Archive/Helen Freeman Feinberg

Tags: American Joint Distribution Committee Brooklyn Jewish Hospital Jewish Nurse

Researcher: Rebecca Kim, Stuyvesant '21

Helen Freeman Feinberg was a nurse in the Spanish Civil War. She was born on March 19, 1914, in New York of Jewish descent. She trained as a nurse in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. When she was 22 years old, a few months into her career, she decided to join the Medical Bureau in Aid Spanish Democracy. She was not a member of any political party during this time, but she went as she felt that democracy was being challenged against people. She arrived in Spain on January 16, 1937, and returned on June 6, 1938. 

In Spain, she worked as a frontline nurse. She was present in the battles of Jarama, Belchite, and Gandesa. She was one of approximately 50 American nurses. In an interview, she mentioned that she would not be able to sleep without her silk pajamas and would always carry water and soap in her bag. Like many U.S. nurses, Freeman introduced professional nursing practice for those who were not qualified in Spain; she was successful in helping the wounded even with the lack of resources. Freeman was fierceless in battle, even amongst explosions and ambulance chaos. 

In March of 1938, there was a bombing at a hospital in Hijar. Freeman sustained massive injuries; it was reported that she suffered a skull fracture and an upper arm injury due to enemy shrapnels. Due to the injury, she was not allowed to become a nurse for World War II later in the future.

After she was dispensed, she instead served in helping clinics in areas of Peru and Ecuador. During World War II, Freeman worked with displaced people in Germany and later worked with migrant farmworkers in Oregon and Idaho. She also joined the American Joint Distribution Committee and continued to work as a nurse in New York City and California. 

Even with all of her dedication, she was mislabeled as a communist and was continuously questioned by the FBI during the 1950s. The main reason for the skepticism was due to her time in Spain and her progressive point of view. Despite this, she continued to show her support for her fellow nurses in Spain and attend events such as the 53rd Anniversary Dinner for Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  

From the 1970s to her death, she lived in Orange County, California, working as a school nurse. She died due to cancer on February 22, 1999, only a month before her 85th birthday. She has a son and a daughter and two grandsons. The Whittier Elementary School in California named a facility the Costa Mesa Feinberg Hall in honor of Freeman and her husband, Charles Feinberg. 

 


Sources

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. “ALBA Q & A Session: ‘Into the Fire.’” YouTube, 17 Nov. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ4KwqgPPeE.

“Freeman, Helen.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 28 July 2020, alba-valb.org/volunteers/helen-freeman.

Jirku, Gusti. Nosotras Estamos Con Vosotros- Mujeres Antifascistas de Distintos Países Hablan de su Trabajo en España. 1 ed., Albacete, El Boletín, 2018. Nosotras Estamos Con Vosotros- Mujeres Antifascistas de Distintos Paises Hablan de su Trabajo en España, https://brigadasinternacionales.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Nosotras-estamos-con-vosotros.pdf 

“Nursing History Review, Volume 3.” Google Books, 1995, books.google.nl/books?id=dbVtI-dM_hYC&pg=PA95&lpg=PA95&dq=helen+freeman+feinberg&source=bl&ots=emAKehJ-xe&sig=ACfU3U3mkajWKrrEnSPm8q3HbOtq1bzjbA&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=helen%20freeman%20feinberg&f=false.

 

Oliver, Myrna. “Helen Feinberg, 84; Nurse, Social Activist.” Los Angeles Times, 1 Mar. 2019, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-feb-24-mn-11222-story.html.

 


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