The physician traveled from Minneapolis to Washington with what seems today like such a simple objective. Dr. Bessie Park Haines sought the government's blessing to send 18 trained Red Cross nurses from Minnesota to care for hundreds of state soldiers wracked with typhoid in the Philippines during the four-month Spanish-American War.
But this was 1898 and, despite Haines' offer to cover expenses, U.S. Army Surgeon General George Sternberg shook his head and said: "I do not think the field hospital is the place for a woman."
"If your son was lying ill with typhoid fever," she responded, "would you leave him to the care of a man who had been raised in the pineries of Minnesota and whose life work had been to fell trees?"
The general insisted that wasn't the case. But Haines told him she visited Camp Alger days earlier in Virginia and found men with lumberjack qualifications "in charge of a hospital filled with the sick and dying."
Undaunted, Haines would wait outside President William McKinley's Cabinet meeting three days later before going over Sternberg's head and appealing to the commander in chief. It worked, and before the war ended, a Minnesota Red Cross nurse was boarding a ship sailing toward Manila to tend to soldiers in the Philippines.
This year, the Minnesota Red Cross celebrates its 100th birthday. State chapters received their official charters from 1915-1917 during World War I. By then, Haines had been working tirelessly for the Red Cross for nearly 20 years.
Bessie Park was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania to Ezra Starkweather Park, who served as a physician in Red Wing in the 1860s, and Mary Ann Warner, who was descended from a Vermont sharpshooter in the Revolutionary War.
Bessie studied medicine in Chicago and opened her physician's practice in Minneapolis in 1887. She married Charles Haines and, through 1904, testimonials from patients commending her tuberculosis care appeared regularly in the Minneapolis Journal.
Haines moved to Long Beach, Calif., in the early 1900s and died there at 85 in 1925. Her role in founding the Minnesota Red Cross lives on though, thanks to a 115-page book she helped author in 1900, when she served as the state secretary of the Red Cross Society. The book describes Haines' role in the early Minnesota Red Cross during the Spanish-American War.
"Except for Dr. Haines' determined effort, weeks and months might have passed before the suffering boys in camp received proper care and nursing," the book says.
"England has her Florence Nightingale, America her Clara Barton, and the Minnesota boys in camp during the summer of 1898 have the mother heart of Bessie Park Haines to thank for life and tender care."
In the book's preface, Haines places the Red Cross' origins in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1863. Sixteen European nations declared as neutral those who care for wounded and dead soldiers. They decided the sign of neutrality would be the Swiss flag, with colors reversed — putting a red cross on a white background.
The U.S. was among the last countries to extend protection to bearers of the Red Cross, thanks to Clara Barton in the Civil War. Barton, president of the American Red Cross from 1882-1904, established Red Cross stations across Cuba during the Spanish-American War when she was 77, aiding Americans and Cubans alike.
Though she was a face of the Red Cross, Haines quickly became a forgotten foot soldier. Her own words, published in 1900, best tell her story — highlighted by her 1898 trek to Washington and nearby Army camps.
"[S]ick boys were left day after day suffering for want of proper attention," Haines wrote. "A wave of helplessness passed over me … but the Red Cross Society of Minnesota was waiting with expectant heart and our suffering soldiers called with pleading voices."
On her visit to Camp Alger, 10 miles west of the nation's capital, she found 60 men stricken with typhoid fever.
"One lad, only 16 years of age, lay on a bare wire cot with his coat for a pillow," she wrote. "He was too ill to brush the flies from his mouth and ears."
As she stroked his feverish brow, his last wish before he died was to see his mother.
"As I turned from his cot with aching heart I was more than ever determined to secure authority for the Red Cross Society to send women nurses to the camps," she wrote.
Three days after Gen. Sternberg, the army's top medical man, brushed off her request to allow Minnesota nurses to care for the state's sick soldiers, Haines went to the White House. After a two-hour wait, she was allowed to meet President McKinley.
" 'Mr. President,' I said, 'When you called for 3,000 men from the State of Minnesota, she gave her bravest and her best. Those boys are now sick and dying in camp …. and the mother heart of Minnesota pleads through me that she may care for her own.' "
McKinley thanked her for coming and suggested she meet with Sternberg. She told the president she'd already seen Sternberg "and all my pleadings are in vain."
"The president responded: 'I will personally recommend you, and I am sure you will have what you want.' The words were few, but they were spoken with an assurance that lifted the heavy weight from my heart, and I felt that my last hope had floated me in a harbor of safety."
The next day, Sternberg authorized Red Cross nurses from Minnesota to serve at Army camps. Within a week, 16 nurses had been sent to Fort Myer near what is now Arlington National Cemetery.
"My object had been gained," Haines wrote.
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book "Frozen in History" at startribune.com/ebooks.