Hedda Burgemeister, March 1912
March 31, 1912
My life seems so meaningless at times. After years of study, here I am in New York catering to the narcissistic whims of wealthy elderly ladies who confine themselves to bed so no one will witness the increasing number of lines creeping across their faces.
We were motivated by the noble work of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, both now gone; yet what we do is of little value compared to their lifesaving labors. Reading of Clara’s passing yesterday made me yearn to accomplish something more than bathing and styling hair for these ladies who need nursemaids, not nurses.
We should be marching out front with the Suffragettes, or braving the front lines to astonish soldiers with our professional skills. At first, men wanted no women on the battlefield, but they now recognize nurses represent their only chance of keeping the angels of death at bay.
“…And these were the women who went to the war:
The women of question; what did they go for?
Because in their hearts God had planted the seed
Of pity for woe, and help for its need;
They saw, in high purpose, a duty to do,
And the armor of right broke the barriers through.
Uninvited, unaided, unsanctioned ofttimes,
With pass, or without it, they pressed on the lines;
They pressed, they implored, till they ran the lines through,
And this was the “running” the men saw them do….”
Why am I not wearing a uniform emblazoned with the scarlet cross? I should be healing Roughriders in Cuba, tending Texans in the aftermath of a hurricane or feeding starving Armenians.
But I know why. I am not brave. I cower from danger and excitement, seeking shelter in books. While I endure waves of great loneliness in this city of almost five-million people, I find I cherish that very same anonymity. If no one knows me, they know not my capabilities. They remain unaware I shirk the duties that call me.
So little is expected of women. The promotion of Isabella Goodwin to detective in New York City has caused much commotion. Why? Do men honestly believe the female species cannot reason and think?
Maybe it is our own fault, though. It’s easy to slip into mediocrity, blindly stumbling along from day to day.
I must confess pangs of envy upon reading of Bernice Robbins, the carpenter’s daughter who dutifully nursed a wealthy Boston merchant’s wife through a long illness. Jubilant upon his wife’s recovery, the millionaire adopted the nurse. Perhaps you shall be so fortunate. The reward of the house might just be a first step. Might not your Koehlers adopt you as they have others?
Perhaps only my life is dull. I read of great turmoil in Mexico. Are trainloads of wounded arriving daily? Are you living in constant fear of gun-toting marauders riding into San Antonio?
I worry so for your safety on the wild frontier of this country. Please send news soon.
Clara Barton’s life must have inspired many a nurse.
With no real comprehension of the size of Texas, gleaning news from accounts printed in New York certainly made the whole state appear dangerously untamed.