Back to top

Ericksen, Theresa (1867–1943)

Creator: 
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen, ca. 1930.

Theresa Ericksen, ca. 1930.

After graduating from Northwestern Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1894, Theresa Ericksen led a life of service as a healer, teacher, and promoter of public health and nursing education. Her legacy has ties to the Minnesota Nursing Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Christmas Seals, and Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Ericksen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1867. Orphaned at age six, she travelled with her uncle and aunt to destinations as far away as China and Japan before moving to Minnesota around 1880. She graduated from St. Paul’s Northwestern Hospital’s nursing school in the early 1890s, then quickly made her mark. In 1898, she and seven other nurses formed the Ramsey County Nurses Association (later renamed the Minnesota Nurses Association).

In the same year, Ericksen volunteered as a contract nurse for the U.S. Army and served at Sternberg Army Hospital in Georgia. She later volunteered for service overseas in the Philippines in support of Minnesota’s 13th Volunteer Regiment. After taking her oath of service at the Presidio in San Francisco, she served as a Regular Army Nurse and the regiment’s only female member.

Due to a shortage of nurses overseas, Ericksen remained in the Philippines longer than any of her fellow servicemen and women. After returning to the United States in 1901, she volunteered again for service as a dietitian in 1904. She worked at the U.S. Army’s main hospital in Manila until 1905.

In 1918, Ericksen returned to the Twin Cities. There, she served in dual roles as Anoka County’s Public Health Nurse and the City of Anoka’s High School Nurse. During America’s involvement in World War I, Ericksen once again served overseas in France. Her first job involved treating casualties behind the lines near Chateau-Thierry. Following an Allied offensive, Ericksen briefly worked at an orphanage and later at an Army Hospital caring for soldiers who fell ill with influenza. She returned home in 1919.

After World War I, Ericksen resumed work in public health, fighting tuberculosis in what she called her “fourth war.” Her longstanding advocacy for buying Christmas Seals to fund research in finding a cure for the disease culminated in a public ceremony in 1936. She became the first woman to receive Public Health’s Distinguished Service Award, presented to her by the famed Mayo Brothers.

From 1926 until 1936, Ericksen served as superintendent of St. Paul’s Pleasant Day Nursery. While providing a safe, healthy, and structured environment for children, she acted on behalf of servicemen too debilitated from gas injuries to work or care for their families. Many men had been denied benefits from the government.

Ericksen served many veterans' groups during her career. In addition to the 13th and 17th Minnesota Volunteer Regimental Associations, she worked for the United States War Veterans, the American Legion, and, until 1921, the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

While visiting a comrade on the grounds of the Veterans’ Home in Minneapolis in 1933, Ericksen injured herself on an icy walkway. Her injury required surgery and long-term rehabilitation. F. W. Pederson, the commandant of the facility and a fellow veteran, recommended that she recuperate in a warmer climate, but it remains unknown whether Ericksen left Minnesota.

Mindful of her age and condition, Pederson asked where Ericksen wished to be buried if something dire occurred. She requested Fort Snelling Military Cemetery. Such a request, however, was impossible to meet, because the cemetery was reserved only for active service members attached to the post.

Acting as Ericksen’s advocate, Pederson took the issue to state representatives. Together, they successfully lobbied for the creation of the state’s first National Cemetery. When the cemetery was completed in 1940, it benefitted not only Ericksen but a growing number of veterans from America’s recent conflicts.

After her 1933 injury forced her into early retirement, Ericksen remained active, serving as a delegate to veterans’ organizations. She proved to be popular with the news media and received many letters from fellow veterans who recalled her devotion to duty.

Ericksen died on August 31, 1943, and was laid to rest at Fort Snelling National Cemetery to the sound of taps and a twenty-one-gun salute on September 2. Her grave is in section A, block 11, grave 1884.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

P1260
Theresa Ericksen papers, 1899–1938
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Correspondence, clippings, printed matter, and miscellany, largely regarding her work as a nurse with the 13th Minnesota Regiment in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and afterwards (1898–1905). Included are letters and reminiscences from regiment veterans; a manuscript, "The First American Church in the Philippine Islands," by Ericksen; and information on her subsequent nursing career, the United Spanish War Veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Minnesota Nurses Association Fourth District records, 1898–2013
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Journal articles, letters, a biographical news clipping, and an autobiographical account of Erickson, a veteran of the Spanish-American War who figured strongly in the origination of the nursing registry. See especially the Theresa Ericksen file, 1904–1940.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/01231.xml

Regimental Association records of the Thirteenth Minnesota Volunteers, 1897–1959
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: See especially Theresa Ericksen’s estate records (1908–1951) and newspaper clippings.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/01137.xml

World War I Military Service Records, 1918–1920
Minnesota War Records Commission
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: See War Service Records for Non-Military Service: Army, Navy, and Red Cross Nurses, A–Z, box 109.I.2.6F for Theresa Ericksen’s service record file.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr00980.xml

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen, ca. 1930.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen, ca. 1930.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen promoting Christmas Seals in the battle against tuberculosis, ca. 1924.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen promoting Christmas Seals in the battle against tuberculosis, ca. 1924.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen at the Third Infantry Veterans Association reunion at Fort Snelling on October 12, 1936.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen at the Third Infantry Veterans Association reunion at Fort Snelling on October 12, 1936.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen (center) receiving a service medal on November 14, 1936.
Black and white photograph of Theresa Ericksen (center) receiving a service medal on November 14, 1936.
Color image of a Red Cross Flag carried by Theresa Ericksen to the Philippines during the Spanish–American War and to France during World War I.
Color image of a Red Cross Flag carried by Theresa Ericksen to the Philippines during the Spanish–American War and to France during World War I.

Turning Point

In 1898, Ericksen works as a nurse during the Spanish-American War. It is her first experience with an armed conflict.

Chronology

1867

Theresa Ericksen is born in Norway.

ca. 1880

Ericksen moves to Minnesota.

1894

Ericksen graduates from Northwestern Hospital Nursing School in Minneapolis.

1898

Ericksen forms the Ramsey County Nursing Registry (a precursor to the Minnesota Nurses Association).

1898

Ericksen serves as a contract nurse during the Spanish-American War.

1899

Ericksen becomes a U.S. Army nurse and serves in the U.S.–Philippine War.

1904

Ericksen returns to the Philippines, where she works as a dietitian.

1906

In St. Paul, Ericksen promotes Christmas Seals to raise money for research against tuberculosis.

1917

Anoka County hires Ericksen as a public health nurse and school nurse.

1918

Ericksen begins eight months of service overseas in France during World War I.

1919

After the end of the war, Ericksen returns to the United States.

1926

Ericksen begins to manage the Pleasant Day Nursery in St. Paul.

1935

Ericksen retires from public life and immerses herself in work for veterans’ associations.

1936

The state health department awards Ericksen with the Distinguished Service Medal (a civilian award). William and Charles Mayo (sons of William Worrall Mayo) present the medal during a public ceremony.

1943

Ericksen dies and is buried in section A-11, plot 1884 of Fort Snelling National Cemetery.