Here’s another story from the family history I’m currently writing. When I began researching, I hoped to find some well-known personages in our ancestry, preferably known for good and not bad behavior. However, I discovered we do not count Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson among our ancestors. Nor can we lay claim to Chief Sealth or Robert E. Lee, Isaac Newton, Paul Revere, or Queen Victoria.
But I did find one notable person who personally knew some famous people. Her name was Julia Johnson. She was born in 1873, the sister of Charlotte Johnson, who was my mother’s maternal grandmother. Therefore Julia was my Mom’s great-aunt, and she was a well-known person among the rich and titled Londoners of the early twentieth century.
Julia was born and raised in Spalding, in Lincolnshire England. In 1896 she left Spalding and headed to London to train as a nurse (one of the few professions open to women) at St. Saviour’s Infirmary. She qualified in 1899 and then worked at Brook Fever Hospital, and in 1902 she joined the London Association of Nurses as an agency nurse, hired by private patients who needed in-home nursing. It was this career that brought her into contact with many famous and titled people. She nursed Lord Landsdowne, who was England’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, a wealthy and titled man. She also nursed Charles Darwin’s sister, accompanying her to Switzerland as she recuperated from an illness – maybe tuberculosis. At the time, people often went to the Alps to recuperate, as mountain air was supposed to be healthier.
Julia also nursed Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill, and became very familiar with the Churchill family. According to a letter Julia wrote to her sister Charlotte (which has since been lost, just referred to in another letter), Julia also nursed Winston Churchill himself when he had pneumonia. If this family legend is true, my great-great aunt Julia could be said to be one of the saviors of the modern world, for if Winston Churchill had poor nursing he might have died – medicine in the early 1900s was primitive by today’s standards, and good nursing often was the difference between life and death. And if Churchill had died as a young man, then “blood, sweat, and tears” might never have been said, and the Nazis might have overrun England!
Yay for Auntie Julia! What’s in your family tree?