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First Woman Ambulance Surgeon: Emily Barringer

by Iris Noble (1962)
First Woman Ambulance Surgeon: Emily Barringer

Eight-year-old Emily crouched on the broad stairway just below the second floor landing. From there she could peer over that top step and look down the hallway to Mama’s bedroom. As the door opened or closed, as the nurse darted in and out, there was a thin, wavering streak of lamplight which lighted up the hall carpet or filtered into dim shadows as the door half closed again. Sounds came from behind it — a stifled cry, now and then, from Mama, or the rustle of the nurse’s skirts, or a few soft words in Lil’s Irish brogue.

Most important of all, it seemed to Emily, was the deeper, heavier voice of Dr. Burchard. When he spoke, things happened. The nurse would say “Yes, Doctor” or Lil would come flying out and run downstairs to the kitchen for kettles of hot water.

What was happening? It was all very strange. It was frightening, because Mama was sick. That much Emily knew.

Lil was their old nursemaid, yet she had seen Emily on the steps and said nothing about bedtime. No one had paid any attention to the younger children either, and for the first time in her small life Emily had done a grownup’s job. An hour ago she had seen to it that Margaret and Amy and Harry had brushed their teeth and said their prayers and were safe in bed. She looked for Will, her older brother, but couldn’t find him; she was lonely and frightened and couldn’t sleep — and the stairway was as close as she dared come to Mama.

An instinct told her that she would not be allowed in Mama’s bedroom, but an even stronger instinct kept her where she was, within sight and hearing.

The doorbell sounded down below. Emily waited a second for a maid to answer it before she remembered that there were no maids or butler any more, only Lil upstairs and Cook down in the kitchen. Lil came hurrying past her, went down and opened the door to admit another man in a dark frock coat and a big, soft leather bag.

“I’m Dr. William Lusk,” she heard him say. “Dr. Burchard is expecting me. I understand it’s a difficult birth and he thinks I may have to operate.” He was following Lil up the steps as he spoke and Lil was answering: “Yes, Doctor, yes. Ah, the poor darling — my poor, beautiful mistress.”

He went into the bedroom, too, and now the door was closed tightly and there was no lamplight at all in the hallway. Still Emily stayed where she was. Perhaps she dozed a little because she was suddenly startled to find Lil bending over her, shaking her and saying:

“Emily! Child, would you be after helping me this once?” Her voice held it usual kindness but she wasn’t smiling. “I do need you. I can’t be leaving them upstairs, with the doctors wanting something from me every blessed minute. And it’s fearful I am of leaving your mother. She’s quieter, someways, when I’m in the room.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Emily. “Let me do something.”

The middle-aged woman, who had been nursemaid as long as Emily could remember, handed her the slip of paper. “I want you to go down the street to Haas’s pharmacy and ask them to give you these medicines written on the piece of paper. Do hurry, there’s a dear child. The doctors are wanting these special like.” She stooped and kissed the soft, babyish cheek and walked away with quick steps to Mama’s bedroom.

“But — Lil –” Emily was so astounded she could not believe it. She had always been a very protected and sheltered little girl. She never was allowed to go anywhere on her own.

“Hurry, child!” the nursemaid called over her shoulder.

Ellen Matthews, Mission Nurse

by Ralph E. Hayes (1966)
Ellen Matthews, Mission Nurse

Auburn-haired Ellen had broken her engagement to Dr. Richard Creighton, and she couldn’t see herself remaining on at City Hospital in Chicago, where she would be seeing him every day. Her priest told her of a mission in Africa where Father Clousseau had asked for assistance, and Ellen, who had thought of herself as the missionary type since childhood, was interested at once. The pay was almost nothing, but the job offered a chance to see a little of the world, the priest went on, and, at the same time, she would be contributing something of real value to mankind.

Ellen had almost immediately fallen victim to the indefinable charm of Africa. Dust was everywhere as the big black Mercedes, with its native driver, jolted over the red clay road of Masai Plains, but then something almost incredibly beautiful would happen — like the herd of zebra that crossed the road not a hundred yards ahead of the car. The mission itself — low, rambling, with louvered shutters and acacia trees for shade — was almost exactly as she had imagined it. And Sisters Felicia and Gabrielle and white-haired Father Clousseau — well, Ellen knew right away that she was going to like working with them. Here, too, away from men of eligible age, she would be able to sort out her emotions, find herself. But that was before Ellen met rugged Craig Adams, who caught rare wild animals for zoos, and went on safari with him…

Mr. Hayes’s story of a nurse who went to Africa with a troubled heart and found peace there contains the very essence of the charm of Africa and a primitive civilization.

Edith Cavell, Heroic Nurse

by Juliette Elkon (1956)
Edith Cavell, Heroic Nurse

Here is the compassionate story of a frail but determined nurse who pitted her wits against the German army occupying Brussels and helped hundreds of Allied soldiers escape war-torn Belgium. For seven nerve-wracking months Edith Cavell sheltered fugitives in her nursing home, continuing her dangerous work even though she realized she was being watched by the secret police. Convicted of high treason, she gave her life for humanity and became the greatest heroine of the first World War.

Edith Cavell’s story began quietly in an English vicarage where she was raised by a loving mother and a strict puritanical father. At twenty-five she went to Belgium and became governess in an aristocratic French family. Though she enjoyed teaching, she was restless, driven by the dream of helping the suffering, the hurt, the needy. Back in England she realized that dream in nursing, rising from an obscure probationer to superintendent of various hospitals in the most wretched slums of London.

Belgian doctors, hearing of her brilliant work, summoned Miss Cavell to Brussels where she became matron of the first nursing school ever to be opened in that country. She had difficulty in obtaining nurses, for such work was considered shocking for “nice” women, and when she finally formed a staff, servants were too contemptuous to wait upon them. Patiently, tactfully, Edith Cavell battled prejudice — and won, rising to the very heights of her profession.

Then Germany declared war, invaded Belgium and occupied Brussels. Allied soldiers, wounded or separated from their regiments, were shot on sight. A secret organization was formed to help them escape into Holland — and Edith Cavell, joining it, took her first long step toward doom and immortality.

Edith Cavell was executed on a bleak morning in 1915. In 1919 services were held for her in Westminster Abbey in the presence of the King and Queen, and her body was laid to rest in Norwich Abbey.

This is the many-splendored story of an indomitable character’s supreme dedication to an ideal — a story of inspiration, espionage, danger and devotion.

Debutante Nurse

by Margaret Howe (1958)
Debutante Nurse

As Dana Gordon put on her new mink coat, she remembered the quizzical eyes of the young intern. To him she was nothing but an ornament — beautiful but useless. At that moment she made her decision to show him that she had the courage and will to win a place in his hard, dedicated world of medicine — even if it meant giving up her soft, glittering social world.

Duty Nurse

by Diana Douglas (1968)
Duty Nurse

They were caught in a triangle of tenderness and tragedy. The doctor, the patient, and the beautiful nurse.

The girl in Room 17 was so young and lovely and had so little time left. How could the doctor deny her anything…even himself?

The duty nurse was kind and wise beyond her years. Could she deny her tragic patient anything…even the man she herself loved?