Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Emma Lydia Rutz, RN, ANC, 1876-1955

Emma Lydia Rutz led a remarkable life full of adventure. As a dedicated and valuable nurse, her profession afforded her the unique opportunity to never truly settle in one place. Although the passage of time had obscured many details of her life, today we are able to celebrate her legacy through the enduring traces of her presence left behind in official government records and newspapers.

While her childhood is not exactly known, federal and New York census records imply that Rutz and her family stayed in New York for most of her childhood and early adulthood. Rutz was born in Staten Island, New York on March 22, 1976 to Swiss immigrant parents Marie [Maria or Mary] Rutz (née Enz) and John [Johannes or Henry] Rutz.1 She was the youngest of eight siblings and the only living daughter of the family. Death was always close to Rutz as by the time of her birth, three of her siblings, including her older sister Rosa, had already passed.2 Then, in 1885 when Rutz was nine, her mother Marie passed away.3 No grave site or cause of death can be found at the time of writing.

For the remainder of her childhood, Rutz' father never remarried and remained a widow. He then passed away in August 26,1898 at the age of sixty-two due to heart failure.4 His passing most likely left young, unmarried Rutz in the care of one of her many brothers. By 1900, the New York census indicates that she was living with her oldest brother Charles [Karl] and his wife Sadie.5 During this time, Rutz was also listed as a clerk at a New York importing house.

From left to right: St. Mary's Hospital, N.J. Postcard; Haines, AK Postcard

It wasn’t until her late twenties that Rutz got into nursing. From newspaper clippings from the Passaic Daily News, Rutz is said to have attended the St. Mary’s Hospital Training School and graduated in January of 1909, where she then took post graduate work in the Women’s Hospital in New York City.6 This new profession afforded Rutz the ability to live apart from men and primarily on her own, a luxury she maintained for the rest of her life. In August of 1914, Rutz made the big leap to visit the West Coast, specifically Alaska, Haines, with her friend Mazie [Mary] Brown for the purpose of visiting Brown’s brother, the then mayor of Haines.7 Intriguingly, even after Brown had left Alaska, Rutz remained. In local Alaskan newspapers, Rutz can be tracked traveling and staying between Douglas Island and Haines.8 By 1917, Rutz is found in Washington; her footprints tucked away in that year's Seattle City Directory and scribed as a nurse that lived in Boylston.9

By this time, the cries of war could be heard across the globe. In 1918, as American involvement in WWI began to increase, the University of Washington’s Base Hospital unit was officially ordered by Major General Arthur Murray to mobilize.10 This involved the call for one hundred nurses in and around the Seattle region to enlist for duty to staff the hospital overseas.10 Rutz took the opportunity to enlist with Base Hospital 50 and by June 8th, 1918, Rutz was officially an enlisted registered nurse of the US Army.11 Rutz, with the nurse unit, left for Mesves on August 24, 1918.12

Rutz and her fellow Base Hospital 50 nurses served their full length until the end of WW1. As a hospital that received both surgical and medical cases, they treated a total of 7,399 patients with 1,135 operations conducted.13 Additionally, while normal bed capacity was at 1,000, the constant influx of patients demanded that the hospital expand their capacity to nearly double its original limit which resulted in a total of 1,950 beds.13 Still, Rutz managed to find the time to enjoy herself and travel around Paris after the war officially ended on November 11, 1918. She took many candid photographs of wartorn France; within her collection includes photos of burials, men in uniform, crumbling infrastructure, and much more. Additionally, she documented her travels by collecting real photo postcards from the French cities she visited. These photos and postcards can be found in the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

