UA Little Rock researcher uncovers history of American Indian nurses in World War I

Published: 11 November 2022

via the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper (OK) web site

Constance Madden

Constance Madden

Constance Madden, a Cherokee Nation citizen, is one of 13 American Indian nurses who served in Army Nurse Corps during World War I and is listed on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission website. According to the website, Madden was born in Indian Territory and graduated from Haskell Institute. She served at Base Hospital 28, a hospital organized by the University of Kansas School of Medicine, at Limoges, France.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – One University of Arkansas at Little Rock researcher has made it her mission to uncover the history of American Indian women who served as Army nurses during World War I.

Dr. Daniel Littlefield, director of Sequoyah National Research Center, and Erin Fehr, assistant director and archivist, partnered with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission to create a website commemorating the approximately 12,000 American Indians who served in the military during World War I.

During her research, Fehr came across an article that described two of the 14 American Indian women who served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

“I realized no one has written about any of the others,” Fehr said. “I am bound and determined to find these women. So far, I have found 13. I am only one away from their number of 14, but I do believe there are more based on historical accounts. There are some women who I have evidence to believe they served as nurses, but I haven’t confirmed it.”

The 13 identified American Indian nurses who served in the Army Nurse Corps include Agnes Anderson, Charlotte “Edith” Anderson, Effie Barnett, Marie Broker, Ruth Cleveland Douglass, Cora Elm, Margaret Frazier, Ruth Hills, Louise Lafournaise, Constance Madden, Regina McIntyre, Lula Owl, and Susie St. Martin. The women have fascinating stories to share.

Edith Anderson, who was born near Brantford, Ontario, moved to the U.S. because she was unable to pursue higher education due to Canada’s Indian Act without risking losing her legal Indian status. She trained at New Rochelle School of Nursing in New York, becoming the first Canadian Indigenous nurse in 1914.

She served in Vittel, France, in 1918 and 1919 and spent the rest of her life working to improve indigenous healthcare. When she passed away in 1996, Anderson received a military funeral as the last surviving Six Nations veteran of World War I on the reserve. Fehr has been in contact with the grandson of Edith Anderson.

“What I like about what I do is that these women are related to people who are alive today, and I enjoy making those connections,” Fehr said. “There are times when people like John, Edith’s grandson, are very aware of their ancestor’s legacy, but there are others who are not, and they are excited to learn about it.”

One of the nurses has a local connection to Arkansas. After volunteering as a World War I nurse in January 1918, Douglass was stationed for eight months at Camp Pike, Arkansas, which is now Camp Robinson, before heading to France.

One of the nurses, Owl, had intended to go overseas, but she was unable to pass the seaworthy exam due to extreme seasickness. Instead, she served the duration of the war at Camp Lewis in Washington. She was given the rank of second lieutenant and secretly married Jack Gloyne, an enlisted man in 1918, even though it was forbidden. They had four children. She spent her lifetime devoted to healthcare and died April 17, 1985. In 2015, she was inducted into the North Carolina Nurse’s Hall of Fame. She was also bestowed the title Beloved Woman by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“There were a lot of men from her tribe that served, but she was the highest ranking military member of the tribe,” Fehr said.

Read the entire article on the Cherokee Phoenix web site.
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