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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published August 28 2011

Halgrimson: Fargo woman chronicled tales of WWI nurses

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about Angela Boleyn. The preceding column ran in the Aug. 14 edition of The Forum.

Angela Green was a nurse by training. Born in Brainerd, Minn., in 1886, she attended Northern Plains Beneficial Association Hospital, graduating in 1907. She married Paul T. Boleyn in 1911, and a son was born in 1914.

During World War I, she recruited nurses for the Army and Red Cross and was in charge of the ROTC hospital at North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University.

But Angela Boleyn was also a writer. She wrote a Sunday feature series in The Forum between 1931 and 1934 about pioneer women in North Dakota. It was called “Quarter Sections and Wide Horizons.”

Between May 1935 and July 1936, she wrote a Sunday series of 57 stories about World War I nurses. It was called “Blue Capes – Scarlet Linings.”

I became interested in the series on nurses when I discovered several names that I recognized as friends of my grandmother, Petra Somo Krantz, who trained as a nurse at St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Fargo. She graduated in the first class in 1911.

The nurses Boleyn interviewed came not only from North Dakota and Minnesota but from Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C.

The most familiar name in the series was Martha Gravdal, Gram’s good friend who was also a part of my life for many years. Gravdal had moved to Minneapolis by the time I knew her, but she came to stay with us often, and Mom and I took Gram to Minneapolis to visit Gravdal.

I had heard stories of Gravdal’s time as a floor supervisor at St. Luke’s Hospital when she still lived in Fargo. She had been considered a hard taskmaster. I also recall Gravdal’s stories of her time in France during World War I.

She was a graduate of the Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, Class of 1916. After private duty in Sisseton, S.D., she went into the Army Nurse Corps.

Perhaps she was in the contingent of 1,000 nurses deployed to hospitals in France during the war. Gravdal was stationed at a base hospital in Rimaucourt, France, and later in Meaves, France, the center of 20 base hospitals. In Boleyn’s story, Gravdal remembered the constant rain and resulting mud.

After the Armistice, hospitals near the front were closed, and the patients were sent to seaports for the trip back home.

Gravdal had good memories of her time in France. Trips to Paris, Monte Carlo and Nice must have relieved some of the horrors of the war.

Marie Stenseth, later Mrs. George Henderson, Halstad, Minn., was a classmate of my grandmother’s at St. Luke’s School of Nursing.

In Boleyn’s story, Stenseth remembered an operating tent at a hospital in Staden, Belgium, with 10 tables with two doctors, two nurses and an anesthetist at each table. As fast as a patient was removed, another was brought in. This went on 24 hours a day. The men were then loaded on trains and sent to base hospitals farther from the front.

After her duty in Belgium, Stenseth went to a base hospital in Paris and then on to Brest, France, where she sailed for home in August 1919.

According to an Army website, no nurses died during the war, although several were wounded. However, 200 nurses died from influenza and pneumonia.

Sources: Forum files, Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University, www.army.mil/women/nurses.html

Readers can contact Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com