If you think Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin is tough, check out this Alaskan nurse. Meet the Angel of the Yukon, Nurse Emily Morgan. In 1925, Nurse Morgan was living in Nome Alaska when the town was hit with a diphtheria epidemic, also known as the “Black Death.” Nurse Morgan, Dr. Curtis Welch, and three other nurses worked to save hundreds of people while waiting for 300,000 units of antitoxin to arrive by dogsled from Anchorage.
Nurse Morgan had true grit. She was forty-seven years old at the time of the epidemic and she was no shrinking violet. She had been assigned to work as a public health nurse in Nome by the Red Cross in 1923. Before arriving in Nome, Nurse Morgan had worked as a public health nurse in Wichita, Kansas for two years. That’s where she first cared for patients with diphtheria. In fact, she had been stricken with the disease while caring for her patients, and she was gravely ill for three weeks. Working in Nome was very different than working in Kansas. She said, “Caring for patients in cold faraway Nome was quite different from Kansas where we had plenty of doctors and hospitals.”
Nurse Morgan gave up her white uniform when she made her house calls. She wore woolen underwear, a woken dress, heavy sweater, two pairs of woken hose, topped off by a fur parka and high –top mukluks (fur boots) to combat the cold that ranged as low as 50 degrees below zero. Sunset during the winter months was 3 p.m. and sunrise was a 10 a.m. Her medical bag was heavy, and held a thermometer, tongue depressors, several tubes of antitoxin, some candy for her pediatric patients, and a flashlight. Nurse Morgan visited any home where there was sickness, or anyone suspected of being ill. She worked primarily with the Eskimos family members. It was not proper for a woman to care for an unmarried man, and most of the workers in the North at that time were bachelors.
Nurse Morgan did whatever she could to help her community. She knelt in prayer at the bedside of her patients, and she helped parents fashion coffins for their dead children and bury them in the snow. She spent hours walking through high snowdrifts making house calls, especially after the antitoxin arrived. She even made a house call to the red light district to give one of the “ladies” a dose of antitoxin after a miner broke quarantine, and came to the woman’s place of employment in the middle of the night. Life was never dull for the Angel of the Yukon.
So much for today’s history lesson. Governor Palin may be one tough cookie, but I have a feeling that Nurse Morgan could have kicked her butt.