Kathryn Yiensena Bough was born on March 18, 1909 to Harold Bough of St. Croix, a retired Wardroom Steward of the US Navy, and Maggie Keeling of Virginia, a retired Teacher, in the Public School System. Kathryn was the 4th of seven sisters (known as the Bough girls in Portsmouth Virginia).
Kathryn, a Registered Nurse, graduated from Lincoln School of Nursing in 1934. She also did some studies at Columbia University. Before joining the Army Nurse Corp. where she attained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, she served as Head Nurse at Harlem Hospital, New York City.
She joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1942 and was one of 12 African-American Nurses during WWII to serve at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. Because of segregation, the Tuskegee Airmen could not use the White Medical Facilities. As a result, the nurses had to provide most of their medical services in the colored facilities.
2nd Lieut. Kathryn Bough worked along with Head Nurse Lt. Della Rainey as her second in charge. Kathryn along with four other nurses started the operating room services used by the Airmen at Tuskegee, Al. It was said that Kathryn might have been a doctor had it not been for her race and gender.
In 1943, Kathryn Bough married Tuskegee Airman, Edward Kingston Nichols Jr. who was an Attorney and Pastor. Edward‘s father was AME Church Pastor Edward K. Nichols Sr. His mother, Laura Drake Nichols, was a Social worker. Kathryn and Edward Nichols had a daughter, Charlotte Nichols. The couple settled in Philadelphia PA., but subsequently divorced. Kathryn returned to her home in Portsmouth, VA, and served as head nurse on the ob-gyn ward at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital from which she retired in 1970.
During the 90’s, while on a cruise she had the opportunity to visit her father’s birth-place (St. Croix) unaware that she had a host of relatives that she was connected to on the island.
Kathryn Y. Bough-Nichols lived to the ripe age of 95 when she died in Philadelphia, PA. Her year book with pictures of all the Tuskegee Airmen and Nurses was donated to the Military Museum in Norfolk Virginia.
This connection began with a 1932 St. Croix Avis Newspaper Article that was given to me from Veronica “Ronnie” Phillips Researcher/Family Historian in the Virgin Islands. Further research led to discovering the life of my 3nd Great Uncle, Harold Bough, (written in an August post) and the lives of his seven daughters, with an eventual connection to a living relative, Charlotte Nichols. She is the grand-daughter of Harold Bough, and daughter of my subject Army Nurse Kathryn.
From an email address to a phone call to Charlotte, as I waited to hear her voice as I began to tell her about my journey The love and warmth that was poured out to me for my effort broke down all fears. As I shared with her the story of her grandfather and other relatives in St. Croix through my research, she gave me the story of her mother Kathryn, the Tuskegee Army Nurse. It was so wholesome, so real that I am forever inspired to continue telling our stories. I make mention of the other sources that assisted me with research, and contacts; whereas I’m able to sort and shape this narrative as well as get a better picture of this prominent, yet humble family in Portsmouth VA
1. Charlotte Nichols (daughter of Kathryn Bough Nichols)
2. “Inscriptions of Triumph” by Mae Breckenridge Haywood – Retired Librarian, President, African-American Historical Society of Portsmouth, INC
3. Christina L. Carlton, Fisher Hill Website, researcher/Manager
4. The Afro America, August, 1943
I am absolutely delighted to read this wonderful story, and know of the very important role the nurses provided to the Tuskegee Airmen. I actually have never read anything about the nurses. thank you very much for this document!
What an inspired person Kathryn Bough was! How unfortunate her contribution, as well as that of her fellow nurses, was not included in the Tuskegee Airmen movie!
Shelly, we all appreciate your continued work on the mosaic of lives past.
I really enjoyed reading your post. I,too, hadn’t given much thought to the nurses who tended to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Imagine, visiting (coming home, actually) to an island full of family! Did Kathryn ever meet her relatives?
Thank you for stopping by. Unfortunately, she never met her relatives while visiting the island. I was told that Kathryn looked up the family name in the local phone book, made a call, but never connected.
I also enjoyed your post and included on my Follow Friday – Favorites links for today. Thanks for sharing!
That must have been such an emotional connecting when you made that call. It’s too bad Kathryn never connected with the family on the island.
Great post. thanks for sharing.
I really enjoyed your post..Thanks for sharing this wonderful story
Shelley, THANK YOU so much for this wonderful story and information about Kathryn Bough and the AA Nurses’ Corp during WWII. I agree with Kristin, that call had to be an emotional one for you, for sure. I have truly enjoyed my visit here this evening. Take care and happy holidays to you and your family!