Wednesday, November 21, 2018

100 Years Ago: Thanksgiving, 1918

Thanksgiving Day came, and with it came a very good time. Everyone was feeling in very high spirits, and there seemed to be so much to be thankful for this year. Turkey, with all the trimmings, was served to all, and it was indeed a very enjoyable meal.1

With the war finally over, and the stream of wounded beginning to slow, the men and women of Base Hospital 50 were finally in a position to relax and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday which took place on Thursday, November 28, 1918.

In just three short months, since the first patients arrived on August 15, the unit had seen thousands of patients pass through its wards. Five of its men had died as a result of hard work, making them susceptible to diseases such as diphtheria, influenza, and pneumonia. The most recent death, that of Bruce White, came just days before the war ended.

The work of the unit would continue into the new year, but for this Thanksgiving, the unit had much to be grateful for as the men and women, in their respective mess halls, cut into their holiday meal.

Base Hospital 50 Nurses in Mess Hall, Mesves, France, ca. 1918-1919.

  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. Page 75.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years Ago: On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

At 11 a. m. on November 11 a French flyer alighted at the convalescent camp and brought the word that the armistice had been signed early that morning. A number of our men were away on short passes, and four of our men felt so good that when they got on the train to return from Nevers they forgot to get off until the train reached Paris. After spending several days in that gay city celebrating, they returned to camp and were brought up for being A. W. O. L. They were given slight sentences and fined, and then put to work in the incinerator.1

Today marks the 1ooth anniversary since the guns of war were silenced, signaling an end to the Great War. The news didn't reach the men and women of Base Hospital 50, and the rest of the hospital center at Mesves, France, until several hours after the agreement was signed. The hope that the steady stream of wounded would slow after the war ended was short-lived as more forward hospitals began evacuating their wounded to the rear and the grueling work continued.

Meanwhile back home, Seattleites streamed into the streets in jubilation, despite the influenza ban in effect against public gatherings. The Great War would soon become known as World War I because it wasn't the War to End all Wars after all. A generation later an even great conflict would grip the world.

But one hundred years ago today, war-weary men on both sides of  No Man's Land laid down their weapons and came out of the trenches. And America celebrated its part in bringing this great conflict to an end. This pivotal event of the 20th-century would mark the beginning of America's emergence as one of the world's superpowers.

  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. Page 75.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Josephine H - Researching Those Who Served

Irish US Army nurse’s World War I bracelet
returned after worldwide hunt
I recently returned from a wonderful tour, Across Two Wars, sponsored by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the things the tour reinforced for me is it is the stories of individuals which I find to be the most compelling. Charts and numbers about artillery and bombs are all very interesting but the people behind those facts are what really bring the events to life for me.

One such story I came across last week, which has nothing to do with Base Hospital 50, but has everything to do with what motivated me to start this blog in the first place, documents the untold story about one of those who served in World War I. The documentary uncovering the story of Josephine H is exactly the sort of story which inspires and fuels me to continue telling stories myself.

In a nutshell, years ago an 8-year-old student in France came across a bracelet in the schoolyard engraved with "Josephine Heffernan, ABH 59, US ANC". He gave it to his teacher, Estelle Lefeuvre and she promised to find out more about its owner. As so often happens, good intentions to look into the history of the bracelet were derailed by other things and it wasn't until she retired more than a decade later that the bracelet resurfaced and Estelle began to pursue its history.

The United States had an Army hospital at Rimacourt during World War I and the initial theory was Heffernan was an Army nurse there. An international nurse historian, Marjorie DesRosier helped confirm that theory and uncover more details about Josephine, her wartime service and what became of her after the war.

Josephine Heffernan, a native of Ireland, immigrated to the United States in 1906 and attended nursing school. She enlisted to serve during World War I and was deployed to the base hospital in Rimaucourt, France. At some point, her bracelet was lost leading to a historical forensic chase to learn about her life a century later. What a wonderful story combining history, expertise, and luck, all sparked by a curious, and observant, little boy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

100 Year Ago: The Journey Begins... Again

Ships in Halifax Harbor. "Halifax at War". The Halifax Explosion.
The S. S. Karmala proved to be a very slow boat, and the morning after the convoy's departure from New York the ship steadily fell behind the other ships, which were much faster. The convey had to slow down so as to not lose sight of the Karmala. That first day at sea, the Karmala brought up the rear of the convoy. The next morning the Captain received word the Karmala was to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to await another convoy.

On Wednesday morning, July 17, about 11:00 a.m., the Karmala entered Halifax harbor and dropped anchor. There the crew of Base Hospital 50 waited for three days while another convoy was assembled. On Saturday morning, July 20, they set sail again, now part of a convoy of twenty-two ships and a cruiser. It was "a very slow, tiresome journey, and lasted a very long ten days." The route the convoy took was far to the north, and most of the time it was cold and foggy. One highlight of the trip was when several large icebergs were spotted to the north of their route."Life on board ship was none too pleasant, as there was nothing to do to occupy one's time, and also the food was very poor at times. Many were very seasick and had to be put on deck or in sickbay."

