Freeda Wilhelmina Larson
Robert Ash Lewis
was born October 23, 1891, in Ramona, Lake Co., Dakota Territory (SD), and died February 21, 1973, in Washington, DC, at age
81. Robert Ash Lewis was interred
February 26, 1973, in Section 43, Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington
National Cemetery, Arlington Co., VA.
the son of William Griffith "Joe" Lewis of Freeman Mill, Lewis Co., NY, and Nellie
Belle Ash of West Union, Fayette Co., IA.
Wilhemina Larson was born
September 30, 1891,
on the family farm in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI, and died December 4, 1991,
at Wilson Health Care Center, Gaithersburg, Montgomery Co., MD, at age 100.
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis
was interred December 10, 1991, in Section 43, Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington
National Cemetery, Arlington Co., VA.
the daughter of
Olaus Larsson of
Sweden, and Catarina
Larsdotter of Varna
Robert Ash Lewis (age 27)
Wilhemina Larson (age 27), a Maiden,
were married on June 25, 1919, in Chicago, Cook Co., IL.
Robert Ash Lewis
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis
had three children:
Robert Ash Lewis was
interred February 26, 1973, in
Section 43, Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington
National Cemetery, Arlington Co., VA.
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis
was interred December 10, 1991, in Section 43, Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington
National Cemetery, Arlington Co., VA. This is the link to the Cemetery Web site:
Wilhemina Larson was born September 30, 1891, in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co.,
Robert Ash Lewis
was born October 23, 1891, in Ramona, Lake Co., Dakota Territory (SD).
The 1895 Wisconsin State Census taken
on June 20, 1895, shows O. Larson is living in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI.
There are 7 Males and 3 Females living in the household, with 8 having been born
in the U. S. A., and 2 of Scandinavian birth.
The 1900 U. S. Census taken on June 13, 1900, shows Olias Larson (age 49)
born April 1851 in Sweden to Swedish-born parents and having immigrated in 1872 is a
Farmer who owns his farm free of a mortgage and is living in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI. Living with him is his wife of 26 years, Olivia Larson (age 52)
born January 1848 in Sweden to Swedish-born parents and having immigrated in 1873,
of the seven children born to her still alive. Also living at home are his four
unmarried children, all born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents: Arthur Larson (age 19) born January 1881; Elmer
Larson (age 14) born June 1885; Walter Larson (age 11) born June 1888; and Freedia
(age 8) born September 1891.
The 1900 U. S. Census taken on June 5,
1900, shows William G. Lewis (age 40) born November 1859 in New York to Wales-born
parents is working in Dry Goods and rents his home in Wilson District No. 943,
Walker Co., GA. Living with him is his wife of 16 years, Nellie B. Lewis (age
38) born September 1861 in Iowa to Maryland and Ohio-born parents. Also living
there is their son Robert A. Lewis (age 8) born October 1891 in Dakota to New
York and Iowa-born parents.
The 1905 Wisconsin State Census taken
on June 1, 1905, shows Olaus Larson (age 54)
born in Sweden to Swedish-born parents, is a married Farmer, and who owns his farm free of a
mortgage, and is living in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI. Living with him
wife, Katharine O. Larson (age 57) born in Sweden to Swedish-born parents; his unmarried daughter, Edith C. Larson (age 22), born in
Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents, who Does Housekeeping; his unmarried son, Elmer Larson
(age 19) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents, a Farm Laborer; his
unmarried son, Walter E. Larson (age 17) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born
parents, a Farm Laborer; his daughter, Freeda M.
Larson (age 13) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents; his granddaughter, Myrtle Larson (age 3)
born in Illinois to Illinois and Wisconsin-born parents; his granddaughter, Hazel Larson (age
2) born in Illinois to Illinois and Wisconsin-born parents; and his grandson, Paul E. Larson (age 4/12)
born in Illinois to Illinois and Wisconsin-born parents.
The 1910 U. S. Census taken
on April 25, 1910, shows Olaus Larson (age 58)
born in Sweden to Swedish-born parents, and having immigrated in 1872,
and a Naturalized Citizen, is a widowed Farmer, and who owns his farm free of a
mortgage, and is living in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI. Living with him is his
unmarried daughter, Freeda W. Larson (age 18) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born
The 1910 U. S. Census taken on
April 22, 1910, shows W. G. Lewis (age 50) born in New York to Wales-born parents
is a Butcher in a Shop who owns his own home at 6213 So. ???, City of
Birmingham, Jefferson Co., AL. Living with him is his wife of 26 years, Nellie
B. Lewis (age 48) born in Iowa to Maryland and Ohio-born parents. Also living
there is their unmarried son Robert A. Lewis (age 18) born in South Dakota to
New York and Iowa-born parents, who is a Machinist at an Engine Works.
Freeda Larson in her nurse uniform, at the Olaus
Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI, about 1912.
From Left to Right: Emma (Abbey) Larson; Wilbur
Larson; Almo Larson; Norma (Nelson) Larson; Freeda (Larson) Lewis; Arthur
Larson; Olaus Larson; and Carl Larson, at the Larson farm,
Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI,
Wilhemina Larson enlisted in the U. S. Army on May 16, 1917. SSN: 416-20-2377.
She left the United States on May, 23, 1917.
Wilhemina Larson's Passport Application, June 14, 1917, London, England.
The WWI Draft Registration Report dated January or
June 1917 shows Robert A. Lewis (age 25) born October 23, 1891, in Ramona, SD, is
an unmarried Inspecting Engineer living at 207 S. ____ Street, Pittsburg, PA. He
works for Floyd Ross & Co. He served 1 year as a Private in Co. A, 3rd Regiment,
Alabama National Guard. He claims an exemption because he is physically
Olaus Larson remaining family, except for Christine (Larson) Nelson, Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI, about 1918.
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis was discharged from the U. S. Army on July 8, 1919.
The 1920 U. S.
Census taken on January 6, 1920, shows Robert A. Lewis (age 28) born in South
Dakota to New York and Iowa-born parents is a Manufacturer Draftsman owning his
own home at 6213 First Avenue
South, Birmingham, Jefferson Co., AL. Living with him is his wife Freeda W. Lewis (age
26) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents, who is an Army Nurse. The second household at this address is
renting from Robert Lewis, and are Robert's parents: William Lewis (age 60) born
in New York to Wales and New York-born parents, who is a Grocery Merchant; and Nellie
Lewis (age 58) born in Iowa to Maryland and Ohio-born parents.
Emma Larson, Freeda (Larson) Lewis and Wilbur, June, 1920.
The Larson/Lewis Family Reunion
was held Sunday, August 2, 1925, at the Almo Larson
Residence, Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI.
According to Freeda (Larson) Lewis,
"All were related to either Gustav Larsson Lewis on my father's side
of the family, or to Aunt Sophia Larsdotter Lundgren on
my mother's side of family. Uncle Gust. was my father's brother. Aunt Sophia
was my mother's sister."
All were related (related only through marriage shown in italics):
Gustaf Larsson Lewis,
Nilsson: Olaus Larsson,
Sophia (Larsdotter) Lundgren,
Lars Nilsson: Fredrika (Larsdotter) Larson,
Lars Pehrsson: Andreas Larsson,
Lars Nilsson: Anders Larsson Dahlquist,
Lars Nilsson: Amanda Albertina Larsdotter,
Lars Nilsson: Carl Johan Alfred Larsson Dahlberg.
is the people list according to Emma Jane (Abbey) Larson (edited):
Second Row from top:
Clarence Norlin - son of August and
Andrew Andersen (Julianne Andersen Lewis' brother),
Olga M. (Larson) Swenson - daughter of Fredrika Larsdotter Larson and Lewis Larson,
Karl Ludwig Swenson -
Husband of Olga M. Larson,
Verona Swenson -
daughter of Karl Ludwig and Olga Swenson,
Lucille Anderson - daughter of Lewis and
Amanda Anderson, Olga (Dahlberg) Larson - daughter of
Carl Johan Alfred Larsson Dahlberg and wife of Charles Oscar Anderson Larson - son of Lewis Anderson and Amanda Albertina
Larsdotter, Cora (Johnson) Johnson
- daughter of Alfred and Emily
Helen (Fraser) Larson - wife of Walter
Walter Larson - son of Olaus Larsson,
Edith (Larson) Nelson - daughter of Olaus
Larsson, Freeda (Larson) Lewis - daughter of Olaus
Larson - son of Olaus Larsson,
Emma (Abbey) Larson - wife of Almo Larson,
Wilbur Larson - son of Almo Larson.
