Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Beyond Versailles: Recovering the Voices of Nurses in Post-World War I U.S.-European Relations

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Beyond Versailles: Recovering the Voices of Nurses in Post-World War I U.S.-European Relations

Article excerpt

Abstract. From late 1918 to 1922, the American Red Cross (ARC) enlisted roughly six hundred American nurses and scores of female auxiliary staff to labor in post-World War I continental Europe, Russia, and the Near East, mostly stationed in Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Balkan states, and Siberia. The ARC nurses ran health clinics, made home visits, and opened nurse training schools. Close readings of letters, diaries, official reports, and published articles help recover the place of these women in postwar European history and the history of U.S. foreign relations. Their writings reveal their perceptions about eastern European and Russian politics and culture, their assumptions about the proper U.S. role in the region's affairs, and their efforts to influence popular U.S. discourse on these topics. This article argues that American nurses and support staff are central-yet neglected- players in the history of U.S.-European affairs. Through its bottom-up approach, it offers a more personal and intimate perspective on the history of U.S. international relations during this time.

On January 18, 1919, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and more than twenty other nations assembled at the Château de Versailles to begin the Paris Peace Conference, the meeting convened to negotiate a formal conclusion to the First World War. Although the United States had entered the war late, and as an Associated Power rather than a formal ally of Britain and France, U.S. leaders hoped to exercise significant sway over the outcome of the peace talks. Heading the U.S. delegation was President Woodrow Wilson, accompanied by four handpicked deputies. Scores of other American military, intelligence, and technical experts were on hand to advise the official delegation. They had come to Paris in hopes of convincing European leaders to accept peace terms based on their ideas about what was best for the United States, Europe, and the world community. The future of U.S.-European relations, American delegates assumed, hinged on the agreements and treaties that they-a small group of men at Versailles-worked to construct.

Wilson and his advisors were certainly the most talked-about Americans in post-Armistice Europe. Yet for all the attention paid to them then and since, these men were not the only U.S. citizens trying to influence the fates of Europeans at the time. Jane Delano, head of the American Red Cross (ARC) Nursing Service, was in France as well and she too had come hoping to leave a mark. Delano had left the United States on New Year's Day 1919, arriving at the French port of Brest on January 10. She had gone to Europe to inspect the work of the ARC nurses who had served in Army and Navy base hospitals during the war, but also aimed to chart a future course for ARC nursing in Europe.1 The war might have ended, but the ARC leaders in Washington had no intention of terminating their organization's overseas commitments. On the contrary, they envisioned a broad postwar role in Europe. Delano explained in a letter to Mary Gardner, chief nurse of the ARC Tuberculosis Commission in Italy, "Our plans have developed into a tremendous peace program and will require our best efforts to carry them through to a successful conclusion."2 For Delano and her Nursing Service colleagues, designing and implementing their part of the program would require reimagining what trained U.S. nurses might accomplish in the postwar context. No longer needed on the battlefields, they reasoned, ARC nurses could engage in peacetime health and nursing work for civilians. Through such work, Delano and other ARC leaders believed, U.S. nurses would play an important part in shaping a new Europe.

Delano would not live to see the program develop. A few weeks after arriving in France, she contracted an illness from which she never recovered; she died on April 15, 1919, at Army Base Hospital 69 in Savenay.3 Delano's vision for ARC nursing in postwar Europe, however, did survive. …

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