SCNs During World War I and the Influenza of 1918

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

May 28, 2020

SCN archivist Kathy Hertel-Baker shares the following on World War I and the Influenza of 1918:

Newspaper clipping, 1918

During the fall of 1918 as Europe was engulfed in the first World War, the so-called Spanish Flu reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were called upon to care for the sick and dying in military camps, hospitals, and private homes. Calls for volunteers were met with ready enthusiasm by Sisters serving in schools, hospitals, and orphanages alike. 

Sign showing Influenza statistics at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1918

In Louisville, the Sisters were called to serve as nurses at the sprawling Camp Zachary Taylor. Sister Josella Conlin, an RN who had also nursed during the Spanish American War, came from St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington and was put in charge of all the Sisters nursing at Camp Taylor. All the schools in Louisville were closed due to the epidemic, so many teaching Sisters volunteered to help nurse the sick. When they arrived at Camp Taylor, the Sisters were assigned to a barracks, usually two Sisters and one nurse-manager. If a Sister had exceptional nursing skills she might be assigned to her own barracks – Sister Idalie Geoffrion served alone in a barracks housing one hundred and twenty men. The Sisters were treated with great respect and some officers even gave up their own quarters to house them. 

Exterior view of Camp Taylor in Louisville, KY, 1918

The Sisters cared for more than 10,000 troops during their time at Camp Taylor. One officer remarked that he always knew where there was a Sister on the ward because the men would be especially well behaved. After being there a month, Sister Josella told the major in charge that the Sisters would be leaving because the epidemic had abated and they were no longer needed. The major replied that he has no intention of letting the Sisters leave, even if all they did was fold their arms and walk amongst the men. Even so, Sister Josella made arrangements for the Sisters to depart and by November 10, 1918, all SCNs had returned to their regular posts. 

Louisville area Sisters who nursed at Camp Taylor during the 1918 flu epidemic

The flu raged across the country and the SCNs helped wherever they could. Sisters nursed students, soldiers, and other Sisters in Newport and Bellevue in Northern Kentucky. Sisters missioned in Lexington went out to the eastern mountain villages and saw “the struggling populations in the mountains of Kentucky and changed the ideas the mountain people had concerning sisters and Catholics in general…” In Ohio, the Sisters converted the school in Barton into a hospital as well as going out to treat the sick in their own homes. The Sisters in Massachusetts volunteered to nurse in military camps and in the neighborhoods around their convents. In Maryland and Virginia, schools were closed, as they were all across the country, and the Sisters who were not ill themselves offered their services to all in need.

Representatives of each order of Sisters who nursed at Camp Taylor. Josella Conlin, SCN, (center) was in charge of all the Sister nurses who served at the camp

Although many Sisters were stricken with the flu during the epidemic, only three died of the disease: Mary Isabel Alvey in Richmond, VA; Eutropia Campbell in Bellevue, KY; and Crescentia Kilkenny in Leonardtown, MD.

The emergency telegraph office at Camp Taylor, Louisville, KY, 1918

 

(Featured image at the top of the story shows the interior of barracks at Camp Taylor in Louisville, KY, 1918.)

7 Comments

  1. Janice Downs

    Many times in the past I have driven through or past Camp Zachary Taylor off Poplar Level Road in Louisville. I didn’t really think about our sisters’ serving there. Thank you, Kathy, for reminding us of our connection to this Camp in years past.

    Reply
  2. Stella

    I feel what we are going through now is nothing compared to what Our Sisters went through during the World War 1 and Spanish flue. Thank you for sharing our past history which gives courage and strength to move forward joyfully, risking ones own life.

    Reply
  3. Roselyn

    Thank you Cathy for reminding us of our rich history of service.. It is inspiring for those who are willing to risk. We have similar opportunity these days as we struggle with the migrant problems in India.. May Corona not keep us from reaching out to those who are in need.. Amen

    Reply
  4. Rita Puthenkalam

    Thanks for sharing with us such relevant bits SCN history.

    Reply
  5. Nimmie

    History repeats itself. The masked faces are a reminder of it. Thank you Cathy for unfolding a memory so fitting in today’s context.

    Reply
  6. Ann Palatty

    Looks like a story from 2020 newspapers. SCN Charism remains the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank you, Kathy , for the re-reading of this relevant history of ours

    Reply
  7. Maggie Cooper

    Wow, Kathy!! What a story and so appropriate for now!
    Thanks for finding and sharing it.

    Reply

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