Ruth Crew Grimes

Ruth Crew Grimes
Winston-Salem Red Cross Nurse and Spanish Flu Nurse

Ruth Crew was born on December 26, 1892, in Harford Co, MD, to Charles H. and Mary Kehoe Crew. After the death of her father, she moved to Baltimore and lived in the home of her grandparents, Lawrence and Sarah Tole Kehoe, where she was raised. In about 1913, Ruth entered the Church Home and Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore which was affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. The nursing students took classes in psychiatry and pediatrics at John Hopkins as affiliate students. While in training, she worked at the Union Protestant Infirmary where she met her future husband who was interning there, Dr. William Lawrence Grimes.

The Washington Post announced the engagement of twenty-four-year-old Ruth Crew to thirty-three-year-old Dr. William Lawrence Grimes on September 25, 1917. About a month-and-a-half after the engagement, Dr. Grimes, who was now living and working in Winston-Salem, drove his sister, Maud, and sister-in-law, Nancy, to Baltimore for the wedding. Since Ruth's family was Irish Catholic, Ruth and Lawrence were married by a Jesuit Priest, Rev. William J. Ennis, in the home of Ruth's family. Rev. Ennis was the President of Loyola University in Baltimore from 1911-1918. The couple took a wedding trip in Lawrence's car and then returned to Winston-Salem by November 27.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. So, when Ruth and Lawrence got married on November 10, 1917, the country was feeling the effects of the war. Once in Winston-Salem, Ruth began volunteering with the Red Cross to aid the war effort. Lawrence had joined the Red Cross in May 1917, shortly after the war started. By January of 1918 when Ruth began, the Winston-Salem chapter of the Red Cross had set up rooms in the basement of the Twin City Club where women, divided into three shifts (morning, afternoon, and night), would come to sew surgical dressings, hospital garments, and other needed supplies for the men overseas. Beginning in January, Ruth volunteered almost daily to oversee the surgical dressings department for the Red Cross. When the surgical dressing rooms were closed at the end of March because the government had taken over the factory that made the gauze, Ruth began sewing men's pajamas until the gauze became available again. The rooms were advertised as being among the "most popular and interesting places for meeting now for the ladies of Winston-Salem." Over one hundred women worked daily in the rooms to make items for soldiers.

In March, Ruth assisted in a complete house-to-house canvass of Winston-Salem to register every baby in town as part of the "Save the Seventh Baby" Campaign. The idea of the registration was to send nurses door-to-door to check on babies throughout the city. Armed with knowledge that one in seven babies die from preventable diseases, the heath workers studied the prenatal and postnatal conditions of the children, registered all births, and helped mothers learn to care for their infants. It was hoped that this effort would reduce infant mortality by reducing infant deaths from ignorance and negligence. One-hundred-and-fifty homes were visited by the eleven nurses during the registration.

In May 1918, the Red Cross placed volunteers in business windows in downtown Winston-Salem to promote their efforts in the Red Cross Rooms. Ruth was in charge of the women making surgical dressings in the store windows of the Barber Book Store. The newspaper reported that the ladies "make a very effective and charming picture in their white aprons and Red Cross caps." In addition, the Red Cross sponsored a giant parade in Winston-Salem on May 21 billed as the "greatest parade in the history of the city." Bands played, floats passed, and hundreds of flags, banners, and pennants lined the street in an effort to help raise money for the Red Cross efforts. Ruth probably either rode on the "Surgical Dressing float" or walked alongside with the other Red Cross volunteers.

When a deadly flu epidemic hit the United States in 1918, the health care system was overwhelmed. The flu infected 500 million people around the world and killed 50-100 million of them making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. More than 13,000 North Carolinians died between October 1918 and March 1919. In Winston-Salem to avoid the spread of flu, barber shops were closed, a ban was placed on soft drinks and ice cream, all stores were closed at 5 p.m., no church services were held, tobacco sales were suspended, and no gathering of any type was permitted. All non-emergency surgical procedures were discontinued so the flu would not spread allowing Dr. Grimes and his staff to help care for the flu victims.

Since the Winston-Salem hospitals could not care for all of the sick at the peak of the epidemic, Emergency Hospitals were opened in Winston-Salem in both schools and large homes in October of 1918. The hospitals included the North Winston School for white patients and the Depot Street School for black patients. The homes of Mrs. John Hanes, Mrs. George T. Brown and Mrs. R. J. Reynolds were also used as hospitals.

Ruth volunteered at the Hanes Emergency Hospital housed in the home of the founder of the Hanes Mill Company. Her Aunt, Angela Kehoe, who was also a nurse and was visiting from Baltimore, helped during the emergency. Dr. Grimes was one of the two resident physicians who treated patients there. The newspaper reported that many other physicians were in attendance but not so continuously as Dr. Grimes and Dr. Schaub. The largest number of patients cared for in the Hanes Hospital in any one day was 67.