  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. Page 66.

Friday, July 13, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Journey Begins

"Early on the morning of July 13th, one hundred and ninety-nine men, accompanied by Col. Bryan, Maj. Eagleson, Capt. Plummer, Lieuts. Kantner, Denno, Van Den Bosch and Lybecker, put on their packs and started on one of the hardest hikes that we made. The men had just been issued their woolen uniforms and hob-nail shoes, and the march up over that long hill and down to the boat landing on that hot July day was about all that we could stand.

Pier 29, East River, New York. 
New York Public Library Digital Collections.
At 11:30 we went aboard a small river boat and started down the Hudson River, arriving at Pier 29 at the foot of Brooklyn Bridge at 1:30. We got off the boat and then had to stand in line with our packs on for two hours before our turn came to go aboard the boat. The Red Cross served us with coffee and doughnuts while we waited on the dock. The other fifteen officers were left at Pier 59 to go as casuals on the S. S. Baltic in the same convoy.

We went aboard the Karmala in command of Capt. Flannigan, U. S. A. The ship was formerly a British freighter in the P. & O. service, and had been used to carry cattle, and was not fit for anything else. The quarters were all very crowded and foul smelling, and the men had to spend most of the time up on deck. The rest of the ship's passengers were Base Hospital personnel and anti-aircraft troops.

Red Cross Base Hosptial 50 Photograph Album, 1918-1919.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, PH Coll 387.
It was not until the following morning, Sunday, at 11, that we left our moorings at the dock and started down the bay and joined the rest of our convoy, which had assembled there. The convoy consisted of twelve transports and a cruiser. While we steamed down the bay a huge dirigible balloon and two seaplanes flew overhead, and several sub chasers accompanied us until dark, and then turned back."

Like other vessels requisitioned as North Atlantic troop transports, the Karmala was painted with a wartime camouflage pattern known as dazzle. The dazzle pattern was not intended to hide the ship completely, but to make it difficult to estimate a ship's speed, direction, and dimensions. Every ship was painted a unique pattern to prevent them from being recognizable. By breaking up the ship's traditional coloring it served to confuse German U-boat rangefinders.

  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. Page 66.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

100 Years Ago: Arrival at Camp Merritt, New Jersey

Camp Merritt, N.J., Verne O. Williams, 1919. Library of Congress 2007664148.

"We arrived at Camp Merritt at 11a.m., July 10th, and were immediately marched to barracks. We had been advised that the Unit would probably have a delay here of about one week before sailing, but, owing to the late arrival of another unit scheduled to sail in three days, we were instructed to change our uniform equipment from cotton to overseas wool and heavy shoes (hobnail) at once and take their place.

This necessitated our working day and night in order to get everything in shape to leave. New wool clothing, hob-nailed shoes, and other articles were issued, and at the last moment, orders came in that all men should have their hair cut close, and this was not so popular with most of the men. The tails of the long overcoats were also shortened.

The History of Base Hospital Fifty, pg. 119.
One number of our unit. Jack Mullane, had to be left behind in the hospital at Camp Merritt on account of sickness. On arriving at Camp Merritt, Major Eagleson found that several of the officers assigned to the unit had not received orders to meet us there. He went to the Surgeon General's office in Washington, D. C, in an endeavor to have the orders changed, but was only partially successful, with the result that Capt. Karshner and Lieuts. Swift, Mattson and Cornet were not able to follow us, and other men were assigned by the Surgeon General's office to fill the vacancies. Lieuts. Schmidt and Hulett joined us here and the others came over on a later boat. Capts. Allen and Helton and Lieuts. Thompson and Buckner, of our own staff, were waiting here. Lieut. Mattice was ordered to join us, but failed to arrive before the unit sailed, and came over on a later ship."

  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. Page 65-66.

Monday, July 9, 2018

100 Years Ago: Married at the Depot

Altered image. McCall's Magazine, June 1918.
"At Detroit, Mich., one member of the Unit met his best girl and took advantage of the delay caused by replacing a broken truck, to get married at the depot."1

The journey east by train was recalled as being "very pleasant" by the men of Base Hospital 50 "with a few incidents of special note to be remembered." No doubt the marriage of Private First Class Leigh Thompson and Thelma Wellington was one of those incidents. Thelma and her family planned to meet Leigh's train as it passed through Detroit, but an unexpected delay provided the opportunity for an impromptu wedding. Their marriage was the culmination of a romance begun in Seattle five years before.2

Thelma Grace Wellington was born on January 16, 1895, the second of Albert Lincoln Wellington and his wife Jessie Victoria Eddy's three daughters. Like her sisters, Marguerite and Frances, Thelma was born in Chicago.3 Together with her parents, Thelma moved to New Orleans where the family was enumerated in the 1910 census.4 Shortly thereafter her family moved to Washington, first to the Everett area and then Seattle, where she entered Broadway High School in September of 1911.5 Thelma graduated in 1915 and Broadway's yearbook, the Sealth, described her as "studious and quiet, actions sweet and kind." How Thelma and Leigh met is unknown, but they must have become acquainted shortly after the Wellington family arrived in Seattle.