Lorraine (Lewis) Arndt - daughter of Irving
Lewis, Carol (Peterson) Callahan - daughter of
Clarence and Clara Peterson,
Juliann (Peterson) Harris - daughter of
Clarence and Clara Peterson,
Laurence Lewis - son of Albert and Cora
Lewis, Edith Anderson -
sister of Esther Anderson Larson, Esther Anderson (Larson) Pletenik -
adopted daughter of
Arthur and Norma Larson,
Olive (Larson) Worthing - daughter of
Walter and Helen Larson,
Lewis - son of Irving and Esther Lewis,
Naomi (Lear) Harmacek - daughter of Frank
and Edith Lear, Marian
(Lewis) Neuman - daughter of Ed Lewis,
Betty (Larson) Steele - daughter of Walter
and Helen Larson, Gordon Lewis - son of Robert and Freeda
Lewis, Clifford Lewis - son of Irwin and Esther
Lewis, Jean Anderson - daughter of Signe (Dahlquist) Anderson,
John (Bud) Anderson - son of Signe
(Dahlquist) Anderson, Signe (Dahlquist) Anderson - daughter of
Anders and Emma (Larsson) Dahlquist.
The Appleton Post-Crescent,
Appleton, Outagamie Co., WI, Monday, August 3, 1925
A family reunion of the Larson
and Lewis families was held at the home of Almo Larson in Farmington, Sunday.
The 1930 U. S.
Census taken on April 5, 1930, shows Robert A. Lewis (age 38) born in South
Dakota to New York and Alabama-born parents and first married at age 27 is a Sales
Manager for a Pipe Manufacturer owning his own home valued at $10,000 at 306
90th Street North, Roebuck, Jefferson Co., AL. Living with him is his wife Freeda L. Lewis
(age 36) born in Wisconsin to Swedish-born parents and first married at age
27. Also lining at home are their three sons, all born in Alabama to South
Dakota and Wisconsin-born parents: Evan L. Lewis (age 9); Gordon H. Lewis (age 6); and
Robert G. Lewis (age 2-6/12).
The 1940 U. S.
Census taken on April 3, 1940, shows R. A. Lewis (age 48) born in South
Dakota, and 5 years ago was living in the Same Place, and with 4 years of
College, is a married Camp Commander for the C. C. C. who owns his home worth
$3,000 and is living at 6105 1st Avenue North, 34th Ward, City of Birmingham,
Jefferson Co., AL. Living with him are: his wife, Freeda Lewis (age 48) born in
Wisconsin, and 5 years ago was living in the Same Place, and with 4 years of
College; his unmarried son, Evan Lewis (age 19) born in Alabama, and 5 years ago
was living in the Same Place, and with 1 year of College, an Instructor in a
College Lab; his unmarried son, Gordon Lewis (age 16) born in Alabama, and 5
years ago was living in the Same Place, and with 4 years of High School, a
Machinist Helper in a Machine Shop; and his unmarried son, Robert G. Lewis (age
12) born in Alabama, and 5 years ago was living in the Same Place, and with 5
years of School.
Robert Ash Lewis
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis,
Robert Ash Lewis
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis' 50th Wedding Anniversary,
Robert Ash Lewis died February 21, 1973, in Washington,
DC, at age 81. Buried in Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington
The Washington Post,
Washington, DC, Sunday, February 25, 1973
LEWIS, COL. ROBERT A., USA (ret.)
On Wednesday, February 21, 1973, COL. ROBERT
A. LEWIS of 3531 S. Leisure World Blvd., Silver Spring, Md.; husband of Freeda
L. Lewis; father of Col. Evan L. Lewis of Denver, Colo.; Gordon H. Lewis of
Rochester, N. Y.; and Robert G. Lewis. Nine grandchildren also survive. Friends
may call at Joseph Gawlers Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. at Harrison St., N. W.
(parking on premises), Sunday 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p. m., where services will be
held on Monday, February 26 at 9 a. m. Interment Arlington National Cemetery
with full military honors. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the
Inter-Faith Memorial fund and Kiwanis Leisure World Foundation.
Freeda's Garden at Leisure World Retirement Community, Silver Spring, Montgomery
Co., MD, about 1975.
Cousins, Norman Norris Nelson and
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis,
on her 90th birthday,
September 30, 1981.
Wilhemina (Larson) Lewis died December 4, 1991,
at Wilson Health Care Center, Gaithersburg, Montgomery Co., MD, at age 100.
Buried in Lot No. 3344-1, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington Co., VA.
The Washington Post,
Washington, DC, Friday,
December 6, 1991
FREEDA LARSON LEWIS
Red Cross Nurse
Freeda Larson Lewis, 100, who served
as a Red Cross nurse in France during World War II, died Dec. 4 at Wilson Health
Care Center in Gaithersburg of complications after a stroke. Mrs. Lewis was born
and raised in Waupaca, Wis. She graduated from Illinois Training School for
Nurses in Chicago. She moved to the Washington area from Birmingham in 1942. Her
husband of 54 years, retired Army Col. Robert A. Lewis, died in 1973. Mrs. Lewis
was a charter member of the Interfaith Chapel at Leisure World in Silver Spring
and a member of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington and
of women's, garden and knitting clubs at Leisure World from 1966 to 1989, when
she moved to Wilson Health Care Center. Survivors include three sons, Dr. Evan
L. Lewis of Denver, Gordon H. Lewis of Wilmington, Del., and Robert G. Lewis of
Bethesda; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
The Washington Post,
Washington, DC, Saturday,
December 7, 1991
LEWIS, FREEDA LARSON
On December 4, 1991, FREEDA LARSON
LEWIS of Silver Spring, MD, beloved wife of the late Col. Robert A. Lewis;
mother of Dr. Evan L. Lewis of Denver, CO, Gordon H. Lewis of Wilmington, DE,
and Robert G. Lewis of Bethesda, MD. Also survived by nine grandchildren and 12
great-grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at the Interfaith Chapel, at
Leisure World on Tuesday, December 10 at 10:30 a.m. Interment at Arlington
National Cemetery will be private. Memorial contributions may be made to the
Interfaith Memorial Fund at Leisure World, 3680 S. Leisure World Blvd., Silver
Spring, MD 20906. Arrangements by JOSEPH GAWLER'S SONS in Silver Spring
and a member of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington and
of women's, garden and knitting clubs at Leisure World from 1966 to 1989, when
she moved to Wilson Health Care Center.
FREEDA LARSON’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
PART I – THE LARSON SAGA
(Written in 1973)
(Edited in 2002 by her son,
There is a legend that goes back many years, to the early 19th century.
The story began in Sweden, with my great-grandmother. In those days, it
was not uncommon for a farmer’s daughter to be a milk-maid at one the nearby
castles of royalty. So, Gustava was hired as a milk-maid by the resident
of a castle near her home. She was a beautiful, flaxen-haired young lady,
and was greatly admired by a young son of the royal family.
This admiration soon developed into affection, and they began having clandestine
meetings. Now, no person of royal blood should ever marry a farmer’s
daughter. However, these two young folks, like many today, decided they wanted
to get married anyway, so they went to a clergy in a neighboring village and
were secretly wed.
