Dunedin nurse’s de­vo­tion to sick took a heavy toll

Otago Daily Times - - GENERAL - MIKE HOULAHAN mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

EVA Cooper de­voted her life to help­ing oth­ers, a work ethic which cut her life short.

Miss Cooper was one of four Dunedin Hos­pi­tal nurses who died from the dis­ease dur­ing the in­fluenza pandemic of 1918.

That was a re­mark­ably low num­ber, given nurses spent their days with the sick, in­fec­tion con­trol pro­to­cols were in their in­fancy, and Dunedin Hos­pi­tal was dev­as­tated by the dis­ease — at one point dur­ing the out­break four of its five sur­geons and 82 of its 116 nurses were se­ri­ously ill in hos­pi­tal beds.

Eva Cooper (26) was from a Gore farm­ing fam­ily, but was un­able to be re­turned home af­ter her death.

‘‘There were re­stric­tions in place at the time which meant she had to be buried here, so she is buried in An­der­sons Bay ceme­tery,’’ Jen­nifer Har­ford — her great­niece — said.

‘‘There is also a plaque there for my great un­cle, Frank Cooper, who was killed a year ear­lier in Egypt in World War 1.’’

Al­though in­fluenza took a ter­ri­ble toll in Dunedin, killing 272 peo­ple in a mat­ter of weeks, Eva Cooper’s death was im­por­tant enough to be recorded by the news­pa­pers of the day.

‘‘She was ed­u­cated at the East Gore School and two years ago joined the nurs­ing staff at Dunedin Hos­pi­tal,’’ the Gore En­sign re­ported.

‘‘The flag was flown at half mast at the Dunedin hos­pi­tal out of re­spect to the mem­ory of the de­ceased.’’

It was a rit­ual sadly car­ried out sev­eral more times at the hos­pi­tal.

Cooper’s fel­low nurses Jessie McRae and Mary Wat­son were killed by in­fluenza, as was Sis­ter Elsie Loudon and vol­un­teer worker Eve­lyn El­liott.

Three other south­ern vol­un­teer nurses — Mary New­man and Janet Lo­gan (both Owaka) and Ivy Mitchell (Balclutha) — also died from in­fluenza dur­ing the epi­demic, which killed 9000 peo­ple across New Zealand.

The eight women are re­mem­bered on a com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque in the Dunedin Hos­pi­tal chapel.

Eva Cooper was the first mem­ber of the fam­ily to show any in­ter­est in medicine, Mrs Har­ford said.

‘‘The fam­ily couldn’t af­ford to send too many chil­dren to uni­ver­sity — some­one had to stay home and run the farm.

‘‘She (Eva) was lucky enough to go to uni­ver­sity, as was her twin sis­ter . . . their brother des­per­ately wanted to go to uni­ver­sity, but he was told ‘no way’.’’

Sev­eral med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als were killed in the pandemic, and two have me­mo­rial stat­ues — Dr Charles Lit­tle at Waikari and Dr Mar­garet Cruick­shank, New Zealand’s first woman doc­tor, at Wai­mate.

By a quirk of fate, there was a fam­ily con­nec­tion be­tween the Coop­ers and Cruick­shanks — a sis­ter of Eva mar­ried a brother of Dr Cruick­shank.

PHOTO: PETER MCIN­TOSH

Not for­got­ten . . . Jen­nifer Har­ford with a por­trait of her great aunt Eva Cooper, a Dunedin Hos­pi­tal nurse who died in the 1918 in­fluenza pandemic.

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