Friday, March 9, 2018
Angel of the Yukon
We all know the Iditarod race is a recreation of the famous run when dog mushers struggled to get serum from Nenana to Nome to save all those children who suffered from Diphtheria.
But there is more to the story than that. While researching more on the reasons dogs were used rather than planes, I came across several references to a nurse who was seriously involved in this event but mostly behind the scenes.
Her name? Emily Morgan, a woman who became a nurse in 1908 when she graduated from Missouri Methodist Hospital in St. Joseph Missouri. Later she served in India, Panama, in Europe and Australia during World War I, Wichita, and in 1924, the Red Cross assigned her to run the hospital in Nome after serving in Unalakleet for one year. She was there when the doctor originally diagnosed the infection as tonsillitis but she recognized the symptoms as diphtheria because she had contracted during her earlier assignment as a school nurse in Wichita right after World War I.
Once he was convinced it was diphtheria, he sent out the call and the mushers responded because the only planes in Fairbanks were in such bad shape they could not be flown. They closed down the schools and other meeting places to help prevent the spread of diphtheria. Before the batch of serum arrived, they administered the five year old stock they had, not knowing if it was viable.
When the serum arrived, she was the one who went house to house to administer the serum to as many of the 1400 as she could. She was warmly dressed in layers including a fur parka and fur boots. She carried a bag with a flashlight, thermometer, needles, serum, and tongue depressor as she climbed over snow piles to get to the mostly native families whose children were effected by the disease. She prayed with mothers and helped fathers build coffins in her journey. She rewarded children who accepted the shot with candy and encouraged those who feared it.
It was not just children who contracted the disease. Adults did too. There is a story of a miner who broke quarantine to visit a lady of the night and Emily entered the red light district to provide serum to those women. Emily was willing to go places where proper single women normally avoided in an effort to make sure anyone who was stricken or possibly exposed had the serum.
She continued working in Alaska for another 20 years before she retired to Kansas where she was born. She died in 1960 but not before sharing her story with others. Often women are forgotten in history but I'm glad to have read about this woman.
Let me know what you think.