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.