Helen Fairchild http://www.customizedgirl.com
Helen Fairchild http://www.customizedgirl.com
Helen Fairchild [image] (n.d.). Retrieved December, 4, 2009, from http://www.customizedgirl.com

Helen Fairchild, born in Milton Pennsylvania November 21st, 1884, was a nurse who was part of the American expodentuary force during the First World War. She became well known for writing letters exposing the reality of nursing efforts during this war. Graduating from Pennsylvania hospital in 1913, she came from a wealthy family who owned a banking business and farmland (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). She and her six siblings grew up working on their family farm which prepared her for the rough exposure of the First World War (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). In April of 1917, Helen and sixty three other nurses from Pennsylvania volunteered to go work overseas (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). According to her letters, the nurses were welcomed and entertained in England before continuing their journey onward to France. This is where they were in charge of a two thousand bed hospital, which later changed its name to American Base Hospital No. 10, located in Le Treport France (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). Her assigned unit was the surgical floor where she assisted in care with three other doctors (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). January 18, 1918, Helen passed away in France of acute atrophy of the liver where an ulcer had formed (Bullough, 2000). It is thought that Helen's death may have been a result of passing her gas mask off to a wounded soldier after their base had been attacked (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). Helen's letters to home provided her family with a perspective on nursing in the First World War (Patrick, 2009).

Helen was determined to make a difference in the patient's lives. She volunteered her time in dedication to heal the injured and sick in the First World War. She served on the front in Passcheandale, and became famous for exposing the truth about nursing through her wartime letters to the United States (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). From her letters, it states that the conditions the nurses experienced were unsuitable for any individual. The environmental, physical and emotional demands of the First World War became unbearable, and put the nurses at high risk for exposure to disease and injury. Helen and her team were forced to work in mud up to their knees, and
make do with the dim light of a flashlight for procedures; constantly working at an exhausting pace (Bullough & Sentz, 2000) The base camp where their tents were located was frequently being attacked (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). Helen and her fellow nurses were constantly exposed to deadly toxins in the atmosphere, which resulted in an increase of nurse casualties (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). The damaging effects of the mustard gas turned their faces and hair yellow, and made their eyes stream (Bullough & Sentz, 2000).

As mentioned above, Helen Fairchild was famous for writing letters to her family at home about her experiences as a nurse during the war. She was very determined to keep her family from worrying about her during her time at war, so her letters to home contained a lot of sarcasm and constant reassurance to her family that she was okay. Aside from the reassurance and the sarcasm in her letters, Helen also wrote about the horrific conditions that she and her fellow nurses had to endure in a day's work. An example comes from a letter sent to her mother in August 1917, Helen wrote "We all live in tents and wade through mud to and from the operating room where we stand in mud higher than our ankles" (Fairchild-Rote, 1997). The Chief Nurse, Julia Stimson, also wrote about the conditions that Helen and the other nurses experienced:
What with the steam, the ether, and the filthy clothes of the men...the odor in the operating room was so terrible that it was all any of them could do to keep from being sick...no mere handling of instruments and sponges, but sewing and tying up and putting in drains while the doctor takes the next piece of shell out of another place. Then after fourteen hours of this with freezing feet, to a meal of tea and bread and jam, then off to rest if you can, in a wet bell tent in a damp bed without sheets, after a wash with a cupful of water...one need never tell me that women cant do as much, stand as much, and be as brave as men. (Stimson, 1997)

Due to Helen's health condition, she was unable to digest properly and requested an exploratory surgery (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). She died three days later on January 18th, 1918 (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). Although it was believed that her condition was caused by mustard gas, during surgery a major ulcer was found (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). Though her letters to home always revealed the horrid truth of the First World War, Helen never mentioned anything about her sickness (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). She did not want to worry her loved ones at home. Helen was buried at LeTreport Cemetery after several years of service to the American Military (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). She was given a proper military service, paying tribute to her work and efforts in the First World War (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). In result, she was buried in her uniform as an American Army Nurse and was later moved to Somme American Military Cemetery (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). In her honour, the women veterans planted an oak tree where services are annually held in her name, to commemorate her efforts in the war (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). This oak tree is planted where Helen graduated from school in 1913, on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Hospital (Bullough & Sentz, 2000). The women veterans of the American Military Service plan to honor her recognition in an exhibit by displaying her cape, notebook, and portrait (Bullough & Sentz, 2000).

Related Links:



Bullough, L. V. & Sentz, L. (2000). American Nursing, 3, 83-84. Springer Publishing Company, Inc.

Fairchild-Rote, N. (1997). My aunt, my hero. WW1 The Medical Front. Retrieved from http://www.vlib.us/medical/MaMH/MyAunt.html

Helen Fairchild [image] (n.d.). Retrieved December, 4, 2009, from http://www.customizedgirl.com

Patrick, B. (2009). Army nurse Helen Fairchild. Military.com. Retrieved from http://www.military.com/content/Morecontent?file=ML_fairchild_bkp

Stimson, J. (1997). My aunt, my hero. WW1 The Medical Front. Retrieved from http://www.vlib.us/medical/MaMH/MyAunt.html