When this marriage was announced to the royal family, the son was banished to
America, and Gustava, now pregnant, returned to her family to await the birth of
her little babe. Lars sailed for America, promising to send for her as
soon as he was established. It was never learned whether he reached the
promised land. No trace was ever found, and Gustava and her baby remained
A little girl was born, and she was named for mother, Gustava Wilhelmina.
As was customary in those days, the female child’s last name took the first name
of her father and added “dotter,” so she was christened Gustava Wilhelmina
Years passed, and the next we learn is that Gustava married a Lars Fredrick
Nilsson, and this union was blessed with six children – four daughters and two
sons. My mother – Catherine Olivia Wilhelmina, the eldest, was born January 25,
1848. Then followed Mathilda, September 17, 1851; Andrew Frederick,
November 30, 1853; Carl, August 16, 1856; and the twins Sophia and Amanda, April
1, 1862. Actually, Sophia was born just before midnight on March 31st, and
Amanda after midnight on April 1st.
The Nilsson family grew up in Sweden but, as the years went by, they one by one
emigrated to the New World. The girls then changed their last names to
Larson, but it was a different story for the boys. It was permissible for
a young man to change his name as he came of age. Since the family had
lived on the Dahla estate [see Olivia Larson’s Biography], Andrew took on the
name of Andrew Dahlquist, and Carl (or Charles, as he later preferred) became
My mother Olivia, as she preferred being called, came to the U. S. A. in 1873 as
a governess for two young boys in a family that settled in Marquette, Michigan.
It was there that she met my father, Olaus Larson, who had come from Sweden in
1872. On May 13, 1874, they were married in Marquette.
In 1875, there was a money shortage in Michigan. Father said the laborers were
paid off with purchase orders good at the company store. Not happy with
that arrangement, he corresponded with his brother Erik, who was working in
California and said that times were good out there. So, Father left
Mother, who was expecting a child, and went to California. He hired out to
a company of loggers operating on a ranch in the foothills some distance north
of Sacramento. Mother then followed him to California. It took
thirteen days to make the trip. There were no dining nor sleeping cars, so
hammocks were hung for sleeping, and stops were made at stations along the way
to purchase food. Because of fear of Indians and robbers attacking the
train, Olivia had a money belt around her waist under her clothes in which she
had $500 in gold.
Olaus – hereafter referred to as Dad - was the foreman of the ranch, and Mother
was in charge of the ranch household. The owners lived in the town of
Marysville which, at that time, was a very small place. Language proved a
major hardship, since most of the men and women they had to deal with spoke only
Spanish, and neither Dad nor Mother could speak English very well.
Emily Sophia was born December 22, 1875 – with a mid-wife in attendance - and
two years later Carl Emil blessed their lives. Soon after Emil’s arrival,
Mother was taken ill. The doctor said she would have to go to a higher
climate, so she went up in the mountains for a while, but it became apparent
that life in California was unsatisfactory in many ways.
In the meantime, Dad’s brother Gustav had come to America, and had settled in
Waupaca, Wisconsin, and Mother now had a brother who had settled in St. Paul,
Minnesota. Since Mother and Dad had been advised to seek a colder climate, they
decided to leave California and visit these two relatives before settling on a
place to live. In 1880, with their two children, they started the long trip
east, the first stop being Waupaca.
Their plans were to spend a short time in Waupaca, then go on to St. Paul, where
there was a large Swedish settlement. But they never made it to St. Paul. They
ended up purchasing an eighty-acre farm three miles west of Waupaca. The farm
had only fifteen acres under cultivation, a small frame two-story house about 14
feet by 20 feet, and a 12-foot by 12-foot shack. Mother and Dad occupied this
shack through the winter of 1880-1881, because the purchase agreement permitted
the current residents to occupy the house until April 1st. The next child,
Arthur David, was born in this shack in January 1881.
The Larson family continued to grow in numbers as the years went by. Edith
Christina was born February 8, 1883; Almo Joshua, June 28, 1885; Walter
Emmanuel, June 6, 1888; and Freeda Wilhelmina, September 30, 1891. We were a
very close, Christian family. Each of us, as we grew up, was assigned
certain duties to helping the farming and household activities. Farming was very
difficult, as more and more of the land had to be cleared of trees and stones
before it could be tilled for crops. Potatoes were the cash crop, but corn,
wheat, and oats had to be planted to feed the livestock through the long winter
seasons. Wheat was also taken to the mill and ground into flour for home use.
The farm buildings were not adequate for the growing family, so in 1890 a major
addition to the house was built. Dad’s brother Gus Lewis (he had changed
his name from Larson to Lewis because there were too many Larsons around) was a
carpenter, so he assisted in the planning and building. The addition
provided large living and dining rooms, a large kitchen, and a bedroom
downstairs; a large dormitory bedroom upstairs; and a cellar under all for
storage of fruits, vegetables, and the potato crop. The original part of
the house provided a parlor-bedroom downstairs, and two bedrooms on the second
floor. This gave more privacy as to bedrooms, but they were still mighty
cold in winter, as there was no central heat.
I was born in the “new” bedroom. A good neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, came in to
help with my arrival, as Emily was only 16, and Edith 8. When Dr. Sanders
arrived, he expressed concern to Mother and Dad that I might not live, since I
went through a series of convulsions. But I fooled them all, and here I am – 82
years old – to tell the tale.
All was not easy going for the Larson family. In the Fall of 1892, Mother was
stricken with rheumatic fever, and was bed-ridden for several months. Dad had a
niece, Christina Larson, in New York, who was a practical nurse. She came and
cared for Mother until she was able to be up and about. However, this illness
left Mother with a heart condition from which she never fully recovered.
Other troubles beset the home. Emil was stricken ill early in the summer of
1893. The first death in the family came in July when Emil – age 15 – was laid
to rest in a little cemetery adjoining Salem Lutheran Church. The loss of this
son, who had been the delight of the family, was devastating. He had aspirations
of going into the ministry, as he was deeply religious and felt that was his
Time marched on, and now Emily had a suitor. She was a beautiful, auburn-haired,
brown-eyed girl, with a complexion like peaches and cream. She was greatly
admired in the community, not only for her beauty, but also for her talent in
voice and organ music. (We had a foot-pedal-pumped organ in the house on which
Mother played, and she taught her girls to play, including me.). On October 24,
1894, Emily was married to G. Alfred Johnson – hereafter referred to as Fred –
in a very lovely service in the Salem Lutheran church. The Reverend Dr. Lindholm
performed the ceremony, with a reception following in the family home.
Each of the children started schooling in the little Farmington one-room
schoolhouse. As Arthur and then Almo became ready for high school, they had to
go into Waupaca each day. During the summer months, we were all busy with our
chores. Edith and I had our assignments helping Mother; the boys were busy in
the fields with Dad. In fact, in April, 1899, Dad added to the farm with a
homestead claim on a nearby forty acres that were still “public land.”
Toward the end of the decade, Edith took a course in dressmaking with a Mrs.
Hanson in Waupaca, and stayed with her while learning. Walter and I were now the
only ones attending the Farmington school.
While Edith was in town, she met a young man who had just returned from the
Spanish-American War – Clarence C. Nelson, from Rockford, Illinois. Clarence was
working on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. John Erickson. He became very attentive, and
they soon avowed to get married, although Edith was only 16 years old. Mother
and Dad were very opposed to an early marriage, but a proposition by Clarence’s
uncle, Reverend Rosander, our minister, provided a resolution. He had a farm in
Prentice, Wisconsin – about 75 miles from Waupaca – needed a couple to run the
farm, and offered this opportunity to Clarence and Edith. On Easter Sunday,
April 15, 1900, they were married in Salem Lutheran Church, with a reception at
the house. I can well remember the day – great excitement - but some of the
family still felt disturbed about the marriage. Fred chose not to attend the
wedding, but Emily did.
