Roses of No Man’s Land online exhibit honors Wisconsin nurses who served in Great War
By Nathalie Nguyen
World War I meant mobilization.
No one learned that more than the Wisconsin nurses, like Helen Bulvosky and Aimee O’Keefe Kinney, who kept injuries at bay while treating soldiers in France and Belgium. They gave first aid and anti-tetanus shots in cycles, providing medical treatment and keeping the patients warm.
There’s no homage more telling than an exhibit dedicated to these women whose service was vital to the war effort. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum opened an online exhibit called The Roses of No Man’s Land, honoring and commemorating these nurses that served during the Great War.
Using photos, letters, and personal writing logs, the exhibit features the stories of World War I nurses from Wisconsin, coinciding with the centennial entry of the U.S into the war. In just a click of a mouse, the website takes you through the daily life of nurses in France and Belgium, illnesses and casualties, fraternization and holidays, and the end of the war through the eyes of these Wisconsinites.
“Madison certainly must be a blue place now that they are notified of the mortalities. We all sympathize with them but the Lord knows we are doing all there is. …The most pathetic thing I hurry against is when the boys wake up from ether and find that an arm or leg has been amputated but like soldiers they bear it bravely,” said Helen Bulvosky in a letter to her parents.
The exhibit notes detailed descriptions of how the wards had to be cleaned and how Christmas was celebrated in France. It is also one of the few exhibits that highlights the role women during the Great War, bringing the stories of two main volunteers to life. During World War I, the United States drafted 4 million men but the number of nurses could only treat one million men, which created medical personnel shortage for the U.S Army.
Aware that she had a heart defect, Madison native Helen Bulvosky served as a registered nurse but died shortly after returning home from France. Aimee O’Keefe Kinney from St. Croix Country was assigned to Base Hospital 50, enduring food shortage abroad.
To commemorate and acknowledge the role of Wisconsin citizens, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum showcases artifacts and personal logs during the Great War for online display. While the exhibit explores life as a nurse, it focuses on the lives of these two volunteers who dedicated their lives to help the war effort.
Nathalie Nguyen is a Summer 2017 intern at the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission.