Gertrude Anne Nolan was born on August 26, 1886, at 9 Greenwich Place in Dorchester. Her parents, Michael and Mary (Murray) Nolan, were from Ireland. Michael, who arrived in the United States around 1880, was a laborer for the city of Boston, eventually working as a fireman at a city pumping station. Margaret immigrated to the United States in the 1870s. They were married in Boston in 1881. Michael and Margaret had at least four other children: Margaret Frances (known as Frances or Fannie) born in 1882, David in 1889, Charles in 1891, and Nora in 1896. Nora died of cholera infantum in 1898.
By 1890, the family was living at 51 Granger Street, which they owned. In 1902, Gertrude graduated from the Mather School in Dorchester. She then attended four years of high school, according to the 1940 census. A short piece in the Boston Globe about a party held for Gertrude described her as a “popular young woman of the district.” By 1907, she was employed as a bookkeeper, her lifelong profession. Her older sister, Frances, was a gilder at a bookbindery. Frances died of tuberculosis in 1908. By 1910, her young brothers David and Charles were employed: David as a shipper at a chemical company and Charles as a janitor for a storage company. Around 1914, the Nolans moved to 34 Fox Street in the Meeting House Hill section of Dorchester. Michael died of heart disease on December 1, 1915.
On May 1, 1918, Gertrude enrolled in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force at the Boston Navy Yard (today the Charlestown Navy Yard). It appears Gertrude shaved a couple years off her age when she enrolled, as her military records use a birth year of 1889. She served as a yeoman 3rd class, female. Sometimes called “yeomanettes” or “yeowomen,” female Yeomen were officially enrolled in the Navy and received the same rate of pay as men. The Naval Act of 1916 included a line permitting the enlistment of “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense.” The non-gendered language was interpreted to include women and they were recruited beginning in March 1917. By the end of the war there were over 11,000 female Yeomen. A Boston Globe article which noted Gertrude’s enrollment, explained that the yeowomen were “destined to release the services of yeomen for overseas duty;” as the women took on clerical tasks, men were freed up for other work.
Gertrude was assigned to the District Detail Office in Boston. She probably lived at home during her service, as the Navy did not have female barracks, and women had to make their own living arrangements. Generally, women were assigned work in their home communities. There was also no officially-issued female uniform, and the women were responsible for acquiring the single-breasted jacket, long skirt, and brimmed hat they were required to wear. On July 31, 1919, Gertrude was placed on inactive duty. She was honorably discharged due to lack of funds with the rank of yeoman, first class, female on May 1, 1920.
The 1920 census recorded Gertrude, her mother, and Charles still living in the house at 34 Fox Street. Gertrude was a bookkeeper for a sugar company. Charles was a driver employed by the city. Ten years later, Gertrude and her mother were still living at 34 Fox Street. The 1930 census stated that the three-unit building was valued at $8,000; the other two units were rented for $45 a month. It appears that by this time, Gertrude’s career may have ended, as no occupation was reported for Gertrude on the census that year.
Mary died on March 12, 1937. After her mother’s death, Gertrude moved to Waltham, Massachusetts, where she lodged at 461 Main Street with Ellen Cravin, age 76, and her sister, Mary O’Hallson, 86. Both were from Ireland. The 1940 census reported that Gertrude was not employed for pay but had income from other sources.
Gertrude died in Boston in August 1944. Her entry in the Veterans Administration Master Index gives a death date of August 11, while her Boston Globe death notice stated she died on August 12. A Solemn High Mass of Requiem was celebrated for her at Saint Mary’s Church in Waltham.
Researched and written by Camille Arbogast.
Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, MA; Ancestry.com
1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 U.S. Federal Census; Ancestry.com
“Happy Pupils,” Boston Globe, 26 June 1902: 3; Newspapers.com
“Dorchester District,” Boston Globe, 16 March 1908: 9; Newspapers.com
Military, Compiled Service Records. World War I. Carded Records. Records of the Military Division of the Adjutant General’s Office, Massachusetts National Guard.
“Navy Getting Men at a Rapid Rate,” Boston Globe, 2 May 1918: 14; Newspapers.com
Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917 – 1940, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives at St. Louis, St. Louis, MO; FamilySearch.org
“Death Notices,” Boston Globe, 13 August 1944: 26; Newspapers.com
Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970]. Volumes 66–145. Facsimile edition. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, MA; Ancestry.com