27-28 Marzo The Nurses Strike!

27-28 March
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 27th and 28th of March.

Robert Merriman was involved with his own recovery at this point and he notes that a new x-ray machine was installed at the Pasionaria Hospital on the 27th of March.   However, only the fluoroscope facility was working and apparently it was not taking films at this point.  Nevertheless, Dr. Cachin gave Merriman the good news that he was healing and that his cast could come off in a few weeks.

Merriman discusses a strike by the nurses in the hospital apparently led by a “Dora”.   Dora is a bit of a mystery.   There was a Dora in the American Medical Service: Dora Moldovsky Ettleson.   Dora was born in 1905 in Odessa, Ukraine.¹ Dora Ettleson was the wife of Dr. Abraham Ettleson who came to Spain on the Normandie from the photo below.

Aboard the Normandie on the way to Spain. L-R: Florence Pike, Dorothy Fontaine, Dr. Abraham Ettleson, and {James} Leigh White.   Photo Source: Fredericka Martin Collection ALBA PHOTO 001, 1:1:25:1, Tamiment Library, NYU

The photo above is a bit perplexing since the other Fredericka Martin photos in this series are annotated that the Normandie sailing was May 1937.    The annotation on the Martin archive photo above that the woman with her head on Abraham Ettleson’s shoulder is Dorothy Fontaine.  This could be a nom de guerre for Dora Ettleson.   There is no Dorothy Fontaine in the list of AMB personnel.  Florence Pike was a Canadian from Toronto General Hospital.  Michael Petrou states that Florence Pike went to Spain on May 15, 1937.²  Thus it would have been impossible for the “Dora” in Merriman’s diary to be Dora Ettleson.  James Leigh White was a reporter who accompanied the medical bureau to Spain and ended up driving ambulances.   There are two additional “Doras” noted in Fredericka Martin’s papers: Dora Donda and Dora Sukalkis.   Clearly, more research on Dora is necessary.

There are some excellent studies of the American Medical Bureau in Spain, but the arrival/departure of the medical units was not tracked in the ALBA archives with the same intensity as for the combat personnel.  The Fredericka Martin collection is extensive, with nearly 10 m of file boxes in the Tamiment Archives.  This remains a fruitful resource for research on the men and women who worked in the hospitals.

Merriman says that the nurses in the hospital went on strike because the doctor in charge had not shown up for five days and the head nurse had yelled at them.  Recall that the Lincolns and the personnel who accompanied them were generally from union backgrounds.  Like the Lincolns themselves at Villaneuva de la Jara, the Americans were strong willed in standing up for their rights and used to frankly arguing out positions.  Merriman says, while he agreed with their grievances, this strike was a “political error”.   Like the men standing up against the command structure at Albacete, Americans had a difficult time adjusting to a military command scenario.  There was resistance to saluting officers.  There will be future events in the diary where this dialectic between “rank-and-filism” (i.e. a proletarian stance) and a military structure will arise again and again.   The Europeans expected that military command would be obeyed and that attitude will win out over the next year and a half.  It did not, however, mean that the working class Americans were happy with it.

About the evening meeting with the local Murcia women, Marion Merriman Wachtel recalls:

The theater was very crowded with townsfolk, who broke into spontaneous cheering for the soldiers.  Guitarists strummed their mellow chords and flamenco singers wailed and chanted into the evening.  The soldiers were young and they looked it.  Most were in their late teens or very early twenties.

“It was a great evening, a real demonstration of the people on the move,” Bob said as we walked back to our room in the hospital in the hush of the Spanish evening.  “Those”, he said, “were the peasants of Spain, not like those slick-haired fellows in the dark glasses at the sidewalk cafes”.³


¹ Ancestry.com, Family Tree (available on request).

² Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid., list of Canadians in the Mac-Paps.

³ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p 122.