After the Armistice
On November 11, 1918, peace was declared and the First World War came to an end. However, the cessation of hostilities did not mean that the women serving in the Army Nurse Corps were immediately free to return home. Demobilizing the tens of thousands of nurses who had volunteered for service during the war was a months-long process.
The return of American nurses to the United States began in January 1919. At that time, the Army designated Camp Hospital 91 in La Baule, France, the central point where nurses were sent while awaiting transport back across the Atlantic. While travel was arranged, nurses had their pick of entertainment and traveling excursions in the area as they waited.
Upon their return to the United States, army nurses were welcomed enthusiastically and greeted as returning heroes. In California, the nurses’ journey home was tracked and reported in newspapers across the state.
By March 18, 1919, the first contingent of California’s Army Nurses returned home after nearly a year of military service.
“You can tell Los Angeles,” the Los Angeles Times quoted one nurse, “that we certainly are glad to be back in the old U.S.A., and are longing to board the train for the West.”
Etta Parker was among the first group of California nurses to return home. Through the spring and into the summer, Mayme Williamson, Alta Ireland, Vera Marston, and Guilda Jones would follow.
The same strength, dedication, and ambition that had drawn them to service in the Army Nurse Corps at the outbreak of World War I would endure long after they left the base hospitals of France behind. These women returned home as veterans in their own right. They were the first generation of American women to be granted the same benefits afforded to male veterans, from life insurance, land grants, and enlistment bonuses to the ability to retire after decades of service to her country and the right to a military burial.
The creation of the Army Nurse Corps guaranteed more than just the opportunity for women to serve in the military: it promised to honor their service after they returned home.
The paths these women took after returning home were as varied and diverse as their experiences in the war had been. Some remained in the nursing profession, while others married and had children, and still others pursued new careers entirely. Regardless of the paths they took after returning home, what each woman featured in this exhibit had in common is her desire to be buried in a national cemetery.