On a mid-April evening in 1918, the ladies of Union College’s South Hall gathered in the chapel for an unusual vespers program. During the proceedings an offering was collected intended to support a “a little French orphan girl of about eight or ten years” for one year. Before the service ended, the women encircled two of their own, Martha Doege and Maybelle Lippincott, and sang “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” It was a farewell for the two young women who were headed to France with Nebraska’s Base Hospital 49.

Base Hospital 49 originated out of the United States military’s shortage of medical personnel in 1917. American medical professionals who volunteered their services in France in 1915 and 1916, recognized the value of working with teams who were already acquainted with each other. Consequently, they encouraged American medical schools to organize base hospitals for service in France. Later, the Army would set up its own base hospitals, but Base Hospital 49 was the next to the last of the first fifty hospitals, which were privately organized, funded, and equipped under the supervision of the Red Cross. The University of Nebraska College of Medicine began planning Base Hospital 49 in September of 1917. At its peak, the hospital staff numbered nearly 400 with 100 nurses. Plans called for 1,000 beds with the possibility of expanding to 2,000.

Nurses were recruited by the Red Cross. The primary requirements were that they be unmarried and state-licensed, but as the war progressed and the need for more nurses became urgent, these criteria were often waived. Once enlisted, the nurses were members of the military–albeit without rank–and wore military-issue uniforms. At first, they were paid $50 per month state-side and $60 overseas, later both wages were increased by $10.

Martha Clara Doege (born October 15, 1893), the daughter of German immigrant farmers who lived in Titonka, Iowa, graduated from Oak Park Academy in Nevada, Iowa, and likely trained as a nurse in an unknown location before enrolling at Union College in the fall of 1914. She graduated in absentia with a Bachelor of Arts (literary course) degree in 1918. Maybelle Lippincott (born December 16, 1892), also the daughter of farmers, came from Niwot, Colorado. She attended Campion Academy and took two nursing courses at Boulder Sanitarium before enrolling at Union College in 1916.

When reporting the young women’s departure, the April 1918 Educational Messenger described Doege as “calm, self-possessed, capable, she is equal to any occasion. Alone, she has stood firmly for the truths we hold dear, and is anxious to ‘do her bit’ for her Saviour as well as for her country.” Lippincott was known for her friendly, “sunny, winning ways.”

In Theater

Base Hospital 49 mobilized on March 25, 1918, in Omaha. On April 23, 1918, Doege enlisted in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lippincott may have enlisted at the same time. In addition, three nurses from the Nebraska Sanitarium, housed in North Hall–Lillian Albrecht, Anna Roggenses, and Sadie Anderson–also enlisted. While the hospital deployed to Fort Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa, for training, some of the nurses must have been sent to Camp Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, as this was the location from which the two women wrote to Union College and later mentioned in subsequent letters from New York City. Doege worked in the surgical wards and operating rooms, Lippincott specialized in pneumonia patients. By August 1918, all 100 nurses of Base Hospital 49 were housed in the Arlington Hotel in New York City.

The first installment of Base Hospital 49 shipped out from New York City on July 14, 1918. Nearly six weeks later, on August 26, all 100 nurses departed New York City en route to France via England on the ship Llanstephen Castle. For natives of the landlocked Great Plains, the ocean crossing, which took at least ten days, was rough with high waves most days. Their convoy included a battleship and two torpedo boats, in addition to the troop transport.

When Base Hospital 49 finally reached the war zone, it was assigned to Allerey, a commune (administrative unit similar to a township in the United States) in central France. Allerey was designated a medical center. In all, at least six base hospitals were eventually set up in the center, sharing a “telephone and telegraph office, a bank, a chapel, a section for the quartermaster and another for motor transport. There was housing for personnel (tents and wooden barracks), as well as dental facilities, centralized kitchens and dining halls” (Holt, 206). The Army’s original idea was for each hospital to develop specialties. Under this plan, Base Hospital 49 focused on cases of influenza, pneumonia, otolaryngological problems, psychiatric issues, and “grave surgical” patients. At the peak of its operation, the hospital cared for 1,950 patients at one time.

As Base Hospital 49 was dismantled following its closure on January 20, 1919, Lippincott and five to seven other nurses were granted six-days leave during which they traveled throughout France. They surveyed the war-damaged buildings in numerous towns, and toured empty trenches and barbed wire barricades. Returning to Allerey, Lippincott found orders transferring her to the 27th Evacuation Hospital in Germany. Once again, she traveled through devasted land to her destination in Coblenz, Germany, where she nursed pneumonia patients in a Red Cross hospital. She later wrote, “No one, until he sees it, can fully realize the destruction of the land and property in this region.” Four months later, she retraced her steps on her way home and noted that already the land was recovering, trenches filled, and the debris of war cleared. She continued, “The fields were glowing with the beautiful red poppies. Thus the last picture I have of the front is a great field of poppies.”


About the same time Lippincott was sent to Germany, Doege returned to the United States in April 1919 with other Base Hospital 49 personnel, this time sailing on the Canopic (Lillian Albrecht returned at the same time). The hospital was demobilized on May 7, 1919, at Camp Dodge, Iowa; however, Doege was not discharged until July 19, at which time she was at Camp Sheridan, Illinois.

Following the war, Doege returned to a quieter life. She never again worked as a nurse, likely because she suffered some sort of disability. Between October 24, 1923 and August 13, 1924, she resided in the Pacific Branch of the United States Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles, California. Her antiquated diagnosis can best be described as chronic endocarditis with some sort of enlargement of the heart. She married a clothing cleaner, Edgley Buckly McMahn, on July 19, 1927, in Oakland, California, and gave birth to two children, Edgley, Jr. and Sally. In the 1940 U. S. Federal Census, she was listed as a widow, but Edgley McMahn, Sr. did not die until 1970, so it is more likely that they divorced. Doege was also active in the Oakland Post of the American Legion. On January 23, 1949, she married builder James MacFarland, a short-lived marriage as she died on August 28, 1952, in Oakland, California, after a three-week illness.

For Lippincott, her World War I adventure marked just the beginning of many throughout her life. She returned to Union College in January of 1920 and graduated from the “Academic” course the following spring. She married classmate Charles F. Larsen (who graduated from Union College in 1922) and together they served as missionaries in China for sixteen years. They were among expatriates imprisoned by the Japanese in the Stanley Interment Camp in Hong Kong. After six months in the camp, they were allowed to return to the United States in 1942 aboard the Gripsholm* following a prisoner exchange. They supervised the Atlanta Dental Home for six years; however, Charles Larsen never regained his health after his prison experience and died in 1949. Maybelle Lippincott Larsen died in Cobb, Georgia, on February 19, 1962.

As for the little French orphan the ladies of South Hall intended to support, no report was ever published.

*This ship carried home at least nineteen Adventist missionaries along with more than 800 personnel from fifty-one mission societies evacuated because of the war.