Did you know a nurse was one of the reasons America joined WW1?
Happy Nurse Case Management Week! Here is a little known story about the nursing profession. Edith Cavell was born in 1865 and was a pioneer in nursing. She trained under Florence Nightingale and one of her contemporaries. After succeeding in her field in England she was recruited to bring the profession of modern nursing to Belgium where previously only nuns who were not trained medically ran the hospitals.
Edith moved to Belgium in 1907 and promptly set up a nursing school with four students. Her nursing school became very successful and the profession of nursing in Belgium was in the process of being transformed.
Edith was on a summer break in England when on August 2, 1914, Germany declared war on France. Belgium was determined to remain neutral, and Edith’s school and hospital were taken over by the Red Cross. Edith returned to Belgium immediately because she could not bear to have her nursing students face the expected invasion by Germany alone.
Edith became a war correspondent for the Nursing Mirror and as she feared, Germany invaded Belgium that August. Very soon after, the hospitals in Belgium began to receive casualties from both sides, English & French prisoners and German soldiers. Many of these English and French prisoners escaped the hospitals and began to find their way to the Belgian underground. Some of the soldiers who needed additional medical care were directed to Edith. She is credited for housing and caring for over 200 English soldiers, and funneling them to neutral Netherlands.
Eventually the Germans sent in a spy posing as a French soldier who assisted in breaking up the entire underground group to which Edith belonged. Of the thirty who were tried with Edith, four were sentenced to execution, including Edith. The US legation to Belgium attempted to obtain a commutation of her sentence, but the Germans would not address the issue with the Americans.
On October 12, 1915, Edith was tied to a stake and shot. This is the 100th anniversary of this event.
In the months following Edith’s death countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images and books publicized her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain (her entire home village signed up after hearing of the execution). Her execution helped increase favorable sentiment toward the Allies in the United States. The execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity. Following the execution the American ambassador assigned to Belgium returned to America and brought this injustice to President Wilson’s attention.