Leigh Oliver Thompson was the older of two children born to Robert Oliver Thompson, a native of Scotland, and Jane "Jennie" Smaling. Leigh was born in Havelock, Nebraska, on December 28, 1893, and lived in Kewaunee, Illinois, before moving to Seattle about 1910.6 Leigh seems to have left school at an early age as he is working as a clothing salesman at sixteen. At the time Leigh registered for the draft he was employed as a clerk at the Dexter Horton Bank.7

Thelma and Leigh became engaged in August of 1917. At the time of their announcement, Thelma's parents had recently moved to Detroit.8 In April 1918, Thelma traveled from Detroit to Seattle to see Leigh off as he, and the other members of Base Hospital 50, made their way to Camp Fremont for training.9

Once Base Hospital 50 was eastbound for New York in early July, Leigh telegraphed his fiancée when he learned the unit would have a 45-minute stopover in Detroit on Tuesday, July 9, 1918. At the appointed time, Thelma and her family arrived at Detroit's landmark Michigan Central Depot, expecting only to have a short visit with her fiancé. When the departure was delayed, Leigh "used such persuasive powers" as to convince Thelma to marry him at once. "A hurried trip was made by automobile for the marriage license and the clergyman. The wedding took place in the lobby of the station witnessed by the bride's family and all the officers of the unit."

"An atmosphere of much romance" surrounded the couple, when after a delay procuring a license at city hall, the train was held while they were married in the Depot lobby by Rev. W. L. Torrance of the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, who was hastily summoned to serve as the officiating clergyman. Thelma's father Albert and sister Marguerite served as witnesses. "There was no wedding ring so the bride drew off her grandmother's wedding ring, which she wore on the other hand and it did duty for a second ceremony."10

Detroit Times, July 10, 1918, pg. 2.
Following the ceremony, Thelma returned home with her parents and remained in Detroit for the duration of the war. After Base Hospital 50 returned from France in May of 1919, the young couple was finally able to begin their married life together. They welcomed a son, Donald Eddy Thompson, in 1926. Leigh returned to work as a bank clerk and later worked as a bookkeeper for the Continental Baking Company in Seattle.

Leigh died of a heart attack at his home, 3233 Hunter Boulevard, on December 11, 1958 at the age of 64.11 He had been active in organizing Base Hospital 50 reunions, serving as the organizing committee's treasurer, in addition to Commander of the Lake Washington Post 124 of the American Legion and a member of Posts 8 and 40. Thelma also worked in the office of the Continental Bakery from 1945-1959. She died at the at age of 68 on November 11, 1963.12

  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. Page 65.
  2. "Society." Seattle Daily Times, July 17, 1918, pg. 6.
  3. Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940," database, FamilySearch ( : 6 July 2018), Thelma Grace Wellington, 16 Jan 1895; Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 291650, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm.
  4. "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 July 2018), Thelma G Wellington in household of Albert L Wellington, New Orleans Ward 14, Orleans, Louisiana, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 223, sheet 6B, family 106, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 524; FHL microfilm 1,374,537.
  5. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Thelma G. Wellington, Broadway High School (Seattle, WA), 1915.
  6. "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 July 2018), Lee Oliver Thompson in household of Robert O Thompson, Seattle Ward 3, King, Washington, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 94, sheet 9B, family 197, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1659; FHL microfilm 1,375,672.
  7. "United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 7 July 2018), Leigh Oliver Thompson, 1917-1918; citing Seattle City no 12, Skagit County, Washington, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,992,013.
  8. "Society." Seattle Daily Times, August 20, 1917, pg. 11.
  9. "Society." Seattle Daily Times, April 11, 1918, pg. 6.. 
  10. "Persuades Her to Wed Him as Train Halts at Station on Way." Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1918, pg. 4.
  11. "Leigh O. Thompson." Seattle Times, December 12, 1958, pg. 45. 
  12. "Mrs. Leigh O. Thompson." Seattle Times, November 13, 1963, pg. 17. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

100 Years Ago: Departure Orders Received

"Packing Up" July 2, 1918
Red Cross Base Hospital 50 Photograph Album, 1918-1919, pg 18.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, PH Coll 387.

During the month of June, the Unit received several tips from the War Department to be in readiness for orders to depart. On July 1st,  Brigadier General Joseph Leitch, Commanding Officer of Camp Fremont, inspected the Unit and gave a farewell address to the officers and wished them "Godspeed." Finally, on Tuesday, July 2, 1918, orders were received to pack up and prepare for their long-awaited overseas deployment.

Their departure set was for July 4th, which proved to be a very busy day. Camp was broken and tents and camp equipment were packed up and turned over to the Camp Quartermaster. At noon the Unit marched to a special train at the Remount Station. The train consisted of a combination observation and sleeping car, several sleeping cars, a baggage car outfitted as a commissary, a cook car, and freight cars for baggage. In addition, there were flat cars for ambulances and an automobile, crated and ready for overseas shipment, which had been donated by the people of the Seattle.