Arthur was now ready for more advanced education, and wanted to take a course in
agriculture. The University of Wisconsin offered a short, two-year course; in
1902, Arthur went to Madison for his first year. It was also that same year that
Mother and Dad felt they could afford to move the original section of the house
to another part of the place, and to have a new ell built on the dining room
Again, Dad’s brother Gus was called on to help design and build the new addition
– a parlor, living room, and bedroom downstairs; and three bedrooms upstairs –
all with central heating. What a joy that was in the long, cold, winter days! I
now had my own room, and Mother had braided the prettiest green and white rug
for the floor, and dainty white ruffled curtains for the window. And how happy
Mother was to have a pretty, larger bedroom, with double doors into the living
room, and also a door to the dining room. The old bedroom off the dining room
was made into a large pantry and storeroom. Over the winter, Mother had woven
large rag rugs for both the living room and bedroom, and commercial carpet was
laid on the parlor floor.
For several years, times had been quite good so, from the sale of potatoes and
dairy products, the family finances had prospered. Not only was the new section
of the house built, but also a large barn. In those days, one did mortgage one’s
house, but only built as one could pay for the labor and materials.
When Edith and Clarence were married, Clarence’s sister Norma came from Rockford
to be one of Edith’s bridesmaids. We all fell in love with Norma, and Arthur was
really smitten. Norma was a school teacher in Rockford, and Arthur would go to
Rockford from Madison whenever he could. At first, Norma did not encourage him,
as she didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife. But Arthur persisted, and on April 6,
1904, they were married in Rockford. (By this time, Clarence and Edith had moved
to Rockford.). Arthur finished his two-year course at Madison, and was now ready
to “go to farming.”. He rented a small farm about 1 1/2 miles from the home
place, and it was there that he and Norma settled for a time.
In the meantime, Almo was completing his high school work, and graduated in June
1904, and Walter and I were now attending school in Waupaca. During the first
half of the year, Mother had not been feeling well, such that she was not able
to go to Rockford for the wedding. She did go to Walter’s graduation, but soon
thereafter, she had a severe heart attack. Walter also was not well so, in
January 1905, he had to be taken out of school with pleurisy and threatened
tuberculosis. That same month, Mother – who was feeling much better – was
summoned to Rockford, where Edith and Clarence were now living. Edith was
expecting her third child, and Clarence was leaving for South Dakota to claim a
homestead on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. When the baby was only a few weeks
old, Mother came home, bringing Edith and three little children with her –
Myrtle, Hazel, and Paul. It seemed the bottom fell out for a while.
Almo had entered the University of Wisconsin, and I was now the only one going
to the Waupaca school. At times, when the snow was deep and the temperature
below zero, I would drive with horse and cutter, or Dad would take me
in. Somehow I made it till Spring when I could ride my bicycle. Mother stayed
busy nursing Walter back to health, as well as tending to Edith and her family.
It never rains but what it pours. It seemed that troubles never ceased. Emily
was pregnant with her second child, and doctors had cautioned that she could
have serious complications with a kidney infection. On Sunday, August 6, 1905,
Emily and the unborn baby passed away. Nothing the doctor and nurse could do to
control eclampsia. This was a terrible blow to Mother, whose health was very
precarious at the time. She made the remark, “I will be gone within the year; it
is just too much to bear.”. Mother and Dad brought Emily’s little five-year old
daughter, Cora, to live with us for a while.
In September, Clarence sent for Edith and the children, saying he had a home for
them. This home turned out to be a sod-house, but it was warm and did afford
shelter for the family during that winter, and until a one-room house could be
All this was too much for Mother. She became bed-ridden a great deal of the time
for the next several months. But the family carried on as best it could. Walter
returned to high school, and I was finishing the elementary grades. Early Spring
and Summer looked more promising, and we had great hopes that Mother would
benefit from complete rest. The household was running smoothly, we had excellent
help, and every one was well and happy. I should mention again that the family
was very closely tied to the church, and was strong in its faith. In the Spring
of 1906, I was confirmed at the Salem Lutheran Church, taking my vows in the
Swedish language – which had continued to be used often around the house.
But then disaster struck. Two of Mother’s nieces from Chicago came for a visit
to the farm in the summer of 1906. On a Saturday afternoon, Mother said she
would take a walk in the garden. The raspberries and blackberries were hanging
ripe on the bushes, and all of the vegetables looked so good to her. But this
proved to be her last walk. The night of August 3rd, she had a massive stroke,
and passed to her final reward on Tuesday, August 6th. This was a terrible blow
to the Larson family. It seemed that the whole world had dropped away – and
where would we go from there? But the Master of us all walked into our lives,
and we all knew and felt that Mother was at rest – and that she had joined my
sister Emily and brother Emil. She was laid to rest in the family plot on the
grounds of the Salem Lutheran church.
A strange incident happened in connection with the funeral. A few years
previously, Mother was given a baby Mastiff dog. Its mother had died when the
puppy was only a few days old, so the owner – a neighbor – had two little
motherless puppies. At the time, Walter and I were about 13 and 9 years old,
respectively. Mother thought a little puppy would be a great playmate for
us. Because the little fellow was so young, he had to be bottle fed and cared
for very carefully – it was in the dead of winter, cold and snowy. We named him
Sport. He was such a roly-poly, fluffy white with a few brown spots. In time he
grew up to be a large, beautiful dog – but a “one-person dog.”. Because Mother
had fed him and cuddled him when he was a baby, he felt that he owed his life to
her, and he became her constant companion. Of course, Cora was living with us at
this time, and for a while, Sport was terribly jealous when Mother showed too
much love and affection for Cora. However, as time went on, Sport realized that
Cora was a permanent part of the household, so he accepted her and even looked
out for her.
During the final summer that Mother lived, Sport felt more and more that he
should protect Mother from anyone outside the family. He slept on the porch
outside her bedroom every night, and was a real watch-dog for her. When Mother
passed away, Sport knew something had happened – he would not eat and stayed
outside her door day and night until the day of the funeral. He would let no one
up on the porch outside her room.
As the funeral procession left the house for the cemetery at the Salem Lutheran
Church, Sport walked beside the horse-drawn hearse all the way. When we entered
the church, he remained on the steps outside until the service was over. Then he
followed the casket to the grave-site. When all was over, Almo and Walter put
Sport in the family carriage and took him home with us. About an hour later,
someone asked, “Where is Sport?”. He was gone. he boys drove back to the
cemetery – about a mile and a half – and there was Sport lying beside Mother’s
grave. He was brought home again, but to no avail – he would not stay. In the
meantime, Cora had gone to live with her father and an aunt, about seven miles
from our home.
Early one morning, about a week later, I received a phone call from my
brother-in-law Fred, Cora’s father. He asked, “Freeda, do you know where Sport
is?” “No.” “Well, I heard a whine on the porch early this morning, and there
stood Sport, all wet and cold, and wanting to come in. Cora heard us and came
running from her room, and what a reunion of a little five-year old girl and a
dripping wet dog.”
The strange thing of it all was that Sport had never been to Cora’s home. He had
to swim a river and cross many fields, but he found his new mistress, and that
was what he wanted. Sport lived to be 22 years old, and he stayed close to Cora
and remained faithful to her all those years.
September came, and it was time to start school again. Almo went back to the
University of Wisconsin, and Walter was a senior at Waupaca High School. I
should have started high school, but there was no help available, and no one to
take over running the household. So it was up to me. I had my 15th birthday that
year, and I had no choice but to stay out of school. It was a terrific
undertaking for me – no one knows what is involved in running a farm home
unless she has had to do it herself. We had a large garden, with lots of fruits
and vegetables, plus all the dairy implements and milk and cream to care for.
