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Trained as a registered nurse and a public health nurse by the Red Cross in Wichita, Kan., Emily Morgan was responsible for administering the serum that was brought to Nome via the famous Iditarod Serum Run for the diphtheria epidemic of 1925. She was named the “Angel of the Yukon” for saving the Natives of Nome from the “black death” during that epidemic, according to Wichita newspapers. Her work stopped the spread of that deadly disease to other villages in the Arctic during one of the greatest health crises Alaska has ever seen.
During the First World War, Morgan had a commission in the Army Reserve Nurses Corps. She served for three years in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, England and Australia. While working back home as the first public health nurse in Wichita, she asked for missionary work, which brought her to Alaska for 15 years: the Jesse Lee Orphanage in Unalaska, the Maynard-Columbia Hospital in Nome and the hospital in Barrow. Morgan performed her job in Nome under the harshest of conditions – an epidemic in a rural Alaska village, a race to bring serum by dogsled delayed by blizzards, rising numbers of diphtheria cases and a serum that then had to be safely unfrozen before it could be used with patients.
A volume of biographies of Kansas notables described Morgan’s role:
While waiting for the antitoxin to arrive, Miss Morgan ministered to the ill through the long days and nights, never faltering as she added new dignity to the name of nurse.
Morgan was called back to Nome while on furlough in Kansas in 1928 to help fight the smallpox epidemic in northern Alaska. Before leaving Alaska, she was in charge of the Barrow Hospital when the bodies of Wiley Post and Will Rogers were brought in from their plane crash on August 15, 1935. Post, a famous American aviator, and Rogers, celebrated as “America’s favorite Hollywood actor” just the year before, were on a vacation to Alaska and crashed just after takeoff near Point Barrow.
Morgan was born in Butler County, Kan., on March 7, 1878, the daughter of pioneering farmers and one of seven siblings. She graduated from Leon High School in 1897 and taught school before entering nurse’s training. She never married and died in El Dorado, Kan., in May of 1960 at the age of 82. She also served as a missionary nurse in Panama before nursing in New Zealand when World War II broke out in 1939. She had traveled to New Zealand on a furlough to visit and minister to an ill sister, but it was unsafe to travel, and she remained at her hospital post long after the war ended.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/ge01mNLaaWo
Blizzard delays Nome relief dogs in the final dash. (Feb. 2, 1925). The New York Times (reporting news from Nome, AK, Feb. 1, Associated Press.)
Emily Morgan – “Angel of the Yukon.” (1980). In The Kingdom of Butler – Her People. Lawrence P. Klintworth (Ed.) El Dorado, Kansas: Butler County Historical Society, pp. 150-151.
Emily Morgan of El Dorado Risked Life to Save Hundreds in Dread Diptheria Scurge. Wichita Eagle Magazine, May 19, 1957.
Hurries to Alaska. The Topeka Capital, December 23, 1928.
Heroine of Nome Epidemic in Public Service 50 Years. Wichita Morning Eagle, Aug. 2, 1947.
The official website of Will Rogers. (retrieved from http://www.cmgww.com/historic/rogers/ February 3, 2013. )