Over There: The Presbyterian Base Hospital in France 1917-1918

o. 2 nurses escorts Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing founder and Dean, Anna C. Maxwell, during her visit, summer 1918. (Photo: P-004650)

An Exhibit from Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library 

Hammer Building, Lower Level 2

January 29-May 11, 2018

In April 1917 the United States, breaking its long tradition of isolation from European affairs, declared war on Germany in hopes of making World War I into “A War to End All Wars.”

As Americans rushed to do their part for the war effort, Presbyterian Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, responded to the call for doctors and nurses to serve in the war by organizing U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 2.

To commemorate their service during this centennial of the end of World War I, a new exhibit tells the unit’s story through original letters, documents, and photographs held by the Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections.  Included are a copy of the Base Hospital newspaper, The Dooins; a nurse’s diary open to the entry for November 11, 1918, the day the war ended; a program for Hello Etretat!, a musical comedy staged by unit members; vintage postcards; and a menu from the ship on which they returned home at war’s end.

One of the first U.S. medical units to reach France in 1917, Base Hospital No. 2 was stationed at Étretat on the coast of Normandy. There twenty-five physicians and surgeons and sixty-five nurses – almost all affiliated with Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons – cared for the conflict’s military casualties.

Twice, smaller groups of doctors and nurses were detached from the Base Hospital to form Casualty Clearing Stations. Working on the combat’s front lines, the men and women of the CCS faced additional hardships and danger – including a bombing raid on their quarters.

Decoration Day field day program, May 30, 1918
Decoration Day field day program, May 30, 1918

Whether behind the lines at Étretat or in the thick of the fighting, the Hospital’s personnel put in long and grueling hours to save the soldiers entrusted to their care.  When the war ended on November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, they could look back with satisfaction on their achievement.

Over the last decades, the Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections has amassed a large collection of personal papers from those who served in France with Base Hospital No. 2.  Almost all the items seen here come from those collections, carefully saved by their creators to record one of the most important episodes in their lives.

The exhibit runs until May 11, 2018 and can be seen on Lower Level 2 of the Hammer Health Sciences Building which has 24/7 access.  Hammer is open to anyone with a valid Columbia University or NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital ID. Others desiring to see the exhibit should contact Archives & Special Collections at hslarchives@columbia.edu to arrange for admission.

The exhibit was curated by Stephen E. Novak, Head, Archives & Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library.

Caption: A parade of Base Hospital No. 2 nurses escorts Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing founder and Dean, Anna C. Maxwell, during her visit, summer 1918. (Photo: P-004650)