Florence Eastman: From Ned's Point Lighthouse to World War I

Nov 25, 2017

Florence Eastman was the only woman from Mattapoisett to enlist in World War I—and of 42 volunteers, she was the only one who did not return from the war.

Florence Eastman was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1894. According to the Mattapoisett Historical Society, she arrived in Mattapoisett after many years of living in East Falmouth. Her father, Russell Eastman, became the keeper of Ned's Point Lighthouse in 1916.

At that point, Eastman had already trained as nurse at Morton Hospital in Taunton, beginning in 1911 when she was 17. She also completed advanced courses at Massachusetts General Hospital.

While working at Malden Hospital, Eastman apparently decided to enlist in the army; she was called into active service as a nurse in December 1917, near the end of the war. She was transferred to the hospital at Camp Upton in New York.

According to the history of American Legion Florence Eastman Post 280 (based in Mattapoisett), "her devotion to duty, her sympathy for the sick soldiers and her own consistent, cheerful disposition won the respect and esteem of all with whom she was associated."

Eastman would not serve for long, however.

The Spanish Influenza appeared during Eastman's tenure at Camp Upton. The 1918-1920 epidemic affected 500 million people worldwide. In the United States, life expectancy dropped about 12 years as a result of the disease, and 500,000-675,000 people died.

The influenza strain targeted young and healthy individuals. Eastman, at age 24, and working with ill individuals, was ideally placed to contract the disease. After months spent nursing individuals ill with the Spanish flu, she also caught the disease, and died on October 14, 1918.

She is buried in Mattapoisett's Pine Island Cemetery; she was laid to rest with full military honors. Eastman had received an international passport shortly before falling ill; had she not died, her next destination was nursing work on the battlefields of World War I France.

Her family remained at Ned's Point Lighthouse until the official closure of the lighthouse in 1923.

In February of 1925, the Florence Eastman Post of the American Legion was named and dedicated in her honor.