Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jennie Enger, RN, ANC, 1889-1967

Special thanks to Mary E. Burman, Jennie's granddaughter, 
who contributed this entry.

“The next day we were put on duty in the Pontenasian Barracks within the walls Napoleon built. I was put in a pneumonia and flu ward. Honestly, I never saw so many very sick men in my life. It actually made tears come to one’s eyes to see them delirious and dying. But I just had to brace up and do my best. Many of them were in just a few days before they passed away. A nurse in the ward we left was a flu victim, too. Even though she was not of our unit, we felt so badly.” Jennie Enger, Diary, 1918

On May 31, 1918, Jennie Enger signed the oath of the US Army and thus began her journey to France with Army Base Hospital #50 (BH#50). Jennie was born March 13, 1889 in Seattle to Stengrim and Anne Enger, both from Norway, who were married a year earlier in Seattle. She was baptized May 12, 1889 according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She was the oldest of 11 siblings. The family moved from Seattle to Bellingham and then to Everson where her father farmed. She and her sister Alie, who was a year younger, attended nursing school at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham and in May 1914, they submitted their applications for certificate as a registered nurse in Washington. Following the war, she lived with family in Bellingham, bought a house of her own in Wenatchee (the Warranty Deed refers to her as a “spinster”) and then married Adolph Burman in 1924 relocating to Laramie, Wyoming where he worked for the Union Pacific in a railroad tie treatment plant. Following his retirement in 1941, she returned to Everson where she lived until her death in 1967.

Jennie kept a brief diary during the year of service to the Army Nurse Corps and it provides some interesting insights into her experiences. The first page reads, “Jennie Enger BH#50 Diary of Army Life, 626 High Street.” In addition, she kept a several other documents. According to her United States of America War Department Certificate of Identify, she was authorized to accompany Base Hospital Unit #50 as a Nurse. She was 29 years old, weighed 111 ½ pounds, was 67 ¾ inches tall, and had blue eyes and yellow hair.

Jennie left June 1st for Camp Grant in Illinois to prepare for her military service. While there she was vaccinated for typhoid, paratyphoid and smallpox. She then traveled to New York City to join her sister Alie and the other nurses with BH#50. While in the city, they purchased their equipment, and did some drilling and training, including French language training, while suffering through a record hot and humid August. Fortunately, they also had fun with Red Cross taking them to some shows and sightseeing trips to the Woolworth Building, Hudson River, and Stock Exchange.

On August 24th, they boarded the LaFrance and left New York the next day. The ship was accompanied by subchasers and a submarine was spotted near the 3 ships in the convoy at one point. Shots were fired and the sub disappeared much to Jennie’s relief. On September 3 at around 5 pm they arrived at Brest France where they were taken by truck to “Camp 23”, a new facility that had never been used with “shavings around.” The ride was unforgettable as they were greeted by the French people as they drove through Brest.

About 25 of the nurses were “suffering from bad colds” and were put to bed when they arrived in France. The rest of the nurses went on to their base at Merves-Bulcy. Jennie was later diagnosed with Spanish influenza. She was kept in bed for a week and not allowed to go for a walk for 5 days after that.

Upon her recovery, she (along with the other nurses who had stayed in Brest) were put on duty in the Pontenasian barracks, although 5 days later they had orders “to go to their own Base. Indeed, we were a happy bunch!” She was on duty with ABH#50 the day after her arrival. “How I watched the boys’ faces as they came in from the front to see if I knew anyone, but I never found one I knew. I can never forget how patient and grateful the boys were.”

On November 4th, Jennie was taken to the Nurses’ Ward at Base Hospital #54 as a patient unable “to get anything to eat that agreed with me”. She was off duty for two weeks and felt “it was terrible to be off duty so long.” Shortly after her recovery, she and Alie received word that their younger brother Harold had died in Washington of influenza. “It was hard at first, but we were not the only ones as one of our other girls also lost her brother.”

