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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Matthew Gailani
In 1917, just over 100 years ago, the United States officially entered World War I. This was a major moment in American history. America was entering a large war with terrible fighting between many different countries. To help the Allies and the United States win the war, American women served in different roles, both at home and overseas. For example, many women filled jobs in their hometowns that were left by men serving in Europe. This included many jobs in factories and agriculture. Other women joined the military and served overseas as members of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps or Navy Nurse Corps. One of these women was Catherine G. Sinnott of Nashville.
Originally from Middleton, Connecticut, Catherine Sinnott moved to Nashville before the war and trained to become a nurse at St. Thomas Hospital starting around 1907/1908. She graduated a few years later and continued to work as a nurse in Nashville. She worked so hard that she became the chief of the operating room and the assistant superintendent of nurses at St. Thomas Hospital. Things quickly changed, however, after America’s entry into the war. At this point, Catherine prepared for service overseas. Because of her experience, she was able to join the Army Nurse Corps as a member of Vanderbilt Hospital Unit “S,” a group she helped organize with the American Red Cross. This was a group of doctors, enlisted men, and nurses from around Nashville who were sent to operate a hospital in France. Catherine Sinnott was the chief nurse for the group.
Postcards of St. Thomas Hospital from the early and mid-1900s.
Because of her skills as a nurse and an organizer, Catherine was extremely valuable to the American war effort. While in France, she served as the chief nurse of Camp Hospital No. 28 and later served as the chief nurse of the nurse’s camp at Savenay, France. This meant that she managed nearly 1,000 nurses near the front lines. After the armistice was signed in 1918, she supervised the evacuation of more than 7,000 nurses from France.
Photograph of Nurses in Vanderbilt Hospital “S”-Catherine Sinnott is in the first row, third from the left.
This service did not go unnoticed by the nurses Catherine worked with or others. After returning from France, she personally received a citation and Distinguished Service Medal in Washington D.C. from General John J Pershing. The citation read, “her splendid leadership, tireless energy and unselfish devotion to duty were an inspiration to all who came in contact with her.”
After the war, Catherine Sinnott’s service did not end. She continued to serve as a nurse at Camp Dix in New Jersey and later at the army dispensary in Washington, D.C. as a Lieutenant. In 1941, only a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, Catherine Sinnott was promoted to the rank of Captain and became the chief nurse at Camp Blanding, Florida. She continued to serve in this position during World War II until she transferred to Hammond Hospital in Modesto, California to become the chief nurse there. Eventually, she was promoted again to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She retired from the military shortly after World War II in 1946. She passed away six years later in California on December 22, 1952 at the age of 63.
Catherine Sinnott’s life was one dedicated to nursing and military service. She served during two world wars and was an efficient organizer as well as a medical and military professional.
Allies - One of the sides fighting in World War I. It was a group of nations that included The British Empire, France, Russia, and later the United States.
Enlisted - To enroll or be enrolled in the armed services/military.
Armistice - An agreement between two sides to stop fighting.
General John J Pershing - The commanding American general of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Devotion - Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a cause.
What hospital did Catherine Sinnott train at to become a nurse?
What unit did Catherine Sinnott serve with during World War I?
Why do you think Catherine Sinnott was given so much responsibility?
What are some jobs women served in during World War I and II?
Read more about American women during wartime by reading the following blogs:
5.11- Locate the major countries of the Central and Allied Powers during World War I, including: Austria-Hungary, France,, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia.
5.12- Describe the impact of U.S. involvement on World War I.
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.