The Lewiston Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1937, pg 1.
Medical staff and nurses at the Old Fort Lapwai Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
Left to right: Dr. Alley, Lillian J. Welch, Genevieve Townsend, Ruth
McKay, Emma Rutz, Lorraine S. Ellis, Susan Shoemaker, Dr. C. H. Koentz
All Base Hospital 50 nurses safely returned to the United States by 1919, officially ending Rutz’ overseas military service by May 17, 1919 according to her VA records.11 Still, Rutz continued to stay in the West Coast by continuing her work as a government nurse. For the next three decades of her career, Rutz worked and traveled between Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Some of the hospitals she worked in included: Virginia Mason Hospital, various other King County Hospitals, and the Sellwood General Hospital in Portland, Oregon.14 She often took the role of supervisory roles in the hospitals she would work in. By 1937, Rutz had entered into the United States Indian Service and worked as chief nurse in various rural hospitals in numerous southern and Northwestern states for the remainder of her medical career.15 She retired in 1946 and despite having already lived in so many states, she still returned to the West Coast.14 Rutz settled in Vashon Island, Washington, to spend the remainder of her days living as neighbors to her longtime friend Mrs.Ress, who graduated a few years after Rutz from the same nursing school.15 Tragically, Rutz passed away on July 30, 1955, at the age of seventy-nine due to a stroke.1 She was laid to rest in 1956 at Willamette National Cemetery.11


1 Washington State Department of Health, Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960. Entry for Emma L. Rutz, July 30, 1955, FHL microfilm 2,033,537. Olympia, Seatle: Bureau of Vital Statistics. Reference 14771, FamilySearch, accessed March 10, 2018,
2 "About Johannes or John Rutz." Familysearch, accessed May 7, 2024,
3 "New York, State Death Index, 1880-1956." entry for Marie Rutz, 4 Jan. 1885. Familysearch, accessed March 9, 2024,
4 New York City Department of Health, "Death Certificate No. 841, John Rutz." New York: New York City Deaths, 1892-1902, Borough of Richmond, Deaths Reported in 1898, New York City Municipal Archives.
5 United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C., T623, roll number 1153, Page 21. Familysearch, accessed May 7, 2024.
6 "Diplomas for Nurses: St. Mary's Hospital Training School Graduates Three," Passaic Daily News, Jan. 7, 1909, pg 1.
7 "Haines News," Skagway Daily Alaskan, Aug. 4, 1914, pg 3.
8 "The Local Field," Douglas Island News, Oct. 7, 1914, pg 6.
9 Seattle City Directory (1917), Seattle: R.L. Polk and Company, Inc., pg 1387.
10 "Base Hospital Unit to Mobilize at Palo Alto," Seattle Daily Times, Mar. 28, 1918, pg 14.
11 Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Form for Emma Lydia Rutz, A1 2110-B. NAID: 5833879, The National Archives at St. Louis, MO., accessed May 7, 2024,
12 Base Hospital 50. University of Washington Special Collections, StoryMapsJS, accessed may 7, 2024,
13 United States Surgeon-General's office, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Volume 2). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921-1929. Pg 675.
14 "Miss Emma L. Rutz," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 11, 1955, pg 27.
15 "Miss Emma Rutz, RN, Here From Seattle" The Morning Call (Patrson, New Jersey), May 23, 1950, pg 13.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Officers of Base Hospital 50

Officers of Base Hospital No. 50

Mesves, Nievre, France, 19 January 1919.

The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been digitizing photos in its collections taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I and adding records to its Archival Research Catalog (ARC). 

This photograph of the officers of Base Hospital 50 was taken the day after Major James Eagleson received orders the unit was to disband. A memorial service was held to honor the five members who died while the unit served in France: Charles Fletcher, Dr. William Kanter, Edward Nesser, Samuel Parker, and William White. Chaplains Hansen Bergen and Fr. William Carroll C. SS. R., addressed the unit in the Recreation Hall, along with Major Eagleson. The following day, January 20, 1919, Base Hospital 50 ceased operations and all of its remaining patients were turned over to Base Hospital 54. 

