Celebrating American Nurses During World War I


I have a special place in my heart for nurses because my mom was a nurse back in the 1980s. She worked in the ER of our local hospital for a while and then became a home healthcare nurse. Though she retired from the profession when my parents moved back to Israel, she still to this day uses her medical expertise to advocate for family members and friends and help them maneuver through the Israeli healthcare system.

So today, on Veteran’s Day, it seemed fitting to honor war nurses. I wanted to take a look especially at World War I since this war is in the time frame of my Adele Gossling Mysteries (well, not yet, but it eventually will be.) Although called the Great War, it’s more like the Forgotten War these days (usurped by World War II).

Photo Credit: Nurses in Rouen, France during World War I preparing to go to the front lines, from Good Housekeeping, Oct 1918: Picryl/Copyright: No known restrictions

World War I saw a lot of bloodshed and tragedy (if you want to read more about this war, you can read this blog post) and even though Americans didn’t get into the battle until about a year and a half before its end, American soldiers still saw plenty of fighting and nurses did plenty of healing. Sadly, many of these nurses didn’t get the honor and credit they deserved.

Linnie Leckrone was one of these. She was a nurse in one of the toughest situations during wartime: She was part of a unit that helped soldiers who were under constant artillery attack. She helped many soldiers under gas and shock in the most frightening conditions. However, where many men who came home from the war received a hero’s welcome, Leckrone got nothing when she came back to her hometown of Portage, Wisconsin. However, all is not lost, as in 2007, Leckrone received a posthumous Silver Star medal for her bravery and courage, which her daughter accepted.

Unlike, Leckrone, Lenah Higbee did receive her due. Higbee actually joined the US Navy Nurses Corps in 1908 and endured a lot of caustic remarks for doing so. But Higbee, dedicated to her work, persevered, and eventually became the second woman superintendent of the corps. Her work during World War I helping wounded Navy soldiers earned her the Navy Cross and her name on a battleship!

Not all nurses during World War I worked on the front lines. Working behind the scenes was Anna Caroline Maxwell, who is often referred to as the American Florence Nightingale. Earlier in the 20th century, she helped establish proper training and education for nurses by establishing the US Army Nurse Corps, and during the war, she not only trained nurses in their duties but helped them prepare psychologically for the rigors of war. The French awarded her the Medal of Honor for Public Health for her work.

War isn’t just about the men. It’s also about the women who heal them, so let’s salute all veteran war nurses on this day!

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