Monday, July 13, 2020

Magdalene Judith Førland, RN, ANC, 1887-1991

Special thanks to Chery Kinnick, herself of Norwegian descent,
and author of the blog, Nordic Blue, who contributed this entry.

Førland in uniform from
History of Base Hospital 50.
“I felt like a shell,” said Magdalene Førland Underle, when asked how she was affected by her involvement as a World War I Army Nurse. She tried to maintain a protective outer coating to safeguard from thinking too much about the awfulness of the injuries surrounding her. Many soldiers suffered from missing limbs, were shell-shocked, or had multiple types of injuries or disease. She was a constant witness to death. The first step toward operating as a caring and effective nurse was to look beyond the horror, focusing instead on each patient’s need for kindness. Magdalene was frequently ill as a child, and her early experiences instilled a deep sense of empathy and an urge to help others.1

The youngest of eight siblings, Magdalene Judith Førland was born on December 4, 1887, at the farming village of Redal in Vevring, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway.1,2 The municipality of Vevring was dissolved in 1964; Redal is currently within the Sunnfjord municipality. At the age of twenty-two, Magdalene immigrated to the United States via Quebec aboard the S.S. Empress of Ireland, departing from Liverpool, England on September 10, 1909.3 Her father, Anders Førland, a sailor and part-time preacher in Norway, previously left for the United States. He settled in the Seattle area and worked as a builder and a logger for a time, but returned to Norway and died there in 1899.1

She did not consider leaving Norway until she was dared to go and received a ticket from her brother, Ludvig Førland, who was farming in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, Washington. Magdelene was content with her life in Norway. With sadness, she prepared to leave, probably swayed by the impression that relatives newly established in Washington State needed her help. She spoke no English, but began working as a housekeeper and learned some language skills from her employer’s children. She later attended a class for English learners at Pacific Lutheran Academy, founded in 1890 by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants. After the additional language instruction, she began a three-year nurses training program at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, which had 70 beds at that time. Magdalene graduated second in her class in 1914.1, 4

Magdalene’s photo attached to
her nursing application, ca. 1914.
Several years after completing nurses training and getting some practical experience, she noticed a call for Base Hospital 50 Army Nurses in the local papers. She enlisted on July 10, 1918, in Mount Vernon, and was required to report to Camp Lewis, near Tacoma, the next day. She did not have much time to get to know her fellow enlistees before the base hospital was mobilized and sent to France later that month.5

In a letter dated October 29, 1918, Magdalene wrote to the widow of a soldier from Kansas who died of pneumonia while under her care. Mrs. Frederick H. Behrhorst, greatly affected, shared the letter with the local press:

...[Pvt. Behrhorst] showed me your bridal picture and somehow it went to my heart when I realized he would never return to you again... He was always smiling and never forgot to thank [the nurses] when we had done something for him no matter how sick he was...

You may think we nurses get hardened to things and perhaps we do in some ways, but I never see one of those strong boys pass away without a heartache. In lots of ways it is not so hard for us over here as it is for you folks at home. You have to worry and wonder while we are here knowing just how things are going on. It is for those who are left behind I feel sorry.

[The soldiers] are away from much pain and suffering that they would have to go thru when going back to the front, but you are left home alone. May the great Comforter be very close to you and may you find rest and comfort there. He is the only friend that never will forsake you. Your husband died a noble death, it was for his country and liberty.

I am,
Magdalene Forland
U.S. Base Hosp. No. 50
A.P.O. No. 798, A.E.F. France 6

At the time of her discharge, on August 15, 1919, Magdalene was at Camp Hospital 33, which served the entire port of Brest, France.2 Camp Hospital 33 started out in an old concrete building formerly used as barracks. There was no lighting except for candles. Hospital supplies were difficult to obtain, and most of the medical equipment used came from medical and surgical chests. Sanitation was a serious problem due to the lack of a sewage system; the camp utilized can-style latrines. As the largest camp in American Expeditionary Forces, Camp Hospital 33 treated more patients than the majority of base hospitals in France, but it was never rated as one.7
When her obligations as an Army nurse came to an end, she sought passage from Brest, France to Norway for a lengthy visit with family. While in Vevring, she met her future husband, Lyder H. Underle. Lyder immigrated to America some years before and became a naturalized citizen. Although both grew up in the same Norwegian community, they did not form a connection until meeting as adults.

