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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."