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 FiancĂ© 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.