After working on a flu and pneumonia ward again for about four weeks, Jennie “was not sorry to go to a surgical ward with Miss McConaghy in charge.” She stayed there until the ward was closed when the nurses were given the option of staying longer in France or going home. “Alie wished to stay and I would have preferred to go home. However, when orders came for fifty girls to go to Nantes, I was put on as a substitute, and I was glad.”

They left Mesves Sunday January 26th. The trip to Nantes took about two days with a 24 hour stopover in Saumur where Jennie wrote they “had a wonderful time. An aviator lieutenant we met on the way was a regular hero, and we do not know what we would have done had it not been for him. He helped us with our baggage and saw that we all got seats. The next day we met him on the way to an old castle, and afterwards we all had dinner together. He stayed over at Saumur especially to help us”.

At Nantes, Jennie worked on a surgical ward with Miss Cramer and Miss Cooke. Then she moved to a Fracture ward with Miss Walker in charge. “Most of the time the work was quite heavy and because it was “too much” for her, she was put on a pneumonia ward where the “boys were so sick.” She was put in charge of diets which she really enjoyed. Fortunately, she and the other nurses had time to enjoy the area. They saw “a big heart-shaped case where the heart of Ann of Brittany is kept” and visited the castle where Bluebeard was imprisoned. On February 3, General Pershing visited their camp.

Eventually, Jennie received her orders to head back to the US. She was transferred to Savenay by ambulance and “when we were about halfway there, Miss McConaghy and I discovered we were being sent as patients! Alie went with us, and we were made fun of when we had to be examined after we got there because we had no field cards. I was a little nervous, but the doctor made up something and put it down.” (picture of fake card).

“We arrived at Kerhoun about 3:15 pm Monday and were driven up to Base Hospital 65. Of course, we were put on the nurses’ wards. We went to bed early that night and had a nice long sleep.” Then Jennie and the others waited. “March 19—we are still awaiting orders to go home”. “March 25—At last orders are for us to pack and be ready at a moment’s notice.”

She and Miss McConaghy traveled together on the Leviathan, staying in a stateroom. The trip home was very pleasant with good food, calm waters and movies every night. They landed in Hoboken, NJ on April 2, a “beautiful sunshiny day. We were escorted in by a committee which came quite a way out to meet us. A band played, and it did sound good.” They were taken to a hospital for examination and ordered to bed, although Jennie “was OK next day”.

“Some wealthy ladies of the city sent their limousines up to the hospital to take us for rides through Central Park. A stop was made at St. John the Divine Cathedral which we went through… It really is beautiful, something like the cathedrals in France, but much newer and it does not smell musky”. They were then taken to the home of Mrs. Hurd where they were served a “wonderful luncheon. We actually sat and looked in amazement at the pretty table, decorated with a large bouquet of pink rosebuds in the center with four pink candles in silver candlesticks…. I had two helpings of the best chicken salad and very good hot sandwiches, four or five different kinds of cakes, three or four kinds of cookies and candies, plus olives and celery in ice, and tea and coffee with real fresh cream. Some of the girls had just landed that day after being in France for over twenty months. It actually seemed more like a dream or a fairy tale after seeing and going through what most of us had in France. The ladies were perfectly lovely to us and seemed to enjoy it almost as much as we did. I do not think they can realize how much it meant to us.” While in New York, Jennie was also thrilled to meet the mother and sister-in-law of one of the patients she’d care for in France.

“April 6 – At last the day has come to start homeward”. She took a train home accompanied by some of the other nurses along the way. Jennie arrived in Bellingham at 4:20 am on April 11. “staid [sic] on sleeper until 6 am. Called a taxi and went home.”

After Jennie married Adolph in 1924, they had a son Robert, who was my father. While my grandmother died when I was very young, I know my father was always very proud that she had served in World War I with BH#50, and her war papers and diary have been kept in the family and handed down. I recently visited the cemetery in Nooksack where she is buried and listed as a veteran of World War I.

