In Service of Mercy: Emma Byrne

As the month of November approaches, we have turned our attention towards those from Vanderburgh County who have served our nation in times of war.  This year is the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into WWI.  Like our brothers and sisters across the country, Vanderburgh County mobilized to do its part.  One often overlooked area of contribution is the war service of women from Vanderburgh County.

The Clerk’s Office has historically been a entry point of contact for local residents and their government.  In the period before so much specialization and expansion of government offices the Clerk’s Office did work we wouldn’t think would be done at the local level.  One of those things was compiling registers of both male and female veterans of WWI.  Each of the women listed in the register has a compelling story to tell of service and sacrifice.

Upon U.S. entry to the war, a call went up to recruit nurses, specifically graduate nurses, into war service. “In May 1917, U.S. medical teams became the first American troops to arrive in the war zone, and many remained through mid-1919.  Over 22,000 professionally-trained female nurses were recruited by the American Red Cross to serve in the U.S. Army between 1917 and 1919 — and over 10,000 of these served near the Western Front. More than 1,500 nurses served in the U.S. Navy during this period, and several hundred worked for the American Red Cross. Additionally, a handful worked in American units of the British and French armies. The U.S. military rejected for overseas service nurses who were African Americans or immigrants, despite drafting men from these groups.” (Jones, Marian Moser; American Nurses in World War I: Under-Appreciated and Under Fire.)

Evansville had several nursing programs and hospitals that immediately volunteered their graduates, especially St. Mary’s Hospital and Walker Hospital, but also Hayden, Crescent, and Gilbert Sanatoriums and Boehne Camp Tuberculosis Hospital.

“THE SUNSHINE NURSE OF THE POOR”
First to Enlist, First in France, Chief Nurse of the Army Nurse Corps, American Expeditionary Force

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EMMA BYRNE was the first nurse from Evansville to enlist for the Army Nurse Corps. She came from a line of veterans with her grandfather being a well known local Civil War veteran.  She graduated from Nursing School at Gilbert Sanatorium in 1912 and was appointed City Nurse in 1915.  She focused on public health and tuberculosis prevention work.  One of her duties was operating a free clinic in the basement of the Old Courthouse on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 3-4:00 p.m. where where would treat men, women, and children.  It was through this work and home visits, along with her caring personality, that would garner Emma  the nickname “The Sunshine Nurse of the Poor.”

Emma received her deployment orders on June 1, 1917 when she was assigned to an Army hospital. In the Army, she was assigned a position as a surgical nurse.  She was first assigned to do surgical work at Camp Lee, Virginia.  Camp Lee was built in the Summer of 1917 as one of thirty two National Army Cantonments built to train the American Army to fight in France during World War I.

From there, Emma was transferred to the Embarkation Hospital at Camp Stewart, Virginia.  Her duties included  “the physical examination of embarkation troops; the sanitation of transports; the medical and surgical care of troops en voyage; the reception, treatment, classification, entrainment, and care of returning sick and wounded; the discipline and training of medical and sanitary personnel; the maintenance of records, and the making of inspections and reports of various sorts.”  Emma was promoted to Chief Nurse while at Camp Stewart.

After several months at Camp Stewart, she was transferred to U.S. Base Hospital Puerto Rico where she served for two months.  From there she was send to France to be the Chief Nurse of Replacement Unit No. 9, American Expeditionary Forces.  Several times she ran into Evansville men she knew from back home and they would speak of the comfort she gave them.  She even found herself face to face with her next door neighbor, Alelbert Stadler, at Ambulance Co. 362, 91st Division.

Emma spent the remainder of 1918 at Field Hospital No. 101 in Camp D’Auvours, France.  She treated men who had been wounded in combat and continued to do so until the war’s end.  The nurses stayed on post-war to aid wounded men in recovery.  Her total enlistment was 3 years.

Post-war, Emma Byrne became the head nurse at Boehne Camp Hospital where she treated men who were harmed by gas attacks during the war.  She advocated for them and raised money for them when the government stopped paying their disability benefits. She did her best to make sure they were treated with dignity.

Her philanthropic works continued as a founding member of the Women’s Rotary Club, the first such club in the nation.  There she focused on social issues, organizing Christmas parties for kids who’s families were staying at the Rescue Mission.  She also organized Christmas parties for veterans, continued her anti-tuberculosis work, and founded a girl’s mentorship program within the Juvenile Courts.

Emma was an American Legion-Funkhouser Post member.

