Red Lion Inn at Uckfield

The Red Lion Inn at Uckfield, Sussex in 1915. Image taken by visiting Scottish cousins.

Gertrude Duncan was an extraordinary woman. Born into a publican’s family in England, she grew up to have a significant role in hospital administration in America.

Gertrude was the third daughter of Hellen Silver and Alexander Duncan and was my maternal grandmother Bella Silver‘s first cousin.

Gertrude’s parents were from Scotland but lived mostly in England as her father moved around as a farm bailiff first in Wales and then in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey.

Gertrude Duncan's parents Hellen and Alexander

Gertrude Duncan’s parents Hellen and Alexander and her eldest sister Isabella most likely in late 1883.

Alexander and Hellen married in 1882 in Scotland and the 1891 census has them living at Byfleet, Surrey.

The Duncan family moved from Wales to England after the eldest child, Isabella Margaret, was born at Aberayon, Glamorgan, Wales in 1883.

The next child, Hannah Watt, was born in 1885 at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

Gertrude Agnes Helen was next born, in 1886, at Elton, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

Her birth was registered nearby at Oundle, Northamptonshire. The two places are about five miles apart.

The first son, Herbert John, was born in 1888 at Wansford, Northamptonshire.

His brother, Joseph Thomas Nicholas, the youngest of the Duncans was born in 1891 in Surrey where the family finally settled.

For at least some of their schooling, Gertrude and her sisters benefitted from the generosity of the Countess of Rosberry, Hannah de Rothschild, who provided free education at several schools she established.

The Duncan girls were at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, until the family moved about 50 miles away to Surrey in 1891. According to the school records, Isabella was enrolled there from 15 October 1888  to 31 July 1891, Hannah from May 1889 to 31 July 1891. Gertrude was there from 9 September 1889 to 31 July 1890.

Duncan family in Surrey on 1891 census

Duncan family in Surrey on 1891 census.

There is a note for each of the girls that they had “gone to Surrey”. What isn’t known is why the two older girls were registered until 1891 and Gertrude to 1890. Perhaps it was a matter of the school information not being updated because the family was in Surrey according to the 1891 census which was taken in April.

Around that time Alexander left the farming life behind to become the publican at the Red Lion Inn on London Rd, Dane Hill, Uckfield, Essex.

Gertrude missing from 1901 census

The Duncan family on the 1901 census at theRed Lion Inn, London Rd, Dane Hill, Uckfield, Essex, England

The Duncan family on the 1901 census at the Red Lion Inn, London Rd, Dane Hill, Uckfield, Essex, England.

Note that Gertrude Duncan is not with her family on census night. She is with the family on the 1911 census as the next image shows.

The Duncan family on the 1911 census at the Red Lion Inn

The Duncan family on the 1911 census at the Red Lion Inn.

The 1911 census for the Red Lion shows that Hellen is now widowed after Alexander died the previous year aged 67.
Gertrude is back with the family. No record is yet found of where she was in 1901.

Even though Gertude is with the family in 1911, according to the 1920 US census, she had emigrated to America in 1910, so she may have been only been visiting her family in 1911. The 1920 census shows that Gertrude was a student nurse at the Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, New York.

The 1920 census shows Gertrude Duncan at Ellis Hospital

The 1920 census shows Gertrude Duncan at Ellis Hospital.

Aboard Lusitania weeks before it was sunk

Gertrude was back in England in 1915 when her mother died. Along with her brother Herbert, who had emigrated to America in 1913, she returned to New York on the Lusitania leaving from Liverpool on 20 March 1915. Only a few weeks later, on 7 May, the ship was sunk by a German U-boat.

Gertrude Duncan 1915 Lusitania

Gertrude Duncan and her brother Herbert, passengers on the Lusitania in March 1915.

From the bare facts it seems that Gertrude was otherwise engaged between the years she arrived in the US and when she is found at the Ellis Hospital in 1920.

On the Schenectady, New York, City Directory in 1928, Gertrude is, for the first time, known as the assistant superintendent of the Ellis Hospital.

Ellis Hospital Student Nurses 1920

Some of the student nurses at Ellis Hospital in 1920 when Gertrude Duncan was doing her training. There is no known image of Gertrude. Image courtesy of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Assistant superintendent

The 1940 census shows she is now 52, single, and is earning $2400 a year as the assistant superintendent of Ellis Hospital.

She had not completed any tertiary education.

Gertrude continued her association with the hospital for the rest of her life.

A newspaper article from the Schenectady Gazette in 1943 reports that Gertrude was attending the annual convention of the Association of American Hospital Administrators.

Gertrude was New York state’s representative on the body.

In 1951, there is an article in The Troy Record that mentions Gertrude’s ongoing association with the Ellis Hospital and as a medical administrator.

She had been secretary and treasurer of the Northeastern Hospital Association for several years.

In 1955, there is another mention of Gertrude’s association with the hospital as she and her colleagues were planning a celebratory gathering.

Also in 1955, Gertrude made what may have been her last voyage to visit family back in England. She arrived back in New York from Southampton on the Mauretania on 24 May 1955.

Served the hospital for 32 years

Gertrude Duncan's entry in the 1928 City Directory

Gertrude Duncan’s entry in the 1928 City Directory. First mention of her being assistant superintendent at Ellis Hospital.

After 32 years at Ellis Hospital, Gertrude retired in 1953. Her final months were marked by illness and she passed away in Saratoga Hospital in October 1966 aged 79.

The following obituary appeared in Glens Falls Post Star on Monday 31 October 1966:

Miss Gertrude Duncan

Saratoga Springs-Miss Gertrude Duncan, 79, of 45 Greenfield Ave, died Friday in Saratoga Hospital following a long illness.

Formerly of Schenectady, she was a registered nurse and assistant director of Ellis Hospital, Schenectady, for more than 32 years until her retirement in 1953.

Miss Duncan was a communicant of St George’s Espiscopal Church.

She is survived by a brother, Herbert Duncan of Burnt Hills, and several nieces and nephews.

The office for the burial of the dead and a memorial Eucharist will be celebrated at noon today by the Rev. Darwin Kirby Jr., rector, at St George’s Espiscopal Church, Schenectady.