Editor’s note: This is the final of a three-part series on the Spanish flu of 1918.

Part 3: Nurses

An Abilene resident at the time, Grace Hershey, died of the flu in 1918.

“She was a Red Cross volunteer. Instead of staying in the United States, she was sent to work with the International Red Cross in Switzerland. She didn’t make it,” said Marilyn Holt author of “Women as Casualties of World War I and Spanish Influenza: A Kansas Study.”

Holt said the newspaper death notice said Hershey died at sea of influenza.

She was buried at sea but there is a memorial monument in the Abilene Cemetery.

Holt said thousands of soldiers also died at sea or soon after they arrived in France because they were sick either before they got on the boat or shortly after getting on the boat.

Holt said the military medical service wasn’t ready in 1917 for the wounded it would have to treat in the war.

Fifty of the first military hospitals established overseas were organized by the American Red Cross and funded by private organizations and individuals.

That meant raising at least $200,000 and on up to buy everything a hospital required in equipment: bedpans, surgical instruments, gowns, masks, etc.

One of those hospitals was Base Hospital No. 28 in Limoges, France, staffed by doctors and nurses from the Kansas City area. It was organized by KC Mo chapter of Red Cross and funded through private donations.

She said that not all of the women that died of the flu were military nurses.

“Some of them died as nurses at local hospitals,” she said.


“Thirty-one-year old Grace, a stenographer for a real estate loan and insurance company, had volunteered to serve as an American Red Cross worker overseas,” Holt wrote in her article on women during the time period. “Periodically, the Red Cross issued national appeals for additional workers, familiarizing Americans with the organization’s canteens and ‘hospital huts’ (for convalescent patients) in Great Britain and France and with its work for Belgian relief. Less well known were Red Cross activities in Italy, Serbia, Russia, and Switzerland.

“Nevertheless, Hershey was on her way to Switzerland, where the Red Cross provided help to thousands of war refugees pouring into the country and where it had a base for sending aid to American soldiers in German and Austrian prisoner-of-war camps.

“The fact that Grace never made it to her destination, dying of influenza, as at least four thousand soldiers did in transit to Europe during the last two months of the war, did not diminish her willingness to serve.”

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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