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Nurse, writer, activist
Author: Lea M. Williams

Ellen La Motte: nurse, writer, activist, is a biography of La Motte that traces the arc of her life, from her birth in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1873 to her death in Washington, D.C. in 1961. It integrates original unexamined sources such as diaries, unpublished manuscripts, and publishing contracts along with primary sources—letters, newspaper articles, health department reports, and public records—with an examination of her prolific published writings, about topics as diverse as tuberculosis nursing, women’s suffrage, nursing during the Great War, and the opium trade. It considers of how she developed as a nurse, writer, and activist once she entered the Johns Hopkins Training School for Nurses in 1898 and grew into a potent force in the anti-tuberculosis campaign. Gaining experience speaking and writing on behalf of controversial causes, La Motte put her talents to use on behalf of the fight for the vote for women, nursing during World War I and the anti-opium campaign.

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The making of a nurse, writer, and activist
Lea M. Williams

The introduction situates La Motte and her work by providing background regarding her early life and her family’s relationship to the du Ponts of Delaware, her cousins, and the interconnections between the families that were to have an important influence on her development. It also discusses her decision to attend the Johns Hopkins Training School for Nurses and considers her activism in the fields of public health nursing, suffrage, and the anti-opium crusade as well as her long-term relationship with Emily Chadbourne in an effort to provide an overview of her intellectual and professional interests

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La Motte and nursing, 1898–1913
Lea M. Williams

Chapter 1 examines the milieu in which La Motte studied, the Johns Hopkins Training School for Nurses, where she began a curriculum that reflected the school’s desire to professionalize nursing and teach the latest nursing standards. Many of the women associated with the nursing school in its early years were also involved in social reform, and the models they provided of socially engaged nursing practitioners undoubtedly had a profound effect on La Motte as she eventually found her place in the anti-tuberculosis campaign in Baltimore, first as a visiting district nurse and then as an executive in the Health Department. It also discusses her development as a writer and speaker after her graduation from nursing school and examines her writings, such as her published articles about the best approaches to tuberculosis nursing, to see how she positioned herself in the debates about the most effective ways to combat tuberculosis as she developed her public voice as a nurse and reformer in these years. Through an examination of these issues, the chapter builds a picture of how La Motte progressed professionally through her work as a vocal advocate for public health.

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Lea M. Williams

Chapter 2 analyzes La Motte’s active involvement in the suffrage cause, especially after 1910, drawing on her published writings and newspaper reports. She frequently gave talks in favor of suffrage and served as an editor for several suffrage publications. This chapter examines how her professionalization as a nurse contributed to her political activism. As she found her voice and honed her skills as a writer and speaker in the field of nursing, she developed the confidence to speak about the controversial topic of woman suffrage and found her footing as an outspoken and eloquent proponent of the vote. Her devotion to the cause led her to leave her nursing position for London to write a series about militant suffragettes for Baltimore’s the Sun. The chapter ends with an examination of those writings and a consideration of how they reflect her political development while foreshadowing her views of militarism, upon which she would expand during World War One.

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Lea M. Williams

This chapter focuses on La Motte’s decision to leave London in the fall of 1913 to move to Paris, where she stayed until the outbreak of World War One, living in the bohemian Montparnasse district while completing the culmination of her nursing work, The Tuberculosis Nurse, and attempting to develop her skills as a writer of short fiction. After the completion of the book, La Motte intended to leave nursing behind permanently and to become a writer of short fiction, a form she had been exploring for several years, as her unpublished manuscripts reveal. The start of the war in August 1914, right at the time La Motte had returned to the United States after living in Europe for more than a year, led her back to Paris and to a prolonged search to find a nursing position. During more than six months of searching, La Motte’s diary reveals that she encountered significant frustration finding a position. By drawing on her unpublished manuscripts, letters, and a diary, this chapter examines her personal and professional frustrations as she tried to put her great skills to use as a war nurse.

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Lea M. Williams

This chapter investigates La Motte’s experiences nursing in a French military hospital by using primary sources such as diaries and letters. By incorporating these items, this chapter documents La Motte’s understanding of the meaning of the war and how she originally recorded her reactions to caring for gravely injured patients and working with an international nursing group. It also studies how she transformed her initial impressions into the sketches that constitute her book, The Backwash of War, published in 1916. A reading of the published work alongside her diary allows for an investigation of how those accounts differ and how her representative practices evolved in regard to her memories of World War One. Taken together, her powerful depictions of the inside of a military hospital offer the opportunity to examine how personal and professional experiences and motivations intersected to forge distinct memories and narratives of the failures and triumphs of hospital work during the Great War.

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Lea M. Williams

The purpose of this chapter is to examine La Motte’s work about the opium trade in order to analyze how she used her public health nursing experience to launch a crusade against it. During a trip to Asia in 1916–1917, she witnessed the impact of opium consumption and became preoccupied with exposing the corruption of the opium trade and its public-health implications. Over the next several decades she published dozens of articles and three books related to her observations and analyses of opium production and consumption, which form the basis of my analysis, using her writing to advocate for the abolishment of the opium trade. The chapter also examines how La Motte’s writings about World War One and the opium trade led to her being censored and put under surveillance by American and British authorities.

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The end of campaigning, 1930s–1961
Lea M. Williams

The conclusion discusses La Motte’s life from the 1930s until her death in the 1961. The Great Depression forced her and Emily Chadbourne to return permanently to the United States, where they settled in Washington, DC and New York State. La Motte’s publications slowed in the early 1930s, then ceased as she turned her attention to investing in real estate in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC and pursuing intellectual interests, such as business affairs or working for a brief time with the National Woman’s Party, while enjoying her circle of friends. It also offers a final summative reflection on the significance of her long career.

in Ellen N. La Motte