Sara Corning's story has remained virtually unknown for nearly a century. Heroes and heroines deserve special recognition to inspire people of all ages, including future generations. With its history of peacekeeping and humanitarian service, Canada recognized the Armenian Genocide in Parliament in 2004, but a Canadian who risked her life to rescue and care for many Armenian and Greek orphans and refugees in the aftermath of that devastating period of history also deserves recognition.
Sara Corning's passport photo Sara Corning's passport photo
Sara Corning was born in 1872 in the small farming and fishing village of Chegoggin near Yarmouth in southwest Nova Scotia. Her parents were Delilah Churchill and Samuel Corning. Sara was the third child of five children. After Delilah's death during the birth of her fifth child, Sara and her four siblings became motherless, like the many orphans Sara would eventually care for.
Lizzie Williamson would become Sara Corning's stepmother when Samuel Corning remarried. There were thirteen children in the Corning family, five by Delilah, and eight by stepmother Lizzie.
Captain Samuel Corning was a Nova Scotia sea captain, so Sara was accustomed to long sea voyages travelling to many ports during her life of service.
A school of nursing did not exist in Yarmouth in 1897 and the ocean was the main highway at the time. With New England as an historic neighbour of Nova Scotia, it made perfect sense for Sara at age 24 to train in the US. She received her nursing graduation certificate in 1899 from the Mary Hitchcock Memorial Training School for Nurses in Hanover, New Hampshire, now the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Her Registered Nursing Certificate was awarded in 1909.
Sara practiced nursing in New England for almost 20 years, including nursing service on the Boston Floating Hospital for Children associated with Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she received a certificate of service in 1908 at the Post Graduate School for Nurses of the Floating Hospital. She gained her Red Cross certification in 1918 at age 46.
Pictures: American Red Cross Nursing Service certificate and Boat floating hospital
In the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion in December 1917, Sara was a first responder nurse arriving on a relief train from Boston joining those offering early disaster relief. They travelled through an intense snowstorm to reach Halifax. The train carried enough supplies to equip a 500-bed hospital upon their arrival in Halifax. On board were 30 doctors and surgeons, plus 70 nurses, including 14 disaster specialists with which to staff a makeshift hospital at the YMCA. Sara performed nursing duties for many of the thousands of injured and dying victims in the devastated city at both the Halifax YMCA makeshift hospital and at Camp Hill Hospital.
Pictures: Halifax Explosion, Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion and YMCA makeshift hospital, Halifax
Nova Scotia continues to thank Boston each December for their assistance following the Halifax Explosion by sending a massive Nova Scotia Christmas tree in gratitude. It is placed in Boston Common where an annual tree-lighting event brings Americans and Canadians together in a celebration of friendship.
Near East Relief
In 1919, at the age of 47, Sara joined a relief organization called the American Committee For Relief in the Near East, soon renamed the Near East Relief. A forerunner of humanitarian relief work, this was a philanthropic organization located on Fifth Avenue in New York City under the leadership of James L. Barton and Cleveland Dodge. This public relief effort was formed to help Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire who were being targeted for extermination by the political party in power at that time.President Woodrow Wilson was also an ardent supporter of the Near East Relief. Joining a 250-person team of relief workers, nurse Sara Corning left New York City in February 1919 on the USS Leviathan, a German liner confiscated by the Americans during WWI. Once they reached Le Havre in France, they travelled by train to Marseilles where they boarded a hospital ship for Constantinople (Istanbul), the base for Near East Relief operations in the Ottoman Empire.
Pictures: 250-person Near East Relief team, USS Leviathan and NER team in Constantinople
Click here to go to Sara in Aremenia & Ottoman Empire (Turkey)