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“There is a feeling of goodness when someone gets well because you’ve been able to help them.” – Dora Maiben

by Lauren Webb

Group of women in nursing uniforms in front of a sign that says telephone auxiliary.

One of the Salt Lake City Red Cross units. Courtesy of the Utah Historical Society.

Nursing was the most common way that women served near the front lines of World War I. The government had contracted a few women nurses during the Spanish American War, but women did not become an official part of the military until Congress created the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. The Army Nurse Corps included less than 600 nurses when the U.S. entered WW1 in 1917. By the end of the war, these ranks had exploded to over 20,000 nurses on active duty, with over half of those serving overseas.[1] These official military nurses were supported by thousands of volunteer Red Cross nurses. The Salvation Army and other private organizations also helped organize and support women as ambulance drivers and canteen workers near the front lines.

Nurses saw difficult conditions firsthand. World War I was the first time that devastating technologies like grenades, machine guns, trenches, and chemical gas were used as standardized weaponry in war. In addition to the casualties of war, the world was losing hundreds of thousands of people to the Spanish Flu, the worst pandemic in recorded history.

Among those that volunteered were nurses from all corners of Utah. Only five of these women are described here, but a complete list can be found through the Utah State Archives here.

Dora Maiben (1886-1978)

Dora Maiben, from her scrapbook. Used with permission, University of Utah Marriott Library Special Collections.

Dora Maiben grew up in Provo, Utah. She attended Brigham Young College for two years and then graduated in nursing from LDS Hospital in 1909. After receiving additional training in public health at Cleveland School of Education, Western Reserve University, and the University of Utah, she got a job as a school nurse for the Salt Lake City Board of Health. When World War One started, Dora and several other women at the Board of Health signed up to volunteer together.

After a few months training in Texas, Dora flew to Europe to work in France and Germany with the American Red Cross. She remembered going out to the battlefields and sorting bodies to determine which ones could be saved and which ones could not. One acquaintance recorded: “She has seen some real war and is still working….The Utah nurse was not one of those who asked to go, saying that she had offered her services and would remain in the service until Uncle Sam was through with her.”[2] She was awarded a bronze star victory medal. When the war was over, she continued to work for the Red Cross in Europe for a few years. She was stationed at the evacuation hospital in Coblenz, Germany. She also volunteered in orphanages in Serbia and described traveling from town to town on a cart pulled by a donkey.

Dora returned home to her job at the City Board of Health and eventually became the Superintendent of Health at Public Schools. She performed free health screenings for public school students before the start of every school year. She traveled around the state giving speeches about children’s health and encouraging politicians to pass related bills. When she retired, she concluded: “If I had it all to do over again, I would go into nursing. There is a feeling of goodness when someone gets well because you’ve been able to help them.”[3]

Ruth Vilate Clayton (1893-1985)

Woman in nurses uniform.

Ruth Vilate Clayton. Utah Division of Archives and Records Services.

Ruth Vilate Clayton was born and raised in Salt Lake City and inducted into the Army Nurse Corps on February 1, 1918. She was trained in California and Texas before being transferred to France in September of that year. She described the “thunder of guns not very far away” from where she lived and worked and remembered quickly evacuating hospitals because the Germans were coming and were to occupy those very hospitals just hours later.

Upon returning home, Ruth Vilate Clayton was hired as a school nurse, eventually becoming the supervisor of all public health nurses in Salt Lake City and assistant in the Schools’ Health Department. Part of her position was to conduct hearing tests at elementary schools. She raised and provided for her daughter, Loyola Ann as a single mom; her husband, James Stone Haws, died only six years after their wedding.

Ruth Vilate Clayton reunited with other WWI nurses every year on what we call Veteran’s Day, the anniversary of the end of the war. They were involved in the American Legion, which was a club that planned reunions for the “Sisterhood of Nurses” so that they could stay friends. On one of these occasions, Ruth spoke of the Second World War and mentioned that, “only the age limit is keeping [me] from joining up again.”[4] True to her word, when the opportunity arose, she put her career on hold and volunteered in in the Bushnell Military Hospital in Brigham City. Her position with the School Health Department was waiting for her when she returned. She continued conducting hearing tests in Salt Lake public schools for many more years.

Susie Chase (1895-1981)

Susie Chase in nurses uniform.

Susie Chase. Utah Division of Archives and Records Service.

Susie Chase completed her nursing training at LDS Hospital in 1917. The United States had not yet officially entered the war, but Susie’s class agreed to transform their tennis courts, where they spent their leisure hours, into an onion garden to support the war effort.

