Elizabeth Collins Lee: 20th Century Nurse and WWI Heroine


Photo of a nurse in WWI Army Nurse Corp uniform. Courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History.

While sharing stories of Richard and Elizabeth Lee with visitors to Sully Historic Site, I’ve become curious about the lives of the Lee children and their descendants.  Using historical resources available online, I’ve discovered a treasury of information.  Particularly notable  is a female descendent whose life reflected the tradition of public service prevalent in the Lee family.

Elizabeth Collins Lee was the great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee and his wife, also named Elizabeth Collins Lee. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress, and Sully was built during his ownership of the land. Elizabeth, his great granddaughter, was the granddaughter of Richard’s second son, Zaccheus Collins Lee. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 31, 1870 to Zaccheus’s son, Richard Henry Lee, and Isabelle George Wilson.

Richard Henry Lee was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. Historic records show that in the summer of Elizabeth’s birth, he was married and employed as a retail grocery merchant. By 1880, Richard and Isabelle had returned to their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and little Elizabeth had two younger brothers, six-year-old Richard Henry and two-month-old Joseph Collins. Elizabeth’s father died when the children were all quite young in March 1883, and they lost their mother nine years later in September 1892.

As a girl, Elizabeth attended the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation, a Catholic school for girls. She graduated in 1896 from the University of Maryland Faculty of Physics Training School for Nurses in Baltimore. Established in 1889, it was one of the nation’s early formal nursing programs and was originally directed by Louisa Parsons, a graduate of the Florence Nightingale Training School.  The school was located at University Hospital at Lombard and Green Streets, the present day location of the University of Maryland Health Sciences Library. Elizabeth also pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins in psychiatry, a very new field of medicine at the time.

A 1904 city directory and the 1910 Federal Census both show that Elizabeth was employed as a nurse and living in Baltimore. By 1910, Elizabeth had become the first University of Maryland School of Nursing graduate employed by the Baltimore City Health Department, joining its newly formed Tuberculosis Division. She joined the Red Cross on Nov. 2, 1911, and was later described in a University Hospital article about alumnae as “an ardent suffragist.”

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A memorial published about Elizabeth following her death in 1927 described a heroic time for her from 1915 to 1920. In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Elizabeth joined the American branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild to provide first aid and emergency services, giving “every moment of her time, and all her strength, — sewing and laboring weekly until she was sent overseas, June 11th, 1918, and after her return, until August 1st, 1920.”

Elizabeth tried to volunteer as a nurse for the British Expeditionary Forces in June 1917, but after receiving all her inoculations and purchasing her own overseas wardrobe, she learned that she had not been selected. However, by May of the following year, she was enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was on duty at Base Hospital No. 45 in Blois, France on July 1, 1918.  She volunteered for field service, and on July 15, 1918 was assigned to Evacuation Hospital No. 4 with the 42nd Infantry Division. She remained with them until Dec. 1, 1918, when Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was ordered with the Army of Occupation to Treves, Germany. During its time in France, the 42nd Division participated in six major campaigns and incurred 1-out-of-16 casualties suffered by the American Army during the war.

On Nov. 2, 1918, just days before the Armistice would end fighting on the Western Front, Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was shelled by enemy artillery. Elizabeth was credited with carrying 11 stretchers to ambulances while under fire and helping three other men to safety.  For her bravery, on Dec. 12, 1918, Elizabeth and 38 other nurses with whom she had served received a Citation for Heroic Conduct from the command of U.S. Army General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Elizabeth contracted influenza during the devastating Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919 in which millions of people died worldwide and returned to Base Hospital 15 in Chaumont, France. She was relieved from service on April 26, 1919.


The springs where Elizabeth was honored for her military services and her DAR service in 1924. Photo by Megan Johnson.

Details about Elizabeth’s life following WWI are elusive, but there are some clues that she continued a very active life. She was a member of numerous professional nursing, service and patriotic organizations, and she served them in leadership roles.  On June 5, 1924, Elizabeth was honored by the “Patriotic Societies of which Miss Lee was a member” when a bronze tablet commemorating her WWI service, as well as her service as Historian of the Francis Scott Key Chapter of the DAR, was unveiled at the newly restored and enclosed natural springs of “Ye Coole Springs” at Charlotte Hall, St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  It was an appropriate honor, as this was the location of one of the first hospitals of the American Colonies in the early 18th century.


Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Elizabeth passed away after a long illness on May 15, 1927, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Through at least 1992, The University of Maryland School of Nursing continued to honor her years of nursing service with the “Elizabeth Collins Lee Award” for the nursing student graduating with the second-highest scholastic average.








  1. Deaths: Elizabeth Collins Lee. (1927, August). American Journal of Nursing, 27(8), 699 – 700. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http:// journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Citation/1927/08000/Deaths_.54.aspx
  2. Lee, Elizabeth Collins. (n.d.). World War I Service Record. Maryland in the World War 1917 – 1918 and Naval Service Records in Two Volumes and Case of Maps Volume II. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database.
  3. Lee, Elizab C. (1904). Baltimore, Maryland City Directory, 1904. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database.
  4. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1910). 1910 United States Federal Census, Baltimore Ward 14, Maryland. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database.
  5. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1927). U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Retrieved from Ancestry.com. online database.
  6. Lee, Richard Henry. (1920, July 29). U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970, Vol. 172. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database. 4
  7. Lee, Richard H. (1870). 1870 United States Federal Census, Mobile Ward 4, Alabama. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database.
  8. Lee, Richard H. (1880). 1880 United States Federal Census, Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from Ancestry.com online database.
  9. Marine, Harriet P. (1927, September). Tribute to Elizabeth Collins Lee. The University Hospital Nurses Alumnae Bulletin, 7 (1), 3-10. Retrieved March 3, 2016, from https://ia600502.us.archive.org/30/items/universityhospit68unse/universityhospit68unse.pdf.
  10. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs (NYS DMNA). (2016). History of the “Rainbow.” Retrieved May 21, 2016 from https://dmna.ny.gov/arng/42div/?id=history.
  11. Nursing News and Announcements. (1919, August). American Journal of Nursing, 19 (11), pp. 883 – 903. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pub. Retrieved May 25, 2016 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3405554.
  12. Obituary: Miss Elizabeth C. Lee Dies in Hospital At Age Of 53. (1927, May 16). The Sun, p. 4. 13. Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from Proquest online database.
  13. School of Nursing, University of Maryland. (1990 – 1992). Scholastic Honors for Graduates. Catalog, 1990 – 1992, p 18. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from https://www.nursing.umaryland.edu/media/son/academics/registration–records/verifications/School-of-Nursing-Catalog -1990-1992-web.pdf.
  14. Timeline of Nursing History, University of Maryland School of Nursing 1889 – 2013. (2013). Retrieved March 3, 2016, from https:// http://www.nursing.umaryland.edu/media/son/about/living-history-museum/A-Timeline-of-Nursing-History.pdf
  15. Warren, K. (2010, Spring). The Healing Waters of “Ye Coole Springs of St. Maries.” Southern Maryland, Vol. 12(1). Retrieved May 21, 2016, from http://somdthisisliving.somd.com/archive/vol12num1/healing-springs.html
  16. Army Nurse Corps History (image of woman in WWI Army Nurse Corps uniform, 1917) “Army Nurse Corps Uniforms and Insignia.” Photograph retrieved from U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History (http://history.amedd.army.mil/ANCWebsite/uniformpres_files/ClassAWWI-70s.html). Image used by permission.
  17. Johnson, Megan (photograph of enclosed spring at Ye Coole Springs, MD, July 1, 2010). “Taking the waters at Ye Coole Springs.” Photograph retrieved from “Write Meg!” blog (https://writemeg.com/2010/07/01/taking-the-waters-at-ye-coole-springs/).  Image used by permission.
  18. Maryland University Hospital, Baltimore, MD (postcard photograph of hospital, postmarked Oct. 6, 1909).   A.C. Bosselman & Co., New York, NY. Postcard from the private collection of Nanette T. Meo.
  19. Snoot, Jen. (Jan. 8, 2008). Find a Grave database (htttp://www.findagrave.com). Photograph retrieved from memorial page 15417740 for Elizabeth C. Collins (1870 – 1927).  Image used by permission.
  20. Reading, Alice Matilda (Portrait of Elizabeth Collins Lee, 20th Century).  Virginia Historical Society, Accession Number 1934.25. www.vahistorical.org.  Image used permission of VHS.



 Author Nanette Tippett Meo is a volunteer at Sully Historic Site.


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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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