Thursday, February 14, 2019

"A Romance Resulted": Irene Wilkinson and Bernard O'Connor

Cupid's arrow struck one more couple amidst the wards of Base Hospital 50: Nurse Irene Wilkinson and Private First Class Bernard "Barney" O'Connor. It all began when Irene visited the dispensary staffed by pharmacist Barney and love was the drug for them, you might say!1

Irene Wilkinson was born in Stanley, New Brunswick, Canada, on July 18, 1895, the oldest child and only daughter of Thomas Lemuel Wilkinson, and his wife Frances Elizabeth Jonah, both natives of New Brunswick, and of Irish descent.2 Irene had three younger brothers St. Elmo, Gregory, and Jack. By 1911 the Wilkinson family had made its way from Eastern Canada to the far west of Vancouver, British Columbia.3

Irene traveled to Bellingham, Washington, 55 miles south of Vancouver, crossing the border in pursuit of nursing education.4 Irene graduated from St. Luke Hospital's nursing school in April 1918 and had enlisted with Base Hospital 50 before she'd even completed her studies.5, 6 She received a month's training at Fort Riley, Kansas, before being ordered to meet up with her fellow nurses in New York.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1888, Bernard Leo O'Connor was the oldest of Peter O'Connor and Sarah McDonald's three children.7 Both natives of Ireland, Peter and Sarah had immigrated to the United States in the 1870s. Barney, as he was known to friends and family had a younger brother, Peter, and sister, Sarah. Barney graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, the first pharmacy college in the nation, founded in 1821.8 Barney later moved to Seattle where he studied business at the University of Washington between 1910-1912 and was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. 

Barney served as a pharmacist for Base Hospital 50, where he met Irene "when it became necessary for the surgical nurse to go to the dispensary for supplies" and "a romance resulted."1 After the war ended both returned to the United States with their respective units; Barney on the S.S. Graf Waldersee with the men of Base Hospital 50 and Irene on the S.S. Mobile with the first group of nurses to receive debarkation orders. Barney arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 20, 1919.9 Irene arrived in Hoboken on April 23, 1919, and proceeded to the New York's Hotel Albert for demobilization.10 From there the young couple made their way to Boston, where both had extended family, and were married on May 7, 1919, residing at the Hotel Lenox during their stay.11

After the war ended, Barney was a drug salesman and then partner in pharmacies in Los Angeles, Yakima, and Wenatchee.12 Later he owned a successful chain of pharmacies and a medical supply company in Seattle. Irene and Barney remained active in the veterans community, including the American Legion, and were fixtures in helping to organize the annual Veteran's Day reunions for the personnel of Base Hospital 50.

Barney died at the age of 69, after a short period of poor health, in 1958.13 Irene died one month shy of her 99th birthday, in 1994, and was buried next to her husband at Holyrood Catholic Cemetery in Shoreline, Washington.14 The romance of a quick-witted Irishman and his Rose of No Man's Land, was just one of the stories told and retold at reunions of the adventures of Base Hospital 50.

  1. "They Recalled Overseas Service" Seattle Daily Times, August 2, 1942, p23. 
  2. "New Brunswick, Provincial Returns of Births and Late Registrations, 1810-1906," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 February 2019), Wilkinson, 18 Jul 1895; citing Stanley, York, New Brunswick, certificate 006412, Provincial Archives, Fredericton; FHL microfilm 2,024,645.
  3. "Recensement du Canada de 1911," database, FamilySearch ( : 13 February 2019), Irene Wilkinson in entry for Thos L Wilkinson, 1911; citing Census, Vancouver Sub-Districts 19-50, British Columbia, Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 2,417,662.
  4. "United States Border Crossings from Canada to United States, 1895-1956," database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Irene Wilkinson, Jun 1917; from "Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1954," database and images, Ancestry( : 2010); citing Ship , arrival port Blaine, Washington,, line 3, NARA microfilm publication M1464, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 338.
  5. "Local Hospital Will Graduate Nurses" Bellingham Herald, Monday, April 1, 1918 p4.
  6. "Base Hospital Unit to Mobilize at Palo Alto" Seattle Daily Times, March 28, 1918, p14. 
  7. "Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 February 2019), Benard Connors, 22 Feb 1888; citing Birth, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, City of Philadelphia, Department of Records, Pennsylvania.
  8. "Services Set for Bernard L. O'Connor" The Seattle Times, Thursday, January 30, 1958, p44.
  9. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives Record Group 92, roll 109; digital image,, (Accessed 13 February 2019). Bernard L. O'Connor, S.S. Graf Waldersee, sailed 7 April 1919, Brest, France to Hoboken, New Jersey.
  10. 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 13 February 2019). Irene M. Wilkinson, S.S. Mobile, sailed 13 April 1919, Brest, France to Hoboken, New Jersey.
  11. "Massachusetts State Vital Records, 1841-1920", database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 February 2019), Bernard L O'Connor and Irene M Wilkinson, May 7,1919.
  12. "B.L. O'Connor Buys Store" Drug Trade Weekly, March 26, 1921, p14.
  13. Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 13 February 2019), memorial page for Bernard L O'Connor (1888–1958), Find A Grave Memorial no. 26691610, citing Holyrood Catholic Cemetery, Shoreline, King County, Washington.
  14. Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 13 February 2019), memorial page for Irene M Wilkinson O'Connor (18 Jul 1895–2 Jun 1994), Find A Grave Memorial no. 81492785, citing Holyrood Catholic Cemetery, Shoreline, King County, Washington.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Clara Mabel Cramer, RN, ANC, 1883-1953

