“After I come home, of course I couldn’t nurse anymore”: Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard.

Born in Kansas, Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard (1886–1985) earned her nursing credentials from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and served as a nurse during World War I at Base Hospital No. 46. Also known as the “Oregon unit,” the hospital specialized in neurosurgical cases at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse in France. From 23 July 1918 to 19 January 1919, the hospital admitted 8366 patients.

According to a 1976 interview with Brouillard by the Latah County [ID] Historical Society, Brouillard worked as a nurse for about three years—including in Coos Bay, OR—before her World War I service. She joined the army in 1917 and first served as a nurse in a shipyard. She was assigned to the hospital at North Carolina’s Camp Greene for three months, then was sent to New York. On 4 July 1918, Brouillard headed for Liverpool on the Aquitania (mentioning in a letter that she worked one night in the ship’s hospital and in an interview that some of the men had to be knocked out to get them on the ship; many had never been away from home before). She arrived in France on 14 July. Her experiences are featured in a 31 Aug 1918 letter to Sergeant Chester F. Leighton of Camp Greene, in the 1976 interview (which starts at about minute 16 after the interview with Brouillard’s sister), and in a 2015 Latah Eagle article based on the oral history.

According to Brouillard in the 1976 interview, the Oregon unit had 100 nurses and about 75 doctors, and most of their operations dealt with the removal of shrapnel. Said Brouillard, “It was hard, and long, and sometimes we were up all night.” She stated that she did not have much contact with gassed patients. She also noted that she and her colleagues cared for German prisoners (the On Active Service history of Base Hospital No. 46 places the number at 215; p. 62) and had to keep the American servicemen from killing one prisoner. She said in the 1976 interview, “The poor thing, I felt so sorry for him. He was no different from anybody else. He just happened to be on the wrong side of the fence.”

Lettie Gavin’s American Women in World War I lists Brouillard as a recipient of a “General Charles H. Muir citation” (Muir was the commanding general of the US Army’s 28th Infantry Division); On Active Service (p. 103) indicates that it was a commendation for “surgical team no. 79” for its work in Coulommiers with Evacuation Hospital No. 7. In the 1976 interview, Brouillard notes the commendation with irony, as she and her colleagues had orders to leave and disobeyed them, as they felt that the patients could not be moved. Brouillard’s Aug 1918 letter provides further details on the conditions:

“I have been out near the front with an operating team in one of the field hospitals; was gone from the base for five weeks. We had a very exciting time and worked hard most of the time. Sometimes we were pretty close to the lines, and always in sound of the guns and barrage.

“We lived in tents most of the time but sometimes we were stationed in deserted French villages, and we used their wine cellars, which are built of stone and under ground, for protection when the Germans were dropping bombs around us and also when they turned their long range guns our way, which they did a number of times.”

She spent her last two months in France caring for flu patients, stating that “the worst kinds were flu and pneumonia” and that often there were four or five deaths from flu in one night. On Active Service (p. 61) places the number of influenza patients at 1158, with pneumonia mortality at 50 percent. Brouillard was in the flu ward when the Armistice was signed. She hurt her back while in France, which affected her for the rest of her life.

Said Brouillard in 1976, “It’s no pleasure to see people die, some of them begging you to do something for them and to let them go home. It was bad.” She added later, “After I come home, I couldn’t nurse anymore. I wasn’t nervous or shaky or anything like that, but I was just all worked up inside.”

The July 1931 Vincentian (a publication of the St. Vincent School of Nursing) reported that Brouillard had retired from nursing and was living in Walla Walla, WA. The Latah Eagle article reports that she returned to her hometown of Viola, ID, after the death of her husband, Charles, and lived with her sister, Fannie Cuthbert Byers. She died in 1985 and is buried in Walla Walla.

OregonUnit

Nurses of the Oregon unit, ca. 1918. Several are wearing decorations. Grace Phelps, chief nurse, appears just behind the child. Historical Image Collection, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University

 

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