By June 1918, a little more than a year after the U.S. declared war on Germany, about 650,000 American soldiers were in France, with more coming every day. On June 6 the Battle of Belleau Wood began. It lasted three weeks with 1,811 Yanks killed and 9,777 wounded. It was the first important victory in France for the Americans.
A New York Times war correspondent, Charles H. Grasty, wrote an article that was carried in the June 22, 1918 Erie Dispatch about what he had seen; it was the nurses who impressed him. They were engaged in “the noblest service it has ever been within the power of human beings to render,” he wrote. He had observed the field hospitals behind the frontlines and seen what nurses – mostly female – had been called upon to do. He urged other women to join them.
Erie County was represented by so many nurses in that war that the Erie County Red Cross held classes on hygiene and home nursing for women who would temporarily replace registered nurses in some of their duties. Erie County had been charged with supplying 700 nurses to the war effort, which represented 8% of the national quota.
One of these noble women is buried in the Fairview Cemetery.
She was Nellie Mae Lawrence. She was born on December 17, 1882 and died on May 7, 1945. She has no obituary in either of the Erie papers or the Cosmopolite. She appears to be unknown to local historians and so her duty during the war is unknown also. She was an Army Nurse who may have been assigned to a stateside hospital for recovering wounded; she might have been in a transition hospital treating men who had come from the front; or she might have been working in a field hospital just behind the lines.
What we do know is from the Fairview Cemetery records. We know she was 35 when war was declared. At that age it is assumed she left a career to join the Army Nurse Corps. We have requested information from the VA Affairs office, but have not received a response as yet. We want to know when she entered the Corps and when she was discharged. If possible, we would like to know where she served. We may never know how she spent the rest of her life after her war experience.
She is buried with her parents and several siblings. William J. and Sarah (Rogers) Lawrence were her parents. Siblings around her are Mabel Esther, Jennie Grace, and William Fred. Her sister-in-law Ethel May (Stuyvesant) is also there. Her brother Burton may be buried in Edinboro. Thanks to the Veterans Administration Nellie has a military marker at her gravesite that recognizes her service in World War I.
Oh, but how sad to think that this noble woman is not otherwise remembered.
Anyone who worked or works as an Army Nurse, especially during wartime, is extraordinary, and so we take this time to honor Nellie Mae Lawrence.