Fighting Women of Fighting Men

Nurse and Director of American Red Cross Canteen Services Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt speaks with two soldiers at an American field hospital in France. Taken from the January 24, 1918 issue of the Perth Amboy evening news.
Nurse and Director of American Red Cross Canteen Services Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt speaks with two soldiers at an American field hospital in France. Seen in the January 24, 1918 Perth Amboy evening news.

In 1918 and the world was engulfed in two extraordinary conflicts. War raged through Europe and a complicated web of treaties and mutual defense pacts resulted in countries across the globe fighting for one side or another. Simultaneously a pandemic outbreak of influenza, known as the Spanish Flu, was infecting the world’s population at an alarming rate. While soldiers took the brunt of front-line combat, neither of these conflicts could have been won without the valiant effort of an army of nurses.

In honor of National Nurses Week, here are a few of the many brave nurses highlighted in our historical New Jersey newspapers.

From left to right, portraits of Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Mabel Thorpe Boardman, and Dorthea Dix above the American Red Cross National Headquarters building. Taken from the April 21, 1914 issue of the Perth Amboy evening news.
From left to right, portraits of Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Mabel Thorpe Boardman, and Dorthea Dix above the American Red Cross National Headquarters building. Seen in the April 21, 1914 Perth Amboy evening news.

Featured in the portraits above are Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Mabel Thorpe Boardman, and Dorothea Dix; three nurses who took on unprecedented challenges during a time period between the Civil War and the beginning of World War I. When this image was published in 1914, Mabel Thorpe Boardman was the acting head of the American Red Cross.

The building found below their portraits is the proposed design of what is now the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington D.C. While this building houses the administrative offices for the American Red Cross, it is also a memorial to the nurses who served in the American Civil War; a conflict which had ended only 49 years prior.

Story about an award being presented to American Red Cross Chief Executive Jane Delano. Taken from the May 21, 1914 issue of the Bridgeton pioneer.
Story about an award being presented to American Red Cross Chief Executive Jane Delano in the May 21, 1914 Bridgeton pioneer.

Jane Delano is largely responsible for the creation of the American Red Cross as she led the effort to the unify three separate organizations for American nurses. When her image was published in the article above in 1914, Delano helped to train 4000 nurses shortly before the First World War broke out across Europe. She would go on to train another 4000 nurses by the time America entered the war in 1917. Although she served on the Red Cross’s board of governors, Jane Delano’s administrative responsibilities didn’t keep her from working in the field. Before the war’s end, Delano tragically passed away at a French field hospital in 1919. Thankfully the organization she so carefully built continues to provide relief in times of crisis.

Picture of Julia Shipman in the March 2, 1918 issue of the Perth Amboy evening news.
Picture of Julia Shipman in the March 2, 1918 Perth Amboy evening news.

Julia Shipman was the daughter of Edson Bradley, the well to do president of a Kentucky distillery. Julia enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle and in 1889 married a pastor named Herbert Shipman. Both Julia and Herbert Shipman went on to serve in World War I. In 1916 Herbert became a U.S. Army chaplain and Julia started training to become a nurse only a few months after. After her training was complete in 1918, Julia Shipman was sent to France where she would apply her newfound skills as a nurse.

Portrait of Elsie Stevens from the January 8, 1918 issue of the Perth Amboy evening news.
Portrait of Elsie Stevens in the January 8, 1918 Perth Amboy evening news.

According to the Perth Amboy Evening News, Elsie Stevens came from what was then a prominent New Jersey family. When her image was published in 1918, Elsie had recently returned to the United States after serving as a nurse in France. The article specifically mentions that Miss Stevens worked in an field hospital that was dangerously close to frequent artillery bombardment. Elsie is commended for her bravery as she continued working to treat sick and injured soldiers despite being so close to danger.

Nurses look after infants in a French nursery. Taken from the May 7, 1918 issue of the Perth Amboy evening news.
Nurses look after infants in a French nursery. Seen in the May 7, 1918 Perth Amboy evening news.

The New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project team are grateful for nurses fighting to keep us safe in this uncertain time.

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(Contributed by Jacob Paul)

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