Goodbyes were said to families and friends, many of whom had followed the Unit to Palo Alto while they were in training. The schedule called for the Unit to be on board and ready to leave at 1:00 p.m, however, one of the wheels on the cook car was discovered to be badly cracked, requiring another to be sent over from a nearby train yard. Finally, about 5:00 p.m. the train steamed across the head of San Francisco Bay and proceeded through Oakland. Six months after their initial training meeting in Seattle, the Unit's eastern journey had begun. As noted in the Unit's history the train traveled over "the Central Pacific Railway to Ogden, thence over the Union Pacific Railway to Chicago, thence over the Michigan Central to Buffalo, thence over the Erie & Western to Camp Merritt, New Jersey."

Railroad in the United States, 1910
Maps ETC, [map #02089]

  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. Page 65.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

100 Years Ago: Preparing for Gas Attacks

From The History of Base Hospital 50:

"On June 21st, several experts in gas drill, some being British Army officers, arrived from Camp Fremont, and, for five days, gave instructions to officers and men in the use of gas masks. Actual experience with gas was given each man in a gas tent especially erect for this purpose in camp."

"Ready for the gas"
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, PH Coll 387. 

  1. Seattle Daily Times, July 7, 1918, pg 7.

Friday, June 1, 2018

100 Years Ago: High-Class Men Wanted!

Seattle Daily Times, June 4, 1918, page 2.
On June 1, 1918, while the men were receiving training at Camp Fremont, near Palo Alto, California, Dr. Eagleson received the news that Base Hospital 50 would be increased from a 500-bed hospital to 1000 beds. This necessitated an increase in the number of enlisted personnel from 100 to 200 and an increase in officers from 25 to 35.

The increase in personnel was to come from a transfer from Camp Kearney. However, Eagleson thought that they would not integrate well so he went back to Seattle and enlisted an additional 50 men; nevertheless, the Kearney men were still transferred.

Seattle Daily Times, 
June 5, 1918 page 5.
Eagleson ran newspaper ads seeking "high-class men" for enlistment, encouraging those interested to visit his home at 902 Boren Avenue June 5-7th. Eagleson's home was located on Seattle's "First Hill", so-named because it was the first development after early settlers moved out of the original townsite. The grand turreted home in the lower left-hand corner of the postcard below is believed to be that of Dr. and Mrs. Eagleson.

Friday, April 6, 2018

100 Years Ago: South to Camp Fremont

After several months of preparations, the men of Base Hospital 50 were finally on the move! On Saturday, April 6  exactly one year after Wilson's declaration of war on Germany  Major Eagleson led his unit to Camp Fremont, near Palo Alto, California, for further training."Wives and sisters, sweethearts and mothers, gathered at the station an hour before train leaving time, in order to 'surely be there when Jim left.' The men, many of whom are among the best known in the city, and many of whom are former University of Washington students, were given a rousing sendoff by Seattle friends" and boarded a train headed south to continue their training in anticipation of soon being deployed overseas.1

The special train, which departed at 11:15 a.m., consisted of "Pullman sleepers, a dining car and a baggage car, which was used for an assembly hall for concerts for the trip. Friends of the Unit in Seattle presented a folding organ, which, with numerous musical instruments brought by the men added to the pleasure of the trip."2 The unit was met at 6:00 p.m. by a delegation of Portland citizens and served a "splendid dinner" at a nearby hotel before continuing their journey. The unit arrived at Camp Fremont at 11:00 a.m. on April 8, 1918, and reported to Major Ray W. Bryan, regular Medical Corps, United States Army, who had been detailed by the War Department as Base Hospital 50's commanding officer.

  1. Seattle Hospital Men Speeded on Way to South. Seattle Daily Times, Saturday, April 6, 1918. Page 4. 
  2. 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. Page 63
  3. "Seattle Hospital Unit Leaving." Seattle Daily Times, Sunday, April 7, 1918. Page 25. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

100 Years Ago: Unit Receives Mobilization Orders

On March 26, 1918, while studying Base Hospital organization and management at Camp Lewis under Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Northington, Dr. James Eagleson received the much-anticipated "telegram from the War Department instructing him to proceed at once with the mobilization of Base Hospital No. 50 for active training."1

Northington came to Camp Lewis in June, 1917, with the task of not only commanding the Camp Hospital but building it. Eighteen days after construction began on August 20, 1917, it was ready for 405 patients.2

At the meeting of the Base Hospital 50 "personnel at the State Armory on March 27 the order to mobilize the Unit at once was announced, and was received with great glee. Telegrams were sent to those living outside of Seattle to report at once for duty. At the request of Major Eagleson the men were ordered to mobilize at Fort Lawton," in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.1

  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. Page 63
  2. Henderson, Alice Palmer. The Ninety-first, the First at Camp Lewis. Tacoma, Wash. :  John C. Barr, 1918. Page 44
  3. "Seattle Hospital Unit to Mobilize." Tacoma Daily Times, Wednesday, March 27, 1918. Page 5. 

