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Quilt Honors a World War II Nurse's Life

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Photo credit: Neita Cecil

Story originally published in The Dallas Chronicle

In 1943, at age 18, Doris Smith joined the Army Nurse Corps, signing the required pledge to stick with the corps for the duration of the war, plus six months afterward. She studied and worked as an Army cadet nurse at Lancaster Hospital, in her hometown of Lancaster, Penn.

The civilians she treated were not allowed to tip their nurses, but they were allowed to gift a handkerchief, which was often a hand-stitched creation. "Of course, we weren’t allowed to accept gifts from patients," Doris said. "In those days patients stayed in the hospital much longer than they do now and you got attached to them." People didn’t have money to give gifts anyway. The handkerchiefs "meant a lot to the people that made them, and that they’d give them to us, they appreciated everything we did for them."

She’d collected a stack of handkerchiefs from her nursing days, and thought she’d sold them all in the estate sale she had before she moved to assisted living. But awhile ago, she came across a handful of handkerchiefs at her apartment, and the idea was born to turn them into a quilt. 

The quilt was the handiwork of Joanne Smith, who also lives at The Springs (and is no relation to Doris), and Corliss Marsh. Joanne touched up some of the hand-stitched handkerchiefs before hand-stitching them into a quilt. Doris said, "These hankies mean a lot and Joanne has done such a good job."

The quilt features nine handkerchiefs on the front and one on the back. The one on the back isn’t from the war era. It’s an unfinished start of a quilt from Doris’s friend Marie Carlisle. Doris wanted it included "So Marie would always know we were thinking of her."