Roses of No Man’s Land: Wisconsin’s World War I Nurses

A group photograph of Nurses at Base 22 Hospital taken in France in 1917

A group photograph of Nurses at Base 22 Hospital taken in France in 1917

At the Outbreak of the War
During World War I, the entire nation was mobilized for service. As in the Civil War and other previous conflicts, women answered the call by volunteering as nurses. This exhibit concerns itself with two people and one unit with Wisconsin ties.

Helen Bulovsky was born in Madison in 1895, of immigrant parents. She trained at Madison General Hospital, and after her graduation in October of 1917 practiced as a registered nurse. Bulovsky had a heart defect, which it seems she was aware of, at the point of her enlistment in April 1918. She was assigned to Base Hospital 22.

Base Hospital 22 was formed at Knowlton Hospital in Milwaukee. The doctors became officers, but nurses were not given military ranks at this time. The staff was then supplemented with soldiers from regular Army sanitation units.

Aimee O’Keefe was born on a small farm in St. Croix County in 1889. She trained as a nurse in St. Paul, Minnesota. After being certified she practiced in Los Angeles, California; Lewiston, Montana; and Seattle, Washington. O’Keefe was called to active duty in April, 1917. She was assigned to Base Hospital 50, organized through the University of Washington Hospital.

As of the declaration of war on April 16, 1917 the Army Nursing Corps consisted of a mere 235 regulars and 165 reserve members. By the end of the war, the ranks of the Nursing Corps would swell to 21,480. The U.S. Army made the decision to employ sanitary personnel at a rate of 7.65%, lower than the recommended 10% of total troop strength. By these calculations, this number of nurses was adequate for an army of 1,000,000 men. The U.S. drafted 4,000,000 men, creating a serious shortage of medical personnel.1

1United States. Surgeon General’s Office. The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War/Prepared under the direction of M. W. Ireland by Charles Lynch.: G.P.O., 1923-1929. Vol. I, 315.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.