Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Ellen Newbold La Motte (1873 - 1961) - American - nurse in WW1

On 4th August 2014 we went to take photographs of the launch of the Exhibition of Poets of the First World War at Blackpool Central Library, Blackpool, Lancashire, UK.  The poets featured are mostly female but we just had to include Wilfred Owen. Wilfred visited Blackpool on two occasions while he was based at the Gunnery School in Fleetwood, in order to purchase a Trench Coat on the advice of his mother, Susan Owen, before he went to the Western Front in 1916.

While in the Library, I discovered a book I had not seen before and it turned out to be a re-print of a book written in 1916 by Ellen N. La Motte, an American nurse, about her experiences in Belgium during WW1.  As Ellen is already on my List of Inspirational Women, I just had to find out more about her.

Lea M. Williams, a Professor at the University of Norwich Military Academy in Vermont, USA, has recently been awarded funding to research the life of Ellen by the American Association for the History of Nursing.  Lea had a biography of Ellen published in 2014 in American National Biography Online - for details see below.

Ellen Newbold La Motte was an American nurse, writer, journalist and campaigner for women's rights.  Ellen was born in Louisville in Kentucky. Her parents were Ferdinand Fairfax La Motte, who was a wealthy businessman and his wife Ellen whose maiden name was Newbold.   During her teens, Ellen went to live with a wealthy cousin - Alfred I. Du Pont a wealthy industrialist in Wilimington, Delaware as her father was having business problems. Ellen was educated by governesses and also attended the Arlington Institute in Arlington, Virginia, which was a private girls school. 

In 1898, Ellen went to train as a nurse at the John Hopkins Training School for Nurses in Baltimore, Maryland. Her family disapproved of her choice of career, so Ellen did not complete her training until 1902.  She spent some time in Italy as a private nurse. In 1905, Ellen worked with the Instructive Nurses Association in Baltimore as a Tuberculosis Nurse.  In 1913,    With her cousin's financial assistance, Ellen went to live in Paris where she published her first book - "The Tuberculosis Nurse Her Function and her Qualifications". While in Paris, Ellen met some of the ex-patriate Americans living there, among them Gertrude Stein, the American poet who drove ambulances during the First World War, who you will find on www.femalewarpoets.blogspot.co.uk.  

When War broke out Ellen initially joined The American Ambulance Service but when Mary Borden started up her private hospital, Ellen joined her organisation and went to nurse in a French field hospital in Belgium.  Ellen kept a diary, as most people did back then, and wrote a book about her experience, which is dedicated to Mary Borden.  

According to Iaian Finlayson, who reviewed the re-print of Ellen’s book in “The Times” newspaper on 10th May 2014, while she was nursing in Belgium, Ellen sent articles about the war back home to “Atlantic Monthly”, which is one of the magazines featured in Matt Jacobsen’s ‘s excellent website www.OldMagazineArticles.com

Finlayson goes on to explain that La Motte’s book about her experiences as a nurse on the Western Front during WW1 was “published in 1916 and suppressed in 1918 as damaging to public morale”.  If you are able to read Ellen's work you will see why - she certainly did not 'pull her punches' but she told it 'as she saw it'.   

After WW1, Ellen travelled to Asia where she witnessed the problems caused by Opium addiction.  Again her experiences were recorded in books and she received two awards for her work - from the Japanese Red Cross Society in 1918 and from China the Lin Tse Hsu Memorial Medal in 1930.

Ellen moved to Washington, D.C., where she died in 1961.

You will find Ellen's fascinating book "The Backwash of War - The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse" by Ellen N. La Motte as a free Download on Project Gutenberg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26884/26884-h/26884-h.htm  Please read it.

Sources:  http://www.anb.org/articles/13/13-02684.html

Lea's entry in American National Biography Online can be viewed here: Lea Williams. "La Motte, Ellen Newbold";  http://www.anb.org/articles/13/13-02684.html;  American National Biography Online April 2014.

Photo:   Google Images

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