Carroll County Biographies

HELEN SCOTT HAY
Photo from Lori Gilbert -
The Sign is on the lawn of the Savanna Public Library

Helen Scott Hay was born on a farm near Lanark in Cherry Grove Township, Carroll County, Illinois on 5 Jan 1869 to George and Agnes (Pennington) Hay.

Father George immigrated from Scotland . [Per James Cooke: He came to America from Scotland in 1848 at age 20, his passage being paid by his uncle. He is listed on the ship manifest, Port of New Orleans in 1848.]. He was born in Aberdeen, Scotland 29 MAY 1828. He married Agnes Pennington 16 MAY 1854 presumably in Illinois. George died 2 FEB 1898 in California and was returned to Carroll County for burial.

We know much less about mother Agnes Pennington Hay other than she was born 1833/36 in Pennsylvania; possibly Centre County.

1870 Helen is one year old, affectionately called “Nettie” in the 1870 census and living in Cherry Grove, Carroll County with her parents; the youngest of 4 children. [Per James Cooke: Helen was called "Nellie"]

By 1880 the family had moved to Richmond, Nemaha County, Kansas and farmed there returning to Savanna, Carroll County, Illinois where Helen Scott Hay attended and graduated from Savanna High School.

She graduated from Northwestern Academy in 1889 and received her B.L Degree from Northwestern University in Evanston in 1893. She then entered the Illinois Training School for Nurses. Following graduation, she held various positions in Iowa, Illinois and California. [History of American Red Cross Nursing; by Lavinia L. Dock 1922]

1900 we find 30 year old Helen S. Hay in Hyde Park, Cook County, Illinois at the University of Chicago residing in Kelly Hall where she did graduate work. In 1906 she became Superintendent of Nurses at the Illinois Training School for Nurses at Cook County Hospital, remaining until 1912. [History of American Red Cross Nursing; by Lavinia L. Dock 1922]

We know that following her time in Chicago she joined the Red Cross. Helen Scott Hay was chief nurse of the American Red Cross in Paris and through that office she helped organized nursing schools throughout most of Central Europe. Before World War I she established a school of nursing in Bulgaria. At the outbreak of war she became Director of American Red Cross Nursing Personnel and was assigned to the Balkans. After America entered the war, she served in Washington. [Per James Cooke: After WWI she became Director of American Personnel in the Balkans.]

In 1920 she was appointed Director of the European Work of the Red Cross.

In 1930 we find ”Miss Helen Hay” back in Carroll County renting at 508 Chicago Avenue. She is a single lady and listed as 61 years old.

“An interesting break in her professional career is marked by a year as principal of the Savannah High School, her native village in Illinois.” [History of American Red Cross Nursing; by Lavinia L. Dock 1922]

She died in Savanna, Carroll County, Illinois 25 Nov 1932. (Certificate #0080171

Contributed by Lori Gilbert

Helen Scott Hay, Red Cross nurse in the Balkans and director of American nursing in Europe in World War 1 with headquarters in Paris. Such is the incomplete thumbnail sketch of perhaps Carroll County's most famous daughter who was born Jan. 5, 1869 five miles north of Lanark in Cherry Grove Township.

Daughter of George Hay, a Scotsman who migrated from Aberdeen, Scotland to Carroll county, she moved with her parents to Kansas as a child but they soon returned to Savanna where her father was an organizer and first cashier of the Savanna State Bank, now the National Bank of Savanna.

Helen attended Savanna schools, was graduated from high school in 1886, taught school for a time then entered Northwestern University from which she was graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors. She took postgraduate work at the University of Chicago, then entered the Illinois Training School for Nurses, graduating in 1895.

She was the pride and despair of the class of 95' keeping all "on their toes" according to Helen W. Kelly, a classmate. She never complained and was always placed where responsibility was greatest. After 11 years of varied and responsible positions she returned to her alma mater's practice hospital, the great Cook county hospital, as director for six years, resigning in 1911.

Attending the meeting to form the Illinois State Nursing Association, she spoke with prophetic vision of the potential results of that meeting. She organized the West Suburban hospital school for nurses at Oak Park, and at the outbreak of WW 1 assisted in the selection of the nurses for 10 units of the "Mercy Mission." composed of 125 nurses and 30 doctors for the relief ship "Red Cross" sailing September 12, 1914, as director of the nursing personnel.

At Falmouth, England the units each numbering 10 nurses and three to six doctors separated and Miss Hay went with two units to St. Petersburg, Russia where they were received by Marie Freodorovna, mother of the czar.

When the US entered the war Miss Hay was called home. She immediately entered the nursing services of the American Red Cross, Washington DC, first as director of home hygiene and care of the sick, later assisted in establishing an army school of nursing. In October 1918 she was appointed head nurse in the newly organized American Red Cross commission in the Balkans sailing shortly after the armistice. She worked as head nurse one year, then as director of American nursing in Europe with headquarters in Paris. Her duties included supervision of American Red Cross nursing in the Baltic provinces, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans; also the program of child welfare preparing nurses to take over that work at the withdrawal of the American Red Cross. Miss Hay's service in the A.R. C. ended June 1922 when the program was completed. She had won 14 medals and citations including the Florence Nightingale, highest Red Cross Award, and medals from kings and queens of the Balkan countries.

Returning to Savanna, she cared for her brother during his last illness. During the 10 years prior to her death, despite failing health, she took an active part in civic movements, her church, clubs, the local Red Cross and American Legion.

Her numerous acts of charity and kindness were remembered by her friends and acquaintances during the last two months of her life when she enjoyed their visits returning those previously made by her as long as able.

Miss Hattie McClure, now 94, tells of the many visits Miss Hay made to her home on Hill street during the long years Miss McClure was caring for her mother.

On the death of Miss Hay in 1932 a booklet was prepared by Rev. D.W. Barclay, Presbyterian minister of Savanna containing her story and nearly 30 tributes from her friends and co-workers, local, national and international. Miss Hay was buried at Oakville, Salem township, preferring to be with her own family and friends in the beautiful surroundings they dearly loved rather than at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington. Helen had two sisters, Elizabeth, who married Arthur P. Woodruff of Savanna, and Rachel (Johnson) later of Pasadena, Calif. Helen Woodruff, wife of Judge Marvin Burt, Freeport, is a niece. Her brother John and here parents are also buried at Oakville.

Source: The Goodly Heritage 1968

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