Women came to the Klondike on selfless missions, wanting to help those who lost their health or their souls while hunting for gold. Missionaries and Salvationists came on "God's command," inspired by the prospect of thousands of sinners awaiting conversion.
Father William Judge, a seven-year veteran of the gold-mining
communities in Alaska, established the Dawson'sCatholic church and the Klondike's first hospital. He arrived in Dawson in 1897 and was soon overwhelmed by the demand for care coupled with the burden of scarce resources. He needed help,and initially upon three Sisters, all named Mary--Mary Hohn Damascene, Mary of the Cross and Mary Joseph Calasanctius from St. Ann in Holy Cross.
Candidates had to be unmarried, at least twenty-eight years old, and be a graduate of a recognized nursing school. They were warned they would have to dress very plainly and not curl or crimp their hair.
Four nurses were selected, Rachel Hanna, Georgia Powell, Margaret Payson and Amy Scott left for the Yukon in April 1898
Three were Canadians and one recent immigrant from England. They reached Dawson one month after the Sisters of St. Ann and found their skills desperately needed to care for the many victims of the typhoid epidemic raging through the Klondike.
Here is a quote from Georgia Powell's diary. “From mountain to swamp to bog we went - bogs into whose cold mossy depths we would sink to our knees, and under which the ice still remains; swamp where we trampled down bushes and shrubs to make a footing for ourselves and where the mules stuck many times, often as many as 20 all down at once, sometimes having to be unpacked to be taken out, our baggage dumped in the mud and where the mosquitoes held high revelry.”
News of the nurses’ presence in the Yukon spread quickly!
Rachel Hanna wrote “We nurse have not been idle on this trip; rarely a day goes by but a packer or a miner or an Indian, or one of our own soldiers turns up for medical help. I swear the mosquitoes must carry the news of our presence; one man traveled 14 miles to reach us!” June 17, 1898.
“Oh, what a disappointing day this has been! We swept into Selkirk as shining and as military as we could be, only to find the place almost deserted; everyone had moved to Dawson. And to make matters worse there is a typhoid epidemic there (Dawson) and there is a rumour that Miss Powell has it herself,” Rachel Hanna wrote on September 13, 1898.
So the contingent pressed on to Dawson, only to be met with more disappointing surprises.
After looking at the state of health care in the region Hanna, who had worked as a nurse for eight years, was “appalled. “The beds at the hospital are so close together that a nurse must go sideways between them; some of the windows are covered only with canvas,”
Excerpt are from MacBride Museum of Yukon History.
The conditions in the Crimea were equally
desperate and challenging.
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Disowned by her father and still mourning the death of her fiancé, Josephine Posey joins Florence Nightingale’s brigade of nurses bound for the Black Sea. Thousands of British soldiers desperately await these angels of mercy and a new life awaits Josie. Amidst the chaos of death and despair, she finds a spark of hope, lighting the flame once more inside her soul.
In search of the truth, Garrick Allen, one of Britain’s first war correspondents also journeys to the Crimean Peninsula. To him the soldiers seem all but abandoned by Queen and country, and as he smokes his cheroots and makes friends with a bottle, he writes his bold but honest dispatches for The Times. Not wanting anything more than to finish his job and go home, Garrick is blind-sided by a nurse with attitude who offers him a new slant on life and a reason to love.