Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Emma Lydia Rutz, RN, ANC, 1876-1955

Emma Lydia Rutz led a remarkable life full of adventure. As a dedicated and valuable nurse, her profession afforded her the unique opportunity to never truly settle in one place. Although the passage of time had obscured many details of her life, today we are able to celebrate her legacy through the enduring traces of her presence left behind in official government records and newspapers.

While her childhood is not exactly known, federal and New York census records imply that Rutz and her family stayed in New York for most of her childhood and early adulthood. Rutz was born in Staten Island, New York on March 22, 1976 to Swiss immigrant parents Marie [Maria or Mary] Rutz (née Enz) and John [Johannes or Henry] Rutz.1 She was the youngest of eight siblings and the only living daughter of the family. Death was always close to Rutz as by the time of her birth, three of her siblings, including her older sister Rosa, had already passed.2 Then, in 1885 when Rutz was nine, her mother Marie passed away.3 No grave site or cause of death can be found at the time of writing.

For the remainder of her childhood, Rutz' father never remarried and remained a widow. He then passed away in August 26,1898 at the age of sixty-two due to heart failure.4 His passing most likely left young, unmarried Rutz in the care of one of her many brothers. By 1900, the New York census indicates that she was living with her oldest brother Charles [Karl] and his wife Sadie.5 During this time, Rutz was also listed as a clerk at a New York importing house.

From left to right: St. Mary's Hospital, N.J. Postcard; Haines, AK Postcard

It wasn’t until her late twenties that Rutz got into nursing. From newspaper clippings from the Passaic Daily News, Rutz is said to have attended the St. Mary’s Hospital Training School and graduated in January of 1909, where she then took post graduate work in the Women’s Hospital in New York City.6 This new profession afforded Rutz the ability to live apart from men and primarily on her own, a luxury she maintained for the rest of her life. In August of 1914, Rutz made the big leap to visit the West Coast, specifically Alaska, Haines, with her friend Mazie [Mary] Brown for the purpose of visiting Brown’s brother, the then mayor of Haines.7 Intriguingly, even after Brown had left Alaska, Rutz remained. In local Alaskan newspapers, Rutz can be tracked traveling and staying between Douglas Island and Haines.8 By 1917, Rutz is found in Washington; her footprints tucked away in that year's Seattle City Directory and scribed as a nurse that lived in Boylston.9

By this time, the cries of war could be heard across the globe. In 1918, as American involvement in WWI began to increase, the University of Washington’s Base Hospital unit was officially ordered by Major General Arthur Murray to mobilize.10 This involved the call for one hundred nurses in and around the Seattle region to enlist for duty to staff the hospital overseas.10 Rutz took the opportunity to enlist with Base Hospital 50 and by June 8th, 1918, Rutz was officially an enlisted registered nurse of the US Army.11 Rutz, with the nurse unit, left for Mesves on August 24, 1918.12

Rutz and her fellow Base Hospital 50 nurses served their full length until the end of WW1. As a hospital that received both surgical and medical cases, they treated a total of 7,399 patients with 1,135 operations conducted.13 Additionally, while normal bed capacity was at 1,000, the constant influx of patients demanded that the hospital expand their capacity to nearly double its original limit which resulted in a total of 1,950 beds.13 Still, Rutz managed to find the time to enjoy herself and travel around Paris after the war officially ended on November 11, 1918. She took many candid photographs of wartorn France; within her collection includes photos of burials, men in uniform, crumbling infrastructure, and much more. Additionally, she documented her travels by collecting real photo postcards from the French cities she visited. These photos and postcards can be found in the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

The Lewiston Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1937, pg 1.
Medical staff and nurses at the Old Fort Lapwai Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
Left to right: Dr. Alley, Lillian J. Welch, Genevieve Townsend, Ruth
McKay, Emma Rutz, Lorraine S. Ellis, Susan Shoemaker, Dr. C. H. Koentz
All Base Hospital 50 nurses safely returned to the United States by 1919, officially ending Rutz’ overseas military service by May 17, 1919 according to her VA records.11 Still, Rutz continued to stay in the West Coast by continuing her work as a government nurse. For the next three decades of her career, Rutz worked and traveled between Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Some of the hospitals she worked in included: Virginia Mason Hospital, various other King County Hospitals, and the Sellwood General Hospital in Portland, Oregon.14 She often took the role of supervisory roles in the hospitals she would work in. By 1937, Rutz had entered into the United States Indian Service and worked as chief nurse in various rural hospitals in numerous southern and Northwestern states for the remainder of her medical career.15 She retired in 1946 and despite having already lived in so many states, she still returned to the West Coast.14 Rutz settled in Vashon Island, Washington, to spend the remainder of her days living as neighbors to her longtime friend Mrs.Ress, who graduated a few years after Rutz from the same nursing school.15 Tragically, Rutz passed away on July 30, 1955, at the age of seventy-nine due to a stroke.1 She was laid to rest in 1956 at Willamette National Cemetery.11


1 Washington State Department of Health, Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960. Entry for Emma L. Rutz, July 30, 1955, FHL microfilm 2,033,537. Olympia, Seatle: Bureau of Vital Statistics. Reference 14771, FamilySearch, accessed March 10, 2018,
2 "About Johannes or John Rutz." Familysearch, accessed May 7, 2024,
3 "New York, State Death Index, 1880-1956." entry for Marie Rutz, 4 Jan. 1885. Familysearch, accessed March 9, 2024,
4 New York City Department of Health, "Death Certificate No. 841, John Rutz." New York: New York City Deaths, 1892-1902, Borough of Richmond, Deaths Reported in 1898, New York City Municipal Archives.
5 United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C., T623, roll number 1153, Page 21. Familysearch, accessed May 7, 2024.
6 "Diplomas for Nurses: St. Mary's Hospital Training School Graduates Three," Passaic Daily News, Jan. 7, 1909, pg 1.
7 "Haines News," Skagway Daily Alaskan, Aug. 4, 1914, pg 3.
8 "The Local Field," Douglas Island News, Oct. 7, 1914, pg 6.
9 Seattle City Directory (1917), Seattle: R.L. Polk and Company, Inc., pg 1387.
10 "Base Hospital Unit to Mobilize at Palo Alto," Seattle Daily Times, Mar. 28, 1918, pg 14.
11 Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Form for Emma Lydia Rutz, A1 2110-B. NAID: 5833879, The National Archives at St. Louis, MO., accessed May 7, 2024,
12 Base Hospital 50. University of Washington Special Collections, StoryMapsJS, accessed may 7, 2024,
13 United States Surgeon-General's office, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Volume 2). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921-1929. Pg 675.
14 "Miss Emma L. Rutz," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 11, 1955, pg 27.
15 "Miss Emma Rutz, RN, Here From Seattle" The Morning Call (Patrson, New Jersey), May 23, 1950, pg 13.