Ruth sold bonds through the Liberty Bank set up during the four days of the Forsyth County Fair in October. There was so much concern about the flu during the fair that most of the women wore surgical masks while making the sales.

World War I ended on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Although the war was over, Ruth still continued her work with the Red Cross by participating in the Christmas Roll Call. She sat at a booth at Wachovia Bank collecting money and signatures of people who were celebrating the victory. Their motto was, "War is over but the activities of the Red Cross go on forever. Its work is never done."

In June Ruth headed up a new local division of the Red Cross called the Woman's Motor Corps. The idea was to get patriotic women to volunteer to drive trucks or passenger vehicles to help with the war effort. Some would drive supplies back-and-forth from the Red Cross headquarters to local meeting places. Other drivers would provide ambulance service for the local hospitals. By enlisting women to do these jobs, it would free up more men for service in the war. The local newspaper reported that, "Women's war work is increasing so rapidly that it is becoming difficult to keep abreast of all the different developments." Ruth, as the coordinator for this effort, was at the forefront of this new and ever changing role for women. The first job of the women in the Motor Corps was to drive Mrs. Grimes and Mrs. H. L. Riggins on a Red Cross mission to Mocksville, NC.

A large parade and celebration was held for the soldiers returning from war on April 23, 1919. Ruth and Lawrence were among the many Winston-Salem families who provided overnight lodging for the 800-900 returning soldiers. Ruth worked with the Red Cross to serve a picnic dinner to the soldiers in Piedmont Park. Every automobile owner was urged to use his car for the benefit of the soldiers, so Lawrence no doubt complied.

With the war at an end, there was more time for leisurely pursuits. Ruth continued her work with the Red Cross. She attended a conference in Greensboro, NC, in March and sold Christmas Seals during the holiday season. She also organized "home hygiene" and nursing courses for the Red Cross throughout the year.

A second resurgence of the Spanish Flu hit Winston-Salem in February of 1920. An Emergency Hospital was once again opened. Ruth served as the day supervisor and chief of nursing at the Miller Emergency Hospital in the home of Alexander Clinton Miller at Fifth and Summit streets. The hospital served patients with pneumonia who could not be accommodated at the City Memorial Hospital. Probably because of the intense fear of catching the flu, there were not enough workers to completely staff the hospital. The nurses that did help had long hours. Although some were paid, most gave the money back with a note saying that they would not accept money for the work. It was noted that Ruth, "gave herself entirely to the care of the sufferers."

On April 16, 1921, William Lawrence Grimes, Jr, nicknamed "Larrie" was born at home to Lawrence and Ruth. This happy time soon turned tragic as twenty-eight year old Ruth began experiencing postpartum uremia--or kidney failure. Without the technology to do dialysis, there was little that could be done to save her. She died at home two days later at 10:00 a.m. on April 18, 1921. Death must have come rather suddenly. The Catholic priest from St. Leo's Catholic Church where Ruth attended, Father Willibald Baumgartner, reported that she was unable to receive her last communion because she became unconscious suddenly. He was able to give her the final anointing before she passed away. The baby, whose life may have also seemed in jeopardy at the time, was baptized immediately after birth.

Ruth's death must have come as a shock to everyone when such a vibrant, young woman died so suddenly. It must have been especially difficult for Lawrence, whose business was to save others that he could not save his own wife. Ruth's funeral was held two days later at her home at 3:00 p.m.--no doubt allowing time for her family to come for the services from Baltimore. The service was presided over by both Father Willibald Baumgartner of St. Leo's Catholic Church and Rev. Z. E. Barnhardt, pastor of the Centenary Methodist Church. Ruth was buried in the Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem where Lawrence purchased a family plot shortly after her death.

After Ruth's death, Lawrence's mother, Susan Grimes, and his sister, Maud, came to stay in Winston-Salem to help care for the infant. Larrie was a bright and happy child that must have brought life to the house after Ruth's death. As his personality developed, he was outgoing and quickly won the hearts of the friends and family who came to visit. On September 29, 1922, tragedy struck once again when Lawrence and Ruth's only child, eighteen-month-old Larrie, died suddenly of diphtheria. He developed the highly contagious bacterial infection on September 22. A week later, he was having severe trouble breathing and died at 2:30 in the afternoon. His funeral was held the following day at the home presided over by the same two ministers who led Ruth's service. Lawrence's friends, Dr. J. K. Pepper, Dr. E. P. Gray, Dr. O. P. Schaub, and J. W. Glenn, served as pallbearers. Larrie was buried beside his mother in the Salem Cemetery.

Compiled by: 
Phoebe Pollitt