This week, May 5 – 11, 2024, is National Nurses’ Week.  Nurses are regarded as Angels in our society and deserve more than a week of recognition. 

This month our organization is welcoming Mary Jane Koenig as our speaker (Wednesday, May 15, 7 p.m. Sturgeon House, free admission). Her subject will be about some of the people who served in World War I from Fairview and Girard.  Many veterans of that war are buried in our cemetery, including one woman who was a nurse.  We knew very little about her, except that her name was Nellie Lawrence, born in 1882, died in 1945.  According to our cemetery records Nellie was one of three sisters and a brother who all are buried here as well as their parents.  The sisters are all listed under their maiden name.

But it may be that Nellie was married at one time.  Mary Jane Koenig found a death certificate for Fern Irene Glover, whose father was Harry H. Glover of Columbus Ohio, and whose mother was Nellie Lawrence of Erie.  Fern was born on March 23, 1907, and died on March 14, 1908. Her death certificate states she died of “adyurmia,” and a contributing factor was rickets. She is buried in the Erie Cemetery. According to the Fairview cemetery records Nellie was 26 when her child died.

It is only speculation as to what happened after that.  Did this child’s death spark Nellie’s interest in nursing? Was she already a nurse? What happened to Harry? The answers are unknown, but, ten years later, Nellie went to war.

Official records indicate that she joined a hospital unit in New York State on July 19, 1918, and on August 20 was sent to the military hospital at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where she served until her discharge.

One of the booklets in our gift shop is called Erie County Women in War Time. Women wanted to do their part during World War I and many served as nurses. The Army Nurse Corps was officially organized in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps followed seven years later.  The Red Cross was charged with recruiting nurses for the war effort and was so successful in Erie County that classes on hygiene and home nursing had to be offered in order to “cover some of the duties of the accredited nurses” who had enlisted in the war effort. 

Many of the nurses served in military hospitals in the U.S., as Nellie did, but many were sent overseas.  They worked in “field hospitals near the front lines, living in tents, eating meals mostly of corn willie and hard tack.  They followed the men as they fought their way across France and Germany.”  Sometimes they died when the enemy attacked and shelled their make-shift facilities.

A New York Times war correspondent, Charles H. Grasty, observed and wrote: The nurses “have taken the unequaled opportunity (to work) in the noblest service it has ever been within the power of human beings to render.”  He urged other women to join them, as Nellie did. 

Thank you for your service, Nurse Nellie Lawrence.

Maybe National Nurses’ Week ought to be the whole year long!

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