World War I nurse Gladys Watkins and the American Legion Post in Scranton, PA That Was Named in Her Honor
By Janice Gavern
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Elizabeth Gwladys Watkins was two years old when she, her parents and her infant sister came to Pennsylvania from Aberdase, South Wales, UK, in 1893. Seven years later her grandmother joined them. The family lived on Green Street in Edwardsville.
By the 1900 census, the family included two boys, Griffith Watkins, age 4, and Evan Gwillym Watkins, age 2. Ten years later they still lived in Edwardsville, but on Church Street. Two more children were added, Cecile, and William G. Their grandmother, Elizabeth Davis, was still living with them. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 the family moved to East Butler Street in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania.
Gladys Watkins stopped using her first name, and changed the spelling on her middle name. She was studying to be a nurse at the nursing school at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, PA. When she graduated in 1915, she was identified as Gladys Watkins.
Nurse Watkins worked in Scranton until January 4, 1918. She and a number of other Scranton nurses enlisted in the Army as nurses to care for our soldiers. From January 18, 1918 to August 18, 1918, she was assigned to Base Hospital 1, Ft Sam Houston, TX. From then until September 2, 1918, she was in mobility status on her way to her station, Base Hospital 56, in France. She travelled on the British ship, RMS Saxonia.
Unfortunately, on October 16, 1918 – a little over a month later, she died of pneumonia, a complication from the Spanish flu. She was buried in Saint Mihiell American Cemetery, Plot A, Row B, Grave 17, Thiacourt, France. A white cross marks her resting place. A memorial stone was later erected in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Shickshinny, PA.
Back in France in March 1919, a caucus met and outlined the creation of a veterans’ service organization. In September that year, Congress chartered the American Legion.
With news of the creation of the American Legion, friends of Gladys Watkins met at Moses Taylor Hospital and discussed setting up a Nurses Post in Scranton. Twenty- one nurses were listed on the original document. They chose to name it after their friend, Gladys Watkins.
The temporary charter was received September 14, 1920. The nurses met at the home of Ethel Edna Smalley where Miss Mary Hart was elected the first Commander, and Mrs. Smalley was elected Adjutant.
The Gladys Watkins Post became involved in the community. All Posts activities are based on what the American Legion calls its Four Pillars. They are: 1- Our veterans, 2- Our youth, 3- A strong national defense, and 4- Americanism. Formally, they are known as: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation; Children and Youth; National Security; and Americanism. Add to that, continuing to serve our country and our comrades through mutual helpfulness.
Two final things needed to be considered, increased membership, and fund raising. Without money the Post could not provide help when they wanted to do something.
The Neil Davis Post invited the nurses to be guests at a luncheon at the Hotel Casey in November 1920. In June 1921, they were able to donate the $100 they raised from the Memorial Day poppy drive to the West Mountain Sanitarium.
The Lt. Col. Frank J. Duffy Post joined with the nurses to put on a play called Duncan’s Destiny in January 1922. It was performed at the YMHA Auditorium. That June, the Post met at the State Hospital nurses home to finalize arrangements for their second annual informal dance to be held on a Monday night at the Elks Club.
Every year, the incoming officers would be formally announced and confirmed. Many members attended those meetings, which were held at larger venues. Among the locations were the Hotel Casey, Hotel Jermyn, Castle Restaurant, Glider Diner, Engineers Club, Twin Grill, Dipre, Scranton Country Club, Europa Lounge, and Spencer’s in Dunmore.
At that point, the women really became involved in fundraising efforts. Card parties were the fund raisers of choice.
A card party was held in Paderewski Hall, 429 Lackawanna Avenue, located above the Woolworths store. Another was held at the Engineers Club in 1932. Bridge and pinochle were played by the 100 people who were present. The District Adjutant and the Deputy District Commander attended in support.
The Post made plans for a card party held January 31, 1934 at the Koch Conley Rooms. The money raised was used for their child welfare efforts. The effort enabled them to provide Christmas Cheer for 60 children of ex-servicemen and two nurses at the National Soldiers Welfare home in Dayton, OH.
On another occasion, a card party was held at the Scranton Spring Brook Water Service Company to benefit the child welfare fund. Another successful affair was a card party to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. The room was decorated with flags and banners. There were prizes for high scores and door prizes as well. It was reported that refreshments were served to 260 participants.
Besides their support of children through their child welfare fund, every year they awarded American Legion medals and honors for outstanding students at a number of schools in the city. The medals were based on courage, scholarship, leadership, service, honor, companionship, and character.
Every year they decorated nurses’ graves for Memorial Day and sold poppies. At the Armistice Day Dinner held at the Hotel Casey in 1931, the nurses were honored by the Disabled American Veterans. Their Commander was presented with a bouquet and the members of the DAV stood at attention to honor them while The Rose of No Man’s Land was sung.
They participated in larger Legion activities too. For example, in 1934, a banquet and parade was held at and near the Hotel Casey to honor the national Commander of the American Legion, Edward Hayes. 500 people attended the banquet; the Gladys Watkins Post attended as a body.
The Post grew over the years. From the 21 women who started it, in 1946, they had a big membership drive and initiated 45 new members. That brought the membership total to 104. At the dinner, Frank Murray, past state Legion Commander, spoke on the functions of the Legion and the duties of its members. 75 members attended and enjoyed the candlelight tea that followed.
They were doing things and were still the only all-woman Post in Lackawanna County until an interesting newspaper article appeared in 1949. The Gladys Watkins Post helped organize an auxiliary composed of the husbands of some of the members. They predated the current efforts to have an auxiliary that included men by nearly 50 years.
In June 1950 they reported that their Cancer Dressing Unit supplied 35,000 dressings the previous year. In December that year, they reported that they contributed 106 pints of blood through the Red Cross.
During the flood of 1955, a dozen nurses staffed the Red Cross station at Ash and Union streets in Scranton to provide first aid. It was reported that some of the nurses paid for babysitters so they could help. Some worked their regular hospital shifts and helped out too.
They held readings as fund raisers. In 1965, it was Hello Dolly. At another they had a reading of Fiddler on the Roof.
The Gladys Watkins Post continued into the 1980s, but with fewer women every year. The few remaining members finally chose to close the Post and the members who wished to remain active joined the Keystone Post. All Posts included women veterans by the time the Gladys Watkins Post disbanded.
They were a remarkable group that spanned World War I through the Vietnam War. They did what they believed was the right thing to do, and they continued to serve after their enlistments were over. Their dedication and service helped shape our community. Below are additional newspaper articles and photographs.