Laura Gertrude Huckleberry

Laura Gertrude Huckleberry was born January 11 during the Great Blizzard of 1888. The place was the farm her grandfather, Capt. Silas D. Huckleberry, had established in Jennings County, Southern Indiana, in 1834, a few miles east of North Vernon, a town that was to become an important rail center in the latter part of the 19th century.

Her family name might seem to brand her as the quintessential American. But Huckleberry was actually an Anglicization of the German name Hagelberger. Silas's great-grandfather Benjamin Hagelberger had emigrated with his children to Pennsylvania in 1752 from the Palatine village of Rott on the west bank of the Rhine River near Strasbourg, now part of the French province of Alsace.

Laura's other forbears were Scots-Irish, Welsh and English Protestants who'd migrated from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to the middle Ohio valley either down the river or across the Appalachian mountains through Kentucky. Her father, a Union veteran like Laura's grandfather, had been a farmer, schoolteacher, deputy sheriff and county clerk, and was now a rural mail carrier. She was the youngest of five, her siblings being brothers Warren, Will and Silas, and sister Bertha.

Laura graduated from North Vernon High School in 1906 and spent the next two years teaching at a rural, one-room schoolhouse to save enough money to attend Indiana University for a year. Then she heard about nursing, the new profession for women. A professional nursing education was available through the three-year co-op program at the Illinois Training School for Nurses, associated with Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She had been raised as a Methodist. At the time of her enlistment in the Red Cross Reserve in early 1917, she was a nurse at Children's Isolation Hospital, also associated with Cook County Hospital.