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Packing: For Summer Camp—or as an Army Nurse in Europe

Joan, who came from a working class family, would teach nature study as a camp counselor every summer to earn money.   When she is 15, she is getting ready to go for two months to Arden Shore Camp, Lake Bluff, Ill.

Saturday, June 25, 1938

. . . Went out with Daddy tonight. Went [to the] store to get face powder. Daddy said may as well get what else I need for camp in way of beauty junk too. And did I—at least nine other things! You should have seen the look on Daddy’s face! He’s never going to risk that again.

Her poor father (my grandfather):  I guess he never made that generous offer again!

Joan at camp in 1939, "Trying to look philosophical."

Joan at camp in 1939, “Trying to look philosophical.”

She was not the only female to pack for a long journey. Two months at camp pales in comparison to the journey army nurses made during the war.

Slate recently published a fascinating article on what WWII army nurses packed as they headed for Europe.

In her article, Rebecca Onion writes, “Patricia Britton, whose mother, Laura Rodriguez, served from 1944 through 1946. Rodriguez , who was 23 when she enlisted, had worked for less than a year at a hospital in Gallup, N.M. when she entered basic training for army nurses in Texas. She received the list while making preparations to fly with her unit to Germany, in December, 1944. That late in the war, the number of Army nurses in the European theater was at its height (in June 1945, there were 17,345). The list, with its observations about the way things were in Europe, reflects the experiences of the nurses who had gone overseas before Rodriguez.”

Here is one of the sheets of typewritten information, suggesting what to bring.

This list was Laura Rodriquez, shared by her daughter, Patricia Britton.

This list was Laura Rodriquez, shared by her daughter, Patricia Britton.


I like how it asks, concerning watches, “Can you depend on yours?”

As Onion comments, “The list is full of practical advice. The nurses were told that they were allowed 175 lbs. in total luggage, including their bedding. They were to bring items that were hard to find overseas (shoes, hose, Kotex) and things that would keep them warm (woolen underwear, pajamas, flannel sheets).

Some recommended items that were meant to boost morale: cloth to fashion curtains to “brighten up” nurses’ quarters; a book to contribute to everyone’s entertainment aboard ship and in the hospital.

The list also reminds nurses about protocol. They were to dress in full uniform on their way to their departure, as “the public not only observes you closely but critically.” Small matters like the question of lipstick (bring “plenty”) and nail polish (“polish brighter than Windsor [presumably the now-discontinued Revlon shade] is taboo in some theatres”) reflect the Army’s need to control the way its nurses appeared to the world.”

Packing suggestions are then listed for the army nurses.

Listed Packing Suggestions for Army Nurses in 1944.
Listed Packing Suggestions for Army Nurses in 1944.

Onion informs us that “Rodriguez served in the European Theatre in the Rhineland Campaign, and was honorably discharged at the rank of First Lieutenant.”

What a lot to pack! But, of course, they had a long way to go, for an unknown amount of time.  And some would never return.

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