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January 17, 1918

Amabel Roberts ’13, a nurse attached to the No. 2 Reserve Base Hospital at Étretat, France, died from septicemia, the first resident of her home town, Madison, NJ, and the first in her unit to die in military service in World War I. “‘He saves others, himself he cannot save,’” she had written from Étretat to her friend and mentor Professor Elizabeth Hazelton Haight the previous November. “That is to me typical and descriptive of the soldier…. A life without sacrifice is utterly valueless. This is brought home to me more and more every day…. Yet surely it is better to die young, than to live a hundred years to no account…. I am more thankful every day that I took up nursing—even though my bit is so very small indeed. More than half my class at the training school are over here—among them my dearest friends. Am I not fortunate?”

On March 11, 1918, The New York Times reprinted from “Dooins,” a weekly paper published by Roberts’s unit, an account of her death and funeral. “‘At 6:15 P.M.,’ the paper says, ‘Amabel S. Roberts, R. N., Army Nurse Corp…gave up the life she had devoted to the service of others. Her illness, one of the most deadly of infections, had lasted barely three days. On Thursday evening the unit acknowledged defeat. It was the silence that one noticed most…. The services were to be at the Blanquet, the nurses’ quarters, and in a moment the narrow street was choked with troops, who formed in a long double rank on either side of the street leading to the gate. For fifteen minutes the men stood at attention while the simple services were being held inside the Blanquet, and then the leaded casket was brought out and placed on a stretcher carriage covered with flags…. A plain black wooden cross will mark that grave; a cross differing in no wise from the crosses which surround it except in the name painted in white upon its arms. It was suggested that some more elaborate memorial might be fitting, but surely none could fit so well. It is a soldier’s cross for one who died like a soldier.’”

The Class of 1913 pledged several scholarships to the Nurses Training Camp planned at Vassar for the summer of 1918, and Professor Haight, Cora J. Beckwith, Roberts’s instructor in zoology, and Dean Ella McCaleb presented a Memorial Minute in her memory to the Vassar faculty. “Her name,” they said, “will live in our traditions, associated with quiet simplicity, the beauty of steady work and complete devotion to the service of humanity.”

On May 8, 1919, President MacCracken, members of the faculty and students planted five trees on the shore of Vassar Lake to commemorate Amabel Roberts and four other members of the college community who had lost their lives in the war. On June 8, 1919, the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) placed a tablet in the Chapel in memory of Roberts and three other alumnae who died in service to the country.

The Years