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Lillian Kilgus became first nurse assigned to France

By Staff | Mar 14, 2018

PENNSDALE – Career opportunities for women in the early 1900’s were minimal. Seeking ways of getting out of the house were increased when one was the fourth of five daughters.

This is the situation in which Lillian Viola Kilgus found herself. Her baby brother Raymond “Ray” was the only son and his birth completed the family of Henry and Barbara (Keebler) Kilgus.

The family resided at Chippewa, where the father owned and operated lime kilns. The area, also known as the ‘Lime Bluffs,’ is located in the Pennsdale area of Muncy Township.

Lillian, born in 1882, was a nurse at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton when she enlisted with the Army Nurse Corps on March 30, 1918.

Registration for nurses was similar to men. Recruits were called to duty as the need arose, and the need for nurses was especially acute. When the U.S. joined WWI in April 1917, only 403 nurses were registered at the time.

The War Department’s requirements for entering the Army Nurse Corps were: women must have three years experience, be unmarried, Caucasian, 25-30 years of age, and have graduated from a nurses training school.

Local newspapers tracked the ‘comings and goings’ of those in the military. In April, 2018, the Hughesville Mail reported Lillian’s eminent departure when it printed that, “Lillian, daughter of Henry Kilgus of Chippewa, will soon leave for France and is the first nurse from this area to do so.”

Lillian reported to Lakewood, New Jersey, a mobilization station where nurses gathered for assignment to units and foreign destinations.

At the port at Hoboken, Lillian’s unit boarded the Leviathan, a confiscated pleasure ship retrofitted into a troop transport carrier. The ship arrived at Blois, France, on May 6, 1918. Lillian was assigned to Base Hospital #101. According to a 1970 news clipping provided by Dean Kilgus, Lillian was the first charge nurse in the first American Hospital in France. Lillian remained abroad until March 27, 1919. In the meantime, her mother died in the fall of 1918 during the nurses’ 10 months overseas.

Back home by 1920, Lillian continued her nursing career at the Scranton Hospital. Assigned as an operating nurse, she would advance to the position of a supervising registered nurse, and in 1940 was the facility’s Superintendent of Nurses.

During her years in Scranton, Lillian was a member of Gladys Watkins American Legion Post #550. Watkins, also a nurse from the Moses Taylor Hospital, with family residing in Shickshinny, died while in the in France.

Upon retirement, Lillian moved to Hughesville residing with her widowed father and sisters, Miss May and Mrs. Edith George.

The WWI nurse was honored when selected by the Glenn Sharrow American Legion Post to be Parade Marshall for a Memorial Day parade in Hughesville.

Lillian is fondly remembered by niece Barbara Spotts, whose mother, Mrs. Eva Leavy, died in 1936 when she was six years-old. Reportedly, Aunt Lillian would purchase dresses for the holidays for her departed sister’s daughter.

Until his death in 1951, Henry’s daughters cared for him. Eventually the nurse herself required care and in 1970 became a patient in the W. E. Turner Geriatric Unit of the Muncy Valley Hospital.

Later, the nurse resided in Williamsport at the Manley Convalescent Home where she died Feb. 26, 1972 at age 90. She was interred in the Kilgus family plot in Pleasant Hill Cemetery bordering Hughesville.