"I will soon arise shed my bath robe sheep skin shoes blanket etc. and in their place put my leather sweater (a dandy) wool sweater rain coat boots and hat and after stopping at the nurses mess for a short while will go on to work and the queer part of it is that I am enjoying such a life immensely."1

Ashland Tidings, Jan. 14, 1918, pg 5.

Clara Mabel Cramer was one of 25,000 graduate nurses who enlisted with the American Red Cross to serve during World War I. Clara was working as a nurse in Bellingham, Washington, when the call went out in newspapers across the Pacific Northwest for 100 nurses to staff Base Hospital 50. 

A native of Galva, Kansas, Clara was the third of four daughters born to Loren Lamont Cramer and his wife, Leora Tinsley. Loren and Leora were married on December 23, 1887, in McPherson County, Kansas.2 Their first daughter Lillian Esther arrived in 1879; Maude in 1880; Clara on March 28, 1883; followed by Myrtle in 1885.

Local newspapers such as The Galva TimesThe McPherson Daily Republican, and The Canton Pilot, were full of mentions of the four Cramer girls, their perfect school attendance—"those with the grit and life about them to be on time"—exemplary deportment and visits with friends and relatives.3 In 1895, Clara was tasked with arguing against the question “that traveling is more beneficial to the young than school” and yet her life would take her on many adventures.4

In 1901, Clara graduated from Galva High School. She likely taught school for several years before enrolling at the Illinois Training School for Nurses in Chicago in 1904 with the intention of "completing the three-year course if the work proves congenial".5 In 1907, Clara graduated with first honors and began her nursing career at the Cook County Hospital.6

After their marriages two of Clara's sisters, Lillian and Myrtle, moved to Bellingham and in 1909 Clara joined them there.7 Clara was enumerated in the 1910 federal census living with her sister Lillian Cramer Morrison.8 Later that year, on November 28, 1910, she applied for a Washington State Nursing license.9 Clara's brother-in-law, John Reid Morrison was a physician and Clara may have assisted in his practice. Clara continued to hone her nursing skills and by the time she renewed her nursing license in 1916, she had completed a short course in bacteriology and lab analysis in Seattle. 

 American Red Cross Nursing recruits who received their
 equipment kits at the Holly Hotel, Washington Square,
New York City. NARA 20806898.
When the United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, the armed forces had an inadequate medical corps and immediately began recruiting civilian doctors to help fill out their ranks and create a network of base hospitals and other triage centers. The Army also turned to the American Red Cross, still a fledgling organization at the time, to help supply graduate nurses, those who had completed training at an accredited nursing school, like Clara Cramer. By March of 1918, Clara had enlisted with the Red Cross and been assigned to Base Hospital 50, the Seattle unit organized under the auspices of the University of Washington.10 

Clara made a visit home to Galva to visit her parents, sister Maude and other family and friends before reporting to duty at Fort Riley, Kansas, on May 15, 1918.11 After receiving basic training, Clara joined up with other nurses assigned to Base Hospital 50 in New York City to receive their uniforms, get additional training and wait for orders. The unit's history describes how they spent the time waiting for their deployment orders, including a trip to the Stock Market, before finally departing aboard the France, along with over 4,500 soldiers and nurses, from Pier 86 on the Hudson River on August 25, 1918.12, 13

Two of Clara's letters home were published in local papers describing her experiences and the journey to France.1,14 Once they arrived in Mesves in late August, the nurses worked steadily through the end of 1918, when units began to be consolidated including Base Hospital 50 which was deactivated on January 20, 1919. Clara was one of 50 of the unit's nurses transferred to Evacuation Hospital 31, located at Nantes, near the French coast. Eventually, the nurses received their orders to return to the United States, sailing on the Imperator on July 7, 1919.15 Upon their return, the nurses were demobilized at the Hotel Albert in New York City's Washington Square. 

