Wednesday, April 5, 2017

“Birdie” Genevieve Lantz was born February 18th, 1888 in New Ross, Nova Scotia, Canada, to Patten and Amanda Lantz. She was one of nine children. She studied nursing at McLean Hospital of the Harvard Medical School (now a mental health institute). The First World War began in Europe in 1914. In 1915, Lantz joined the British Red Cross as part of the Harvard Unit, and crossed the Atlantic on the Andania from New York to Falmouth, England, along with about two dozen other nurses and medical staff. She was 27 years old. Even before America involved itself in the conflict, American units, such as the Harvard Surgical Unit, joined forces with British units and hospitals. With the Red Cross, she was stationed with the rest of the Harvard Unit at the 22nd General Hospital in Camiers, France, on the northern coast of the country (source: The Harvard Surgical Unit. Mobilizing Minerva, pg. 125.) The British called nurses "sisters," which is why the record books in these exhibits refer to Birdie Lantz as "Sister Lantz." For continuity, these exhibits will also refer to her as Sister Lantz when discussing her work as a nurse with the Red Cross.

Panoramic photo of Camiers from Maud Kealey's Flickr. To see related photos, click here.
Kealey, Maud. WW1 Camiers Dannes France. 1914-1918. In Flickr. March 3, 2008. Accessed February 5, 2017.

The 22nd General Hospital was part of a larger military compound that contained two other General Hospitals (the 18th and the 20th) a machine gun base WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) camp, and a church. The 22nd tended to the wounded from the Battle of the Somme (1916), Ypres (1914-1917), and Neuve-Chapelle (1915), as well as many other battles and skirmishes. While working at the 22nd, Sister Lantz managed a ward and worked in several others (Source: Sister Lantz Record Book Number 3).

A hand-drawn map of the 22nd General Hospital, by Cardiologist Paul Dudley White.
White, Paul Dudley, 1886-1973., “Plan of No. 22 General Hospital (Camiers, France), 1916.,” Center for the History of Medicine: OnView, accessed February 5, 2017,

In 1915 Sister Lantz crossed the Atlantic with the Harvard Unit. She received the British War Medal in 1916 for her service in the conflict. Although the Harvard Unit remained in Camiers until 1919, it is unclear whether Sister Lantz returned home in 1918 or 1919. It is clear, however, that she was back in America by 1920.

During her service in Camiers, she kept a running catalog of her patients through a series of four ‘Record Books’. Infantrymen, soldiers, gunners, drivers, riflemen, and sappers (soldiers who specialized in construction, repair, and demolition) from Britain, Australia, Canada, America, New Zealand, and even Germany made their mark in these record books, leaving their experiences, jokes, illustrations, and autographs on the pages. Whether Sister Lantz was consciously collecting data for the sake of historical preservation is unclear, but whatever her reason, the data and stories she amassed are invaluable.

There are four record books, ranging in dates from 1915-1918. The first record book spans from June to September of 1916; the second from September of 1916 to September of 1917; the third From December of 1916 to June of 1918; and the fourth from June to August of 1918. To preserve the authenticity of the entries examined in these exhibits, the curator has maintained all grammar and spelling errors therein.

A sketch of the inside of the 22nd, drawn by A. Pane. From Sister Lantz's Record Books.
Lantz, Birdie Genevieve. Record Book Number 3, December 1916-June 1918. Diary. Camiers, France. Sister Lantz Record Books.

One of the patients in Sister Lantz’s care, Private Walter A Smith, returned home with Sister Lantz at the end of the war. They married in July of 1920 and moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon, a couple of years later, where they raised their three children and maintained a farm near the rustic town. The 1930 census has Birdie Genevieve Smith listed as ‘homemaker’, so we can assume that after the war she did not continue her nursing career. She lived in Klamath with her family until her death on November 1st, 1963, and she is buried in Eternal Hills Memorial Gardens (source: "Longtime Resident Dies Here"). The wartime books she left provide little data about Sister Lantz herself, as they are full of stories and images from her patients, but the innumerable entries commending her for her kindness and goodness are a testament to her character and her contributions to history and the war effort.

One of the poems in her record books, by A.C. Birtte, states:

Of all the Sisters that I know
I really think she's quite the best,
It doesn't matter where you go
In North or South or East or West,

She always has a smiling face
And a score of helpful words
She moves about with ease and grace
And is as happy as the birds

She works in word and [illegible] too
And does it with all her might
For she is equal to all there is to do
If she had to work all night

But though she works so hard and well
She is always full of fun
And where there is a joke to tell
She'll tell it after work is done

She loves her work with heart and soul
She is good to everyone I know
For Doctors Nurses, patients all
Are tearful when she has to go.

She came from Boston – U.S.A.
To work for Tommy here in France
And Tommy's glad, I heard him say
He'd stay near her if he'd a chance

She's sweet and dear, she's bright and true
She is sympathetic, gentle too!
She is conscientious, loving, kind
No other like her will you find

Now take from me a little tip
Just watch her closely day by day
And soon you'll find that you'll improve
And copy her sweet gentle way

Good luck to you, dear Sister Lantz
Good luck to all your work in France
May you receive a good reward
I know you will

"The Harvard Surgical Unit." Center for the History of Medicine. Accessed February 09, 2017.
White, Paul Dudley, 1886-1973., “Plan of No. 22 General Hospital (Camiers, France), 1916.,” Center for the History of Medicine: OnView, accessed February 5, 2017,
Jensen, Kimberly. Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War. University of Illinois Press, 2008.
Lantz, Birdie Genevieve. Record Book Number 3, December 1916-June 1918. Diary. Camiers, France. Western Oregon University Archives. Sister Lantz Record Books.
"Longtime Resident Dies Here." Herald and News (Bonanza), 1963.
Kealey, Maud. "WW1 Camiers Dannes France." 1914-1918. In Flickr. March 3, 2008. Accessed February 5, 2017.

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