson authored a two page account titled "Our Trip Home" found in Record Group 112, Army Nurse Corps Historical Data File 1898-1947 at the U.S. National Archives. Her frustration with the way that Base Hospital 46 nurses were treated shouts through every paragraph. Because military nurses had no official rank, such frustrations became active calls for rank for Army nurses [Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008).] I'll cover the Base Hospital 46 nurses' part in that process in a later post.

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.
Donaldson made her point of view clear in the header to her account: "This Chapter tells of two lessons learned," she wrote. "First: That a comprehensive knowledge of military law is essential to a nurse" and "Second: That a nurse has no standing in the army."

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.
Donaldson focused on the return of Base Hospital 46 nurses from France to New York and in the first section of her account discussed the discrepancies between the accommodations for men and those of the women.

Donaldson, "Our Trip Home".
"At first we thought a mistake had been made, so terribly dirty and unprepared were our quarters. The ship . . . had been rented from the Germans and delivered only six days before. The "dough boys" [U.S. soldiers] were working twenty hours out of the twenty four to put it in shape. The officers quarters and those of the non commissioned officers were in order. Our quarters were decks down and in the sick room were unswept the waste water of the former occupant still in their recepticles [sic]. Fortunately the notices for venereal diseases only were still posted in bath and toilet, one of the chief nurses sent to Brest for lysol and took personal charge of the cleaning."

Donaldson was appalled at the dirty conditions but was particularly galled at the double standard of the quarters for nurses versus those of the men. 

"Major W.H. Skene," the Base Hospital 46 doctor, she continued, was "still in the belief that it was a mkstake and not of Uncle Sams. . . . Some of us protested to those in command and were promptly told that this was military law, nurses had no standing in the army and etc. It was some time before we accepted our fate, although we set to work at once to clean things up. These girls who had worked gladly and uncomplainingly and without adequate rest, when the work was required felt the injustice keenly, they still do."

More from Donaldson's indictment of military policy and practice in "Our Trip Home" in the next post.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Women Civilian Employees of Base Hospital 46 Part II: Stenographers LaVina McKeown, M. Ethel Gulling, and Jennie Davis

Three women served as stenographers to support the burgeoning paperwork and bureaucracy of the First World War military for Oregon's Base Hospital 46 in France. They were experienced in office management and stenography and, like the laboratory assistants and dietitian of the unit, were civilian employees under contract with the United States Army.

LaVina McKeown, Stenographer, Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections &Archives, OHSU.
According to the records in the Grace Phelps Papers at the Historical Collections & Archives at OHSU, LaVina McKeown graduated from the Kansas City Business College in Kansas City, Missouri in  1910. She brought 8 years of experience to her position as Base Hospital 46 stenographer, working at the John Deere Company in Kansas City and, after coming to Portland, at the Oregon and Washington Railway and Navigation Company and the Union Meat Company.

M. Ethel Gulling,  Stenographer, Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections &Archives, OHSU.
M. Ethel Gulling, we learn from the Grace Phelps Papers, graduated from the La Grande, Oregon High School Business College in 1907. She had 7 years of working experience at the Oregon and Washington Railway and Navigation Company and one at the Union Meat Company in Portland, which included work as a clerk, stenographer, and legal work. She would have been a colleague of LaVina McKeown. It is interesting to wonder about how they both came to serve with Base Hospital 46. Did they volunteer together? Did one of them encourage the other?

Jennie Davis, for whom we don't have a file, trained at the Bean's School of Shorthand in Portland, Maine (Wight, On Active Service With Base Hospital 46, p. 26).