Nurse Mary W. Arvin

Historic Marker #2241 in Henderson County notes the location of the home of famed nurse Mary W. Arvin.

On April 21, 1879, Mary was born in Henderson, Kentucky, to William Meade and Beattie Towles Arvin. In 1904, she graduated from the School of Nursing at the Owensboro City Hospital.

In June 1917, Mary decided to join an American unit heading to Europe for World War I as a nurse. She received the American Red Cross Badge #10433. Traveling to Dannes-Camiers, France, Nurse Arvin joined the Harvard Unit Base Hospital No. 5 in July 1917. German airplanes attacked this hospital base in September. Mary wrote a letter to her parents recounting the incident. On October 14, 1917, the "Henderson Daily Gleaner" published the letter. In it, she wrote, "It was a beautiful moon light night about 11:30. I was sitting here in my ward at the table when I heard, oh, such loud reports, one right after the other. It shocked me so that it knocked me out of my chair."

In November 1917, the Base Hospital No. 5 moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer to take over the duties of British General Hospital No. 13. Nurse Arvin and her unit would remain there until being relieved of their duties in January 1919. On June 20, 1918, German airplanes assaulted Base Hospital No. 5. Arvin received official recognition from Britain, France, and the United States for her efforts during this air attack. She was one of only twenty-eight Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre from the war.

The First World War ended on November 11, 1918. On March 23, 1919, Nurse Arvin arrived back on American soil. Several days later, she returned to her hometown of Henderson, Kentucky. Throughout 1919, Mary made appearances and speeches relating to her service during the war.

She continued to work in nursing for the rest of her life. On March 28, 1925, Mary married William H. Tiller in Orlando, Florida. Like Mary, William also served during the First World War. Unfortunately, he died within a year of their marriage. Then, in the early 1930s, Mary married another World War I veteran, Robert Henry Sissions. He died in 1946.

Mary died in Henderson on September 9, 1947. She was buried in the Fernwood Cemetery there. The Commonwealth of Kentucky commemorated her in the capitol in 2006 with a portrait. She was the most decorated female Kentucky veteran from World War I.

Images

Mary Arvin

Mary Arvin

Mary W. Arvin is shown here in her nurse uniform. Courtesy of the Kentucky National Guard. View File Details Page

Mary Arvin

Mary Arvin

This portrait of Mary Arvin was painted by Mary Lou Hall in 2006 for the Kentucky Commission on Women. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Word War I Helmet

Word War I Helmet

United States soldiers in World War I wore helmets like this one. Mary Arvin served as a frontlines nurse during that conflict. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Trench Knife

Trench Knife

Brutal combat with new technological advances in arms like machine guns and tanks and traditional weaponry like this trench knife led to terrible casualties in World War One. Kentuckian Mary Arvin worked tirelessly as a nurse to help soldiers recover from combat wounds. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

World War I Map

World War I Map

This historic military map shows the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in World War I. Mary Arvin became decorated for heroism as a nurse in the conflict. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Henderson County Courthouse

Henderson County Courthouse

Mary Arvin was born in Henderson and was buried there in Fernwood Cemetery. The Henderson County courthouse is shown in this photograph from the 1930s. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Whitney Todd, “Nurse Mary W. Arvin,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed May 23, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/401.

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