Mary Burke, a Unique Chelsea Veteran

May 28, 2014
By
In a time when most women's war efforts were minimized, Mary Burke was front and center in Chelsea. The combat nurse who served in France has her portrait hanging in City Hall amongst the other World War I veterans who never came back home, and she had a school named after her in 1937.

In a time when most women’s
war efforts were minimized,
Mary Burke was front and
center in Chelsea. The combat
nurse who served in France
has her portrait hanging in
City Hall amongst the other
World War I veterans who
never came back home, and
she had a school named after
her in 1937.

At the top of the steps in Chelsea City Hall, one will find a series of portraits covering the wall just adjacent to the Council Chambers.

They are the faces of soldiers from Chelsea during World War I that gave their lives “over there.”

But amongst the heroic men placed on that wall, there is one face that stands out and has provoked numerous questions.

That face is the rare face of a woman, that woman being Mary Burke, whose portrait hangs side by side amongst the other Chelsea warriors who gave their life in World War I.

Burke was born in Everett, but lived in Chelsea for many years and was well known here before the outbreak of World War I, according to local historian George Ostler.

Burke was a combat nurse on the front lines during World War I and by all accounts served bravely. However, she was cut down by a rampant influenza that took her life while she served.

“It was an epidemic,” said Ostler. “It was a bad influenza and it took a lot of soldiers, and it got Mary Burke also. She was serving in France at the time.”

The interesting part is that in a time when the wartime contributions of women were minimized or ignored compared to the men, Chelsea officials of that day decided that Mary Burke deserved a prominent place alongside the men who gave their life during combat.

Furthermore, Burke’s contributions to the war effort were not put aside after the dedication of her picture in City Hall. Some years later, in 1937, the City named a school after her.

Today, she is the namesake of the entire school complex on Eastern Avenue – the Mary C. Burke Complex.


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