As a student at the University of Southern California, Vera Placida Gardner joined a local organization, Alpha Rho. She graduated from USC in 1910 and attended medical school at the University of Michigan. While in Ann Arbor, she became a member of the Alpha Epsilon Iota Medical Fraternity for Women. The organization had a chapter house at 1115 E. Huron.
After graduation from medical school, she worked at Stanford University. When Alpha Rho became the reinstalled Omicron Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta on April 14, 1917, Gardner was one of eight Alpha Rho alumnae initiated with the Alpha Rho collegians.
A 1918 Stanford publication about the war service of those affiliated with the institution included this information:
In the task which the Stanford women have before them experienced physicians are required; therefore due consideration was given all applicants for these
positions. Dr. Placida Gardner, present head of the bacteriological department of the public health office of Los Angeles, was one of those chosen. In addition to being a public health bacteriologist, Dr. Gardner is an experienced pathologist, physician, and surgeon. She was an instructor in clinical microscopy and physiological chemistry in the University of Southern California.
Volume 33 of the Kappa Alpha Theta (1918-19) reported, “Dr. Placida Gardner, in France as bacteriologist with the Stanford Women’s unit for civilian relief.” The next volume added this information about her:
Stanford women’s unit of Red Cross. Left New York July 13, 1918, expected to return in October 1919. Dr. Gardner, a trained bacteriologist, with headquarters at Paris, was in the Public health department. She made a sanitary survey of canteens from Bordeaux to Paris. She was then acting head of the unit’s Red Cross work at the Embarkation camp at St. Nazaire. Returning to Paris she helped equip laboratories for the Red Cross commission to Poland, and in April 1919, went to Poland as head of the Red Cross laboratories with headquarters at Bialystok.
The magazine also included her first-hand account of some of the journey:
Eleven day trip in special car attached to a fifty-car train of Red Cross supplies, through northern France, Belgium, and Germany, passing through Berlin and being held up near the Polish border by the Germans, who held a soviet meeting of soldiers and civilians (officers having no influence) to decide the fate of the train; after a search of the train and nearly three days of doubt, it was sent back towards Berlin, but managed to get through to Poland by another route.
A book, Europe’s Morning After, by Kenneth L. Roberts, taken from accounts of the war, included this about the young doctor:
Dr. Placida Gardner, a comely young American woman, is making vaccines in Warsaw for the American Red Cross. She toyed carelessly with a glass tube containing cholera bacilli which she had reared herself, and spoke of some of the towns she had visited. She went down to Kovel to work on a cholera epidemic.
As far as I can tell, while in Poland, Gardner met Dr. Albert Justus Chesley, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School. He served first as a private and left the service as a colonel in the Spanish-American War prior to attending medical school. To old to enlist in the war, but wanting to be of service, he went to France on May 1918 as a public health adviser to the American Red Cross. He was summoned to Poland where he served as chief of the Red Cross Medical staff and then commissioner of the program. The Chesleys were married on February 13, 1920 and returned to the United States in October. She moved to Minneapolis where the male Dr. Chesley resumed his career with the State Board of Health.
Placida attended the Kappa Alpha Theta Founders’ Day banquet on January 29, 1921 at its University of Minnesota chapter. She she spoke as part of the program. A daughter, Louise, was born in 1924. Albert died in October 17, 1955; Placida died in 1966.
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