Front row. Left to right:
Major J. A. Hawkins; Lt. K. Vaughn; Lt. J. R. Carothers; Lt. H. F. Garmain; Lt. H. C. Randolph; Capt. E. O. Jones; Lt. H. B. Thompson; Capt. Copeland Plummer; Capt. A. J. Helton; Major H. E. Allen; Lt. L. Savitsky; Lt. J. Denno; Lt. H. J. Knott; Major F. A. Black; Lt. A. K. Stebbing; Lt. A. F. Mattice. 

Rear row. 
Capt. F. T. Wilt; Capt. Robert Hamilton; Lt. E. L. Wilkins; Chaplain W. M. Carroll; Lt. G. A. Braun; Major J. B. Eagleson; Major E. P. Fick; Capt. T. F. Shinnick; Lt. W. W. Schmidt; Lt. G. L. Curran; Lt. H. T. Buckner; Capt. W. E. Lowrie; Lt. J. J. Szmanski; Lt. J. A. Lybecker; Major N. A. Cary.

Photo credit:  Officers of Base Hospital No. 50.. Photograph 86698995, local identifier 111-SC-46411.  ( : accessed 20 January 2023.)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Karen Marie Lauridsen, RN, ANC, 1883-1950

Special thanks to Chery Kinnick, author of the blog, Nordic Blue,
who contributed this entry.

On May 18, 1919, Karen Marie Lauridsen, her finely featured face a ghostly white, arrived at Union Station in Portland, Oregon. Stepping off the train, she was grateful to be nearing the end of a long and tedious homeward journey. For nearly a year she had served and survived in the Army Nurse Corps overseas. Every line of her slender frame suggested profound weariness. A modest and private person, Karen was reluctant to discuss her travels or experiences with a Portland news reporter who approached her on the platform. The battle-worn army nurse shot a terse reply when asked what she would do now that the Great War was over. Mixed impressions from the past year flooded her mind. “I’ll never go back to school teaching,” Karen said emphatically before turning away.1 For the time being, she was anxious to reunite with her father and the rest of the family in Astoria along the Pacific coast, as well as surrender to some restorative sleep. After that, she would find a way to continue nursing and make a difference by healing others to the best of her abilities. It mattered more than ever after the suffering she had witnessed while in the service of her country. 

Karen was born in Hygum, Central Jutland, Denmark on April 22, 1883, to Jens Lauridsen and Mette “Katrine” (Nielsen).2 At some point, Jens left for America, became a citizen and began farming in Chinook, Pacific County, Oregon. After the 1885 death of his wife in Denmark, he returned to Europe in order to bring his daughter, Karen, 14 years, and three more of his five children, to the United States: Sophie, 19 years; Laurids, 17 years; and Magdalene, 9 years. An older sibling, Marie, had left Denmark for America in 1884.3 The family traveled aboard the S.S. Waesland, a Red Star Line vessel, departing from Liverpool, England on October 13, 1897. They arrived at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania eleven days later, on October 24.4

As a young woman and naturalized American citizen, Karen studied at Pacific Lutheran Academy in Tacoma, Washington. Graduating in June 1906, she taught in Oregon’s Clatsop County schools for a couple of years. In about 1908, she returned to Tacoma to enroll in a nursing program at Fannie C. Paddock Memorial Hospital, where she received training in surgery, contagion, children’s care, gynecology, and obstetrics. Her application for a nursing certificate was received in December 1911, and she became registered on June 10, 1912. After working as a nurse in the Tacoma area for a few years, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in June 1918.1, 5, 6

Following enlistment, she was sent briefly to Camp Grant in Illinois, newly established in 1917. As part of Base Hospital 50 military unit, she was then transported overseas. On August 25, 1918, Karen boarded the S.S. France at the port of New York. Her destination was the Mesves-Bulcy Hospital complex in central France.7, 1 