-- Mary E. Burman

Thursday, July 14, 2016

William Carlyle Kantner, M.D. (1884-1918)

William Carlyle Kantner
4 Nov 1884 - 18 Sep 1918

Early on the morning of September 18 Lieut. Kantner died very suddenly of heart trouble. This was a great shock to all of us, as the end came very suddenly and most unexpectedly. The following day we had another shock, when Ed. Nesser died after a brief illness. This was the third death in less than two weeks, and everyone was beginning to get a little worried. It was the overwork that caused the weakened condition of the men and made them susceptible to the different diseases.

The above quote from The History of Base Hospital Fifty provides some insight into the intense work conditions at the hospital during the final months of the Great War.1 William Kantner was the only member of the medical staff to die in service and yet was one of the youngest physicians in the unit.

William Carlyle Kantner was born on November 4, 1884, in Terre Hill in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County.  His father, William Calvin Kantner, was a Congregational minister and his work took the family -- including his mother, Anna Susan White, and siblings; Clifford, LaBlanche, Anna LaVerne, Penryn and Constance -- across the United States from Oregon to Pennsylvania and back again. 

Kantner grew up in Salem, Oregon, and graduated from Salem High School. He received his medical degree from Willamette University's Medical Department in 1907 and then completed an internship at Minor Hospital in Seattle.2 Afterwards he opened a private practice which was well established at the time he went overseas.

He also served as a member of the medical staff for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition's Emergency Hospital in 1909. Dr. Edmund Rininger was the medical director and other staff included Dr. Mark McKinney and nurses Bertha F. Wiese and Mary Ethel Anderson.3

Kantner entered the Army with the rank of First Lieutenant with Base Hospital 50 on May 1, 1918. Together with other members of the unit, Kantner traveled from Seattle to Camp Kearny, near San Diego, and onto Camp Fremont, near Palo Alto, before leaving for France. He died of angina pectoris or heart failure at Mesves, France, 15 Sep 1918, exhausted after performing nine surgeries the previous day. He worked "strenuously, operating quickly and as continuously as human endurance would permit."4 

In a letter of condolence from Dr. Eagleson, Base Hospital 50's medical director, he recounts Dr. Kantner had been in his usual good health, "full of fun and jokes"and goes on to say "we think his death was very sudden and was caused by a hardening of the arteries of the heart muscle. Eagleson described the funeral and how the French people brought offerings of flowers so numerous "the casket was covered over." An accompanying letter from the medical staff recalled Kantner's "thoughts were constantly of home" and that he had recently "purchased a little French apron which he hoped to send to his daughter for her birthday present."5

The Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington),
 7 October 1918, pg. 3.
William Kantner was survived by his wife, Nell Constance Thompson. The young couple were married by his father at his wife's family home at 1531 Rucker, in Everett. The wedding took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1913. Nell was a graduate of the University of Washington and a member of Chi Omega sorority. They were the parents of one daughter, Helen Constance. 

Following her husband's death, Nell returned to the University of Washington to earn two master's degrees and had a long career as a teacher, a principal, and eventually was appointed the Director of Vocational Education for the State of Washington. Nell never remarried and, as a Gold Star widow, accompanied Washington State's Gold Star Mother Pilgrimage contingent to Europe to visit her husband's burial site at St. Mihiel American Cemetery, located near the site of the hospital where he worked tirelessly to save the lives of so many others.

  1. United States. Army. Base Hospital No. 50. The history of Base Hospital Fifty : a portrayal of the work done by this unit while serving in the United States and with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Seattle, Wash. : The Committee, 1922. 
  2. Pastor's Son Dies in France: Lieutenant William C. Kantner Succumbs to Heart Failure Abroad. The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon), 8 October 1918, pg. 3.
  3. Health, Medicine and the AYPE Old Times. Museum of History and Industry.
  4. Base Hospital 50 Honors Its Dead: Lieutenant Kantner and Four Enlisted Men Gave Lives in Nation's Service. Seattle Post-Intelliencer. no date.
  5. Dr. Kantner is Mourned: Letters from Major and Medical Staff Received by Soldier's Wife. The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon) Sunday, December 1918, pg 3.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

James Beaty Eagleson, M.D. (1862-1928)

 University of Washington Libraries,
Special Collections SEA1242
The name Eagleson invokes the iconic post-fire image of the makeshift office of Doctors Eagleson and Smith, Physicians and Surgeons hastily reopened in a tent -- at Third and Columbia Streets -- in the aftermath of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

Considered to be one of the most distinguished physicians in Seattle history, Dr. Eagleson's legacy extends far beyond that moment in history. Among his many career achievements was serving as the medical director of the University of Washington's Base Hospital 50.

