American Legion, Helen Fairchild Nurses' Post No. 412 records
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Barbara Bates Center for the Study of The History of Nursing [Contact Us]Claire Fagin Hall, 418 Curie Boulevard, Floor 2U, Philadelphia, PA, 19104-4217
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Barbara Bates Center for the Study of The History of Nursing. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
As the American Legion came into being in the years following World War I, a great number of nurses who had served overseas expressed interest in forming their own American Legion posts. Nurses' posts became quite numerous; some of these took names which honored the bravery of American nurses who had been wounded or killed in the line of duty.
One such post, the Helen Fairchild Nurses' Post #412 (hereafter referred to as the "Post"), was named for a graduate of the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing, who was one of the contingent of nurses that accompanied the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Serving at Base Hospital #10 in France, Fairchild fell prey to a poison gas attack and died soon after, on January 18, 1918. Upon their return to the states, some of the other Base 10 nurses founded Nurses' Post #412 in Philadelphia, and named it in Fairchild's honor.
The first meeting of this post was held at the Frankford Hospital on October 14, 1919. The Post was chartered a year later, on October 15, 1920. Membership grew rapidly from 200 in the first year to 386 in 1926. Meetings of the Post were initially held at various area hospitals. During the 1920s, the Post was headquartered in the Third Regiment Armory, before locating more permanently to the Central YMCA on Arch Street in 1934. For a number of years, the Post met either at the Arch Street YMCA or in the Philadelphia County Council Building.
Unfortunately, many of the Post's pre-1947 records were destroyed in a fire, and thus little information survives for the period from 1931-1947. In 1947, membership was hovering around the upper 300s - it reached a peak of 421 at the end of 1948. It was during this period - the decades of the 1940s and 1950s - that the number of activities sponsored by the Post also reached its height. The Post was very active in the community. During the holiday season, the members demonstrated their generosity by providing food, clothing, and toys to needy families and children. In the winter months, the Post sponsored a student nurse basketball league, which pitted teams from area hospital training schools against one another. League play culminated in a championship in the spring, with the championship trophy provided by the Post. The league, which was begun by members of the Post in 1931, was in existence for fifty years before a lack of interest caused it to fold.
The Helen Fairchild Nurses' Post also provided a number of awards and scholarships. The Elizabeth Weaver Scholarship, in the amount of $250, was awarded to a needy and deserving student attending the school which won the cheerleaders contest (held at the same time as the basketball championship). Each summer, the Post sponsored a high-school-aged boy to go to Keystone Boy's State, a camp-like program run by the American Legion designed to teach Americanism, government, leadership, and the like. At the end of each school year, the Post presented American Legion Awards to two students at the George Thomas Junior High School, one to a boy, one to a girl. These awards and scholarships helped to make the Helen Fairchild Nurses' Post and the American Legion quite prominent in the community.
Remembrance of fallen comrades has traditionally been a very important mission of the Fairchild Post, as well as the American Legion in general. To this end, the Post planned ceremonies to honor them each Memorial Day weekend. The Sunday before Memorial Day, members of the Post would help decorate graves in the Mt. Moriah cemetery, along with members of the William T. Shetzline Post. On Memorial Day itself, the Post would hold memorial services at Pennsylvania Hospital, where there was a tree dedicated to the memory of Helen Fairchild. Armistice Day (Veterans Day) was celebrated by a banquet which was usually well attended.
The last two decades have been a period of decline for the Post. It was on the strength of the WWI veterans that the Post (and the American Legion) was founded, and it was through the combined efforts of veterans from both world wars that the Post reached its summit. Thus, as these members who had been so instrumental to the success of the Post grew older, and became unable to participate as fully in outside activities, the Post began to lose much of its former vigor.
Without a large influx of new veterans, the Helen Fairchild Nurses' Post (and, indeed, the American Legion in general) was forced to scale down its scope of activities. In the 1970s, the number of meetings per year were cut down to six. In 1981, this number was reduced further, to four. The Federal Post building, where the Fairchild Post had been meeting since the 1960s, was sold, and the members of the Post again had to use hospitals and other smaller venues as sites for their meetings. Membership declined in a slow but steady manner, from 303 at the end of 1966 to 102 at the end of 1987.
