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May 2015

our heritage

Oral history captured Viola nurse Jennie Brouillard’s experiences from World War I

World War I soldiers march on parade through Moscow in 1917. Contributed by Zach Wnek of Latah County Historical Society

Oral histories are one of our favorite collections of documents here at the Latah County Historical Society. Oral histories are when people sit down together and discuss someone’s life. The discussion is pointed to try to extract the person’s experiences while gathering their unique stories and take on the subject. These discussions are recorded and transcribed, and those recordings and transcriptions are made available to the public for research. In the 1970s and 1980s, LCHS worked hard to create over 300 oral histories with long time local residents who were interested in sharing their stories. In partnership with the University of Idaho, the Latah County Historical Society oral history collection has been digitized. The oral history interviews are available on their website: tal/lcoh/index.html. For this month’s article, I would like to highlight Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard, a local resident who became a nurse in the early part of the 20th Century. Jennie was born in Lawrence, Kansas on November 17, 1886 and moved with her family to Viola as a child. She worked as a field nurse during

World War One. The italicized portion of this article is taken directly from the transcript of the oral history interview. In the transcript, SS stands for Sam Schrager, the interviewer, while JB is inserted for Jennie Brouillard. One final word of warning: Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard discusses her time in an emergency field hospital in France, and some unpleasant details are included. JB: Well whatever they could give us. Sometimes it was an old hospital or church or something. Sometimes, just right out in the open and just set up our tents. Sometimes they, well, always operated in tents. Just put up the tent and… SS: So… JB: Fix an operating room. SS: How big was the staff at the field hospital? JB: Two doctors and two nurses to each operating team. And some boys to fix up the tents and do things like that. And take care of all those stretchers and all that. SS: The men that came in there must have been in pretty bad shape. JB: They didn’t leave any that wasn’t. If they were able to go on back, why they just went right back to the base hospital. Just the ones that we took out shells and things like that, emergency work. Sometimes an eye and sometimes a leg and sometimes whatever was needed. SS: The kinds of injuries that men were getting

there, was it mostly from bullets? JB: Well whatever it was. Mostly bullets, yes. Mostly shrapnel. Taking out shrapnel all the time. Sometimes there was bleeding, we had to put a tourniquet over an arm or a leg or take out shrapnel from, oh some of those you just can’t imagine, sometimes the patient was just full of shrapnel where they’d been shot and we’d have to take that out. Everything that had to be done right away. Something out of their eye, maybe steel out of their eye. Then we’d just put ‘em on the stretcher and send ‘em back to the hospital. …. Later in the interview …. JB: The shells were going over our heads and they come and told us to pack up and go out, well we knew we couldn’t just pack up and leave all the patients there so we just stayed. And after, you know, we got our citation for stayin; … Yes, citation for bravery after it was over, but at the time it was disobeying orders. They told us to move back so many miles behind the lines, we were supposed to… … Earlier in the interview … JB: And after I come home, of course I couldn’t nurse any more. I don’t know, I wasn’t nervous or wasn’t shakey or anything like that, but I just all worked up inside. I didn’t like to take cases, I didn’t, well I just didn’t like to nurse after I got home. I did it some, but it was different. The interview lasts approximately three hours and can be accessed at http://www. Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard went on to live in Walla Walla for many years with her husband. After her husband passed away she moved back to Viola to live with her sister, Fannie Cuthbert Byers. Jennie Cuthbert Brouillard passed away on December 15, 1985 at the age of 99.

The Latah County Historical Society is currently seeking individuals to interview for a new oral history project. If you or somebody you know is interested in participating, contact the Historical Society at (208) 882-1004 or

Latah Eagle, May, 2015