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Working in a Louisville hospital during World War II

February 25, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history, Primary source

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945, UNC-Greensboro Library

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945

Constance Cline Phillips of North Carolina dropped out of college and signed up for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in February 1945.  After attending six weeks of basic training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, she spent  four months in X-ray technician school at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Then, she was stationed at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky from August 1945 to March 1946 when it was closed.

Phillips (1924- ) gave an oral history interview along with her papers and documentation about this time period in her life to the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where she returned after the war to finish her education in what was then called the Woman’s College).

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945. According to the identification on the back of the photo, "This is an example of the hard life we lead." Constance Cline Phillips is kneeling at left. From UNC-Greensboro Libraries Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945

In her interview, Phillips talked about the Nichols General Hospital in Louisville where her work as an X-ray technician was part of medical experimentations using wounded veterans.  She remembered Nichols General as a “nerve center” where soldiers whose injuries made them into paraplegics.  Many of them, she said, had extremity nerve injuries – some had been wounded quite a long time before – and the surgeons were experimenting with ways to rejoin the nerves.

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945 – from UNC-G Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

“…they used tantalum wire, is something I remember X-raying to see how close something was getting to something to rejoining.  But I think that was where some of the first paraplegics were kept alive. I don’t believe they understood the technology to be able to do that. So that was very interesting. And of course, most of our patients were male. Very few females. Which, of course, at twenty I thought was cool.

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945 - UNC-Greensboro Libraries

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945

Phillips remembered that the WACs had their own barracks at Nichols Hospital (“Well, see, we were peons and segregated”) – and the local nurses were in “another segregated area.”   However, Phillips does not address this issue of segregation as one of race (though later in the interview she indicates that she was a white supremicist).

Oneida Miller in 1943 before she started work at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville

Oneida Miller, Army Nurse Corps, 1943

Oneida Miller Stuart who served as an US Army nurse there then remembers that there were about 30 African-American nurses and 100 White nurses attending approximately 500 veterans and prisoners of war (most from Germany and the Pacific front).  She remembered the difficulties of working with Whites despite her professional status and experience: “We were called ‘nigger’ many a time… but you just kept on going.” (audio excerpt)

Phillips met her husband Mike at the Hospital in Louisville – he had been serving as a truck driver in an Army unit recently returned from Germany.  “They didn’t know what to do with all these people at the end of the war, because they were overstaffed.  So they put him on as a ward boy.”  He later became a professional football player, but her first memory of him was seeing him in the hospital: “So here came this great big fellow, moving a patient on a stretcher very gingerly. It didn’t bounce him off the walls.”

This memory is explains also why the young Oneida Miller, in her early 20s similar to Phillips, chose not to move her patients herself anymore. She described her pace of work as progressively becoming “too slow” since she was often accosted by the American GIs who did not want an African-American nurse.  The racism still an important component of the American day-to-day interactions allowed for her to rely on this future football player to serve as a “ward boy.”

~~~~~

Resources:

Oral history interview with Constance Cline Phillips, 1999. WV0082.5.01. The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina-Greensboro Libraries. Full text transcript available online: http://library.uncg.edu/dp/wv/results5.aspx?i=2015&s=5.

Listen also to the oral history interview with Oneida Miller Stuart, an African American servicewoman in the Army Nurse Corps who worked at the Nichols General Hospital in 1945 – Oneida Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/4850), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.04850/

Race and Gender during WWII at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky

January 16, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history

Camp Breckinridge, a training center established during WWII that covered more than 35,000 acres of Henderson, Union, and Webster counties near Morganfield, Kentucky.  About 40,000 soldiers preparing for the war (including future baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson and the  101st Airborne) stayed at the camp. The camp also held about 3,000 German and Italian prisoners of war before being deactivated in 1949.  Two stories connected with Camp Breckinridge illustrate critical components of race and gender in its history and the history of World War II.

"WACs expediting soldiers' mail at camp post office (November 1943)," Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Military photograph collection. Digital ID: 1260351In 1943, the first group of African-American women in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) stationed in Kentucky transferred in to Camp Breckinridge to become supply clerks.  WACs were typically trained under the same conditions as men, but they got assigned clerical duties.  However, once the African-American women got to Camp Breckinridge, the officers assigned them to scrubbing floors and stacking beds.  1st Lieutenant Myrtle D.  Anderson and 2nd Lieutenant Margaret E. Barnes Jones complained to their superior officer Colonel Kelly, but incidents escalated.  White soldiers entered the women’s barracks at night, and officers had to protect them.  When assigned to wash the walls of the alundry, six women went on strike: Betrice Brashear, Gladys Morton, Margaret Coleman, Mae E. Nicholas and Viola Bessups (all from New York) and Ruth M. Jones from New Jersey.  After five days, they were allowed to resign from the Army “without honor” (for more see “6 WACs Resign: WAC clerks decline to scrub floors,” Philadelphia Afro American, 07/10/1943, pp. 1 & 15).

In another incident detailed in the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, 2nd lieutenant Zelda Anderson of Maryland.  The post commander, Colonel Throckmorton, assigned her to become the mess officer, but she refused his orders. Find information more on wesbite best mobile casino uk.  In retribution, he removed her name from the list of WACs to go overseas and assigned her to organize the warehouse of Army regulation manuals.  He also assigned to assist her twelve other WACs, two German prisoners and a civilian (see the Zelda Anderson entry in War Stories: Veterans Remember World War II, edited by R.T. King).  Anderson gave her oral history interview in 1995 (archived at the University of Nevada Oral History Program).

Zelda Anderson (circa 1943) at Camp Breckinridge
click here to listen to an audio clip from her 1995 interview
Zelda Anderson remembers Colonel Throckmorton

Anderson remembered how the white civilian refused to work for her: a “fellow who the colonel had planted there to really be in charge. The first order I gave this young man, he said, ‘Uh-uh. Negroes don’t talk like that to white folks.’ So I said, ‘Well, darling, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,’ and he left. …. I lived out the rest of my days very happy in the army. If I had succumbed to the treatment that they had given other blacks before and not spoken up for myself, my morale would have been down, and I would have been doing work that I did not like. In this life you’ve got to speak up for yourself.”

***** For more information *****

Heady, Peyton. History of Camp Breckinridge (Lexington, Ky., 1987).

Moore, Brenda L. To serve my country, to serve my race: the story of the only African American WACs stationed overseas during World War II  (New York, N.Y., 1996).

Weinstein, Laurie Lee. Gender camouflage: women and the U.S. military (New York, N.Y., 1999)

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