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, on August 30, 1862, James Beaty Eagleson’s parents steered him towards a career as a minister. His father, William Eagleson, was a native of County Antrim, Ireland, and his mother, Elizabeth Hodsden, hailed from Ohio. James Eagleson received his early education in Chillicothe and taught school for several years.

A desire for higher education led him to begin studying medicine in 1881, under the mentorship of Dr. David H. Scott. He graduated from Chicago’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885 and practiced as an intern for a year at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Chicago.

Writing in his journal on Friday, August 20, 1886, Eagleson noted: "I received my order to go to Port Townsend today" fulfilling his dream of being posted to the Pacific Northwest. He was just shy of his 24th birthday. By August, 1887, he had received his official appointment as Acting Assistant Surgeon, Marine Hospital Service, with a yearly salary of $600 and a letter from the Surgeon General to proceed to Seattle to establish the station there.

Dr. Eagleson’s work later led him to Providence and Grace Hospitals, to contract for medical treatment of seamen under the Marine Hospital Service, and a partnership with Dr. Thomas T. Minor. A later partnership was formed with Dr. Lewis R. Dawson. He sought additional training to extend his knowledge of surgery and in September, 1892, traveled to Europe to visit the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the hospitals of London. He was the first Seattle physician to specialize in and limit his practice to surgery. As a surgeon, he was noted for his accurate diagnoses and his conservative approach to operating.

Dr. Eagleson was actively involved in area medical societies and contributed regularly to medical journals. In 1889, he was one of the incorporators of the Washington State Medical Association. An early proponent of germ theory, he brought the topic to the attention of local physicians in 1890 with the publication of a paper entitled “Are Germs the Cause or the Result of Disease?”

He served consecutive terms as President of the King County Medical Society in 1892 and 1893, an organization of which he was also a charter member. A driver behind the publication of Northwest Medicine, Eagleson served as the journal’s business manager in its nascent stages.

Eagleson was also a member of the Army reserve. When it became clear the United States would enter the First World War he was asked to form a base hospital unit. Base Hospital Number 50, the subject of this blog, did noteworthy service in France and Eagleson was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in recognition of the unit’s work.

Following the war, he was active in the formation of the American College of Surgeons and served as a member of its Board of Regents until his death. In addition to his medical endeavors, he was involved in church work and the YMCA throughout his life. Well-read beyond medicine, he established a Chautauqua reading group in Port Townsend and his diary references Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Dickens, and the Bible.

James Beaty Eagleson was married in Seattle on July 1, 1889, to Clara Blanche Mills, a native of Michigan, and they were the parents of four children: James Mills, Margaret Elliott, Helen Elizabeth and Jean Mills Eagleson. Dr. Eagleson died unexpectedly on January 26, 1928, and is buried at Seattle's pioneer Lake View Cemetery.

Dr. Eagleson was a highly respected physician, surgeon, religious and civic leader. He worked tirelessly to build a better community and exemplified his own prescient words recorded in his diary in 1884, “If we improve upon our mistakes of the past, we make our future more perfect.”

  1. Hines, Rev. H. K., D.D. An Illustrated History of the State of Washington, by Rev. The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, IL., 1893, page 488. Submitted to the Washington Biographies Project by Jeffrey L. Elmer, October 2003.
  2. The alumni record of the University of Illinois, Chicago departments. College of Medicine Alumni, Class of 1885, pg. 6. 
  3. King County Medical Society Bulletin, November/December 2013, pg. 8.