    Saturday, February 24, 2018

    Something About France: Ada Merrifield and Copeland Plummer

    Postcard detail, ca. 1918.
    War Nurses. Series 571.
    The wards of Base Hospital 50 provided the backdrop for another wartime romance, that of nurse Ada Merrifield and physician Copeland Plummer. Curiously Ada's prospective husband got prime billing in the news over her exemplary war service. Ada was one of just two Base Hospital 50 nurses to be awarded a Croix de Guerre, for her bravery and endurance during the influenza epidemic, yet "Nurse Wins Fiancé and Cross of War" was how one headline conveyed the news.1

    Ada Mary (or Merry) Merrifield was the oldest of three daughters born to Edward Lee Merrifield and his wife, the former Myrtle Young. Ada's parents were both originally from West Virginia, and following their marriage in 1889, made their way west to Washington where Ada was born in the town of Christopher on April 21, 1890.2 She was followed by sisters Florine in 1896 and Lee in 1905. Edward Merrifield was a pioneer merchant in South King County and the family later moved to the city of Kent. Ada graduated from Seattle's Washington High School (later Broadway High School) and then went on to enter nursing school at Minor Private Hospital.3 After a course of three years, Ada graduated on January 31, 1912, and received her nursing license several months later.

    Ada married Seattle dentist Clyde Merrill Mattice in Tacoma on March 4, 1915.4 The young couple rented an apartment at the Olympian (1605 E. Madison).5 The marriage wasn't a success and Ada filed for a divorce on the grounds of non-support and desertion, which was granted on July 31, 1917.6 Perhaps in anticipation of her divorce, Ada renewed her nursing license in March of 1917. Clyde doesn't seem to have been a model husband as he was sued for divorce a second time, this time for cruelty, just two years later. By March of 1918, Ada had already enlisted with the Red Cross and been assigned to serve with Base Hospital 50.7

    It's unknown whether Ada ever encountered her future husband in Seattle prior to serving in France, but it was there, according to a letter Copeland wrote to his mother, that a week after he saw Ada "working in the pneumonia ward he knew he was in love" and "had met his Waterloo" according to newspaper accounts.8

    Reginald Copeland Plummer was an otolaryngologist who, like many of Seattle's prominent physicians, readily enlisted to serve with Base Hospital 50. Commissioned as a captain he was promoted to major at war's end. He served as the unit's Chief of Head Surgery and as the detachment commander.

    He was born on November 22, 1881, in Lansing, Michigan, to Civil War veteran William Henry Plummer and his Irish-born wife Sarah Anne Cochrane. He had one sister, Mabel, who was eleven years older and died when Copeland was 11. In his younger years, he went by Reg and Rex, but in Seattle he generally was known as Copeland.

    He graduated from Lansing High School and then studied at the University of Michigan where he received his medical degree in 1908.9 After finishing his internship, he became the assistant to Dr. Roy Bishop Canfield and an instructor in the Department of Otolaryngology. Dr. Canfield declared Copeland was the “most capable man I have ever trained.” In 1912, he spent several months in Vienna before settling in Seattle, together with his parents, to continue his practice.10

    By February 1919, as their time in France was winding down, Ada and Copeland had made the decision to marry. After Base Hospital 50 was officially disbanded, Ada made her way back to Seattle to prepare for their wedding, leaving ahead of most of Base Hospital 50's nurses and before she could be awarded her Croix de Guerre. She arrived in New York on the U.S.S. Leviathan on March 6, 1919. The couple was married on May 10, after Copeland returned home with the staff of Base Hospital 50 on the Graf Waldersee in late April.11 Ada wore a black satin dress with blue and gold embroidery and a black hat trimmed with birds of paradise.12

    In 1921, Ada and Copeland welcomed their only child, daughter Nancy Lee. After the war, Copeland resumed his practice and was elected president of King County Medical Society in 1922. A skilled surgeon, Copeland specialized in the removal of foreign objects from the esophagus. Ada dedicated her time to charitable works and raising daughter Nancy who enjoyed competitive horseback riding. Copeland died prematurely, at the age of 55, on December 26, 1936, at Seattle's Swedish Hospital. He had been forced to retire a decade earlier from tuberculosis which had settled into his genitourinary tract. He was cremated and interred at Lakeview Cemetery.13

    Ada died suddenly in 1948 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 57.14 She was looking forward to a visit later that week from her daughter and her family and had already invited friends to a dinner in their honor. From the wards of Base Hospital 50 to the shores of Lake Washington, Ada Merrifield and Copeland Plummer's romance was just one of the hidden stories of World War I.

