In Her Words

Letter from Julia C. Stimson to her family, April 12, 1918

Rev. Henry A. Stimson, father of Base Hospital 21 chief nurse Julia C. Stimson, compiled his daughter’s letters to her family during the First World War into the book, Finding Themselves. Published in 1918 (before the end of the war), Finding Themselves tells of the experiences and gradual changes in the nurses as they “found themselves” through days and nights of unrelenting and difficult service.

At the beginning of April 1918 Julia Stimson received orders from the Army to assume the position of chief nurse of the American Red Cross, a position that included acting as an assistant to the chief nurse of the American Expeditionary Forces. Stimson left Base Hospital 21 in Rouen and moved to Paris.

Paris, April 12, 1918

Personnel of Base Hospital 21, Rouen, France
Personnel of Base Hospital 21, Rouen, France

      If I don’t hurry and write I shall not be able to remember a single one of the really memorable things that have happened to me since I last wrote. I am getting new impressions so fast I can hardly straighten out one from another. I last wrote April 6 just after I got my orders to move. On Sunday the 7th the British orders came, and I decided that I would be ready to leave Wednesday the 10th. . . .

      Sunday evening we had one of the finest sings up in our mess that ever anybody had. Every Major, including the two English ones, was there, and all the young officers too, and the mess was full, and there was much amusement, as they all tried to ask for their favorite tunes at the same time. We used the new Y.M.C.A. service hymn-books that Aunt M. sent and they proved most acceptable, and everybody seemed to find his or her favorite hymn in it. I played my violin and a fine player played the piano, and I can tell you we made the welkin ring. It was a bit hard for me, especially when some idiot asked for “God be with you till we meet again.” But nobody could know how badly I was feeling.

      Monday was very busy all day. That evening was our usual little family dance, which I attended. The next day I finished turning things over to Miss Taylor, went up to Sick Sisters’ Hospital to say good-by to the nurses up there, and the afternoon, packed. The D.D.M.S. [Deputy Divisional Medical Supervisor] came to say good-by and the Acting Principal Matron, which was nice of such busy people at such a busy time. The nurses were full of mysteries all those last days and that afternoon I found in my room a wonderful fitted dressing-bag, the kind my soul has always longed for. It is like a small suit-case, is black, and has a cloth cover and is a perfect beauty. That was from my whole family. Then the original 64 gave me a lovely little gold mesh-purse to go on my watch chain with my other dangles. That too was another thing I had been hoping to have some time.

      I forgot to say that on Saturday evening I had talked to the 64 and told them about my going. They were all splendid about it and are glad that I am going to have this position which they think needs me. They told me individually and collectively how badly they felt about my going, but they all think it is the right thing and there has not been one murmur or horrid feeling about it. They are giving me to the bigger cause freely and gladly, though with truly sincere sorrow, I know. So that has made things easy for me, in a way.

      That last evening they all had a big reception for Miss Taylor, Miss Claiborne, the new assistant, and me. The officers sent wonderful bunches of roses to all three of us. The party was a wonder. After everybody was there, three Majors came for us three over in my sitting-room and escorted us over to the mess, where we were lined up, and everybody came up and shook hands and said nice things. After some general talk we all sang songs out of the back of Aunt M.’s books, “Old Oaken Bucket,” “Swanee River,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Juanita,” and the like; then Miss Taylor and I ran away and it was all over. My four dear Majors gave me the most beautiful charm to wear on my watch chain. It is a round, flat unpolished crystal, about as big as a quarter, with a red cross in the center, made of large garnets. It is a perfect beauty. Major Clopton got it at Tiffany’s in Paris for me, and the four of them all signed the dearest note that went with it. They have been such wonderful friends to me and I am so horribly lonesome without them. No woman ever leaving a job ever had such things said to her as I have had, this past week.

      But, oh, I need to remember them now, for if ever there was a desolate soul, it is I. My predecessor left before I arrived. Her assistant has been sick and away from the office ever since I have been here, and I have been simply floundering. Miss Morgan is a great help, but, I wish it was a month from now and I knew something of my job, which is huge. One can only sit tight and not let oneself be discouraged. It’s got to come out right. Our job is, I am sure, to do our job and wait patiently.