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Camilla Louise Wills Papers

Identifier: 2022-070

Scope and Contents

The Camilla Louise Wills Collection documents Wills’ experiences as a Red Cross nurse serving overseas during World War I and her subsequent career in Public Health and Health Education in the southwestern United States. The bulk of the collection concerns Wills' experiences in the nineteens-teens and twenties, particularly during the World War One years. These are highlighted by postcards, letters, photographs, a diary, and artifacts. The collection is notable for the immediacy of Wills' observations, with insights into the relationships she developed with her peers during this exceptional period. Personal correspondence of Wills herself, and members of her extended family comprise the bulk of the succeeding period – to the early 1950s -- with additional administrative items relative to employment searches and health insurance – and small collections of notes and publications.


  • Creation: 1907-2001

Biographical / Historical

Camilla Louise "Katie" Wills (1894-1994) was an Albemarle County, Virginia native and 1917 graduate of the University of Virginia Hospital School for Nurses. She passed her Virginia State Board of Nursing examinations in January, 1918, and joined the Red Cross hospital unit then being organized by University of Virginia Hospital physician William H. Goodwin and nursing superintendent Margaret B. Cowling. The Red Cross unit soon became Base Hospital Number 41 for the American Expeditionary Forces in France; in July 1918 the hospital was established in the École de la Légion d'Honneur, Saint Denis, France, just beyond the northern city limits of Paris. After training with other members of the nursing staff at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and New York City, Wills deployed in July -- sailing on board the U.S.S. Cartago, per her report, rather than the Lancashire, as given in other histories of the hospital. She arrived at Saint Denis on August 10, 1918, and the hospital soon entered service. The compound accommodated as many as 2800 patients at once, in the eighteenth-century buildings of the school and in a large array of tents in the enclosed garden. In January 1919, the French facility was disbanded, with final demobilization of most personnel occurring back in the United States in the spring. Wills continued in service as a military nurse for the regrouped Base Hospital 41 on Staten Island, New York, through the summer of 1919.

Remaining in New York for the subsequent academic year, Wills attended the Columbia University Teacher's College, where she began a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing, a degree she would ultimately complete in 1931. In the interim, Wills taught adult home nursing courses from 1920-22 in Clovis and Las Vegas, New Mexico for that state's Bureau of Public Health. She was briefly on staff at Cragmore Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before accepting a position as a high school biology teacher in Martinsburg, West Virginia, for the 1924 and 1925 academic years, returning to Columbia for more coursework in the summer of 1924. She joined the nursing staff of Virginia State Board of Health in 1925, where she became, first, the Assistant State Director for Tuberculosis Education, then, after the spring semester 1926 at the University of Virginia, the Superintendent for Public Welfare for Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1929, Wills returned full-time to Columbia for the BS in Nursing, then continued at Columbia for a Master's degree in Health Education, teaching concurrently at the State Teachers' College in Newark, New Jersey. She continued to teach health education, physiology, and biology at various colleges and high schools for the remainder of her career. Wills retired to Charlottesville in the early 1960s, the place she had always considered home.

Wills' wartime experiences marked her in a significant way. She realized that with greater knowledge of biology, she could have alleviated much needless suffering for her soldier patients. Her career in teaching and public health led new generations of students to that goal.


1.75 Linear Feet (4 document boxes)

Language of Materials



(1894–1994) World War One nurse with University of Virginia–organized Base Hospital 41 in Saint Denis, France. Teacher and public health nurse, but bulk of the collection concerns her war experiences, including a diary, letters, postcards, and photographs.


The Wills Collection items have been given a rough chronological arrangement through the corpus of her correspondence, with student documents and World War One materials incorporated into the sequence. Following this, items are arranged by alphabetical subject categories.

The initial folder contains a variety of biographical materials. Sequential folders contain early correspondence (1907-1913) and items relative to Wills' education. World-War-One-era correspondence (1917-1919) and related materials follow, including Wills' diary, a period guidebook to Paris, and various post card collections. The balance of her correspondence (1920-1975) precedes the subject categories "Columbia Teacher's College" through "Publications." The arrangement terminates with photographs and artifacts: first are World War One photographs and others by type or subject, then the reconstituted pages from a disbound photograph album (1917-1923). Reference is given for additional artifacts and oversized items stored elsewhere.

Camilla Louise Wills Collection
Henry K. Sharp
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry Repository

University of Virginia School of Nursing
P.O. Box 800782
Charlottesville Virginia 22908-0782 United States