    1. Nurse Wins Fiance and Cross of War. Morning Oregonian, 17 Apr 1919, pg 1.
    2. Washington Births, 1891-1919. Washington State Archives; Olympia, Washington. Ada M. Merrifield, 21 April 1890, 12312.
    3. Ada M. Merrifield, Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Division, Registered Nurses Licensing Files, 1909-1917, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.
    4. Marriage of Ada M. Merrifield and Clyde M. Mattice. Pierce County Auditor, Marriage Records, 1876-1947; 1984-2014, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.
    5. Society. Seattle Daily Times, 13 February 1915, pg 3.
    6. In Divorce Courts. Seattle Daily Times, 1 Aug 1917, pg 9.
    7. Base Hospital Unit to Mobilize at Palo Alto. Seattle Daily Times, 28 March 1918, pg 14.
    8. Wins War Cross. Seattle Daily Times, 16 Apr 1919, pg 2.
    9. Reginald Copeland Plummer, Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Division, Physician Applications and Registers, 1872-1946, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.
    10. Obituaries. Northwest Medicine. 1937 February. 36(2):65. 
    11. Marriage of Ada M. Merrifield and Copeland Plummer. King County Marriage Records, 1855-Present, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.
    12. Merrifield-Plummer Wedding. Seattle Sunday Times, 18 May 1919, pg 3.
    13. Copeland C. Plummer. Department of Health, Death Index, 1907-1960; 1965-2014, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.
    14. Ada Merrifield Plummer. Department of Health, Death Index, 1907-1960; 1965-2014, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 24 February 2018.

    Sunday, February 4, 2018

    Julia Augusta Button, RN, ANC, 1876-1945

    Julia August Button was born on July 20, 1876 in Auburn, New York to Charles Cooper Button and Clarissa Angeline Rathbun.  Charles worked as a teller at the historic Cayuga Co. National Bank.  Julia was the second child joining older sister Mary Rathburn. The family continued to expand welcoming Frances Harriet in 1878, Charles Edward in 1880, and Ruth Louise in 1883.
    Julia and her sister Mary were baptized together at the Second Presbyterian Church on August 3, 1879.

    Tragedy struck the family in early May 1884 when Charles Cooper was stricken with pneumonia and passed away one week later.  Guardianship of Julia and her siblings was granted to Charles’s father James D. Button.  City directories show that James live two houses down from the family and worked as the physician for the nearby Auburn Prison.  James passed away in late 1887 and at that time Clarissa was granted guardianship of her minor children.

    Clarissa remarried on Feb. 27, 1889 to Charles Wesley Smith, a local school teacher. In the early 1890s, the family moved across the country and settled in Seattle where Charles found work first in real estate and then as the librarian for the Seattle Public Library.

    Following in her older sister Mary’s footsteps, Julia began classes at the University of Washington on September 4, 1895.  Tuition for all students at this time was free to Washington state residents.  She attended through the 1896-1897 school year but did not earn a degree.

    In 1900, Julia and her younger sister Frances entered the nurse training program at Seattle General Hospital.  In early 1902, Frances contracted typhoid fever and meningitis. Sadly, she lost her battle and passed away at the young age of 24 on May 29.  Julia graduated from the Seattle General Hospital training on September 30, 1902 and then found work in private nursing.

    Julia’s brother Charles Edward left Seattle in 1902 and traveled back to New York to enroll in Cornell University.  Unfortunately, during his second year at school the town of Ithaca faced a large typhoid outbreak and he was one the students stricken with the disease.  He returned home and then traveled to Arizona to try to regain his health.  While in Arizona, his condition worsened and he was stricken with tuberculosis.  On February 12, 1907,  Julia said goodbye to another sibling when Charles died at the age of 26.

    In 1909, Washington state established the Washington State Board of Nurse Examiners which provided examination and educational requirements for all nurses.   Julia submitted her application and became a registered nurse in September 1909.

    Julia continued to live with her mother and stepfather in a house at 930 26th Ave, seen in the photo the right.  By 1910, Charles had left his position at the Seattle Public Library and began a new career as a partner in the law office of Smith & Kelly.

    Julia’s work as a private nurse took her to locations around the state.  When she renewed her nursing license in 1914, she was taking care of Elizabeth Baker at her home in Walla Walla, Washington.

    In the summer of 1918, she answered the call for nurses when the United States entered World War I and was sent to Camp Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky for training.  On August 25, 1918,  she boarded the steamer France in New York City with fellow nurses on their way overseas to serve their country at Base Hospital 50. 

    After 8 months overseas,  Julia boarded the U.S.S. Santa Rosa in Bordeaux, France to return home.  Unlike her voyage over,  she was the only nurse on board along with 1,868 service men, 42 officers, and 50 prisoners.  She stepped back on American soil early on June 28, 1919.  She returned to Seattle and continued working as a private nurse residing with her mother and step-father.

    In early 1922,  Julia’s mother Clarissa came down with pneumonia and passed away at the age of 74.

    She left private nursing by 1924, and found work as a physiotherapy aide at the United States Veteran’s Bureau in Seattle.  She remained in this role until shortly before her death.

    In the 1930s, Julia resided at the University Women's Club in downtown Seattle.   By 1940, she had moved in with her  divorced sister Ruth Fowler, and her two grown children, Betty and Harry in a nice home in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle.

    In the summer of 1945, Julia was admitted to the United States Marine Hospital in Seattle and was diagnosed with aleukemic myeloid leukemia.  Two months later on August 15, 1945, Julia Augusta Button passed away at the age of 69.  She was buried next to her mother and siblings.

