Red Lion Inn

The Red Lion Inn at Uckfield, Sussex in 1915. Image taken by visiting Scottish cousins.

Gertrude Duncan, the publican's daughter who became a hospital administrator

By Aberdeenshire Silver descendant Warren Nunn

Gertrude Duncan was an extraordinary woman. Born into a publican's family, she grew up to have a significant role in hospital administration in America.

Gertrude Duncan's parents Hellen and Alexander and her eldest sister Isabella most likely in late 1883.

Gertrude Duncan's parents Hellen and Alexander and her eldest sister Isabella most likely in late 1883.

Gertrude was the third daughter of Hellen Silver and Alexander Duncan and was my maternal grandmother Bella Silver's first cousin.

Gertrude's parents were from Scotland but lived mostly in England as her father moved around as a farm bailiff first in Wales and then in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey.

Alexander and Hellen married in 1882 in Scotland and the 1891 census has them living at Byfleet, Surrey.

The Duncan family moved from Wales to England after the eldest child, Isabella Margaret, was born at Aberayon, Glamorgan, Wales in 1883.

The next child, Hannah Watt, was born in 1885 at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

Gertrude Agnes Helen was next born, in 1886, at Elton, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

Her birth was registered nearby at Oundle, Northamptonshire. The two places are about five miles apart.

The first son, Herbert John, was born in 1888 at Wansford, Northamptonshire.

His brother, Joseph Thomas Nicholas, the youngest of the Duncans was born in 1891 in Surrey where the family finally settled.

For at least some of their schooling, Gertrude and her sisters benefitted from the generosity of the Countess of Rosberry, Hannah de Rothschild, who provided free education at several schools she established. 

The Duncan girls were at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, until the family moved to Surrey in 1891.

Around that time Alexander left the farming life behind to become the publican at the Red Lion Inn on London Rd, Dane Hill, Uckfield, Essex. 

The 1901 census entry for the Red Lion Inn, London Rd, Dane Hill, Uckfield, Essex, England. Note that Gertrude Duncan is not with her family on census night. She is with the family on the 1911 census as the next image shows.

The 1911 census for the Red Lion shows that Hellen is now widowed after Alexander died the previous year aged 67.
Gertrude is back with the family. No record is yet found of where she was in 1901.

Even though Gertude is with the family in 1911, according to the 1920 US census, she had emigrated to America in 1910, so she may have been only been visiting her family in 1911. The 1920 census shows that Gertrude was a student nurse at the Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, New York.

The 1920 census shows Gertrude Duncan at Ellis Hospital.

Gertrude was back in England in 1915 when her mother died. Along with her brother Herbert, who had emigrated to America in 1913, she returned to New York on the Lusitania leaving from Liverpool on 20 March 1915. Only a few weeks later, on 7 May, the ship was sunk by a German U-boat.


Gertrude Duncan and her brother Herbert, passengers on the Lusitania in March 1915.


From the bare facts it seems that Gertrude was otherwise engaged between the years she arrived in the US and when she is found at the Ellis Hospital in 1920.

On the Schenectady, New York, City Directory in 1928, Gertrude is, for the first time, known as the assistant superintendent of the Ellis Hospital.

Student nurses at Ellis Hospital in 1920
Some of the student nurses at Ellis Hospital in 1920 when Gertrude Duncan was doing her training. There is no known image of Gertrude. Image courtesy of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

The 1940 census shows she is now 52, single, and is earning $2400 a year as the assistant superintendent of Ellis Hospital.

She had not completed any tertiary education.

Gertrude continued her association with the hospital for the rest of her life.

A newspaper article from the Schenectady Gazette in 1943 reports that Gertrude was attending the annual convention of the Association of American Hospital Administrators.

Gertrude was New York state's representative on the body.

In 1951, there is an article in The Troy Record that mentions Gertrude's ongoing association with the Ellis Hospital and as a medical administrator.

She had been secretary and treasurer of the Northeastern Hospital Association for several years.

In 1955, there is another mention of Gertrude's association with the hospital as she and her colleagues were planning a celebratory gathering.

Also in 1955, Gertrude made what may have been her last voyage to visit family back in England. She arrived back in New York from Southampton on the Mauretania on 24 May 1955.

Gertrude Duncan on 1928 City Directory
Gertrude Duncan's entry in the 1928 City Directory. First mention of her being assistant superintendent at Ellis Hospital.

After 32 years at Ellis Hospital, Gertrude retired in 1953. Her final months were marked by illness and she passed away in Saratoga Hospital in October 1966 aged 79.

The following obituary appeared in Glens Falls Post Star on Monday 31 October 1966:

Miss Gertrude Duncan

Saratoga Springs-Miss Gertrude Duncan, 79, of 45 Greenfield Ave, died Friday in Saratoga Hospital following a long illness.

Formerly of Schenectady, she was a registered nurse and assistant director of Ellis Hospital, Schenectady, for more than 32 years until her retirement in 1953.

Miss Duncan was a communicant of St George's Espiscopal Church.

She is survived by a brother, Herbert Duncan of Burnt Hills, and several nieces and nephews.

The office for the burial of the dead and a memorial Eucharist will be celebrated at noon today by the Rev. Darwin Kirby Jr., rector, at St George's Espiscopal Church, Schenectady.