Biographies/Clara Leight

Tags: Russian Jewish Nurse Villa Paz American Medical Bureau WWII Veteran

Researcher: Katherine Dodson, Stuyvesant '20

Clara Leight was born March 10, 1900 in Russia. She moved to the United States when she was nine years old as a Russian-Jewish immigrant. It is unclear how she lost her father, but Leight was raised only by her mother and grew up hearing Yiddish folktales from a book dating all the way back to the 16th century. Her mother used these stories to encourage compassion towards others in their community. Leight’s family was filled with suffragists and labor organizers. They inspired her to fight for what she believed in and to support different causes. When Leight got older, she used what her mother had taught her and studied to become a nurse at Bellevue Hospital. She successfully graduated in 1927. Leight got her passport on May 4, 1934 so that she could serve in the Spanish Civil War. She became a nurse in the army in March of 1937 after she sailed aboard Ile de France. Her family supported Leight‘s decision when she volunteered. In fact, she received much support and encouragement from her loved ones back at home.

When Leight was in the army, she was single, and her address was 531 East 84th Street in New York. She served with the Republican Medical Services at Villa Paz hospital. Leight was also part of the American Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy (AMBASD). As a nurse in the war, she served as an interpreter and colleague to a nurse named Margaret Sanger. As they visited hospitals and clinics in the Soviet Union, Leight remarked how condoms and other such things were not allowed to be distributed by Sanger. She noticed the backward ways of the place she was born in. Leight came from a background of suffragists, so she understood the sexism displayed in those actions. Eventually, she was promoted to first lieutenant in the Federal Government Nursing service.

Leight returned home in August, 1937 aboard the Queen Mary. Despite serving in the war, and supporting her country once, she later served in the army as a nurse once again for the US in World War II, from February 3, 1943 to December 20, 1945. Leight’s determination to support causes she believed in and serve her home continues to inspire many, even today. Leight passed away on March 17, 1987 from natural causes.


Clara Leight - Abraham Lincoln Brigade,

“Nursing History Review, Volume 3.” Google Books, Google,

“Private Aid, Political Activism.” Google Books, Google,