    1. 1880 United States Federal Census[database on-line] Census Place: Auburn, Cayuga, New York; Roll: 813; Family History Film: 1254813; Page: 227C; Enumeration District: 003; Image: 0218
    2. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Census Place: Seattle Ward 1, King, Washington; Roll: 1744; Page: 8A; Enumeration District:0085; FHL microfilm: 1241744
    3. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Census Place: Seattle Ward 3, King, Washington; Roll: T624_1659; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0092; FHL microfilm: 1375672
    4. Source: Year: 1920; Census Place: Seattle, King, Washington; Roll: T625_1929; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 258; Image: 553
    5. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Year: 1930; Census Place: Seattle, King, Washington; Roll: 2499; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0137; Image: 288.0; FHL microfilm: 2342233
    6. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line].  Census Place: Seattle, King, Washington; Roll: T627_4377; Page: 62A; Enumeration District: 40-131
    7. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. 
             Auburn, New York City Directories 1874, 1876, 1879, 1886, 1888-1891 
             Seattle, Washington City Directories 1893-1943
    8. Banta, Theodore M. Sayre Family: Lineage of Thomas Sayre, a Founder of Southampton. New York: The De Vinne Press, 1901. Print. Page 474
    9. C.E. Button, Who Recently Died in Arizona. The Seattle Daily Times. Saturday, Feb. 16, 1907. 
    10. Eight Nurses Leave to Seattle to Take Up Duties at U.S. Camps. Seattle Times May 25, 1918
    11. Julia Augusta Button. Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Division, Registered Nurses Licensing Files, 1909-1917, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,
    12. Manual of the Second Presbyterian Church of Auburn, N.Y. Auburn, N.Y: Knapp & Peck, 1880. Page 46.
    13. Miss Button Passes Away. The Seattle Star. Friday, May 30, 1902. Page 4. Accessed via 
    14. The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Lists of Incoming Passengers, compiled 1917-1938; NAI Number: 6234465; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; Record Group Number: 92; Roll or Box Number: 303
    15. Rathbone Genealogy, Volume 1 (1898) [online database]. Lehi, UT, USA: MyHeritage (USA) Inc.
    16.  Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Division. Julia Augusta Button. Registered Nurses Licensing Files, 1909-1917, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, 

    Thursday, February 1, 2018

    What is a base hospital?

    Base Hospital 50 (BH50) was just one part of a large orchestrated triage system designed to evacuate and treat the wounded during World War I. In her article, Base Hospital 43: The Emory Unit, Margaret Clark describes how the network was developed:
    George W. Crile, MD, (1864–1943) had seen firsthand the medical problems which had emerged during the Spanish American War. He urged Army Surgeon General William Crawford Gorgas (1854–1920) to devise a better plan. Crile recommended that medical units be formed from existing medical institutions in the United States. It was hoped that by asking existing medical institutions from around the country to form such units, the doctors and nurses would already know each other and protocols and new procedures would not have to be developed. For the Army, however, there were some political challenges to organizing and recruiting units during peacetime. The largest obstacle was that they didn't have the authority to do it. The American National Red Cross did.
    To meet the nation's public health needs, Congress had incorporated the American National Red Cross in June of 1900, under the direction of Clara Barton. Their mission was to provide support in times of national emergency. The Red Cross charter was revised in 1905 to expand that group's role as the national agency responsible for disaster relief and service to members of the military and their families.
    On September 12, 1914, although the United States had not yet entered the war in Europe, The Red Cross, a relief ship staffed by volunteer Red Cross doctors and nurses sailed from New York for Europe. Many of these volunteers would only serve 1 year, and return to the United States. By 1916 however, America's entrance to the European conflict seemed eminent. Army Surgeon General Gorgas hoped to build on this volunteer initiative and asked the American Red Cross to organize 50 reserve base hospitals to augment pending military involvement. Academic institutions and large hospitals were specifically asked to form units for a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). The peacetime registration/organization of military hospitals would include staffing and supplies for a 500-bed hospital. Ideally, the units would have 22 physicians, 2 dentists, 65 Red Cross nurses, 153 enlisted corpsmen, 6 civilians, and a chaplain. The hospital was to be available for immediate duty for up to 2 years. The criteria for the staff selection were listed as “personal knowledge.” Particular care was taken in requests made to medical schools. While it was recognized that these institutions would probably have the practitioners with the highest skill levels available, the War Department did not want to strip the schools of their teaching faculty. Crile organized one of the first of these units from Lakeside Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio as US Army Base Hospital 4, they were among the first American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) sent to France.
    In the summer of 1917, Surgeon General Gorgas authorized the organization of base hospitals, under the auspices of the Red Cross. The news was received with enthusiasm, and the fifty units authorized by the Surgeon General were organized so quickly they were ready and waiting for active service before the Army was ready to place them. The University of Washington's Base Hospital 50 was the final hospital authorized for service.

