At the top of the steps in Chelsea City Hall, one will find a series of portraits covering the wall just adjacent to the Council Chambers.
They are the faces of soldiers from Chelsea during World War I that gave their lives “over there.”
But amongst the heroic men placed on that wall, there is one face that stands out and has provoked numerous questions.
That face is the rare face of a woman, that woman being Mary Burke, whose portrait hangs side by side amongst the other Chelsea warriors who gave their life in World War I.
Burke was born in Everett, but lived in Chelsea for many years and was well known here before the outbreak of World War I, according to local historian George Ostler.
Burke was a combat nurse on the front lines during World War I and by all accounts served bravely. However, she was cut down by a rampant influenza that took her life while she served.
“It was an epidemic,” said Ostler. “It was a bad influenza and it took a lot of soldiers, and it got Mary Burke also. She was serving in France at the time.”
The interesting part is that in a time when the wartime contributions of women were minimized or ignored compared to the men, Chelsea officials of that day decided that Mary Burke deserved a prominent place alongside the men who gave their life during combat.
Furthermore, Burke’s contributions to the war effort were not put aside after the dedication of her picture in City Hall. Some years later, in 1937, the City named a school after her.
Today, she is the namesake of the entire school complex on Eastern Avenue – the Mary C. Burke Complex.