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Cool Things - Nurse's Uniform

Ethelyn Myers' World War I nursing uniformEthelyn Myers received her nursing degree from Christ's Hospital in Topeka in 1914. That degree, and this uniform, would take a small-town Kansas girl to the battlefields of the world's first Great War.

World War I was in its early stages when Myers graduated from nursing school. The United States wouldn't join the conflict for three years, choosing to follow a stern policy of isolationism. This didn't stop the nation's women from volunteering to go to Europe as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and clerks.

When the United States did enter the war in 1917, the need for female workers was greater than ever. Nurses, especially, were in high demand. They were needed to help treat soldiers who had been shot, gassed, or infected with disease.

Over There

Ethelyn Myers knew the value of her abilities and volunteered for Base Hospital Number 28 (BH28), which was made up of doctors and nurses from the Kansas City area. After months of training and preparation, the unit arrived in Limoges, France, in July 1918 and soon received its first patients.

Nurse Ethelyn Myers

Limoges was not on the front lines of battle, but the hospital received patients who had been stabilized at the front and required further treatment. The sick and wounded came from the fields of historic battles at Saint-Mihiel, Chateau-Thierry, and the Meuse-Argonne. BH28, equipped with a diagnostic laboratory, an x-ray unit, and an operating room, was prepared to treat them. Advances in medicine meant its staff often saved soldiers who would have died from their injuries in previous conflicts. They also were able to provide better treatment for diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia, which were common in the trenches.

Myers found the soldiers treated at her hospital to be remarkable. In a letter to friends at home, she wrote, "Just wish you could all see these dear boys of ours, we all of us just love them every one. . . . Some of them come in here terribly battered up of course, and awfully sick, they are all so wonderfully cheerful and so anxious to get well."

Just before the end of the war in November 1918, BH28 received a large group of men who had been gassed, a type of warfare for which World War I became famous. Myers felt a special sympathy toward these soldiers. She wrote to her parents, "I'd a thousand times rather be shot to pieces than gassed like some of those boys." Sadly, many of them died from complications caused by the gas.

Ethelyn Myers' identification tag

BH28 continued to treat the wounded until February 1, 1919, three months after the Armistice Treaty was signed. Myers then transferred to a hospital in Bordeau, where she worked until April. Despite the horrific things she had seen, the nurse didn't want to return home because she thought it meant the end of her service to the heroes of the battlefields.

A Career in Public Health

She didn't need to worry about her ability to serve. After returning home, Myers signed up to work for the United States Public Health Service. The federal government established this agency to provide care for discharged and disabled soldiers, sailors, marines, and medical professionals. It encouraged nurses who had served in the war to apply for these jobs because of their extensive experience treating the wounded. During her time with the Public Health Service, Myers received special training in the treatment of tuberculosis, a disease to which she succumbed in 1931. View an image of Myers (marked with "#") and other nurses at the veterans' hospital after the war.

Myers wore the two uniforms and the identification tag shown here. The navy blue jacket and skirt were outdoor attire for U.S. Army nurses. She probably wore the white uniform during her time with the U.S. Public Health Service. Her sister donated a large collection of Myers' uniforms and military gear to the Kansas Museum of History in 1966. The State Archives also retains a collection of letters, military orders, and documents that Myers saved from her time abroad.

View images of Base Hospital 28 in Limoges, France:

Courtesy of the National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri.

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Entry: Cool Things - Nurse's Uniform

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2009

Date Modified: February 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.