Monday, November 2, 2020

Karen Marie Lauridsen, RN, ANC, 1883-1950

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

On May 18, 1919, Karen Marie Lauridsen, her finely featured face a ghostly white, arrived at Union Station in Portland, Oregon. Stepping off the train, she was grateful to be nearing the end of a long and tedious homeward journey. For nearly a year she had served and survived in the Army Nurse Corps overseas. Every line of her slender frame suggested profound weariness. A modest and private person, Karen was reluctant to discuss her travels or experiences with a Portland news reporter who approached her on the platform. The battle-worn army nurse shot a terse reply when asked what she would do now that the Great War was over. Mixed impressions from the past year flooded her mind. “I’ll never go back to school teaching,” Karen said emphatically before turning away.1 For the time being, she was anxious to reunite with her father and the rest of the family in Astoria along the Pacific coast, as well as surrender to some restorative sleep. After that, she would find a way to continue nursing and make a difference by healing others to the best of her abilities. It mattered more than ever after the suffering she had witnessed while in the service of her country. 

Karen was born in Hygum, Central Jutland, Denmark on April 22, 1883, to Jens Lauridsen and Mette “Katrine” (Nielsen).2 At some point, Jens left for America, became a citizen and began farming in Chinook, Pacific County, Oregon. After the 1885 death of his wife in Denmark, he returned to Europe in order to bring his daughter, Karen, 14 years, and three more of his five children, to the United States: Sophie, 19 years; Laurids, 17 years; and Magdalene, 9 years. An older sibling, Marie, had left Denmark for America in 1884.3 The family traveled aboard the S.S. Waesland, a Red Star Line vessel, departing from Liverpool, England on October 13, 1897. They arrived at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania eleven days later, on October 24.4

As a young woman and naturalized American citizen, Karen studied at Pacific Lutheran Academy in Tacoma, Washington. Graduating in June 1906, she taught in Oregon’s Clatsop County schools for a couple of years. In about 1908, she returned to Tacoma to enroll in a nursing program at Fannie C. Paddock Memorial Hospital, where she received training in surgery, contagion, children’s care, gynecology, and obstetrics. Her application for a nursing certificate was received in December 1911, and she became registered on June 10, 1912. After working as a nurse in the Tacoma area for a few years, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in June 1918.1, 5, 6

Following enlistment, she was sent briefly to Camp Grant in Illinois, newly established in 1917. As part of Base Hospital 50 military unit, she was then transported overseas. On August 25, 1918, Karen boarded the S.S. France at the port of New York. Her destination was the Mesves-Bulcy Hospital complex in central France.7, 1 

At Bulcy, Karen worked day and night with precious few breaks in order to care for soldiers, both ill and wounded. She gained a reputation for effectiveness and reliability, and in April 1919, she was one of ten army nurses awarded the Medaille d’honneur des Epidemies by the French government. The award was established to honor those having distinguished themselves during an outbreak of an epidemic disease, such as the Spanish Flu that subsumed world populations during World War I. The presentation of her silver medal took place at the Red Cross military hospital No. 112, Auteuil. Many officials gathered to watch the decoration of the nurses, plus 23 officers of the American medical corps and seven enlisted men.8 Karen was a close friend of another nurse who received the award: Ada Merrifield from Kent, Washington, known for finding romance and marriage with a medical professional who also served at Bulcy.9

When Karen’s tour of duty was over, she received transport back to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Mobile, which departed Brest, France on April 13, 1919. Ten days later, the ship reached port at Hoboken, New Jersey, where she began making her way to the west coast.7 Before she arrived home, Karen’s family was surprised to learn through newspaper dispatches about the medal bestowed upon her in France. Somehow, she had neglected to mention it in her letters.1 

After reuniting with family in Astoria, Oregon she returned to Tacoma, Washington to resume the nursing work she had been engaged in before enlisting. By the time her father, Jens Lauridsen, passed away in 1926, she had relocated across the state border to Walla Walla, Washington.10, 11

Karen Lauridsen’s nursing career continued until the late 1930s when she moved back to Oregon and retired in Roseburg, a timber town in the Umpqua River Valley.12 Socially responsible even into her retirement, she maintained a membership with the local branch of Business and Professional Women’s Club (B.P.W.C.). As part of a National Federation supported by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, the club sought to promote workforce development programs and workplace policies to acknowledge the needs of working women, also their communities and businesses. 

At one evening conference, Karen was part of a round-table discussion entitled “Women of Other Lands,” where she and others discussed their experiences as international women. Karen represented Denmark, while several other women represented Holland, China, and Sweden.13 While she had been loath to discuss her wartime experiences for the sake of publicity, she readily shared information when it might be helpful to other women trying to establish careers. 

Karen Lauridsen never married, but throughout her life continued to focus on a commitment to the medical field and to helping others. She died at age 67 on August 27, 1950, and was buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Her grave marker is adorned with the words: “Nurse Army Nurse Corps, World War I.” The Danish-born woman who always desired to put other first would, no doubt, find the simple tribute to be more than enough.14


  1. “Nurse, Decorated, Home.” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), May 19, 1919, p.3.
  2. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database-online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Marie Lauridsen; confirmation, June 16, 1901.
  3. 1900 United States Federal Census [database-online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Marie B. Jensen; Astoria, Clatsop, Oregon.
  4. Pennsylvania, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962 [database online], (accessed October 31, 2020). Jens Lauridsen, 1897.
  5.  U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Lauridsen; Tacoma, Washington, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1910.
  6. Professional License Records [online], Washington State Digital Archives (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen Marie Lauridsen, Application for Certificate as Registered Nurse, 1912,
  7. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 [database online], (accessed October 30, 2020). Karen M. Lauridsen, Base Hospital No.50.
  8.  “American Nurses Honored.” The Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), April 11, 1919, p.2.
  9.  “Nurse Wins FiancĂ© and Cross of War.” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), April 17, 1919.
  10. Washington, Wills and Probate Records, 1851-1970 [database online], (accessed October 31, 2020). Jens Lauridsen, Pacific County probate records, 1927.
  11.  “...Karen Lauridsen, reinstated at Walla Walla, WA.” The Pacific Coast Journal of Nursing, 1931, p.562.
  12.  “...Karen Lauridsen retired from nursing in Roseburg, Oregon.” Nursing World (1940), v.105, p.478.
  13. “B.P.W.C. Has Enjoyable Meeting on Monday Evening.” The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon), September 30, 1939, p.3.
  14. Karen Marie Lauridsen, Los Angeles National Cemetery, Plot 214, 6 Row D, Memorial ID 3726657.