Clara Ayres

Clara Ayres
Clara Edith Work

(1880-09-16)September 16, 1880
Died May 17, 1917(1917-05-17) (aged 36)
Burial place Venice Township, Seneca County, Ohio
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Wayland D. Ayres (1903–06)
  • James Clarkson Work (father)
  • Mary Jane Work (nee Smith) (mother)

Clara Ayres (1880–1917) was an American nurse, who joined the United States Army during the First World War. Ayres and Helen Burnett Wood were the first two women to be killed while serving in the United States military, following an explosion on USS Mongolia on May 17, 1917.


Clara Edith Work (later Ayres) was born on September 16, 1880, in Venice Township, Seneca County, Ohio. She was the eldest of three children of James and Mary Work. She was brought up in Attica within the Township. On September 30, 1903, she married grocery store owner Wayland D. Ayres, who died three years later from tetanus from a workplace injury. She attempted to run the store herself, but was eventually employed as a clerk at a dry foods store nearby.[1]

In 1910, she travelled to Chicago to study nursing at the school there. She graduated in 1913, and worked until 1917 as an instructor at the Cook County Hospital. That year she responded to the American Red Cross appeal for trained nurses for the First World War. She was accepted, and was transferred on board the USS Mongolia to travel to France. The day after sailing on May 17, the crew underwent a firing practice. The medical staff being transferred watched from near one of the guns, when it exploded, killing Ayres and fellow nurse Helen Burnett Wood.[1]

The ship transferred their bodies back to New York City. The two women were the first of their gender to be killed while serving in the United States military. Following a service by the Red Cross on May 23, Ayres' body was taken back to Ohio where she was buried with military honors on May 26. A Bronze plaque honoring her was placed at the Chicago Training School for Nurses.[1] The deaths made national news, and the United States Navy was accused in the United States Congress of covering up how the women were killed.[2] A historical marker was placed near her grave in 2017.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Tendrich Frank, Lisa (2013). An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. Santa Barbara, Calif: Credo Reference. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1-785394-515.
  2. ^ Ayres-Brown, Antonia (May 28, 2017). "Historian tells story of nurse who died at start of WWI". Toledo Blade. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  3. ^ "First WWI American civilian death commemorated". Norwalk Reflector. April 22, 2017. Retrieved November 30, 2017.

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