Alma A. Clarke, Auxiliary Nurse

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A Brief History of American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 1

At the onset of the Great War, a hospital was opened to the military in a suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. This hospital was “the Ambulance de l’Hôpital Américain de Paris” or a hospital run by and for Americans living in Paris. Upon the request for aid at the hospital, American volunteers went to Europe to aid the war effort despite the lack of American military involvement. The American Red Cross, among other American war organizations, began work in Europe at this time. The Red Cross, however, chose to maintain “limited medical missions” until the United States held a more prominent role in the war (Schneider 55).
Prior to American entrance into the war, and after, the Red Cross offered aid to the European populous. The Red Cross established a welfare program, a French Refugee Bureau and a French Children’s Bureau all for the benefit of the French people. American volunteers, such as Alma A. Clarke, “went with the purpose…of expressing in relief work the sympathy of the American people for the civilian population of the Allies” (Dock 756). When the United States entered the war militarily, American Red Cross involvement increased throughout Europe. Alma. A Clarke worked as an auxiliary nurse at The American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 1 (pictured at left) in Neuilly-sur-Seine from November 1918 to January 1919.
With an American presence in the war, the Red Cross became able to branch into other war efforts. The Red Cross was successful in this endeavor due to “[the American Red Cross’] table of organization [which] rivaled or exceeded in complexity and diversity those of the military” (Schneider 54). This organization was due largely to the Red Cross’ monopoly on supplies and the Red Cross’ shipping capacity. The Red Cross was the main source of medical supplies during the war. The Red Cross also controlled the shipping policies of the supplies. With this monopoly and superior organization, the Red Cross was able to infiltrate other war efforts “despite their resentments and apprehensions”. It became clear that “if [the war efforts] wanted supplies…they had to ‘cooperate’…so the American Ambulance at Neuilly” began to cooperate with the American Red Cross (Schneider 56) leading to an American Red Cross presence at the hospital. It was in this cooperative effort that the American Ambulance at Neuilly became the American Red Cross Hospital No. 1 and the hub of American Red Cross involvement in Paris. This presence allowed for more effective involvement American volunteers: auxiliary nurses such as Alma A. Clarke (pictured at right).
Upon entering the service of the American Red Cross, Alma and her compatriots surrendered their previous lifestyles and engaged in a highly structured and strictly governed world of rules and regulations. These rules dictated when to wake up, how to dress, when to eat, and how to conduct oneself while engaging with patients and medical professionals. In an account of life at a Red Cross hospital, one nurse writes, ”This morning I went to the hospital and worked with the Red Cross people until half-past one. Then luncheon. Then a lecture from two till five” (War Letters). This brief description is indicative of the fast-paced, busy environment in which these nurses worked. Through these letters, it becomes clear how important the rules were to maintaining a productive workspace. The nurses were expected to remain in their wards—except to go to lunch, go to a Red Cross training session, or rest—and do their work in a silent and efficient manner. The nurses’ constant presence, however, endeared them to their patients (as seen in the picture at left). Their twelve-hour workdays allowed for strong nurse-patient relationships. Due to these relationships, Red Cross nurses became a symbol of hope for the wounded, as is reflected in Clarke’s scrapbook.
Despite the harsh conditions of war, the auxiliary nurses maintained rewarding relationships with their patients. In a letter to her brother, Alma A. Clarke states, “I do hate to go home till I have done all that I can in France” (Moravec). This snippet indicates just how invested Clarke and her fellow nurses were in the war effort and the care of the wounded. In such a short time, Clarke was able to connect with many of the patients in her ward and compile a book of mementos from her time in France with the wounded warriors of the Great War. Throughout the scrapbook, the role of the auxiliary nurse at Neuilly-sur-Seine becomes very clear. These nurses acted, not only as nurse, but as friend and sister; confidant and mother. This is made clear through a letter written by a soldier who was released from the hospital and kept in contact with Clarke (pictured at left). In a war where these soldiers were confronted by grief and isolation, the auxiliary nurses provided a constant presence and care that remains alive in the pages of the scrapbook of one nurse: Alma A. Clarke.
Cover - image AlmaClarke_BMC_004r English WWI Scrapbook, Alma A. Clarke Papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.
Page 1 image AlmaClarke_BMC_004v English WWI Scrapbook, Alma A. Clarke Papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.
Page 4 image AlmaClarke_BMC_039v English WWI Scrapbook, Alma A. Clarke Papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. "World War I and the American Red Cross", red
Page 5 image AlmaClarke_BMC_031v English WWI Scrapbook, Alma A. Clarke Papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.
Page 7 image AlmaClarke_BMC_027vc English WWI Scrapbook, Alma A. Clark Papers. Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. "World War I and the American Red Cross", red
Dock, Lavinia L. History of American Red Cross Nursing. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1992.
Moravec, Michelle. "An Auxiliary Nurse's Armistice Day."
Schneider, Dorothy and Carl J. Into the Breach: American Women Overseas in World War I. New York: The Penguin Group, 1991.
Van Vorst, Marie. War Letters of an American Woman. Online Archive.
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