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Nurses to the Front

As the American Expeditionary Force became more heavily involved on the battlefields of France, casualty numbers were staggering as trench warfare became a war of attrition.  Artillery and poisonous gases poured down indiscriminately, and machine guns raked thousands more in “No Man’s Land,” creating horrific wounds and sending thousands to evacuation hospitals near the front.  It had become a bloodbath on an unprecedented scale. 

Red Cross hospitals were overcome. On this date in 1918, the National Council of Defense was calling for twenty-five thousand young women to join the United States Student Nurse Reserve. Training took two years, and only trained nurses would be allowed to serve overseas. However, the presence of these student nurses stateside, would free more experienced nurses for duty in France.  North Dakota’s quota was set at three hundred and seventy student nurses. 

Jennie Mahoney of Langdon became a nurse when the United States entered the war, but she wasn’t called into service until March of 1918.  Fifteen days after marching in the New York City Red Cross parade with President Wilson in mid-May, her company of one hundred nurses arrived in France.  Riding in a “40 & 8” boxcar, they were sent to a base hospital near Bordeaux.  Before she had time to unpack, a convoy of seven hundred wounded soldiers arrived. She worked through the night. 

By mid-June, nurse Mahoney was stationed near the trenches at an evacuation hospital sixty miles north of Paris.  Tents accommodated approximately nine hundred men, but the hospital was soon enlarged to care for over two thousand.  Moving with the fighting, she was then transferred to a shell-torn hospital in battle-scarred Chateau Thierry.  Lest the enemy see a glimmer of light, the windows, doors and shell holes were covered with heavy blankets allowing them to work undetected by candlelight at night.  Although terrified by the sound of exploding shells and bombs, the ground-shaking, and the return fire of the American guns, nurse Mahoney helped care for over one thousand wounded men in a twelve hour shift.  There she endured nightly bombing raids. 

When the drive ended near the Belleau Woods, Jennie walked among the battlefields and trenches.  Having witnessed weeks of mangled limbs and torn bodies, she marveled at the courage of the young soldiers, but her heart was heavy at the thought of the sacrifice.  Among the killed and wounded were many North Dakota boys.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Grand Forks Herald, May 18, 1918

American Legion Auxiliary, Department of Dakota Biography Collection, Series 10339, State Archives, State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The Briquette, Scranton, ND, July 25, 1918

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