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The Death of Sgt. Fred Myler

Fred Myler WWI

Today is the 99th anniversary of the death of Evansville soldier Sgt. Frederick Myler who died on 9/22/1918 near Thiaucourt, France.  Fred came to Evansville as a young adult, having already served in the Navy from ages 17-20.  He had broken his leg after falling in the rigging of his ship which led to his discharge.  Originally from East Liverpool, Ohio, he joined his father and brothers to work as a potter at National Pottery in the city.  After his injury healed up, he became quite the powerhouse in athletic events at the company picnics in Garvin Park.

Fred was well known and popular on the West Side.  He came from a large family of 8 brothers and sisters.  His parents were proud of their German heritage.  He married Mayme Dunn in 1911 and their two children coming quickly after.  Like many young couples, they had their struggles in their early years.  They often found themselves in Circuit Court for minor issues where they would exchange words and the judge would engage in a little marital counseling.  Mayme once charged Fred with failure to support their child but the charges were dismissed after he promised to spend less time at watching the games at Bosse Field and driving around with his friends.  They reconciled and seemed to find peace for a time after that.

Fred was distraught at the sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans in 1915, perhaps due to his time as a sailor.  He felt strongly about fighting against the Germans, despite his parent’s wishes that he return to Germany to fight for them.  Shortly after the sinking, he traveled to Canada, lied on his enlistment forms, and found himself in the 2nd Pioneer Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

He returned home in 1916 following the death of his 18 month old daughter, Lowessa.  Instead of returning to the Canadian Army, he enlisted in the U.S. Army upon U.S. entry into the war. Fred had to enlist under an alias, John Keller, as he was AWOL from the Canadian forces.  He served with Company M, 310th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division, first in Camp Dix, New Jersey, and later in combat overseas.  He took part in the St. Mihiel Offensive, which was the first U.S. led offensive in the war.  Sgt. Myler’s Company was called to be the lead element on the Raid on Mon Plaisir Ferme, near Thiaucourt, France, on 9/22/1918.  The raid kicked off at 1:00 in the morning.  They were needed to hold a road on the outskirts of town for 20 minutes so engineers could destroy the buildings and trenches German troops had been using as cover.  Company M was successful in holding the line but the victory came at a high price.  Twenty-three men were killed, including Sgt. Frederick Myler.

He was laid to rest in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery just outside of Thiaucourt until 1922 when his remains were repatriated to Arlington National Cemetery.  Today he rests in Section 18, Grave #4441.

Today we honor and remember fallen soldier Sgt. Frederick Grant Myler.  May he rest in peace.

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Saving a 1917 Map of Evansville

Archives staff have been hard at work attempting to save a 100 year old map of Evansville.  The map below had been folded 8 times and placed in an envelope for much of that time.  The blue bin in the photo serves as a re-hydration chamber used to get moisture back into this brittle document.  Once it  was able to be opened without tearing, we used the weights on top of the blue bin to help flatten the map over the period of a week.  Today, we are repairing the rips and tears that are ever present in a map this old.  It is coming along nicely!  Look for it this fall at the Evansville Museum of Art, History, and Science. 

2017 1917 Map Restoration

Working to flatten and repair a 100 year old map of Evansville

2017 1917 Map Restoration Jacob

Archives Assistant Jacob reinforcing weak spots in the 1917 Evansville Map

1912 “The Negro Press”

Check out this week’s discovery!  Found in a shuck related to a libel case from 1912, this article came from one of Evansville’s African American newspapers, The Negro Press.

Elvira Roach sued for $10,000 in damages, almost a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money, over a dispute in the women’s auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias.  She claimed an group of women conspired to slander her good name with the article below.

1912 Rousey Case

Prohibition Era

Did you know that the Clerk’s Archives chronicles the judicial impact of the Prohibition era in Vanderburgh County Courts?  Court records contain search warrants from Prohibition Enforcement Agents and show the many creative ways people in Evansville tried to circumvent liquor laws. From gin hidden in secret compartments of the suitcases of traveling salesmen to New York bootleggers sneaking into the Longbranch Roadhouse (now the University of Evansville’s Peterson Gallery on the corner of Lincoln and Weinbach) all aspects of Prohibition era criminal activity appear in local court records.

SICCA Annual Meeting 2017

The Southwestern Indiana Collections Connection Association’s 4th Annual Meeting is coming up on Monday, April 3rd.  If you are affiliated with a cultural heritage institution in the southern Indiana region, we’d love to see you.

Staff, volunteers, interns, board members are all welcome to this free event.

SICA 2017

To read more and register, simply go to…

http://sicca4collections.wixsite.com/info/2017-annual-meeting