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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.