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Charlotte Baenen: 1881-1918

Posted January 26, 2021

My name is Charlotte Baenen, daughter of John and Mary Baenen, one of 11 of their children. I believe being in a large family gave me a gift for caring for others, so when I grew up, I decided I wanted to become a nurse.

In 1907 I finished my nurses training and I began my career; early on using my skills to help with my father whose health started to fail him in 1911. After his passing in September of 1911, I continued living at home with my mother and contributed my pay as a nurse to the family bills.

When our country became involved in World War 1, I joined the American Red Cross as a nurse, and was kept in Green Bay to work the war effort here. In August of 1918 I started reading about a horrible new illness spreading through Europe and England, the Spanish Influenza. Green Bay was still safe, it had not made its way here yet. It was basically in the East or on bases.

Fear of the Spanish Flu hit Green Bay in late September. The Bluejackets, a Navy band from Great Lakes Naval Training station was touring the country and arrived in town with four members ill. The ill musicians were admitted into St. Vincent Hospital where others contracted the disease. DeLairs Cafe’ on Washington Street served the band breakfast and lunch, and the Beaumont Hotel served them dinner, continuing the spread of the disease.

By October 3rd, the State Health Department told all parents to keep their children home if they had a cough or a sneeze, and all deaths caused by Spanish Flu had to be private.

We nurses received training on how to properly wear masks, to wash hands between patients, along with receiving throat sprays to aid in preventing us from getting it. Being an American Red Cross Nurse, I was sent to homes with people who were showing signs of the deadly illness. I feared for my life every time I made a home visit.

On October 5th, I started feeling tired and feverish and Dr. William Bartran ordered me to bed and not to return to my duties until I was recovered. I never recovered…my breathing became a raspy cough and by noon on October 12, I passed away.

Due to the state ban on large funerals, there was no wake or prayer service at my mother’s home. There was a simple ceremony at my grave.

The Spanish Flu continued in Green Bay and Brown County until May of 1919, with the worst months being October and November. Over 350 people died from the illness in the county, I being one of them.