Once Upon a Time

Missouri native nursed soldiers during World War I

Vivian Maud Howell was photographed during her training at Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1913. | Illustration courtesy of the Archives of Blessing Health System
Posted: Mar. 11, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 11, 2018 12:26 am

Vivian Maud Howell was born on a farm in Liberty Township in Marion County, Mo., in 1883. Her father, William F. Howell, was a farmer who later became president of the Bank of Palmyra. The family lived in Woodland, a small community south of Palmyra where her parents raised their seven children. Vivian used a variety of names. She was born Cora Maud but disliked the name and wanted to be called Vivian. Later everyone called her Maud.

One of her brothers, John Freemole Orlando Howell, became a doctor. He was a surgeon with the rank of 1st lieutenant with the Missouri Ambulance Company No. 1 on the Mexican border in 1916. They formed part of the First Missouri Brigade of the National Guard called to protect the border from Mexican Revolutionary Gen. Pancho Villa. Howell was mustered out in January 1917. He returned to service with the same company in August 1917, serving until May 1919. After the war, he set up a practice in Kirksville, but later moved to Detroit, where he died in 1932. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He, along with his parents, did not want Maud to be a nurse.

Maud attended college for three years at the First District Normal School in Kirksville. After college, she remained at home until she entered Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses in April 1911 at age 26.

To be a nurse, an applicant had to be in good physical health and have good moral qualities. After a two-month probationary period, the pupil nurse signed an agreement to stay for the three-year course. Pupil nurses were given two half days off per week and six weeks of vacation during the three years of training. Training consisted of on-duty work with patients and after-hours lectures from doctors and nursing administrators. Maud graduated in May 1914.

The commencement address was given by Dr. Robert Christie who said, "… your field, practically has no bounds. The army camp and the mining camp, with equal necessity, make requisition upon your service; the factory and the school require you; the mansion and the tenement are alike open to you."

Maud Howell passed her licensure exam early in 1915. She chose to go into private-duty nursing, which meant the nurse was hired by the patient to care for them in the patient's home or in the hospital. Private-duty nurses also accompanied doctors to a home for surgeries, remaining with the patient until they recovered. Howell did that for three years.

After the United States entered the war in April 1917, Howell volunteered her services to the Red Cross. On Dec. 10, her birthday, she was notified to report for duty in South Carolina. She was treated as an officer but did not get a rank or pay of an officer. She was first sent to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, S.C., to attend the Army School of Nursing. After six months orientation she sailed with the 27th Division, 102nd Sanitary Train, which consisted of ambulance and field hospital companies. The group spent several weeks in London before sailing for France.

Her first assignment in France was in a field hospital behind the lines at Chateau Thierry. A field hospital was the third stop from the front for a wounded man. Surgery was performed in field hospitals; patients were stabilized, then sent to a base hospital. She next moved to a base hospital in Paris, where she spent several months. Howell was in Paris when the armistice was declared in November 1918. She remembers participating in a large parade on the Champs Elysees riding on the top of a German howitzer. Her next assignment was with the Army of Occupation in Coblenz, Germany, where in addition to nursing, she danced with England's Prince of Wales. There she caught the flu and was sent to Nice, France, to recuperate. She had two more nursing assignments before sailing home in June 1919. She was discharged in New York and by July had returned to Quincy to resume private-duty nursing.

In addition to her postwar nursing, Howell was active in the Blessing Hospital Alumnae Association, holding various offices, and was registered with the St. Louis division of the National Red Cross. She also was chairman of the Eighth District Nurses Association. In 1925, she notified the other Red Cross nurses in her district and led a team to help with disaster relief after a major storm hit Southern Illinois. She later described that experience as similar to her work in war-damaged areas in France.

Howell never forgot her war experience and remained active in the American Legion. The American Legion was founded in Paris in March 1919 by officers of the American Expeditionary Forces and chartered by Congress in September 1919. Howell belonged to the Boots-Dickson Post No. 174 in Palmyra. That post was organized in October 1919, named in memory of Wade Boots and Howard Dickson, two Palmyra soldiers who died in the war.

Howell attended the national Legion conventions throughout the rest of her career. She traveled to conventions in New Orleans; Kansas City, Mo.; San Francisco; and Paris in the 1920s.

The Quincy (Ill.) Daily Journal said, "Miss Maud Howell might be termed the chief of the nursing corps. She joined the army sooner, remained longer and was the one Quincy nurse who followed the flag into Germany."

The Paris convention of 1927 was nicknamed the "Second American Expeditionary Force." Howell joined 20,000 other men and women traveling to France, where they visited battlefields and cemeteries. While there, Howell looked for her French friends but found few.

After almost 50 years of nursing, Howell's last address was the Soldier's and Sailor's Home (now Illinois Veterans Home) in Quincy. She died in June 1972 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Palmyra, Mo.


Arlis Dittmer is a retired medical librarian. During her 26 years with Blessing Health System, she became interested in medical and nursing history--both topics frequently overlooked in history.



American Legion Centennial Celebration. Post Charter, Post 174, Palmyra, Mo. centennial.legion.org/missouri/post174/1919/10/24/post-charter.

"Five Nurses Prepare for Storm Duty." Quincy Daily Herald, March 19, 1925, p. 1.

Garden, Debra, Comp. Missouri State Offices Political and Military Records, 1919-1920 (database online).

Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2001. Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962. Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. Records of the Office of the

Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Md.

"Maud Howell dies at 88: was nurse in World War I." Quincy Herald Whig, June 6, 1972.

"Maud Howell Recalls Horror of Wounded." Quincy Herald Whig, November 11, 1968.

"New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9579-LSH?cc=1923888&wc=MFVB-9M9%3A1029871801 : 21 May 2014), 4149 - vol 9269-9270, Oct 11, 1928 > image 217 of 913; citing NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

"Nurses Take Their Pledge." Quincy Daily Herald, May 15, 1914, p. 5.

"Palmyra Girls Start Extensive Tours." Quincy Daily Herald, June 13, 1922, p. 11.

"Quincy Legionnaires Are Off For Legion Meeting in Kaw City." Quincy Daily Journal, Oct. 31, 1921, p. 3.

"Quincy Nurse Goes to Legion Convention." Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 3, 1923, p. 9.

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"Their Pledge: Seven Young Women Receive Their Diplomas." Quincy Daily Herald, May 15, 1914, p. 5.


'Remembering WWI'

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of America's service during World War I, this column is running a series of articles about the area and its involvement in the war. The articles coordinate with the "Remembering WWI" exhibit at the History Museum, which runs through November.