The silo fillers came for two days, and the neighbor men came to cut and haul
the corn to the cutting machine. In all, there were 15 men to be fed noon-day
dinner and afternoon coffee. Those dinners were no small matter, as the men
worked hard and were hungry. Bread had to be baked, pies and cookies made, huge
quantities of meat roasted, and lots of vegetables cooked. Fortunately, I did
get lots of help from my sister-in-law Norma. And a boy who worked for George
Madsen in the summer and in a bakery in Waupaca during the winter months came in
and did all the bread and pastry cooking. Those two were a big help to me.
Then came potato-digging time. Dad went to town and got several men – “tramps,”
we called them – to come out and help. They had to be fed and given a place to
sleep. Fortunately, we had the large room over the dining room, with a back
stairway leading up to it, that served as their dormitory. Luckily, we had no
bad incidents with these complete strangers.
But we did have one unusual occurrence. One of the men Dad had hired was a very
fine looking young man, well-bred and mannerly. It was quite unusual to get
someone like that off the street. One rainy day, he stayed on the porch reading,
so my curiosity got the best of me, and I asked Dou where he was from. He said,
“Rockford, Illinois.” That whetted my curiosity even more, since I knew Norma
was from Rockford and had taught in the schools there. I did not tell Dou that I
knew anything about Rockford, but when I had the opportunity I called Norma and
told her about him. I don’t recall his last name now, but Norma knew his family
well, and he had been one of her students.
A few days later, we had a lot of rain, and the men wanted to go into town. Dad
took them in, and all came back to the house early in the afternoon except Dou.
Late that evening, he came sauntering in and, to our disgust, he had been
drinking quite heavily. The next day it was still raining quite heavily, and
when Dou came down for breakfast I noticed that something was radically wrong.
As I was quite alarmed about him, I called the other men to come to the kitchen.
He had developed delirium tremors, and needed help. One of the men knew just
what to do – he gave Dou several cups of hot milk, got him quiet, and put him to
Late that afternoon, Dou came downstairs, and said he wanted to leave. Then Dad
took over, telling him that we knew who he was and that we had contacted his
parents in Rockford. They wanted him to come home, and he was willing to go. Dad
and one of the other helpers took him to Waupaca, and saw that he boarded a
train for Rockford and home. I have often wondered whatever became of him.
Possibly he was Douwe de Haan (1885 - 1962). Last residence was California. Born
in Netherlands; died in Los Angeles Co., CA.
Winter, 1906 – the fall crops are all in, apples picked and packed in barrels,
vegetables and fruit canned – and now for the long, winter days. There were only
Dad, Walter, a cousin August Larson, and I at home that winter. But I stayed
busy – after doing all the household and cooking chores, I did a lot of
reading. And I looked forward to the day when I could go back to school – but
when? At that point in time, it looked hopeless.
Walter – age 19 - graduated from high school in June 1907, but then had a
recurrence of the lung involvement that he had in his first year of high
school. The doctor advised going west, so he and Almo – age 22 – decided to go
out to the state of Washington. That left me alone with Dad and August
Larson. That summer was a very difficult one for me, but what could I do? And so
another year went by. As the end of the summer of 1908 approached, there
appeared little hope of returning to school.
But strange things can happen to open the door, if one is patient and has
faith. In July, Dad had gone with Fred to see about some farm land near
Boyceville, Wisconsin; and August and I were left to take care of the farm. Dad
didn’t want me to stay alone in the house with August, so he asked Mary Olson, a
near neighbor and spinster, to come and stay nights with me. Have you ever lived
in the country during a terrible electric storm? Well, we had one the first
night Mary was with me. At about nine o’clock, there was a loud rap on the front
door and Oliver Anderson called to me, “Is Mary there?” Lightning had struck her
home, and it burned completely to the ground. Mary was left homeless, and had
lost everything she had.
This tragic circumstance provided an opportunity I had hoped for. Mary was
offered a home with us, and that made it possible for me to go back to
school. So to Waupaca High School I went in the Fall of 1908. I secured
permission from the Board of Education to go through in three years. Thus I
would graduate only one year behind the class that I had been with since the
In the Spring of 1910, everything was going well for me until one day, when Dad
came to me and said he wanted me to take a trip immediately to South Dakota. My
sister Edith was pregnant again, and he was worried that there was no one to
help her. So, at 18 years of age, I went there by train by myself. When I got to
the station nearest her home, there was no one there to meet me, so I took a
room at the hotel next to the station. As I was eating breakfast the next
morning, trying to figure out how to get to Edith’s house, a gentleman engaged
me in conversation and told me that he was a traveling salesman and that he was
going by the place where Edith lived. He offered me a ride in the horse-drawn
wagon that he used for traveling from town to town. And that is how I ended up
at Edith’s, where I stayed a short time to help after the birth of her fifth
child on March 8th.
The 1910 U. S. Census taken
on April 25, 1910, shows Marie Olsen (age 48) born in Sweden to Swedish-born
parents and having immigrated in 1882 is unmarried and is renting her home and
is living in Farmington Twp., Waupaca Co., WI.
June 1911 meant a great deal to me – not only that I finished high school, but
also that three very trying years were past. It was not easy to travel three
miles to school and back every day – rain or shine or snow. Spring and Fall,
weather permitting, I rode my bicycle. Sometimes, I drove with horse and buggy,
but often in Winter, it was with horse and cutter, or Dad would take me with a
team of horses and big sleigh if the roads were drifted with deep snow. But when
I look back on those three years, they were very meaningful to me. They were
stepping stones for a very eventful life later on.
Also, in 1911, Dad – at age 60 – became very restless. The work on the farm was
becoming too much for him, and help was hard to get. I, too, was getting
restless – I could see no future for me, staying there on the farm. So Dad
decided to sell the “home place,” as it was often called. But, of course, he had
a deep feeling for the home and farm, because of the many years he and the
family had labored there to build it up to a lovely place. What should he do?
There was no son at home to take over. Arthur was then the owner of two
farms. Edith was in South Dakota with her large family of nine children, and Dad
did not want Edith and Clarence to come here. Almo and Walter were settled in
Spokane, Washington, and I definitely could not and would not take over. After
much consultation with Arthur and me, Dad decided to offer the home to one of
the boys. Walter announced that he was entering the University of Pittsburgh
that September, so it was either Arthur or Almo. After much consideration and
dickering, Almo decided that he and his wife Emma – whom he had married in
Spokane – would come in the Spring of 1912. They purchased the farm complete,
and Dad was to have his home there as long as he lived.
I was supposed to enter the University of Wisconsin in the Fall of 1912, but it
didn’t quite work out that way. So many things happened over the summer. Dad
went to South Dakota to visit Edith, and then on to Miles City, Montana to visit
his half-brother – Sven Larson Freeburg – whom he had not seen in years. I
accompanied Dad as far as St. Paul, and spent several weeks in St. Paul and
Minneapolis, visiting relatives there. When I came home in July, I was stricken
with a severe case of mumps and, at the same time, Emma was in bed following the
still-birth of their first child. We had two nurses in the house at the same
time – one downstairs and one upstairs.
It was then that I made up my mind not to go to Madison to the University of
Wisconsin, but would put in my application for entrance to the Illinois Training
School for Nurses in Chicago. I was accepted for entrance September 3rd. In the
meantime, I had to tell Dad of my change in plans, so I wrote to him in Montana
and explained what I planned to do. A telegram came back, post-haste, saying,
“Don’t leave until I come home.” Well, you can guess the outcome when he came
home. On September 3rd, I got on the train for Chicago, and said goodbye to the
home place and all that it had meant to me for so long a time. There were deep
misgivings on the part of the whole family to see me enter training at Cook
County Hospital. Then, there were many things lacking for a young lady to train
in a public hospital.
