Mary E. Gladwin, Red Cross nurse.

Photo of Mary E. Gladwin, ca. 1920
Mary E. Gladwin, ca. 1920.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Mary E. Gladwin (1861–1939) was born in Stoke-upon-Trent, England, and emigrated with her family to Akron, OH, becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1874. She graduated from Buchtel College (now University of Akron) in 1887 and taught at Norwalk (OH) High School. Gladwin then earned a nursing credential at Boston City Hospital and was superintendent of Beverly Hospital (MA) and Woman’s Hospital (NY). She served as a Red Cross nurse in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War, in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, and in Ohio after the 1913 flood.

In World War I, Gladwin first went to Belgrade, Serbia, as reflected by her three letters dated from November 1914 to February 1915 in the 3 May 1915 Norwalk [OH] Reflector-Herald. The letters were carried by individuals and therefore did not pass through a censor:

Our big hospital is on the banks of the Sav River, and we look over into Ziemlin and Austrian territory. The town of Belgrade has been shelled every day since August 1. The big Austrian searchlights play all night. . . . . The big guns boom every night, and the other night as Dr. [Edward] Ryan and I stood on the steps, we heard one shriek quite plainly. It is a curious sound to hear, one going through the air. Shriek is exactly the word to describe it. (2)

Amid Gladwin’s accounts of tea with eminent people such as Lady Paget (the American-born Minnie Stevens), Sir Thomas Lipton (creator of Lipton tea), and Harry James (a son of philosopher William James who was working for the Rockefeller Foundation’s War Relief Commission) were some sobering details and evidence of her sang froid:

In one day, just before the Austrians left, 9,000 wounded passed through these hospitals, 6,000 being here for a few hours, then going to Zemlin [Zemun], 3,000 remaining here. Last night there was a sharp engagement. I awakened to see the flash of the cannon on my white wall, and then in a few seconds heard the report. However, it takes more than that to keep me awake. (2)

Gladwin also wrote in a 25 May 1915 letter to Buchtel College president Parke Kolbe:

Then the coming of the Austrians. They seemed to number like the sands of the sea as they marched and rode down the street past the hospital. After a few days the wounded began to come; at first dozens, then by the hundred, then by the thousand. The beds were soon all filled, three men in a bed; wounded under the tables and in every corner. There was very soon only a narrow lane down our broad hospital corridors. We literally walked over the dead and the dying. . . . .

At two o’clock one morning, when we had been doing dressings for thirty-six hours without stopping, one of the doctors came to me with: “If I should pour cold water over coffee could a man drink it?” He had a man on the table who, wounded, had lain in the woods . . . nine days . . . shot through the chest, with neither food nor drink, and with frozen feet. I shall always be glad to remember that I took time to do an unnecessary thing—to make him a cup of coffee over an alcohol lamp—and that somebody fed it to him a teaspoonful at a time. (Fifty Years of Buchtel [1922] 392)

Gladwin also cared for patients in the typhus epidemic. She returned to the United States in January 1916 and was called as a witness at the trial in Akron of Austrian Peter Fabian for the murder of Joseph Ferguson in November 1915; the prosecution wished to show that racial hatred was the motive (the victim was Romanian with Austro-Hungarian citizenship; the defendant was quoted as saying that he had “killed a Serbian” [see Fabian v. State]). According to the 4 Mar. 1916 Norwalk Reflector-Herald, Gladwin testified that she had seen battles between Serbian and Austro-Hungarian troops, as well as battles between German/Austro-Hungarian troops and those of England, France, and Serbia. The newspaper noted, “her testimony was deemed conclusive” (1). (Fabian was convicted of first-degree murder, served 13 years of a life sentence, and had his sentence commuted in December 1931.)

Next, Gladwin headed for Salonika (now known as Thessaloniki), Greece in December 1916 to care for refugees. Her memoir, “The Red Crosser,” describes bureaucratic snafus in Britain over her visa that required the intercession of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low and US ambassador Walter Hines Page, and conveys worry about friends and patients from her Serbian days who had been taken prisoner. She contracted meningitis in Greece in March 1917 and recuperated at a convalescent home for British nurses. After her return to work, a fire left 80,000 people homeless, and a blockade prevented any aid from Athens. Gladwin housed displaced men from the Athens School of Archaeology and the American Legation, and the American Red Cross organized soup stations in the city and refugee camps outside of it, with the British providing kettles, firewood, and soldiers to staff the stations.

Gladwin returned to the United States in January 1919, going on to serve as president of the Ohio Nurses’ Assn, director of nursing education at St. Mary’s Hospital (Minneapolis), and director of the school of nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital (Rochester, MN). She wrote Ethics: Talks to Nurses (1930). Her service medals included the Order of St. Sava, the Royal Red Cross, and the Cross of Charity (Serbia); the Ribbon of St. Anne (Russia); the Order of the Golden Crown and the Royal Red Cross (Japan); and the Florence Nightingale Medal (International Congress of the Red Cross). The chapter of the Women’s Overseas Service League in Akron was named the Mary Gladwin Unit in her honor, and the College of Health Professions at the University of Akron is housed in Mary Gladwin Hall.

Further reading:
Gladwin diary 1914–15 (Ohio Memory)

• Gladwin’s digitized scrapbook with photos (Ohio Memory)

Fabian v. State (1918), Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Ohio, Vol. 97

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