Elizabeth Frances Lee

Elizabeth Frances Lee

Death 6 Oct 1918
Burial Angels Camp, Calaveras County, California, USA
Memorial ID 70768477 · View Source
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Added by carole taylor puntenney (#47890355) December 17, 2016: Link to parents

Elizabeth was a nurse in the U. S. Army, Base Hospital 47 (California)

Altaville nurse died in WWI

Written by Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat May 25, 2012 03:06 pm

Elizabeth Lee likely never picked up a gun during World War I. And she never faced enemy fire in the trenches.

But the woman raised in Altaville and schooled in Stockton sacrificed her life for her country just the same as the roughly 116,000 Americans who died overseas during the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Lee, in her late 20s, was one of the thousands of U.S. Army nurses who served in Europe during World War I, which was the first organized military effort to send women overseas.

About 120 American nurses died while treating injured soldiers near the fronts. Like the other nurses lost during the war, she died of illness — usually influenza, a lethal threat that rivaled ammunition in terms of lives taken in the war.

A military headstone stands atop her Angels Camp grave today, and her name is etched near the top of the Calaveras County war memorial in San Andreas — a reminder that women's wartime service started long before they could go into battle.

"It wasn't until the first World War that the Army actually decided to make them an integral part of the organization," said Lisa Budreau, vice president of collections and education and chief historian at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.

Budreau wrote the book "Answering the Call: The U.S. Army Nurse Corps 1917-1919," which spotlights Army nurses like Lee and chronicles their experiences. She said nurses did aid military efforts previously in the American Civil War and Spanish-American War, though those efforts were not officially connected to the military.

World War I was "the first time there was actually an organized corps," Budreau said.

The daughter of an Italian gold miner, Lee ended up in France by way of the American Red Cross. She finished her nursing training at Stockton's St. Joseph's Hospital in 1914, and enlisted with friend and fellow St. Joseph's nurse, Guilda Jones.

Both very well may have brought overseas an idealized notion of the military nurse, one described in the book "American Women in World War I, They Also Served" by Lettie Gavin.

"She hovered daintily over a smiling wounded soldier sitting up in bed, a spotless bandage wrapped around his head. … He smiled gratefully at his nurse."

Lee was stationed at Base Hospital No. 47, in Beaune, France. The field hospital held 1,000 beds, with the capacity to expand to another 1,000 beds during a crisis.

According to Gavin's book, the experiences on the field likely contrasted with the idealized notions held by many of the Army nurses before the war.

"Lice infested, mud-crusted uniforms, bloody bandages, gaping shrapnel wounds, hideously infected fractures, mustard gas burns, frantic coughing and choking from phosgene inhalation, groans and shrieks of pain, trauma from exposure, fatigue, and emotional collapse," she described.

According to reports in The Stockton Record and The Calaveras Prospect from 1920 and 1921, Lee told colleagues she was feeling ill on Oct. 5, 1918 and had a high fever. She worsened quickly and died of pneumonia the next day, just one month before the end of the Great War.

A letter from American Soldier Gilliam Squires to his family recalled Lee, who nursed him back to health while at Base Hospital No. 47.

"It nearly broke the bunch up. She was the favorite with the boys in the short time we had known her, and her death was so sudden. … I ordered the best bouquet I could in this dinky little town and the unit sent a wreath along with several others from the boys. … She was laid away here in France, next to the very boys whom she had nursed and for whom she had died," Squires wrote in the letter, which was published in local newspapers.

Squires also recalled the night she died.

"The night before she was buried, (we) helped carry the coffin — in which was her body — to the vacant building where it rested that night. There we draped it with The Flag and left her chum and roommate Miss Guilda Jones with it for the night," he wrote.

Lee's remains stayed in the French cemetery during the rest of the war. According to a December 1920 newspaper report, she was the only nurse in that cemetery.

Her body was finally brought home in January 1921, where she was laid to rest during a military funeral at the Protestant cemetery in Angels Camp.

Her casket was carried to her final resting place by some of the same soldiers who held it in France.

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  • Created by: Jan Dishon
  • Added: 3 Jun 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 70768477
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Elizabeth Frances Lee (unknown–6 Oct 1918), Find a Grave Memorial no. 70768477, citing Altaville Protestant Cemetery, Angels Camp, Calaveras County, California, USA ; Maintained by Jan Dishon (contributor 46540587) .