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.

No comments:

Post a Comment