Susie only served as a Red Cross nurse from November to December in 1918, but she continued to be active with the organization throughout her life. She eventually became the Assistant Salt Lake County Chairman of the Red Cross and promoted healthy lifestyles to local families. She taught free home health classes that included children’s first aid and nutrition.

Woman on a diving board demonstrating a move to many kids in swimsuits.

Susie Chase (L) teaches a Red Cross swim class, 1936. Salt Lake Telegram.

Susie also volunteered as a swim coach for many years. The Red Cross swim classes were free and were held at locations that still exist today, including the Young Women’s Christian Association. Susie was loved as a coach. When a pool where she had coached for many years was being removed, one of her former students shared memories in the newspaper and quoted Susie’s coaching mantra: “Always finish the race. Don’t give up. Do the best you can- and then kick a little harder.”[5]

Carrie Roberts (1891-1947)

Photo of woman in uniform with hat.

Carrie Roberts. Utah Division of Archives and Records Service.

Carrie Roberts was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a young adult, she sang in the choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral, worked for the City Board of Health, and was a leader in the Utah Nurses Association. She helped promote healthy lifestyles to people in Salt Lake through free hygiene classes for young girls, food baskets for public school students in need, and milk drives for new babies.

In 1917, Carrie Roberts volunteered to be a nurse on the war front. She was stationed in Mars-sur-Allier in France. She described that the patients and staff in the hospital sometimes went months and months without getting paid. They often couldn’t get mail and were missing their families and friends. There were thousands of patients for only a few nurses, so their work schedule was very busy.

After the war, she went to serve at an army base hospital in the U.S., where she fell in love with one of her patients. She married Delavan DeLance Devore on May 18, 1919. They moved to the Midwest, where Carrie passed away in 1947.

Ruby Naegle (1890-1957)

Woman with short bobbed hair in a yearbook photo.

Ruby Naegle as a teacher at the Oneida Academy. Used with permission from Alexis Beckstead.

Ruby Naegle grew up in Toquerville and studied music at the University of Utah. While in college, she was a member of the glee club, Bach society, musical society, and literary society.  She also performed in several plays and operas. The United States had not yet officially entered the war, but many people were still doing things to prepare. At the University of Utah, female students participated in military training drills every Tuesday and Thursday for 20 minutes. Ruby was selected to be an officer leading one of the companies.

After graduating, Ruby was a P.E. teacher at Oneida Academy in Idaho. She also directed the school plays. When given the opportunity to volunteer to be trained as a nurse in the Army, she was in the first group in Utah to sign up. She also encouraged others to enlist and published a powerful call-to-action in the newspaper, urging:

“We have at last this golden opportunity we have been seeking. At last the government is giving girls of America a chance. . . .College girls of Utah, let’s be equal to the college men, who do not hesitate to offer all they have to give. Now that the opportunity has come and our country has evinced a need for us, let’s be up and doing and prove that higher education for women tends toward efficiency and willing service. . . .There is a great deal to be done, both at home and at the front. Let it not be said that the women of this country failed to do their part.”[6]

Ruby continued her passion for music during her service. She became the entertainment director at Fort Lewis in Washington in addition to her nursing responsibilities. After the war, Ruby lost both her husband and baby within months of each other. She decided to move to New York to live with her sister and continue her education at the graduate level.


As these courageous Utah nurses faced dangers and witnessed the trauma of combat, they not only saved lives but also challenged popularly-held conceptions about the role of women in war.

[1] See Colonel Elizabeth A. P. Vane and Sanders Marble, “Contributions of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in World War 1,” Soins: Le Revue de Référence Infirmière (June 2014). The U.S. Navy Nurse Corps similarly had only 160 female nurses on active duty in 1917 but expanded to employ over 1400 women by the armistice on November 11, 1918.

[2] “Utahn at Coblenz Writes: Meets Other Salt Lakers,” Salt Lake Tribune , June 13, 1919, p. 8.

[3]  “‘Wonderful 34 Years’ Ending for School Health Official,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 4, 1954, p. 16.

[4] “Salt Lake Nurses Recall WW1 Days!” Salt Lake Telegram, February 6, 1943, p. 9.

[5] “The Last Lap,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 27, 1997, p. 149.

[6] “Quits School to Be Nurse, Teacher Is Enthusiastic,Salt Lake Tribune, August 5, 1918, p. 12.