“The dead bodies greet you at the front door.”
—Anna Louise Tittman, on the Russian hospital in Irkutsk, Russia,
Sept 1919 (oral history 129)
Anna Louise Tittman (1884–1977) earned her nursing credential from the Springfield [IL) Hospital Training School in 1906. She then did private duty nursing and worked at Johns Hopkins University, Boston Floating Hospital (originally a hospital ship in Boston Harbor and now a children’s medical facility at Tufts), and Bellevue Hospital in New York City before becoming an inspector for schools of nursing.
In May 1919, at the request of Director of American Red Cross Nursing Clara Noyes, she set off for Siberia with 29 US nurses under the auspices of the Red Cross Commission to Siberia, as some 10,000 men of the American Expeditionary Forces had been sent there by President Woodrow Wilson. At the time, Siberia was battling typhus and cholera epidemics as well as effects of the Russian Revolution. Tittman was appointed chief nurse of the Eastern Division when the previous chief nurse sustained an injury to her eye and needed to return to the United States for treatment. The History of Red Cross Nursing termed her “a nurse executive who would be particularly valuable in straightening out the organization difficulties in Siberia. She possessed a penchant for details and with it a keen and well-balanced mind” (930).
In 1974, Barbara B. Herndon conducted an oral history with Tittman, which included Tittman reading from and commenting on her diary kept during her service in Siberia. This oral history (both audio files and typed transcripts) was originally part of University of Illinois at Springfield’s Archives and Special Collections, and can be found in the Illinois Digital Archives of the Illinois State Library.
Tittman provided a sense of the colorful, mini UN that Vladivostok was at the time:
The blending of the various uniforms—the gray blue of the French and the Poles, the khaki of the United States, the Japanese with their yellowish and bright red trimmings, the Italian greenish gray, the Annamites [Vietnamese] with their flaring brimmed hats, our American sailors with white caps and blue uniforms, the Czechs with greenish khaki and violet trimming. There were also the Russians, the Chinese, the Serbians, the British and the Cossacks, the latter looking like a field of dandelions with their yellow caps and stripes shining in the sun. (111)
I went to Second River and the Sixth Virsta Fortress with [nurses] Miss [Ethel] Pinder and Mrs. [Carrie Stallard] Cook. Large ARC barracks for refugees are located at these points. . . . . At Second River there are six large red brick buildings, built for barracks for Russian soldiers. (113)
Tittman noted the existence of two small Russian emergency hospitals but stated:
I could readily see the necessity for having a public health nurse with experience and training assigned to the work at once, as babies were sadly in need of someone to supervise their feedings. There are many cases of pregnancy which need watching. The summer months and the bad sanitation causes much diarrhea and there are abscesses and skin eruptions in need of attention. (114)
She also described more grim episodes:
At Borzai we saw a horrible sight. A refugee train bound for Vladivostok had about five or six cars of Bolsheviki prisoners who were sick with typhus. . . . Starving and in dirty and tattered unshaven condition. They were lying on the floors of the boxcar. . . . Many of them were boys. No food was brought to them. Some were fortunate enough to be provided with a kettle of hot water which they drank. It was reported that several dead were removed each day, that it was expected that they would all be dead by the time the train reached Vladivostok. (127)
The History of Red Cross Nursing described her role in forming an emergency hospital in 24 hours when street fighting between opposing political factions in Vladivostok occurred, and many civilians were hurt. In the oral history, Tittman also noted having to deal with a nurse who was an alcoholic (122) and the realities of venereal disease among the AEF (estimated by one doctor, said Tittman, at 60 percent of the servicemen, 121). Tittman made it clear that she had no time for bureaucracy:
A report had reached Harbin signed by Major [J. N.] Strong [head of Red Cross operations in Vladivostok] that it was not the policy of the American Red Cross to allow nurses to serve in hospitals other than those over which the American Red Cross presided in an authorative capacity.
Nurses have been serving here in Chinese and Russian hospitals. I informed Miss [Vashti] Bartlett, Captain Rowland and Dr. [Manning] Field that I had had nothing to do with the determination of this policy and gave my order to have nurses serve in Chinese and Russian hospitals, as well as to do bedside nursing in the homes where this was satisfactorily prearranged . . . I informed the group that I myself and many nurses known to me had served in America in hospitals not controlled by the American Red Cross. (125)
Lighter interludes featured dances with the numerous U.S. engineers who were working in the area; social engagements with members of the military forces and the diplomatic community; and a visit with her nephew, who was in the Army and en route to Manila.
The History of Red Cross Nursing lists Tittman as receiving the Gold Medal on the Ribbon of St. Anne, a Russian decoration (1478), but Tittman states in the oral history that she never received the actual decoration. Tittman traveled to China before her return to the United States. She worked for nurse placement services in New York and Chicago. In June 1923, she earned her BS degree in public health nursing from Teachers College, Columbia University. In 1975, she was inducted into the hall of fame of her alma mater, Springfield High School, for her work in public health.