One more Aboriginal Canadian War hero to tell you about. Well, sort of. Edith Anderson Monture was an Aboriginal Canadian but, due in large part to racist policies in Canada, she is an American War hero. The racism she endured drags on today in other ways, which we will get to later.
Ms. Anderson was born in 1890 (or 1891 by some sources) on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. She was a gifted student and applied to several nursing schools in Ontario. At the time the federal Indian Act placed restrictions on the ability of status Aboriginals to pursue higher education. And so she was not accepted into any Canadian nursing program.
And this is where some of the racism continues for Ms. Anderson. Veteran’s Affairs, a department of the Government of Canada refers to Ms. Anderson on two different web pages. Her struggle to get accepted into a Canadian nursing school is described as:
Edith Anderson Monture, a young woman from the Six Nations Grand River Reserve in Ontario, served in a different way. In 1917, this nurse who had been working in the United States went overseas to help the sick and wounded in an American military hospital in France. – Veteran’s Affairs, Indigenous Veterans (accessed March 3, 2017)
Well, okay not described at all. Completely brushed over. But then they do describe her efforts toward education on their Nurses Overseas page:
The youngest of eight children, Edith Anderson was born in 1890 on the Six Nations Grand River Reserve. As a young woman, she was determined to become a nurse, but found few opportunities to train in Canada. She therefore studied at the New Rochelle School of Nursing in New York State and, after becoming a registered nurse in 1914, worked at an American elementary school. – Veteran’s Affairs, Nurses Overseas (accessed March 3, 2017)
Her inability to be educated as a nurse in Canada due to Indian Act restrictions becomes “found few opportunities to train in Canada.” Whitewashing her experience, minimizing the racism she faced, is really doing quite a dishonour to this woman who was determined to achieve her goals in life, despite the obstacles (racist and otherwise) that were placed before her.
So Ms. Anderson did turn to the U.S. and did become a nurse, as she intended. In fact, she was the first in her class at the Rochelle Nursing School in New York. After graduating, she worked as a nurse at a private school in New Rochelle.
The United Stated entered World War I in 1917. When they went to war, Ms. Anderson volunteered as a Nursing Sister with the U.S. Army Nursing Corps. She was sent to France in Feb. 1918, but before she left she returned to Six Nations to visit. She was given her ceremonial Mohawk clothing there in case she died overseas (and would be buried in them).
Anderson worked as a nurse at Buffalo Base Hospital 23, at Vittel, France for over a year. Anderson kept a diary during her service and she spoke of the long working hours working with patients who had been gassed (the Germans had been using mustard gas, a nerve toxin), walking through battlegrounds looking for the surviving wounded, and of young men who never made it home again.
After the war, Ms. Anderson returned home, married and had four children. She worked as a nurse and midwife in Brantford, Ontario until she was in her 60s. She passed at nearly 106 years old, in 1996. The ban, which prevented her education in Canada, was not corrected until the 1960s, when Ms. Anderson would have been retired in her 70s.
Because she served as a nurse during World War I, she was the first Aboriginal Canadian woman who was entitled to vote in federal elections. She was one of the only Aboriginal women with the right for decades and she would often encourage other Aboriginal women to attain their right to vote as well. Aboriginal women were not given the right to vote, again until the 1960s, when Ms. Anderson would have been in her 70s.
More information about Edith Anderson Monture:
The Canadian Great War Project mistakenly lists her as a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Nurses who served were given the right to vote, which was not retracted on discharge under the Military Service Act, 1917. This same right was not extended to Aboriginal soldiers, whose rights as Canadian citizens lasted only as long as they were enlisted.
There is a street and a park named after her in Brantford, Ontario.
To learn more about Edith Anderson Monture, refer to the following sources (many of which supplied the information contained in the profile above):
Book: A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service, Glassford and Shaw, UBC Press