Cora Elm, Native American nurse in WWI France.

Elm-nurse1

Cora Elm, 1916.

Born in February 1891 in Wisconsin, Cora Elm was a member of the Oneida Nation and identified herself in her account “Life, Belief, and the War” (1942) as “a very firm Episcopalian” (Oneida Lives [2005] 290). Her father, a farmer who understood the benefits of education, first enrolled her in 1906 at the Carlisle Indian School (which athlete Jim Thorpe attended), but she left the school for a time and did not graduate until 1913. With her grandmother well known as a midwife, she trained as a nurse at the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia with the financial help of her father and her wealthy employers. She graduated in 1916 and stayed on as supervisor of wards at the hospital. A March 1917 newspaper item indicates that she participated in a suffrage demonstration at the White House.

It appears that Elm sailed for Liverpool on the Leviathan on December 15, 1917, and reached France on Christmas Day. She and her fellow nurses of Base Hospital No. 34 (aka the Episcopal Unit, as the personnel came from the Episcopal Hospital) first were split among three hospitals as the base hospital was readied; it opened in Nantes in April 1918. The unit history states that the hospital admitted 9100 patients in nine months and had a death rate of 1.3 percent. Elm wrote the section on the YWCA in the unit history. She says laconically in “Life, Belief, and the War,” “My life overseas was not very easy. Although I was in a base hospital, I saw a lot of the horrors of war. I nursed many a soldier with a leg cut off, or an arm” (295).

Her February 1920 passport application indicated that the Red Cross was sending her to Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania for nursing service. In January 1921, the American Journal of Nursing reported that Elm had married James E. Sinnard. Her son, James Jr., was born in 1926. She served as ward supervisor in several veterans hospitals, including Wood Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee. The 1940 census lists her as divorced, nursing in a private hospital, and living with her widowed sister, with her son as residing with her ex-husband. Elm died in June 1949.

Advertisements