Clara was discharged on August 7, 1919, and made her way home to Galva for a welcome visit with her family. Eventually, she returned to Washington where she worked as a nurse in Seattle, Bellingham, and Everett. Whether it was a private nurse or for a much-needed break after the war, Clara spent nine months in Hawaii from December 1921 through September 1922. In 1936 she received a Bachelor of Nursing Degree from the University of Washington and a certificate in Public Health Nursing. Clara later returned to the city where her nursing education began, Chicago, where she worked for several years before returning to Bellingham. Clara's adventurous life as an independent woman ended at the age of 70, just months after the death of her sister Lillian, and she was buried in her hometown of Galva, Kansas.16

Detail from signature quilt donated to
Galva Historial Museum. McPherson Sentinal.
Clara's eventful life as a self-sufficient woman, traveling, furthering her education and serving her country is remarkable in its own right.17 And yet, her story does not end here. In 2017, more than 60 years after her death, several of Clara's family quilts were discovered in a thrift store in Oregon. A shopper recognized their historical value and, noting the mention of several Kansas towns, contacted a museum in McPherson County, who in turn forwarded her email to a curator at the Galva Historical Museum.

Three amazing quilts, which belonged to the Cramer family, were returned to the community that nurtured Clara in her youth. One of the quilts is inscribed to Clara, by her paternal grandmother Sabrina Wilsey Cramer, with a date of 1904 the year she first left Galva to attended nursing school in Chicago.18 This tangible postscript to one woman's incredible, yet invisible, experiences reminds us that every life has a story and the threads are just waiting to be pieced together. 

  1. "Red Cross Nurse's Letter." The McPherson Weekly Republican, Friday, December 13, 1918, p10.
  2. Kansas, County Marriage Records, 1811-1911 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
  3. "School Report" The Galva Times, Friday, January 30, 1891, p2. 
  4. "Galva Public Schools" The McPherson Republican, Friday, January 25, 1895, p1.
  5. "GalvaThe McPherson Daily Republican, Friday, January 29, 1904, p4.
  6. "Kansas Girls Win Honors" The Canton Pilot, Friday, November 08, 1907, p5.
  7. "Galva" The McPherson Weekly Republican, Friday, September 17, 1909, p5. 
  8. "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 February 2019), Clara Cramer in household of John R Morrison, Bellingham Ward 4, Whatcom, Washington, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 332, sheet 4A, family 72, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1673; FHL microfilm 1,375,686.
  9. Clara M. Cramer, Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Division, Registered Nurses Licensing Files, 1909-1917, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, 9 February 2019.
  10. "Base Hospital Unit to Mobilize at Palo AltoSeattle Daily Times, Thursday, March 28, 1918, p14.
  11. "Galva" The McPherson Daily Republican, Saturday, May 11, 1918, p3.
  12. "War Nurses at Stock ExchangeNew-York Tribune, August 20, 1918, p8.
  13. 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 11 February 2019). Clara Cramer, La France, sailed 25 August 1918, New York to Brest, France.
  14. "From FranceThe Canton Pilot, Thursday, January 2, 1919, p2.
  15. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives Record Group 92, roll 125; digital image,, (Accessed 11 February 2019). Clara M. Cramer, S. S. Imperator, sailed 7 July 1919, Brest, France to Hoboken, New Jersey.
  16. Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 20 January 2019), memorial page for Clara Mabel “Bay” Cramer (28 Mar 1883–13 Sep 1953), Find A Grave Memorial no. 48196678, citing Empire Cemetery, Galva, McPherson County, Kansas, USA.
  17. Washington, World War I Veteran's Compensation Fund Application Records, 1921-1925," database, FamilySearch ( : 5 December 2018), Clara M Cramer, 8 May 1918; citing Galva, McPherson, Kansas, United States, Military Service, Washington State Archives, Olympia; FHL microfilm 004992972.
  18. A common thread: Oregon woman sends antique quilt home to Galva. McPherson Sentinal. [online] May 18, 2018. (Accessed 11 February 2019.)

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Happy New Year!

"Then New Years' Eve came, and with it a lot of celebrating. There was a masked ball affair at the recreation hall, and everyone turned out, decorated in some sort of a costume. Many of the boys went to Mesves or some of the other small towns nearby and celebrated, and everyone seemed to be in the best of spirits.

New Years' Day was rather quiet, as the night before had had some effect on the men, and they did not feel quite so good as they did the day previous. There was very little work, and it was more or less of a holiday with everyone. The enlisted men had a very fine dinner in their mess hall, and after this a number of patients from the convalescent camp put on a vaudeville show, a stage having been constructed at one end of the mess hall."1

A new year, 1919, dawned with the promise of peace. The men and women of Base Hospital 50, their workload diminishing, turned their attention to filling out the myriad of military paperwork, dismantling wards and other duties in anticipation they would soon receive orders to return to the United States to be mustered out of service.

The mood of the unit was light as they went around their work, there was more time to explore the French countryside and even take in a trip to Paris. It was a heady time. The influenza epidemic that had been raging worldwide for the past six months was finally winding down and the convalescing patients at the hospital center were recovering enough to begin their own journeys home. The experience would be one the men and women would carry with them the rest of their lives and, after returning home, they continued to gather, reminisce and remember their fallen comrades for decades to come. 

  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.