Pandemic at Home: Volunteer Nurses, The Ripleys

By Ashley Henrickson

“There are homes where the entire family is laid up, and no nurses available. It is to meet cases of that character that volunteer nurses are urgently required.” —Lethbridge Herald, Oct 21, 1917

Many local women answered calls like these and entered emergency hospitals or the homes of ill-stricken families to care for the sick. Among them was Elisabeth Ripley of Lethbridge who nursed her brother-in-law’s family through the disease. Tragically, while performing this service she contracted and later died from the flu.

Elisabeth’s death orphaned her three young children whose father, Alvin Ripley, had been killed in the First World War a year earlier. This family’s tragic story demonstrates how closely the war and flu were tied and the lasting impacts both had on young children.

After their parents’ deaths, the three Ripley children, Anna (8), Robert (5) and Ruth (3), were placed in the care of their uncle, Blair Ripley. In 1921, Anna (then age 11) was listed as head of household at a residence on 1240 5A Avenue South. The only adult listed in the census record was their maid, Elsie Filmer; their uncle had moved to Ontario.

Current newspaper searches provide little information about Anna’s adult life, but Ruth and Robert both followed in their parents’ footsteps. Like her mother, Ruth provided health care to others. She attended the University of Alberta and became a registered dietitian, before serving as Director of Dietetics at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. She married and had one daughter. Like his father, Robert entered the military. During the Second World War, he served as director of air operations at air force headquarters. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946. In 1957, Robert was killed along with seven other passengers in a plane crash.

You can learn more about the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 in the Pandemic at Home exhibit at the Galt Museum & Archives until October 14, 2018.