This collection has been organized into five series: Office Files, Members Files, Clippings, Photographs, and a World War I Register of Pennsylvania Nurses. The office files, especially the newsletters and meeting minutes, give a fairly complete description of the organizational makeup of the Post (despite some considerable gaps). In addition, they catalog a number of the activities sponsored by the Post. The members files, on the other hand, paint a more intimate picture of the Post and its members, being made up, as they are, of various personal effects. Clippings and photographs complement these files to provide a well-rounded view of the Post. The final series is a register of nurse military service: in the 1930s, the Post compiled a comprehensive list of nurses who enlisted in WWI in the state of Pennsylvania.
- University of Pennsylvania: Barbara Bates Center for the Study of The History of Nursing
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Center staff, updated by Bethany Myers
- Access Restrictions
This collection is unrestricted.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Center with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
The series includes Post newsletters from 1947 to 1989, but by no means should this be considered a complete set. The newsletters provided Post members with information on upcoming meetings and other Post events, but also served as a forum for disseminating general information on members, items of interest, etc. During its height, the Fairchild Post sent out 10 to 12 newsletters per year, but this number has decreased in the time since the late sixties. The newsletters were an important tool in reaching all of the members of the Post, since only a fraction attended meetings regularly.
Also contained in this series are Post meeting minutes from a fifteen-year period between 1971 and 1986. Except for 1971, the minutes for each year represent a complete record of the meetings held during the given year. It should be noted, however, that the Post often did not hold regular meetings during the summer months.
The series includes correspondence, both general and related to specific topics, such as awards and scholarships. There are also events files, which contain general information and correspondence pertaining to certain events sponsored by the Post. There are a number of other, smaller items. A financial ledger dating from the 1920s has survived, and provides a somewhat different insight into the workings of the Post. A list of officers, committee members, and convention delegates for the years 1919 to 1966is included, though because of its size (6 feet long, accordionated) it has been placed in a flat file. General information on the American Legion, the Helen Fairchild Nurses Post, and the history of the Post has been collected; these files, however, are much more miscellaneous and fragmentary in nature. Other items in the series include an operations manual for incoming Post adjutants, programs from annual Post banquets, citations garnered by the Post over the years, and membership records of the Post, consisting of 4 by 6 inch information cards, one (or more) for each member.
This series provides a different look at the members of the Fairchild Post than can be obtained through the office files series. It contains a number of personal effects of Post members, from a journal to poetry to correspondence. In addition, there are a couple of personal documents of former members, such as an RN certificate and a passport certificate issued by the American embassy in London to nurses who were attached to the AEF. Short biographies of individual members are included; these too are useful in studying the history of the Post. In all, though there is less inherent organization in this series (as compared to the first), it is nevertheless valuable in getting a true feel for the rich history of the Post.
A very small series consisting of two files, this includes clippings taken from local (Philadelphia and Pennsylvania) newspapers and magazines, the oldest dating from the 1940s. Most pertain directly to the Fairchild Nurses Post and Post-related activities, but a few are more general. This series also includes a memorial certificate from the White House.
Most of the photos in this series are of a more informal nature. There are a small number of photographs which relate to the American involvement in World War I, most notably one of Helen Fairchild's gravesite, and another which may have been taken at her funeral. The bulk of the photos, however, pertain to the many activities which the Fairchild Nurses Post either sponsored or was involved in. For instance, there are as number of photos taken at awards ceremonies (especially for the basketball championships), as well as photos taken at other Post functions. There are also quite a few photographs of Post members, particularly from the early days of the Post. These photos provide a unique view of the collection, one which cannot be achieved by the rest of the material alone.
This series contains a listing of Pennsylvania nurses who served in World War I, along with their addresses and military histories (as compiled by the Helen Fairchild Nurses Post in the late 1930s). As noted in the introduction to this roster, the listing includes both nurses who graduated from training schools in state, and those who graduated from schools outside of Pennsylvania, but enlisted from Pennsylvania. Over 325 pages long and six years in the making, the roster was designed to be as complete as possible. The Post was aided in this task by the numerous hospitals in the state, as well as such groups as Alumni Associations and various regional nursing associations. The end result, which was complete as of January 25, 1941, was used by Roberta Mayhew West in her History of Nursing in Pennsylvania.