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This is a contributing entry for Remembering WWI in Norfolk and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

Ruth Friedman was a young Jewish woman who set out to help the wounded from the War. She joined the service in September on 1918 and was immediately put to work. She moved from her home in Schenectady New York to Norfolk at the beginning of the Spanish flu. Her training as a nurse meant she would be on the front line of the fight against the disease.


Ruth was born to Hungarian Jewish immigrants on June 26th, 1899. She was raised in the city of Schenectady right as it was beginning to grow. Just 3 years before she was born, Thomas Edison had founded his General Electric Company in the city which resulted in enormous growth. In many ways Ruth would grow up right alongside of the city itself.

Like most woman of her time she was considered a citizen of the united states but was still denied the right to vote. Moreover, being Jewish would also exclude her from some social events that the rest of the city would find normal.

Friedman joined the Navy after finishing 3 years of high school, but she had been employed at a local business in New York. On September 18th, 1918, she was inducted into the naval reserves as a Yeoman or in her case Ladyman. This was the rank given to all young nurses when they first join up. For Ruth she joined at an auspicious time. The Spanish flu had just broken out in the United States and medical personnel were at a premium.

She would spend her entire time in the war at the Norfolk Navy Yard treating people incapacitated by the illness. While there is no evidence she was ever sick from the flu, it is almost certain that she would have lost friends and coworkers to it. She would also been exposed to the worst of the disease, which traveled easily in the confined area of a military hospital.