Upon arrival in Chicago, I hired a horse-drawn cab to take me to the Nurses’
Home on Hanover Street. I was met at the door by one of the nurses, and ushered
into a lovely “sitting room” to await further instructions. A Miss Van Alstine
was sitting at the piano playing Dvorak’s “Humoresque.” When she finished, she
came over and introduced herself to me and welcomed me. Then Mrs. Zangmaster
came and ushered me into the office where I received my first instructions and
assignments. There was a class of 50 probationers entering at this time. We were
assigned rooms - sometimes three to a room. A Miss Bertha James from Utah and a
girl from Kentucky - whose name I can’t remember – shared a room with me to
begin with. (I want to say here that Bertha was my roommate for 2 1/2 years at
County Hospital and then for 2 years in France.)
On September 5th, we were all indoctrinated, and assigned to classes for the
first three weeks – before we could go into the hospital. Our instructions
consisted of learning how to make beds, care for patients in bed, how to set up
trays, etc. We also had to purchase several books for regular class work that
continued all during the three years’ training. We were then taken in small
groups on tours of many sections of the hospital, to familiarize us with what
lay in store once we were given hospital duty. Our probation period was for
three months. Then we were examined to determine if we could go on, or be
dismissed as not suitable to go on. None of the 50 who entered that September
were sent home.
I was assigned to help in Children’s Hospital, which pleased me very much. The
regular nurses were all especially nice to us “rookies.” However, my stay there
was short-lived – after only two days, I was stricken with diphtheria and taken
to an isolation ward. (Several other nurses were in there with the same, as
there was a mild epidemic at that time.) I must have had a severe case, because
I was given several doses of anti-toxin. Only after six weeks was I told I could
leave the isolation ward and return to the nurses’ home – Margaret Lawrence – to
continue recuperation. After another 10 days, I was permitted to go home for a
week. Dad and the family urged me to stay home, and later go to the University
of Wisconsin, but I said no. I wanted to go back to I.T.S., so back I went.
Feeling fine, I went back on duty at the hospital, but only for a short time as
again illness struck. This time, it was a virulent ear infection, resulting in a
mastoid operation on Christmas Eve, 1912.
This is the end of the hand-written autobiography that Freeda Larson wrote in
1973. She never got around to finishing the story of her days at the Illinois
Training School for Nurses. Suffice to say, she completed her training. The
story of how her future husband – Robert Ash Lewis – traveled to Chicago in 1913
and met her while she was in training is covered in detail in his autobiography.
Some information included in the above was not present in her write-up. The
additions have come from two main sources – verbal stories related by Freeda in
later years, and excerpts from letters written to her by her brother Arthur.
The next chapter in Freeda Larson’s life – her service as an Army nurse in World
War I – has been prepared from the notes she made for a talk she gave to the
Rossmoor Woman’s Club at Leisure World, Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1975.
FREEDA LARSON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
PART II - WORLD WAR I
(A talk given to the Rossmoor Woman's Club
at Leisure World in 1975)
I had graduated from the Illinois Training
School for Nurses in Chicago, and was taking post-graduate at the University of
Chicago during the winter of 1916-1917. It was at this time that the United
States was having some troubles on the Mexican border and, because of this,
might need some hospital units. In anticipation of this need, a few noted
doctors had been called to Washington by the Surgeon General to organize them.
One of these doctors was Dr. Fred Beasley, a well-known surgeon from Chicago -
on the staff of Northwestern Medical School, Rush Medical School of the
University of Chicago, and on the surgical staff of Cook County hospital. I knew
Dr. Beasley personally from my I.T.S. days.
One day in February 1917, he casually asked
me if I would join a hospital unit to go to the Mexican border, if needed. I
volunteered I would. With that, I promptly forgot all about it.
April 6, 1917, was a dark day for the United
States. President Wilson and Congress declared war against Germany on that date.
Patriotism ran high among the students at the university, with many wondering
when, how, and where they could and would enlist. It was in the morning of April
27th that I received an urgent call from Miss Urch at I.T.S., asking me if I
would be ready to leave for France in a week’s time. Imagine my complete
surprise, but I said "Yes.” Now what do I do? I reported to Miss Urch that
afternoon for instructions. Dr. Beasley had again been called to Washington to
immediately set in motion this hospital organization, which was to have gone to
the Mexican border, but was now to go to France.
Great Britain had requested six hospital
units to come at the very earliest date to relieve doctors, nurses, and corpsmen
who had been on duty in France since 1914. In less than a week's time, Dr.
Beasley and Miss Urch had a complete hospital organization of 25 doctors, 65
nurses, and 150 enlisted personnel, plus a dietician, interpreter, and two
secretaries. Dr. Milton Mandel from Michael Reese Hospital - a noted internist –
was appointed to head up the Medical Department, and Dr. Beasley the Surgical
Department. The doctors and enlisted personnel were outfitted by the Army, and
we nurses by the Red Cross. Marshall Fields made our uniforms in a hurry.
Thus it was that on May 12th, we all
assembled at Union Station in Chicago to board a special train for New York as
our port of embarkation. I might add here that the doctors were mostly from
Northwestern and Rush Medical Schools, 45 nurses were from I.T.S., 15 from
Evanston’s hospital, and 5 from Wesley. The enlisted personnel were students
from. Northwestern and Chicago University - some pre-meds, some medical
students, and other regular students. So it was like a large family, with each
knowing many of the others.
We were met in New York where the male
contingent was assigned to the Army for instructions, and we nurses were met by
Miss Jane Delano for our instructions. At this time, nurses were enlisted for
foreign service for a period of six months. On May 15th, we again assembled,
this time all in readiness to board the S.S. Mongolia - a freighter carrying
supplies to Great Britain, but having accommodations for our complete unit which
was now known as Base Hospital 12. Also, going with us were some doctors who
were going to France as volunteers.
We left New York harbor about 4 PM on
Saturday, but with no fanfare. To all of us, it was then a rather solemn
occasion. Sunday, our first day out, started out as a beautiful day - calm ocean
- with all settling down for a pleasant voyage. At 11 AM, the entire unit was
called to the main salon to meet our new commanding officer - Colonel Collins, a
regular army officer - and to receive further instructions. Imagine our surprise
when, in the course of instructions, Col. Collins announced that, since we were
at war, we were no longer under the Red Cross but regular Army doctors and
nurses, and in for the duration. That was just the first shock of the day.
After lunch, we were invited to come out on
deck and watch target practice by the ship’s gunners. At this time, there were
no convoys, each ship was on its own, and had to protect itself from German
submarines. Two guns were successfully fired, but the third firing was tragic.
The shell exploded as it was fired and shrapnel ricocheted back on deck,
instantly killing two nurses and injuring a third. You can imagine the shock and
confusion for a few moments.
(A subsequent investigation determined that
the metal cover for the powder canister, which was separate from the bullet, had
taken an erratic trajectory when it blew out the muzzle of the gun, and hit the
nurses who were actually in front of the gun at a lower level.)
The ship’s Captain immediately ordered the
ship to return to New York, arriving there Monday AM. We anchored in the Hudson
River, but we were not permitted shore leave. However, the Red Cross stated they
would wire all our families that we were O.K. We had a short service for the two
nurses whose remains were then shipped to their homes, and Miss Matson, who had
been wounded, was sent to Presbyterian Hospital in New York. (She later rejoined
our unit in France.)
Monday and Tuesday were trying days as we sat
in port. We had started out enthused, but now we already had a taste of what war
might be. Finally, on Wednesday AM , after taking on fresh ammunition, we again
left port for the open sea. From then on, it was a pleasant voyage - smooth
waters, good food, and pleasant company – until –
Two days before we were to land in England,
we were in the 600-mile war zone. Life boat drills became the order of the day -
preparedness in case we had to abandon ship. We had to keep our life preservers
with us at all times, plus our top coats, canteens full of water, and chocolate
bars. Our ship was kept in a constant zig-zag pattern, and a constant lookout
was maintained for German submarines. A British destroyer was supposed to meet
us and convoy us in to port, but it did not appear until after we had been
attacked by a submarine when we were just one day out from landing. Two
torpedoes were fired us, one crossing the bow as we zigged and the other
crossing the bow as we zagged. Our gunners were firing at the submarine all this
time, and soon it disappeared. It wasn’t known whether we had sunk it, or
whether it just took off.
