Women’s History Month: Dorothy Anna Ardisson

Posted in History, Life at 4:05 pm by

My friend Liz has been publishing a daily series of vignettes on Facebook in honor of Women’s History Month. After seeing the beginning of the series, I thought “This is interesting, and moving, and important—and maybe I could do something like it.” After all, as the historian in my family, and the unofficial family historian, I know or have access to lots of stories about the many remarkable women in the family. As it turns out, though, among other things, it is not an easy task to go from information and stories to a tight vignette a single time, let alone multiple times—particularly when one is not prone to brevity ;-) So instead of my own series, I decided I would do one in-depth portrait of a special woman I loved and admired, who is, as you will see, the reason I can tell these stories at all, and who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year. #WomensHistoryMonth (P.S. Thanks for the inspiration, Liz!)

Dorothy Anna Ardisson, US Army Nurse Corps, circa 1942

Here’s to my great aunt, then-Lt. Dorothy Anna Ardisson, United States Army Nurse Corps (circa 1942),

who was born in rural western Pennsylvania east of Pittsburgh 100 years ago this August, the eldest child and only daughter of first-generation Italian- and Slovene-Americans;

who knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse, having seen WWI nurses and their long, flowing capes in pictures at her veteran relatives’ houses;

who, with the help of her mother, prevailed against her father (who believed girls did not need a high school education) and attended high school, graduating with high honors;

who, if my recollection is correct, taught her brothers how to drive;

who achieved her dream of becoming a nurse, graduating from St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Pittsburgh (after having first been turned down by another hospital for being too short!);

who, like her three brothers, then served her country in the Second World War, and who, desiring more action, sought a transfer that led to service as a nurse near Oran during the invasion of North Africa;

who, after the war, obtained a BS in nursing education from the University of Pittsburgh (and later a MA in education from the University of Michigan) and then became a head nurse and a professor of nursing at Mercy College in Detroit, where she taught for many years;

who, each summer for many years, welcomed her nieces and nephews for a week of fun and family in Michigan;

who enjoyed travelling to see relatives and friends, at home and abroad, with her best friend Kay or fellow combat nurse Lucia, among others, including visits to all 50 states, Germany, Cairo, and Baldissero Canavese, the village north of Turin from which her Italian grandparents emigrated;

who, through her gentle forcefulness kept the Ardisson family together when her brothers, in their stubborn forcefulness, were not speaking to each other;

who both nourished a love of history and genealogy in a certain grandnephew and also kick-started his research by sending him a workbook and handwritten notes containing information on her parents and grandparents, at age 12 (which in turn allowed him to collect much valuable information before his own grandparents and other relatives of that generation passed away);

who curated a collection of family photos and had the foresight to write down a brief history of both her and her parents’ lives, and persuaded her brothers and nieces and nephews to do the same, so that the history of the John Ardisson family would not easily vanish (which history I consulted heavily while writing this);

who, as matriarch of the John Ardisson family after the death of her mother, organized two family reunions in her later years, bringing the entire family together once again and thawing the relations between her brothers;

who helped reconnect the American Ardissons with their French and Italian cousins, and who passed on each new bit of family information that came in;

who was one of many who proudly contributed to the funding for the construction of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery);

who, in her later years never stopped learning, teaching, and volunteering, including as a guide/re-enactor at Historic Hanna’s Town;

who was another example of just how small the world really is, as a granddaughter of the family with whom she lodged when she first moved to Detroit also was one of my college classmates;

who had made such an impression on her students that one drove several hours just to attend her viewing;

who, in her 91 years and 360 days, lived and worked as a single woman, carving her own path in a world which for many of those years was not quite ready for the idea of an unmarried career woman, and served as a quiet example to those of us who knew and loved her. ♥