“Remember the nurses.” That’s a sentence from the last paragraph—more like a footnote, really—from a Baltimore Sun article written in 1917 about the first group of American doctors and nurses from Johns Hopkins sent to France during World War I.
It’s also the mission statement for Ellouise Schoettler’s new one-woman show, Ready to Serve. But this masterful researcher and affecting performer goes way beyond just remembering this brave group of 64 women—she brings their stories to life and honors their forgotten legacy.
Schoettler has a passion for shining a bright and tender light on the overlooked corners of history—which is, sadly, where most of the women have been pushed. In this new monologue—the second in a trilogy—she recreates the experience of a group of professional nurses, ages 25 to 44, from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore who volunteered to join the US Army and served at Hopkins Base Hospital 18 in France during The Great War. She created this moving and informative show by lovingly piecing together snippets from various women’s letters that she found archived together.
Ready to Service
Written and performed by Ellouise Schoettler
Details and tickets
It’s a sign of Schoettler’s powers as a performer and a scholar that there are multiple moments during her recounting when my jaw was quivering and my hand wanted to shoot up to ask a question simultaneously (save your questions for the end—she leaves room at the end to answer each one).
The monologue’s framing device—which, to me, seemed unnecessary—is that Schoettler’s character is speaking to us in 1970 as images of the wounded returning from the Vietnam War recall her memories of her own time serving as a nurse. From there, she goes into how the women came to be a team, their departure from New York, the voyage across the Atlantic, and their experiences in France.
Some of the most interesting bits are about what the head nurse at the field hospital, Betsy Baker, calls their “ridiculous plight.” In 1917, nurses weren’t given a rank in the military, which means they had no status. So, while the male doctors and corps members got private cubicles with running water and electricity, the nurses stayed in one giant, drafty room—conditions that contributed to two of their ranks dying from scarlet fever and pneumonia. Schoettler does a nice job of showing that in some regards, these women were tending to the wounded while also fighting their own uphill battle for recognition and respect.
But in the end, the piece is really about demonstrating how, with no proper experience or training, this remarkable group of nurses did their duty and did so without complaint. At a time when debates continue on about women serving on the front lines and registering for the draft, it’s important to be reminded that they have been serving—and dying— for their county in any way they can for a very long time.
Ready to Serve . written directed and performed by Ellouise Schoetter . Reviewed by John Bavoso.