    Base hospitals were part of the casualty evacuation chain and established in areas behind the front. The injured were first treated at triage stations near the battle line. They were then transported by ambulance to casualty clearing stations. Once stable, they might be sent by train to a hospital center, like the one near Mesves-Bulcy to which Base Hospital 50 was attached. While in active service in France, the unit received both surgical and medical cases and, in particular, treated compound fractures and joint injuries. By the time it ceased to function on February 19, 1919, the total number of sick and wounded treated by Base Hospital 50 staff was 7,399, with 1,135 operations.

    1. Base Hospitals of the AEF.
    2. Clark, Margaret A. Base Hospital 43: The Emory Unit. MedGenMed. 2007; 9(3): 10. PMCID: PMC2100082.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2018

    Alma Lighthall MacAdam, RN, ANC, 1889-1966

    From Ontario to Omak and back again.

    Alma Evelyn Lighthall had already traveled North America from coast to coast before being dispatched to France along with the other nurses of Base Hospital 50. The youngest of six children born to Giles Samuel Lighthall and his wife Isabella Vogan, Alma was born on April 2, 1889, in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada. Her parents, both natives of Ontario, were of Irish and English descent.

    On May 31, 1910, after successfully completing two-and-a-half years of study, Alma was one of fifteen nurses to graduate from the Jewish Hospital Training School, located in Brooklyn.1 The following September she received her nursing license from the State of New York.2

    While Alma was pursuing her nursing studies, several of her siblings had made their way from Ontario to western Canada. Later her sister, Bertha, together with her husband, Fred Fitzpatrick, immigrated to the United States, originally residing in Seattle. The Fitzpatricks would soon settle on a fruit orchard in Omak, located in Washington's northeast corner.

    Alma made her way west, as well, and eventually spent several years with her sister, Bertha, after she was suddenly widowed. At the time she enlisted with the Red Cross to serve as a nurse with Base Hospital 50, Alma was recorded as being from Omak. Alma's service was included in Okanogan County's honor roll. Along with the rest of the nursing contingent assigned to Base Hospital 50, Alma received her orders to travel to New York where the nurses were met with several delays before finally sailing on the La France on August 25, 1918.3

    Okanogan High School. Junior Class. (1919).
      Service record of the community war work
    After serving eight months, Alma returned to the United States, sailing from Brest to Hoboken, New Jersey, arriving on April 23, 1919, together with some of the nurses she'd served alongside in Mesves.4 Alma seems to have made her way to Ontario, and Vankleek Hill, to visit her family following her return as she was recorded returning to the U.S. in May with Omak, listed as her destination.5 The Army had other plans for her, however, as she was posted to Camp Grant, near Rockford, Illinois, during the summer of 1919, before she made her way to Washington.6

    By the time the 1920 census is enumerated, Alma was living in Seattle, employed as a nurse at the  Mount Baker Park Sanitarium located at 3119 S. Day Street.7 This impressive home, built in 1897, is one of Seattle's finest examples of Queen Anne architecture. Built for attorney Will Thompson, Ernest McKay constructed the house with materials from a sawmill at 30th Avenue South and South Judkins Street. The Thompson house served as a sanitarium after World War I and later a rooming house until 1976.

    Alma later returned to government service working as a public health nurse in Prescott, Arizona, before being transferred to U.S. Veterans' Hospital 98 in Beacon, New York in 1924. By 1930, she was working as a private duty nurse in Brooklyn.8

    On June 23, 1933, Alma married florist, John Alexander Gilbert MacAdam in Windsor, Ontario. A widower, John, was from her hometown of Vankleek Hill. Frederica Fitzpatrick, daughter of her late sister Bertha, served as Alma's witness. At the time of her marriage, Alma was living at 565 St. Mark's Place in Brooklyn. Theirs was to be a short marriage, unfortunately, as John died just five years later, in 1938.

    Alma Lighthall MacAdam survived her husband by nearly 30 years. She died in Brooklyn, on August 31, at the age of 77, and is buried alongside her husband, parents, and siblings at Greenwood Cemetery, in Vankleek Hill.

    1. "Nurses get Diplomas from Jewish Hospital" The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1 June 1910, page 4.
    2. Lighthall, Alma. Professional Nursing License 7278, dated 27 September 1910. ( Office of the Professions, Verification Searches).
    3. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives Record Group 92, roll 441; digital image,, (Accessed 16 January 2018). Alma Lighthall, La France, sailed 25 August 1918, New York to Brest, France.
    4. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives Record Group 92, roll 205; digital image,, (Accessed 16 January 2018). Alma E. Lighthall, S. S. Mobile, sailed 13 April 1919, Brest, France to Hoboken, New Jersey.
    5. Manifests of Passengers Arriving at St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895-1954; National Archives Record Group 85; Roll 368. Alma Lighthall, May, 1919.
    6. The Silver Chev'. Camp Grant, Ill: U.S. Army Base Hospital, 1919. 
    7. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Seattle, King, Washington. NARA T625-1930; Enumeration District 296, Page: 6A; Line: 15; Alma Lighthall.
    8. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Brooklyn, Kings, New York. NARA T626-1528; Enumeration District 688, Page: 5A; Line: 8. Alma Lighthall.