The Nurses

Excerpt from Memoir of Reserve Nurse Elizabeth Lyon, prepared in 1975 for alumnae of the Illinois Training School for Nurses:

In the Spring of 1916 there was much discussion about the proposed plan of organizing Base Hospitals under the Red Cross to be called into active service in case of war of other great need: the plan being to select doctors, nurses and orderlies from one hospital--people who were accustomed to working together, knew each other’s ways and thus could do good team work.

It seemed that the great number of doctors and nurses who had training at Cook County Hospital should certainly furnish enough for at least one or two such units. About this time Dr. Frederick Besley, attending surgeon at Cook County Hospital asked Miss Daisy D. Urch if she would be willing to undertake the interesting task of organizing the nursing service for such a unit.

She began at once to stimulate enrollment in the Red Cross as a preliminary measure so that by February 1917 when authority to organize Base Hospital 12 was finally given, a large number of nurses were enrolled and some had even taken the required prophylactic smallpox and typhoid vaccine. However, people were loathe to believe that America would declare war and even if she did that soldiers would be sent overseas and that there would be many nurses needed. So it required considerable stimulation to arouse any enthusiasm. Still we kept steadily adding to our numbers . . . according to the plan outlined by the Red Cross. The nurses selected were either graduates of the Illinois Training School for Nurses or affiliated schools with about a dozen from Evanston Hospital. The officers were ex-interns from Cook County Hospital.

America’s declaration of war was a salutary stimulant to get our unit in order but even then very few believed we would ever be called into service. However, on Monday morning May 1st, 1917, out of a clear sky came a telegram from Miss Noyes at Washington to mobilize at once for service in France followed by another with instructions to take sixty-five nurses instead of the original number, fifty. Some readjustments had to be made for we had nurses fitted for home duty but not for “overseas” duty.

On Wednesday evening, May 16th, 1917 the entire unit--officers 27, nurses 64, and men 147--assembled at Polk St. Station, took the oath of office and boarded a special train for New York.