Letters from World War I

Chief Nurse Julia Stimson, to her family, May 4-6, 1917

Refer to caption
Julia Stimson, RN
Photo from Julia Stimson’s 1918 book Finding Themselves


Courtesy of the Medical Center Archives of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornel

In spring of 1916, the Red Cross began preparing to provide medical services in case the United States went to war. This included creating teams of medical personnel from larger hospitals. These “base hospitals” were to have the supplies necessary to create 500-bed units to replace the depleted staffs of the Allies’ hospitals. Base Hospital 21 readied to ship out soon after the United States declared war and its chief nurse, Julia Stimson, wrote home about the process.

one page of a handwritten letter



4471 Forest Park Bl May 4. Friday & 6. Sunday

Dear folks,

As you’ve all probably seen by the papers we all here are in the midst of alarms. We have had less than a week’s notice to get ready for mobilization for service in France and so it has been a very busy week. Last Sat. aft we received word we were likely to be called out soon – in 2 or 3 weeks & on Tues night I received word to have the nurses ready by Saturday [page break] It is …..Friday evening and most of the nurses are ready but it is quite certain we won’t be leaving for several days more as the doctors’ uniforms – for instance won’t be ready till next Wednesday. I’m glad indeed for this extra time. Leila has stopped all her university work to get her things ready & is sewing tags on things & getting me all beautifully equipped. The nurses can take a very small steamer trunk and a suitcase. As we apparently are to be sent abroad “for the duration of the war” it is rather [page break] a puzzle to know what to take. Of course this order for foreign service is playing havoc with the personel of the unit – so few expected to be called for duty abroad. In fact no one expected a call of this sort at all. I’ve been quite disgusted with the quitters who for one reason or another have begged to be excused. I’ve had about 10 drop out but I’m finding substitutes who I think will be much more desirable than such weak kneed originals. But every substitution means a great deal of work & much telephoning. For each name has to be approved at Washington and after physical examinations are made here they also have to be approved at Washington. I’ve had a number sent back for more complete details. I’m to have a detachment of Kansas City nurses attached to my corps. Ten and maybe more for there are to be 65 and I had only [page break] fifty on my original order and some of these have been dropped or have had to fall out. Two whose name I submitted I’ve had to drop by orders from Washington because they were born in Germany. So there is much to do you see. It is now Tuesday afternoon & nothing very new has happened. We were at the Cobbs for dinner this noon and soon Phil is coming here to supper, then we are going down to hear Joffre speak [page break] if we can get into the Colosseum. He and his staff are coming out to review the unit at the hospital tomorrow.

I do hope that by this time next Tuesday we shall be on our way for waiting around after one is ready is very trying particularly when people of all sorts are weeping farewells over you all the time.

Well anyway here’s loads of love to you all. The next Round Robin will [page break] have to skip me. But all of you do please write all you can as soon as you know an address that will reach us. Ruth Cobb is going with me – which is going to be nice for me – I’m so fond of her. She is as thrilled as I am about going but her mother weeps all the time. We know it is the biggest opportunity of our lives.



My Fellow Soldiers