From WWII to Ashland

Ashland Community Hospital, indeed, the Ashland community itself, owes much of its success to the "Greatest Generation." While many talented doctors and nurses entered and exited its doors throughout the last century, the hospital's staff following the Second World War was exceptional, according to many hospital officials.

One of those exceptional individuals was Florence Schilling, who still lives in Ashland today.

Florence received her registered nurse's training and became the youngest woman in the European theatre of WWII. At only 20 years of age, she needed to receive special permission from Edward Martin, the governor of Pennsylvania, to be allowed to enter the service before the legal age of 21. While serving in France and Germany, she was in charge of the operating room for an evacuation hospital. This "hospital" was mobile and followed eight or nine miles behind the troops.

When Schilling was discharged in 1947, she was offered a job as head of surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. During the war, her mother had been diagnosed with cancer so, instead of continuing her service in Washington D.C., she turned down the job and moved to Ashland, where her family had recently moved.

After being home from the war for two days, she received her second job offer.

"I was lying on the floor after helping my dad outside," says Schilling. "A man I didn't know burst into the front door and said that the nurses had gone on strike; he asked if there was a nurse in the house."

Schilling went to work that night for 12 hours. The man who implored her to do so was Dr. C.A. Haines, with whom Schilling would work closely for the next several years.

At this time, because of huge demand for wood to build new homes, many local sawmills began operations, which led to a boom in Ashland's population.

Medically, this was a transitional time as well. In the past, it was common to deal with medical conditions at home and many did not want, or could not afford, to utilize the hospital's facilities. As Schilling recalls, some of her fondest memories are of making "house" calls with Haines.

"Dr. Haines would take care of anybody, no matter where they were" she recalls. "There were some boxcars down on the tracks and people had their homes in them. They were very neat and clean but, of course, they couldn't afford to go to the doctor very much, so when they heard about [Dr. Haines] they would call him and we would go (I had a bag ready all the time) and deliver the babies along the tracks."

While Ashland was tiny when compared to the town today, the hospital in the late 1940s and early 1950s had plenty of work to do; mostly from the timber industry and accidents on the Siskiyou Pass. A new hospital was desperately needed and Schilling remembers trying to do something about it.

"I went all over town getting support for a new building," she says. "We finally drew up plans and had the measure voted on in an election, but it failed. My mother that night told me not to worry, that we would get a new hospital, but that the men would have to come up with the idea first."

Her mother was right, the hospital was remodeled and improved throughout the fifties but it took a city council decision in the early sixties for a new one to be built.

During her career, Schilling had the pleasure of working with her close friend Dr. Genevieve Swedenburg, who actually delivered two of Schilling's children. Swedenburg's father essentially began Ashland Community Hospital and she carried on his legacy and practice after he met a premature death.

"She was an excellent surgeon," says Schilling. "She did beautiful surgery. I remember several male doctors being quite surprised when she successfully removed a kidney, which was very difficult in a small center like ours. It was extremely rare at that time to see a female surgeon, much less one as talented as she was."

What Schilling remembers most is the great efforts made by the staff that contributed to the spirit of community at the hospital.

"The doctors did a marvelous job with what we had available," she says. "It was like a family, we all knew each other and each other's families. It wasn't what I was used to; I was trained at a large hospital in Pennsylvania and this one here was little. I still can't believe the work we did with what we had to work with."

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