In October 1920, while still a foreign national, Magdelene returned to the United States through the Ellis Island immigrant inspection station aboard the S.S. Stavangerfjord, having departed from Kristiania (Oslo), Norway.8 She married Lyder Underle near her brother’s home in Mount Vernon, Washington on April 9, 1921.9 Magdalene’s naturalization petition, filed on February 26, 1921, describes her as a fair-complexioned woman with auburn hair and blue eyes, at 5 ft. 4 ins. in height.10

Magdalene liked the Puget Sound area because it was green and had plenty of water, like her home in Norway. She was decidedly less fond of South Dakota after setting up housekeeping on her husband’s farm east of Draper. It was a dry country with few trees, and hot in summer. They were forced to sell the property within a few years due to severe drought. As with many ranchers and farmers in the area, enough well water could not be accessed to feed livestock and grow crops. By 1930, the Underles had relocated to a farm near Larchmont, Pierce County, Washington, in Magdalene’s preferred Puget Sound location.1, 11

She continued to find employment in nursing. The pay was meager, but she was not in it for the money. To her, nursing was a life calling. She worked regularly at Tacoma General Hospital and Tacoma Indian Hospital, where Native American patients were sent from Alaska and all over the United States, many of them suffering from tuberculosis.1

Magdalene Førland Underle (center, wearing a traditional bunad),
attends a Norwegian festival at Pacific Lutheran University on
May 2, 1981. With her are Dr. Janet Rasmussen of PLU,
and Doris Dahlen, a social work student.  Used with permission.
Pacific Lutheran University Archives and Special Collections;
New Land, New Lives: Oral History Collection; Magdalene Forland. 
Magdalene’s husband of 21 years, Lyder Underle, died from a cerebral hemorrhage on January 15, 1943.12 The couple had no children. After her older brother, Ludvig, was also widowed, she moved to his Mount Vernon farm to help with housekeeping. In 1965, brother and sister moved together to a senior living facility in Des Moines, Washington, where they remained for the rest of their lives.1

In June 1981, at the age of ninety-three, Magdelene was recorded in an interview destined to become part of the “New Land, New Lives” oral history collection on Scandinavian immigrants at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). After over seventy years in America, Magdalene still spoke with a pronounced accent, even though after losing her brother she was not able to speak Norwegian very often. A couple of months before the interview, she attended a Norwegian festival at PLU dressed in a Sunnfjord-style bunad, a traditional costume made entirely by hand by her nieces in Norway.1

Magdalene passed away on February 5, 1991, at the accomplished age of 103.13 She loved her adopted country, but also Norway, traveling there about five times over the decades and regularly corresponding with family. She lies at rest next to her husband, Lyder Underle, at Mountain View Memorial Park in Lakewood, Pierce County.1, 14

  1. Magdalene Førland Underle, Oral History Interview, 1981. Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections.
  2. Magdalene Judith Forland. Naturalization records of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, 1890-1957; indexes to naturalization records of the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington Northern Division (Seattle), 1890-1952 v. 31, no. 7044-7293, 1920-1921. Petition for Naturalization, File 7285, February 26, 1921. 
  3. List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States, S.S. Empress of Ireland sailing from Liverpool to Quebec, 10 September 1909. UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 (accessed July 13, 2020).
  4.  “Magdalene J. Forland,” Application for Certificate as Registered Nurse, May 22, 1914. Professional License Records. Department of Licensing, Business and Professions Divisions, Registered Nurses Licensing Files, 1909-2005. Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, (accessed July 12, 2020).
  5. “Magdalene J. Forland,” July 10, 1918. Washington, World War I Veteran’s Compensation Fund Application Records, 1921-1925.” Database, FamilySearch, (accessed July 10, 2020), citing Mount Vernon, Skagit, Washington, USA.
  6. “Frederick H. Behrhorst,” The Walnut Eagle (Walnut, Kansas), December 6, 1918, p.3.
  7. “Camp Hospitals,” U.S. Army Medical Department. Office of Medical History. Administration American Expeditionary Forces, Vol. II, Chapt. XXV, (accessed July 9, 2020).
  8. “Magdalena Forland,” Immigration, October 19, 1920. New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924. Database, FamilySearch, (accessed July 13, 2020).
  9. “Lyder H. Underle and Magdalene J. Forland,” State of Washington, Certificate of Marriage No.5861, April 9, 1921. Skagit County Auditor, Marriage Records, 1884-2000. Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, C4188 (accessed July 10, 2020).
  10. “Magdelena Judith Forland,” Petition for Naturalization, Cert. No. 1502863, February26, 1921. Washington, Western District, Naturalization Records, 1853-1957. Database, FamilySearch, (accessed July 13, 2020).
  11. “Lyle H. Underle,” United States Census, 1930: Larchmont, Pierce, Washington. Database, FamilySearch, (accessed July 13, 2020).
  12. “Lyder Underle,” Washington State Death Certificate, State File No.49 (Tacoma, Pierce County). Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960, Database, FamilySearch, (accessed July 13, 2020).
  13. Underle, Magdalene, “Deaths,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 14, 1991, p.B4.
  14. “Magdalene Underle,” Database, Find-a-Grave, (accessed July 11, 2020).