At the same time that we were being attacked,
the British destroyer appeared to convoy us to port at Falmouth, England. There
in port, we learned that a large Japanese liner had been sunk by a submarine,
and that the destroyer that came to meet us had been delayed because it had
picked up many of its passengers and crew.
We arrived at Falmouth on Saturday. Sunday
morning, June 1st, we went by special train across England to London, where we
were met by the American ambassador and a group of American representatives who
were in charge of hospitals. We were billeted in London for a week, and while we
were there, we had a wonderful time. The people there were marvelous to us. One
of the nicest things that happened to us was being entertained for a day by Sir
Thomas Lipton at his estate about 30 miles outside of London. He sent three big,
open buses in to take the doctors and nurses out there and bring us back. (I
have a large picture of all the unit that was there that day, with Sir Thomas
Lipton sitting right in the middle.)
On June 9th, we boarded lorries to take us to
Folkestone where we were loaded on a boat that was part of a convoy of five
boats loaded with British troops, plus our unit. Crossing the English Channel
was a harrowing experience. Although the sea was calm, there were destroyers
flanking us in every direction to protect us from German submarines that were
known to be active in the area. We landed at Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a small seaport
on the northern coast of France, where we were met by British lorries - which
carried about 20 people each. They took us to our destination near Camiers,
about 15 miles south of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. It was about 9 PM when we arrived
there, and we hadn’t had any food since breakfast in England. The nurses were
taken to the nurses’ dining area where we were served cold boiled potatoes, some
boiled beef, marinated fruit, and hard bread with jam and black cheese. Then we
were shown to our quarters. They were wooden barracks with 10 rooms in each, and
two nurses were assigned to each room. I had the same roommate I had had at
I.T.S. - Bertha James. Our beds were three planks raised off the floor, with two
army blankets and a hard pillow. (Some time later, we were given cots with
springs, sheets, and pillowcases.)
The next morning, we were given a tour of the
hospital area, known as the 18th General Hospital, British Expeditionary Forces.
It was a compound of five hospital units - an American hospital unit from
Boston, a Canadian hospital unit, two British hospital units, and ours from
Chicago. In the area we occupied, there were initially only three wooden
buildings in addition to the nurses’ barracks - an administration building, the
operating room, and the meetinghouse with an office for the chaplain. And
there were three metal huts
with semi-circular roofs for hospital beds. All the officers and corpsmen
initially lived in tents, and most of the hospital beds were in tents. (All the
other hospital units in tie area were in wooden barracks. Subsequently, huts
were provided for our male staff members, and wooden barracks were built for all
of our hospital beds.)
The first real shock came when we were told
that our hospital was in a bombing zone. We were located on the main railroad
line from Boulogne to Paris. There was a large British machine-gun training area
very close, a huge ammunition dump in the sand dunes a few miles to the east,
and about four miles south was a very large British troop center for soldiers
just arriving in France. A short distance further south - at Etaples - was the
largest British hospital center. The hospitals were built along the railroad to
facilitate transportation of convoys of wounded from the front lines, and all
the buildings were plainly marked with large red crosses on the roofs. Actually,
our hospital was only about 65 miles from the front lines at the time, so we
could hear the shelling and bombing. And we were told that, since the Germans
would be trying to bomb the railroads and nearby military facilities, we could
expect wayward bombs to fall on or around us.
Our unit was staffed for a 500-bed hospital,
but we ended up with 1500 beds - more than we could possibly take care of
Fortunately, 30 British Volunteer Aides – VAD’s – were assigned to us, plus a
British quartermaster officer since all of our supplies were from British supply
depots. (In October, we received reinforcements from the United States that
relieved our situation.)
We were really an evacuation hospital.
First-aid treatment was initially given the wounded at field stations, then they
were moved by convoys to evacuation hospitals such as ours. We had to do
whatever was possible for them in short order, so they could be sent on to make
room for subsequent convoys of wounded. The wounded came by both trains and
ambulances. When they were arrived, they were sent to different wards, depending
on the types of injuries - chest cases to a chest ward, leg injuries to a leg
ward, etc. I was initially assigned to one of the hospital huts containing 30
beds, along with Julie Wilson, also from Chicago. Our hut was a chest ward.
In July 1917, I got my first leave. Another
nurse and I - a Miss Rose - obtained 10-day passes. We went first to Paris for a
few days, then went by train to Bordeaux in the American sector, and on to
Biarritz. From there, we went to Lourdes, where we visited the Tomb of St.
Bernadette. After a brief side excursion into the foothills of the Pyrenees, we
went on to Marseille and the Mediterranean coast. That was the last stop on our
trip, and we then headed back to camp.
In August, a severe storm blew in off the
English Channel. All of our tents were blown away, and we had a mad scramble to
get our patients out of the rain. Many were moved into what few barracks we had
- including the nurses’ quarters, recreation building, etc. - and others were
moved to other hospitals in the area that were in wooden barracks. It was not
long after the storm that the engineers came in and replaced our tent encampment
with metal huts and wooden barracks.
On September 4, 1917, at about 9 PM, we were
subjected to our first air raid. Although there was no damage to our hospital,
there was severe damage and many casualties in the hospital across the road from
us. I found out that one of the injured was a Dr. Smith from Neenah, Wisconsin,
whom I had known from the time I was a little girl. I went to see him, and later
he was sent home. It was through him that Dad found out where I really was.
Bombing became more frequent and severe in
the area in early 1918. The German raids were meant to concentrate on the
British training camp south of us, but ended up heavily bombing both the town of
Etaples and the large hospital there, with many casualties of hospital patients
We began getting Americans at our hospital in
the Spring of 1918 - soldiers from the U.S. 27th and 30th Divisions. In early
June, the hospital was completely loaded down with more wounded than we could
possibly take care of, so we evacuated them as fast as we could to base
hospitals further behind the lines, or over to England. Toward the end of the
month, things had quieted down a lot, and my ward was less than half full. One
day a I was sitting at my desk, I got a funny feeling that someone had come
through the door and was just standing there looking at me. I looked up and
there was Bob Lewis. You can imagine the excitement of the moment. We had been
seeing each other off and or for four years - with me in Chicago and him in
Pittsburgh - and had exchanged letters over the past year, but I had no idea he
was close by.
It turned out that his camp was not far away
- close to Wiedham - that be had passed by a hospital complex when he was on the
train from Brest to Calais, and had speculated that it might be the one where I
was from a description of the area I had included in one of my letters. The day
he showed up, he was on a gas-mask hike with several others in a nearby area,
encountered a British service man with a red cross on his sleeve, and inquired
if there was a general hospital anywhere around. Hearing that there was, and
sure from my descriptions that I was present, he and the others walked to the
camp gate, and he got permission from the Chief Nurse to go to my ward.
Bob’s unit remained in the area for about two
weeks, during which time we saw each other four or five times - two or three
times he came over to see me, and a couple of times one or two nurses and I went
over to Wiedharn to have dinner with him. (No nurses were allowed to leave camp
singly.) After his unit departed, I didn't see him again until we were both back
in the U.S.
