March is National Women's History Month

Submitted by krinehart on March 9, 2013 - 4:18pm

Last night I attended a presentation at the Petaluma Arts Center given by author and retired city planner, Inge Schaeffer Horton. Inge spoke about her book Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area: The Lives and Work of Fifty Professionals, 1890-1951.

If the Arts Center had charged admission I would have said it was a sell out crowd. I suspect there were close to 70 people packed into the small classroom located adjacent to the exhibit space – a space currently occupied by an amazing textile show featuring the work of four women weavers.

Inge’s presentation was a great way in which to acknowledge that March is National Women’s History Month.

For my part I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a story I wrote about two World War I Red Cross nurses for the Petaluma Argus Courier back in May of 2007.

While 16 million lives were lost during World War I, it was the influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 50 million people. Two of its victims were the Lundholm sisters, Viola and Ruth, who were born and raised in Petaluma.

The Lundholms were a large family that lived in a quintessential farmhouse that still stands at 200 West Street and was recently purchased by Jim Soules who plans to rehabilitate it with help from Chris Lynch and Mary Dooley of MAD Architecture.


The Lundholms family consisted of parents Caroline and Andrew Lundholm, both Swedish immigrants. Andrew was a cobbler, who along with his wife, raised not only Viola and Ruth, but son Charles and daughters Esther, Julia, Lydia, Mabel and Florence.

Viola and Ruth attended Petaluma High School and following graduation worked as clerks  - Viola at Walter Towne Drugs and Ruth at a candy store on Kentucky Street - before deciding to attend nursing school at Merritt Hospital in Oakland. Their married sister Lydia was living in Oakland at the time. Once Viola and Ruth obtained  their degrees, both signed up with the Red Cross.


Ruth Lundholm was stationed at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco and Viola was sent to Camp Cody in New Mexico. After a few months, the sisters reunited in New York where they remained for three weeks before sailing for England. They arrived at Portsmouth on September 14, 1918, and within a month’s time both were dead.

It is thought that Ruth contracted influenza during the sea crossing at which time both women were attending to infected soldiers. While nursing her sister, Viola fell ill and died on October 11, 1918 at the age of 22. Twenty-five year old year old Ruth had a relapse and died a week later. The sisters were temporarily buried in the Magdalan Hill Cemetery in Winchester, England.

On August 23, 1920, the bodies of Viola and Ruth arrived in Petaluma by train. The two caskets were draped in the American flag and placed side by side at the funeral parlor where they lied in state. According to a Petaluma Argus article dated August 9, 1920, the bodies of the two nurses were the first of the dead to arrive in Petaluma from overseas.

The funeral was attended by hundreds, including nurses who had trained with the sisters. Flags were lowered at half mast throughout the city and business was suspended during the hours of the funeral, which was conducted at the Baptist Church on Kentucky Street. The local papers reported that long before the funeral services had begun, the church was filled and the streets adjacent were crowded with vehicles. Hundreds of people were unable to secure admission and no building in the city could have sheltered all who sought to pay a last tribute to the dead.

The names of Viola and Ruth Lundholm are included on the World War I Memorial at Penry Park.






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