Heritage! Dittrick celebrates MuseumWeek with WWI Lakeside Unit

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Crile and staff of the Lakeside Unit

It’s #heritageMW this Thursday, and the Dittrick has a lot to celebrate! Cleveland’s Humanities Festival kicks off next week with the theme Remembering War, and the Dittrick will host an April 7th guest talk by Heather Perry: “Feeding War: Gender, Health, and the Mobilized Kitchen in WWI Germany.” In addition to this event, the museum will open a temporary exhibit on the Lakeside Unit, Base Hospital No. 4, out of Cleveland, Ohio, was the first contingent of the United States Army to see active duty in Europe in the First World War.  Come and find out more about General George Crile, Chief of Surgery–and later, one of the founders of Cleveland Clinic Hospital! Read a brief about this important part of Cleveland’s (and Dittrick’s) heritage, and visit the Lakeside Unit website for more. The Dittrick exhibit will be up through spring and into summer.

The Lakeside Unit: Cleveland Medicine in World War I

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The Lakeside Nursing Unit is received by King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace

Organization of this medical unit was initiated in 1914, more than two years before the US entered the war in 1917.  American Ambassador to France, Myron T. Herrick, asked Dr. George Crile, Chief of Surgery at Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland, to organize a surgical team to study medical conditions in France and tend to injured soldiers.  Dr. Crile drew on the personnel of Lakeside Hospital to staff the unit, which was based for three months in 1915 at the American Ambulance in Paris.  This group of seven physicians and four nurses performed their duties under an entirely neutral platform and set the stage for the formation of similar units from all over the country to serve on the battlefield.

George W. Crile, Sr. (1864-1943), gained important experience during medical service in both the Spanish American War (1898-99) and World War I (1914-18). In the latter conflict, Crile led the Lakeside Unit, a Cleveland hospital contingent that served first at the Ambulance Americaine, or American Military Hospital, in Paris (1915) and later at Base Hospital No. 4 in Rouen, France (1917-18). Crile perceived an opportunity to continue research upon shock.

Crile took a small group of Lakeside Hospital surgeons, nurses, and technicians to Paris, where for three months they staffed the Ambulance Americaine, beginning in January, 1915. During Crile’s service in Paris, several noted surgeons visited to observe surgery, particularly Crile’s blood transfusion technique. These included Berkeley Moynihan of Britain and Alexis Carrel of France, who developed a widely used antiseptic solution.

In the summer of 1915, after Crile returned to Cleveland, Surgeon General W. C. Gorgas asked him to outline a plan for organizing and equipping a base hospital unit for service should the United States enter the war. Crile’s plan became the model for the Lakeside Unit, as well as those sponsored by Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other universities.

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Lakeside Unit Nurses

One of the early pioneers in the field of anesthesia was Agatha Hodgins RN. Agatha Cobourg Hodgins was born in 1877 in Toronto, Canada where she received her early education and graduated from junior college. Her father was a conservative and prosperous Episcopalian clergyman who expected her to participate in church activities considered proper for a young lady.  Hodgins was too enterprising and decided that this was not the life she wanted so she left home and immigrated to the United States.  She enrolled in Boston City Hospital School of Nursing.  After graduating in 1900, she followed a classmate Calvina MacDonald to work as a head nurse in the private pavilion at Lakeside Hospital.

In Cleveland, Hodgins came to the attention of Dr. George Crile, chief of surgery at Lakeside Hospital (now University Hospitals of Cleveland). Dr. Crile was doing research in surgical shock. Crile “recognized in her the person who should be asked to take responsibility of anesthesia work.  One morning in 1908 while making rounds I drew Miss Hodgins aside and presented to her what amounted to an annunciation.  She had received no warning about the plan to make her my special anesthetist but she told me promptly that she would undertake it if I would remember always that she was giving her best… and I never had any occasion to be disappointed in her work.”  She traveled with Crile and the Lakeside Unit to France during WWI.

Jennifer Nieves, archivist at the Dittrick Museum, shares this compelling story through lectures and a series of exhibits using first hand accounts recorded in Crile’s personal diaries and photographs taken by members of the Unit. Visit the Dittrick and see the exhibit!

Published by

Brandy Schillace

Historian and author Brandy Schillace, PhD, is Editor for Medhum Fiction | Daily Dose, Research Associate and Public Engagement at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, as well as Managing Editor of the medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry.

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