Florence Byam Illidge

Florence Byam Illidge was born on January 2, 1887, in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father, George Frederick A. Illidge, originally from the island of Saint Martin in the Dutch West Indies, was naturalized as an American citizen in 1888. Her mother, Frances Paynter (sometimes spelled Painter), was from Trenton, New Jersey. George and Frances were married in Philadelphia in July 1874. They had four other children: Edgar, George, Caroline( known as Carrie), and Mabel. Edgar died in New Haven in 1886 and George, Jr. in Boston in 1897. The Illidges lived in Dorchester by the early 1890s, where they resided at 29 Eastman Street.

George was a travelling piano salesman. In New Haven, he worked for B. Shoninger & Company, piano and organ manufactures. Later, he was employed by the New England Piano Company. Based in Boston, it was “the largest piano producing factory in the world, making the entire piano,” according to one newspaper article. In December 1897, George was appointed the manager of the Kansas City Piano Company, a concern which had been acquired by the New England Piano Company. George died of pneumonia in Kansas City, Missouri, in January 1899.

Florence’s mother, Frances, was an invalid with valvular heart disease. After her husband’s death, she worked as a dressmaker. Florence’s older sister, Carrie, was a stenographer. The Illidges left the home at 29 Eastman Street, first moving a short distance to 13 Belden Street by 1900, then to 33 Eastman Street. Florence graduated from the Edward Everett School on Pleasant Street in 1901. Two years later, Frances died of her heart condition. Carrie died in 1908. After these deaths, Florence’s youngest sister, Mabel, became a ward of the state, eventually placed as a servant in a private home.

Florence entered the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) School of Nursing. In 1910, she was living at the hospital on Blossom Street in Boston, serving as a pupil nurse. The next year, she received a diploma from the training school at the Boston Lying-In Hospital, then located a block from MGH at 24 McLean Street.

In March 1912, Florence took a position at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Massachusetts; in June the MGH nurses alumnae association relayed that she was assistant superintendent at the hospital and “enjoying her work very much.” That September, she changed jobs, moving to the Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The next year she was still in Bryn Mawr, but reported she had “taken up private work.” She became a registered nurse in Massachusetts in 1913. Florence entered Gordon Bible College (today’s Gordon College) in 1917, where she studied for a year, living at 168 West Newton Street in Boston’s South End.

During the First World War, Florence served as a reserve nurse. When she entered service, she gave her address as 57 Clifton Street in Dorchester. On November 9, 1918, Florence was called to active service from civilian life, and assigned to the U.S. Army Base Hospital at Camp Mills, in Hempstead on Long Island, New York. Camp Mills was a demobilization center and troops passed through the camp as they returned from Europe. Florence was relieved from active duty on July 5, 1919.

That December, Florence became an instructor at the Quincy City Hospital. She returned to her studies in the early 1920s, resuming classes at Gordon Bible College, which in the intervening years had been renamed the Gordon College of Theology and Missions. At the time, the school was located on Evans Way in the Fenway. She graduated in 1925. By 1927, Florence was the superintendent of nurses at the Grace Hospital School of Nursing, a Presbyterian institution in Asheville, North Carolina. A year later she was “working with the Navajo Indians under the auspices of the Presbyterian Mission in Indian Wells, Arizona.” She probably worked at the hospital in Indian Wells, which was operated by the Presbyterian Church. It closed in the 1930s, when it was “discontinued due to the lack of water and waste water facilities.” Florence appears to have lived in New York City during the 1930s. A 1931 Manhattan directory listed her as a nurse at Bellevue Hospital.

By April 1940, she had returned to Asheville, where she boarded at 194 Woodfin Street. According to the census, she was a registered nurse in private duty, earning a yearly income of $900. In September 1940, she notified the MGH alumnae association that she was managing “The Pilgrims … a small Rest Home situated in Montreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains 2708 miles above sea-level, 18 miles E. from Asheville, N.C.; 2 miles from Black Mountain, N.C.; and easily accessible via … good roads.” During World War II, Florence worked as a civilian employee in the chief nurse’s office at Moore General Hospital, an army hospital with complexes in West Asheville and Swannanoa, North Carolina. The summer of 1954, she was a camp nurse in a boys’ camp near Hendersonville, North Carolina.

The winter 1968 issue of The Quarterly Record of the Massachusetts General Hospital Nurses Alumnae Association noted that Florence was still in Montreat, “living quietly and looking forward to entering a home for the elderly very soon.” Florence moved to the Quarryville Presbyterian Home in Quarryville, Pennsylvania that September. In 1977, the alumnae association shared that Florence “has been incapacitated for some time with fractures of the lumbar vertebrae, following a fractured hip last year” and “would be cheered by some mail at the Presbyterian Home.”

Florence died in the convalescent unit at the Quarryville Presbyterian Home on January 24, 1982. She was buried in the Quarryville Cemetery.

Researched and written by Camille Arbogast.


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Posted on

April 4, 2022

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