At Bulcy, Karen worked day and night with precious few breaks in order to care for soldiers, both ill and wounded. She gained a reputation for effectiveness and reliability, and in April 1919, she was one of ten army nurses awarded the Medaille d’honneur des Epidemies by the French government. The award was established to honor those having distinguished themselves during an outbreak of an epidemic disease, such as the Spanish Flu that subsumed world populations during World War I. The presentation of her silver medal took place at the Red Cross military hospital No. 112, Auteuil. Many officials gathered to watch the decoration of the nurses, plus 23 officers of the American medical corps and seven enlisted men.8 Karen was a close friend of another nurse who received the award: Ada Merrifield from Kent, Washington, known for finding romance and marriage with a medical professional who also served at Bulcy.9

When Karen’s tour of duty was over, she received transport back to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Mobile, which departed Brest, France on April 13, 1919. Ten days later, the ship reached port at Hoboken, New Jersey, where she began making her way to the west coast.7 Before she arrived home, Karen’s family was surprised to learn through newspaper dispatches about the medal bestowed upon her in France. Somehow, she had neglected to mention it in her letters.1 

After reuniting with family in Astoria, Oregon she returned to Tacoma, Washington to resume the nursing work she had been engaged in before enlisting. By the time her father, Jens Lauridsen, passed away in 1926, she had relocated across the state border to Walla Walla, Washington.10, 11

Karen Lauridsen’s nursing career continued until the late 1930s when she moved back to Oregon and retired in Roseburg, a timber town in the Umpqua River Valley.12 Socially responsible even into her retirement, she maintained a membership with the local branch of Business and Professional Women’s Club (B.P.W.C.). As part of a National Federation supported by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, the club sought to promote workforce development programs and workplace policies to acknowledge the needs of working women, also their communities and businesses. 

At one evening conference, Karen was part of a round-table discussion entitled “Women of Other Lands,” where she and others discussed their experiences as international women. Karen represented Denmark, while several other women represented Holland, China, and Sweden.13 While she had been loath to discuss her wartime experiences for the sake of publicity, she readily shared information when it might be helpful to other women trying to establish careers. 

Karen Lauridsen never married, but throughout her life continued to focus on a commitment to the medical field and to helping others. She died at age 67 on August 27, 1950, and was buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Her grave marker is adorned with the words: “Nurse Army Nurse Corps, World War I.” The Danish-born woman who always desired to put other first would, no doubt, find the simple tribute to be more than enough.14


  1. “Nurse, Decorated, Home.” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), May 19, 1919, p.3.
  2. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database-online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Marie Lauridsen; confirmation, June 16, 1901.
  3. 1900 United States Federal Census [database-online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Marie B. Jensen; Astoria, Clatsop, Oregon.
  4. Pennsylvania, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962 [database online], (accessed October 31, 2020). Jens Lauridsen, 1897.
  5.  U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Lauridsen; Tacoma, Washington, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1910.
  6. Professional License Records [online], Washington State Digital Archives (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Marie Lauridsen, Application for Certificate as Registered Nurse, 1912,
  7. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 [database online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen M. Lauridsen, Base Hospital No.50.
  8.  “American Nurses Honored.” The Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), April 11, 1919, p.2.
  9.  “Nurse Wins Fiancé and Cross of War.” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), April 17, 1919.
  10. Washington, Wills and Probate Records, 1851-1970 [database online], (accessed October 31, 2020). Jens Lauridsen, Pacific County probate records, 1927.
  11.  “...Karen Lauridsen, reinstated at Walla Walla, WA.” The Pacific Coast Journal of Nursing, 1931, p.562.
  12.  “...Karen Lauridsen retired from nursing in Roseburg, Oregon.” Nursing World (1940), v.105, p.478.
  13. “B.P.W.C. Has Enjoyable Meeting on Monday Evening.” The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon), September 30, 1939, p.3.
  14. Karen Marie Lauridsen, Los Angeles National Cemetery, Plot 214, 6 Row D, Memorial ID 3726657.