Since we were under the British, we depended
on them for our food Supplies. Although we had a good dietician that made the
most of everything, the food wasn’t very good, neither in the mess hall nor in
the hospital. Early in the Fall of 1918, we were terribly rushed. The ward I was
on with a Miss Holder was filled with 42 patients - all leg cases, either
amputees or critically ill and couldn’t be moved. Wanting to do something
special for these boys, Miss Holder and I pooled our money and would go down to
Camiers to buy food and other things we could give the boys. We didn’t say
anything to anyone about it, and kept what we bought and hadn’t used behind a
curtain back of the little kitchen in the ward. Early one morning, I arrived at
the ward and found Major Long, the British Adjutant of the hospital, examining
the things. He asked what we were doing with those things, and how we were
getting them. When I told him that we had used our own money, he stated that we
had no right to go out and buy supplies, that it was up to the British. I
retorted that I had 42 sick and desperate boys here and I was going to see to it
that they got food that was good and proper for them to eat. He then informed me
that he was going to report me to Col. Nussbaum, who was our commanding officer
at the time, and he walked out.
I immediately went to the Chief Nurse - Miss
Spencer - and told her what had happened and that I had insulted Major Long, and
that I needed to talk with Col Nussbaum right away. Just as I was relating the
event to Col. Nussbaum, in walked Major Long. Well, everyone cooled down and,
later in the day, Major Long came to me and said that, if there is anything I
needed that I couldn’t get through the quartermaster, I was to let him know and
he would see that I got what I needed for the boys.
Early in the Fall of 1918, there was terrible
fighting at the front, and we were terribly busy, with casualties coming in
night and day. We began to hear rumors that an Armistice was to be signed before
long. Our first report that an Armistice had been signed came on November 9th -
that was a false alarm. Then we got a formal report on November 11th that there
had been an Armistice at 11 AM that morning. As you can imagine, there was great
excitement, and everyone started celebrating. Unfortunately, Miss Cohan and I
were on duty. Even though we were scheduled to go off duty at 5 PM, no one
showed up, so we stayed in the ward until 9 AM the next morning - over 24 hours
on duty. Finally, we were relieved.
The task of disbursing our patients then
began in earnest, and the workload steadily decreased. At long last, in February
1919, we were told that the hospital was to be evacuated completely and, on
February 17th, the American flag was lowered and the British flag raised as they
took over what was left. When we were standing on the station platform at
Camiers, waiting to depart, there were many tears shed - tears of joy that we
were going home, but also tears of remembrance for those who had suffered and
died, and for the good and bad times that we had shared.
First to depart were the enlisted men. Then
the orders came for Base Hospital 12 to prepare for embarkation to the U.S. The
orders didn’t specify for officers or all personnel. Well, we girls weren’t
officers - we had no commissions - so the officers left and we girls were left
sitting. Finally, Miss Spencer got orders for us, too, to leave, and we here
told to leave for Le Havre. We went by way of Paris, where we stayed one day,
then on to the billeting area for nurses near Le Havre. Well, nurses came and
went, and we still sat. Miss Spencer, really upset, finally got a message
through to General Pershing, asking why the nurses of Base Hospital 12 couldn’t
embark. The answer came back that we should already have left for America in
February. In effect, we were lost.
Finally, after six weeks, we got orders to go
to Brest. There, lo and behold, I ran into a boy from my hometown, and a doctor
with whom I had nursed in Chicago - a small world, indeed. Finally, we loaded
aboard the Prince Frederick Wilhelm, a German liner that was still manned by
Germans, but we did have American engineers and officers on board. We nurses
envisioned having first-class quarters on board, but it didn’t turn out that
way. We were assigned quarters below deck - the first-class staterooms were
given to German and French war-brides. On the way home, there were nine babies
born at sea to these war-brides.
The trip home was otherwise uneventful. When
we arrived in New York in May 1919, we had to endure a victory parade in
100-degree heat, but we were safely back on home soil. While I was there in New
York, I was contacted by the Commercial Club of Waupaca, Wisconsin, and
requested to officially welcome back to the U.S. a contingent Waupaca boys who
were returning to New York shortly after I arrived.
I went home to Waupaca to spend time with
Dad, but then returned to Chicago, with the intent to resume my nursing career.
Then, in June, Bob Lewis came up from Birmingham, having been released from the
Army earlier that month. He proposed marriage, I accepted, and we got married
immediately in Chicago. So endeth my single days, and beginneth our wonderful
married life together.
Descendants of Robert Ash
Generation No. 1
1. COL. ARMY RESERVE
ROBERT ASH4 LEWIS (WILLIAM GRIFFITH3, GRIFFITH A.2, RICHARD PRICE1 "LEWIS") was
born October 23, 1891 in Ramona, South Dakota, and died February 21, 1973 in
Washington, D. C. He married FREEDA WILHELMINA LARSON June 25, 1919 in
Chicago, Illinois, daughter of OLAUS LARSON and CATHERINE LARSDOTTER. She was
born September 30, 1891 in Waupaca, Wisconsin, and died December 05, 1991 in
Notes for COL. ARMY RESERVE
ROBERT ASH LEWIS:
Facts for Robert A. Lewis:
In 1893 moved to Tallapoosa, GA. Next to Chattanooga,
TN, then to Birmingham, AL.
Went to Phillips High School but did not graduate. Was accepted to University of
Pittsburgh. Graduated in 1916. Was editor of The Owl. 1915. Entered to army and
went to Europe as a Master Sergent. Was engaged to Freeda at this time. Saw her
at least once in France. Came back to the states early 1919. Married Freeda in
Chicago in 1919. Came with her to Birmingham. Lived at 6105 1st Ave N. until
1929. Then moved to Roebuck. 305 N. 90th St. In 1933, went back on active duty
as captain in the CCCs. In 1935 we moved to Anniston, one year, then to Gadsden
one year then back to Birmingham. Lived one year at 7101 3rd ave S. Then moved
back to 6105 1st Ave N. In 1941 family moved to Atlanta where he was a Lt. Col
in charge of building Atlanta General Depot. In 1942 he was transferred to
Washington D.C. where he was chief of war plans division of Corps of Engineers.
Became a Colonel. Was awarded the Legion of Merit. After retirement, stayed on
in the Engineer's division as civil service. Finally retired and moved to
Leisure World, MD.
Facts about this person:
Served in World war 1 and 2;
Buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
More About COL. ARMY
RESERVE ROBERT ASH LEWIS:
Fact 1: See Note Page
Notes for FREEDA WILHELMINA
Freeda's mother died when
she was a young girl. She kept house for her brothers and father since her
older sister had gotten married and moved to South Dakota.
After returning from France
in May 1919, she was asked by the governor of Wisconsin to go to New York to
welcome home the returning Wisconsin Troops. When she returned home she went to
Chicago to marry Robert. See notes for Robert to follow rest of life. After
Robert's death she stayed on at Leisure World. At age 96 she entered a nursing
home in Maryland.
Her 90th birthday party was
a gala affair.
The entire family was present, including Freeda’s first great-grandchild,
Rebecca Anne Renken, age 6 months.
Facts about this person:
Served in world war 1. Is
represented in WIMSA
Buried in Arlington
Graduated Illinois Training
School for Nursing
Fact 4 Bet. 1917 - 1918
Served in Base Hospital 12
LEWIS, ELLIS, KENNEDY
Becky Wright Sat, 2
My name is Becky J. Wright. My great great grandfather was James Lewis
born in Wales but lived and raised his family in Winfred, South Dakota.
His mother was Elizabeth Lewis and she married Thomas Charles. They are
both buried in the Union Cemetery; she died l893 he died 1906. James
Lewis was born 12 Dec. 1840 died 30 Oct. 1920. He married Maria Ellis
1867. She died Sept. 1897. They had 8 children and my grandmother is
one. Her name is Sarah Jane Lewis (Kennedy). I am seeking anyone with
any information on them. I came to Winfred several years ago and just
stumbled on their graves. I think it was the Union cemetery but I think
it was in Canova I just can't be sure. I do correspond with Desmond
Lewis in Madison, SD. He has been very nice but doesn't know too much
about my grandmother or too many in the family. I thank you.