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Women's Wartime Service

"No longer is she satisfied with sharing a man's paycheck – she must have one of her own."
Editorial, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1918

Farming, munitions, manufacturing. Women did more during World War I than just "knit their bit." Long before Rosie the Riveter rose to fame, her mother served in similar ways during World War I. Beyond Red Cross fund raisers, Liberty bond drives, knitting, food conservation, and Victory gardens, many women filled in on assembly lines and other manufacturing to keep production moving for the war effort.

The doctors and the nurses
Look North with eager eyes,
And call on us to send them
The dressing that they prize
No other is its equal--
In modest bulk it goes,
Until it meets the gaping wound
Where the red life blood flows,
Then spreading, swelling in its might
It checks the fatal loss,
And kills the germ, and heals the hurt
The kindly Sphagnum Moss

A unique activity during this period was the collection of sphagnum moss for wound packing. Dried moss can absorb up to twenty times its volume of liquid, including blood, and is superior to cotton dressing material for staunching wounds. The Pacific Northwest contributed 60% of the sphagnum moss collected for use during the war.

Women were highly sought as nurses, but female physicians were not accepted in military service. In response, the National American Woman Suffrage Association organized Women's Overseas Hospitals, where physicians such as Mabel Seagrave served in France, Serbia, Palestine, and Greece. Each hospital had 25 beds and a staff of 15 women who cared for convalescent soldiers and orphans and served other local health concerns.

While doing all they could in support of the war, women were still seeking full suffrage as citizens of the United States. Their efforts to drive the issue countered President Wilson's desire to keep the public focused on the war. Women finally received the vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.


"A base hospital is not a Coney Island dance hall."
AEF Chief Nurse Julia Stimson, 1918

Even before the U.S. entered World War I, thousands of women responded to the Red Cross's call for skilled nurses. The proposal for Base Hospital 50 originally called for 50 nurses, but once planning began in earnest, the hospital doubled in size. Over 100 women from around the greater Pacific Northwest enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and served in Base Hospital 50 and other Army installations in the U.S. and Europe. Local nurses received their training from a variety of nursing schools, including Seattle General Hospital School for Nurses, Providence Hospital Training School for Nurses, Swedish Hospital Training School, St Joseph's (Bellingham). St Joseph's (Tacoma), Deaconess (Spokane), and Sacred Heart (Spokane), among others.

The UW's School of Nursing began to offer a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1923. However, the School of Nursing will celebrate its centennial in 2018, one hundred years after the first public health nursing classes were taught on campus, led by Elizabeth Sterling Soule, in response to the influenza crisis.

Two sets of sisters served with Base Hospital 50 along with UW graduate Florence Finch Dickson, who served as the unit's dietician. Her work was limited, however, due to the lack of variety in available food.

Years after the war, Zowitza "Zoe" Nicholas gained fame in the 1970s when William Roper, a soldier she cared for in France, sought to reconnect with her to thank her for saving his life. Although Roper eventually located her in California as a result of newspaper coverage, she declined to meet with him. Her response was indicative of the nurses who cared selflessly for thousands of casualties during the war, not expecting thanks or praise for their work.