Johanna 'Jenny' Gråbøl
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Johanna 'Jenny' Gråbøl
Portrait of Johanna 'Jenny' Gråbøl

Born 3rd July, 1890
Herning, Denmark
Died 17th May, 1959
Hamburg, Denmark
Profession Nurse, Reformer

Johanna 'Jenny' Gråbøl was a Danish nurse whose efforts during the Cotton Wars would help transform battlefield medicine whilst her subsequent work back in Denmark would help reform domestic practices too.

Born in 1890 to Jonas Fellborg, the member of the Riksdagen for Herning, and Elisabeth Sandell an heiress and novelist of minor success. Johanna was brought up in relative comfort and wealth; as well as a minister her father also owned several textile factories in Herning. Her older brothers and sisters had settled comfortably into the upper-middle class life but this life of leisure apparently exasperated the headstrong Jenny and she eschewed it for education as a nurse. She would study medicine at the University of Copenhagen, which had recently opened its doors to female students, though actually becoming a doctor was still prohibited to women. It would be there that she fell in love with the low-born Lieutenant, Anders Gråbøl, and again her family vehemently disapproved.

When Denmark declared war on Mvskokia in 1909 Gråbøl would be called up with the 3rd Army. Jenny could not bear to part with her new love and through the assistance of a sympathetic uncle Johanna found herself bound for Leifia as part of the Danish war effort. The couple would be reunited in the Danish Taino Islands where Gråbøl was briefly billeted and the couple were wed by the bishop of Kristiansted, Frits Strømsheim, in an impromptu ceremony in the army's temporary camp. Jenny had apparently lied, not only about her age but also her parentage and Strømsheim would later write that 'the entire army company told me she was a 'mere nurse' and if he had known who she was he would not have performed the ceremony'.

The couple were soon split however. Anders was part of the force which would besiege Ayaaxi and Jenny found a place in the makeshift hospital working as a doctor's assistant and ward matron. Here casualties were shipped across the Mexic Gulf. However the survival rate of injured men was appallingly low. If the transport ships weren't harassed or sunk by the Mvskokian navy then those wounded soldiers who did survive the crossing were often malarial, whilst cholera and typhoid were rife in the unhygienic conditions. Hand washing was little practised and the height of medical knowhow for bullet wounds prescribed a piece of onion to be sewn into the wound. There were considerable shortages in equipment and scurvy weakened the general health of the army. It is no wonder the death rate for disease far-outstripped those killed in action.

Though the newly married Gråbøl had received quite limited training at the University of Copenhagen she had read widely, especially Anglian and Westphalian journals, both then at the leading edge of medical research, and realised the poor conditions of the hospital were killing men needlessly. Lobbying the doctors for greater hygiene proved unsuccessful but eventually went over their heads and in June 1910 wrote to the influential Morgenstjernen newspaper denouncing the atrocious conditions. Fellborg, embarrassed that his daughter had in effect publicly announced a marriage in the press, tried to quash the news but the Riksdagen was galvanised anyway. They would quickly commission a substitute hospital; one that combined the latest advances and was moveable. The work moved quickly and the first prefabricated new hospital arrived in Kristiansted in November 1910. Capable of holding 500 men it incorporated sanitation and ventilation and by the spring of 1911 the death rate was soon a tenth of that of the old hospitals. The Kalmar army would adopt these as a rule, as did Aragon.

As the Danish involvement in the war changed so did Gråbøl's role. Denmark had grabbed Ayaaxi in February 1910 and was vainly attempting to expand its area of control in Biloxiland throughout 1910 with Gothenlandic assistance. After the success of the new hospital in the Taino Islands it was decided a new hospital should be created in Ayaaxi to better deal with freshly wounded troops, with Gråbøl chosen to manage it. She would arrive in Ayaaxi in May 1911 with the hospital up and running six weeks later. She would write:

This is the most heart-stopping experience of my short life. The Kalmar guns blasting in the distance are a constant companion. The wounded here are far beyond those we received in Kristiansted, those who would have never made the sea voyage in time. But more than the horror I see is the horror I feel whenever a fresh intake is received; will Anders be in amongst them?

In fact Anders Gråbøl would see out the war unscathed and would be promoted to a major for his efforts.

Even with the new hospitals in place the death rate in Ayaaxi was hardly improved, little wonder considering it was a hotspot for malaria. However she would find some improvements by organising a cleanup of the city's old and crumbling sewer system as well as lobbying the army to introduce anti-scurvy measures much as the navy had. Denmark signed peace with Mskokia in December 1911 however only a month later it would declare war on Chahtaland. Again the Kalmar armies were barely able to move out of Ayaaxi. In July 1912 Jenny had left Ayaaxi; she was pregnant.

The child, a boy, would die a week after birth, and the trauma of this loss was enough to bring Jenny back to Denmark. On her return she would be feted as a heroine and was in considerable demand as a speaker and writer. Her hastily written memoirs of the war were an instant best-seller and raised significant money for the training of nurses both to serve in the war effort and in 'poorhouses' in Denmark itself. Having made an impact on wartime medical care she would turn her attention to the domestic situation, lobbying government for the improvement in sewage works in the industrial towns and cities and implementation of simple hygiene practices. Anders would join her in 1913 for a year before travelling back to the still-active front in southern Leifia. During this time Jenny would have another child, this time a healthy boy named Jonas. The couple would finally be reunited in 1918 after the war had come to an end and three more children, all girls, followed in quick succession.

Despite some rejection of now wide-accepted theories of disease Gråbøl would continue to campaign for greater hygiene standards, the adoption of the latest medical techniques and the remodelling of old outdated hospital buildings. She would also help expand the role of women within healthcare, advocating nursing as a career choice and giving her name to a scholarship programme at the University of Copenhagen for the education of women. By the time of her death in 1956 the first female doctors were graduating. Also thanks to her efforts most Danish politicians had firmly come to the conclusion that healthcare was a fundamental obligation of the state and should not be left to be provided by private hospitals alone, partially to address the poor health of the general population and in turn the potential pool of soldiers available.

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