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Northwestern nurse among first casualties in WWI

Ceremony to commemorate 100th anniversary of combat nurse’s death

Newspaper clipping

Northwestern University Libraries is holding a centennial celebration and wreath laying ceremony to remember nurse Helen Burnett Wood, whose death was among the first affiliated with an American unit in World War I.

The event is part of Northwestern Libraries’ efforts to commemorate this spring’s centenary of the U.S. entry into the war. It will include a wreath laying and color guard and drill team drawn from the Northwestern Reserve Officer Training Corps, beginning at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 20, at Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave.

The wreath laying will take place in Rosehill’s Section Four at the graveside of Helen Burnett Wood, an Evanston nurse considered to be one of the earliest casualties from an American unit in the war.

Wood died while serving with U.S. Army Base Hospital 12, a unit organized by Dr. Frederick Besley of Northwestern’s Medical School that was staffed by doctors and nurses from Northwestern schools and the Chicago area.

Helen Burnett Wood
Helen Burnett Wood

On May 20, 1917, a day after the hospital unit shipped out to England aboard the S.S. Mongolia, a gunnery accident took the lives of Wood and fellow nurse Edith Ayres, and a third nurse was wounded. Ayres was buried in her hometown of Attica, Ohio, where local representatives will lay a wreath on May 29. Both Wood and Ayres were laid to rest with military funerals.

Remembering the First World War

The exhibit “Northwestern Remembers the First World War” draws from several library collections to tell the story of how World War I impacted Northwestern and the Chicago area.

University Archives holds the papers and photographs chronicling Base Hospital 12, which eventually reached its destination in the Dannes-Camiers region of France and remained in service well into 1919, several months past the end of the war. The exhibit can be viewed at in University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, and Deering Library, 1937 Sheridan Road, both in Evanston.

The Libraries’ efforts are made possible in part from a generous grant from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, the Chicago-based research library that is also a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, which develops programs and materials commemorating the 100th anniversary of American participation in the war.

About Northwestern Libraries

Northwestern University Libraries serve the Evanston, Chicago and Qatar campuses by providing access to more than 6 million books; 3.5 linear miles of manuscripts, archives and unique materials; and tens of thousands of journals, databases and periodicals. Their distinctive holdings include the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, which houses more than 250,000 rare materials ranging from Mesopotamian tablets to its Femina collection, one of the largest second-wave feminism collections in the country; the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, the largest collection of materials relating to Africa in the world; and the Music Library, which is recognized internationally for its commitment to 20th and 21st century classical music. 

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