Warm Southern Breeze

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Remember American Nurses: 100 years ago WW I’s first casualties – Edith Ayers & Helen Woods

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mrs. Edith Ayres, Illinois Training School Nurse of the Class of 1913. Mrs. Ayres was the first American female casualty of WWI, and was buried with military honors at her home in Attica, Ohio.

Among the first casualties of World War I were two Army Nurses – US Army Nurse Corps Edith Ayers, of Attica, OH, and USANC Helen Burnett Woods, of Evanston, IL who were attached to Base Hospital 12 aboard the USS Mongolia – a passenger vessel which was converted into an armored troop carrier and hospital for the Army March 1917 – en route to France, and died 20 May 1917. Also wounded was Miss Emma Matzen, of the Illinois Training School, Class of 1913.

Miss Helen Burnett Wood was a Nurse graduate of the Evanston Hospital Training School, and was one of the was the first two casualties of WW I.

At that time, military Nurses held no rank.

Woods was attached to the U.S. Army Base Hospital, No. 12, also known as the Northwestern University Base Hospital, because a majority of its personnel came out of the university. In May 1917, she received her official orders to join the Base Hospital staff on its way to New York where the staff would embark for Europe.

The two women were on the Mongolia’s deck observing various weapons firing and were struck by fragments of the 6-inch gun’s propellant caps which had ricocheted off a stanchion.

Their deaths were so shocking to the nation, especially to their respective communities, that following their accidental, and untimely deaths, a Senate hearing – “Casualties Aboard Steamship “Monogolia”” before the Committee on Naval Affairs – was conducted. {Local file, PDF: Casualties Aboard Steamship Mongolia Hearings}

Mrs. Edith Ayres was a graduate of the Illinois Training School Nurse of the Class of 1913, and Miss Helen Wood was a graduate of the Evanston Hospital Training School.

The ship was only a few hours out, and returned at once to New York. Miss Matzen was sent to the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City, where she made a full recovery.

Six base hospitals with over 400 Army Nurses sailed on five ships to France for service with the British forces. According to a Chicago Tribune news story dated 22 May 1917, many of the nurses were from Evanston Hospital and associated with Northwestern University Medical School.

When the United States entered WW I April 6, 1917, 403 Army Nurses were on Active Duty, including 170 Reserve Nurses who were assigned to Gen. John J. Pershing’s 1916 expedition on the Mexican border. One month later on 8-19 May 1917, six base hospitals with over 400 Army Nurses sailed on 5 transport ships for France for service with British Expeditionary Forces.

Mrs. Ayres was buried with military honors at her home in Attica, Ohio.

“Helen Burnett Woods body was returned to Chicago, where her hometown had a massive display for the deceased Nurse. Her body was met at Union Station by a delegation which included residents from Chicago and Evanston, which was headed by John W. Scott, Vice President of the Chicago Chapter of the Illinois Branch of the American Red Cross. From the station, her body was taken to her home in Evanston. Friends requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to her aging parents in Scotland. On Saturday 26 May, her coffin was escorted by fifty blue jackets from the Great Lakes Training Center and by fifty automobiles with Red Cross representatives, the Medical Reserve Corps, the city of Evanston, friends and relatives. The somber procession proceeded from her home on Sheridan Road to the First Presbyterian Church. Outside the church stood an honor guard of fifty Red Cross Nurses, fifty students from Northwestern University wearing black gowns and capes, fifty nurses from Evanston Hospital, and twenty-five uniformed members of the Grand Army of the Republic. Clergymen from three different denominations, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist, offered prayers, and the president of the Chicago chapter of the American Red Cross expressed his sympathy.”
– from “Last Rites,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 28, 1917

“Attica Ohio received the remains of Edith Ayres with equal ceremony. Her body arrived at Chicago Junction, Ohio, on Thursday, May 24. Here it was met by a team from the Ohio National Guard. At the junction thirty-two automobiles, most of them filled with family friends and dignitaries, escorted the “auto-hearse” on a slow drive cross-country to Attica. Edith’s funeral took place on the same day as Helen’s. On that Saturday all businesses in Attica were closed. On the preceding Thursday and Friday schools were closed. Representatives of the American Red Cross and the Governor of Ohio sent condolences. From 11:00 until 2:00 she Edith lay in state in a flag-draped coffin inside the First Methodist Church as the people she had grown up slowly filed past. At the grave site a military salute was fired. Everything was as dignified and respectful as it could be made.”
– from “Last Rites,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 28, 1917




See also: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/38191/remembering-first-american-casualties-world-war/

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