Monday, May 31, 2010

Student Nurse, Registered Nurse

She saved an article about Jane Delano, nurse, from the March 10, 1934, issue of The Girls’ Companion and, years later, when compiling a scrapbook about her years in nurses’ training, she placed it at the top of the first page. Audrey Meinzen’s gaze was directed toward nursing and perhaps she thought of Jane Delano as a role model or heroine. Audrey was the first among her mother and known foremothers to further her education beyond high school in a formal setting.

Audrey, my mother, commented about her childhood in a “grandmother’s book” written for her granddaughter, Holly, that at home she “assumed more responsibility for helping because I was the eldest of four daughters.” After graduating from Mineral Ridge High School in June, 1933, she entered the nurses’ training program at Warren City Hospital. How her parents must have scrimped and saved for her to be able to take such a step, especially during the depression years of the United States. What independence and freedom she must have felt when she moved those 8 miles from the bosom of family to the nurses’ home, where her only responsibilities were herself, her studies, and patient care in the hospital.

With only 12 students, her class was a small one. She became fast friends with a number of the other young ladies. Though she shared no memories of the work and studies of a student nurse, nor memories of her experiences, her classes must have included such subjects as anatomy, physiology, pathology, patient care, charting, etc. During that time period student nurses spent time at other hospitals to learn specific aspects of nursing, such as psychiatry, pediatrics, etc. Audrey saved postcards addressed to her at Cleveland City Hospital, though there’s no record of that hospital’s specialty, nor information about rotations at other hospitals.

The student nurses lived in the nurses’ home, a dormitory-like environment. There were strict expectations of behavior including curfews. Weekend curfew was midnight, weeknight curfew was sometimes as early as 8:00 p.m. During the time she was a nursing student, Audrey met her future husband, Lee Doyle. She indicated that he didn’t appreciate the early weeknight curfew. She told him there was studying to be done and early mornings. Missing a curfew meant being grounded for a certain period of time. Mom never indicated that she'd been grounded, but then she never indicated that she hadn't, either.

The Supervisor of Nurses at Warren City Hospital was Gernie Yoder. It seems her responsibilities included training or overseeing the training of the student nurses. She must have written to the out-of-town “girls” on a regular basis to keep them up to date on requirements and activities. Audrey saved one of her letters.

One aspect of nursing in the 1930s that I remember my mother talking about was the uniform. Students wore striped dresses with white bib aprons, registered nurses wore crisp white dresses. Students wore black shoes and stockings and all wore a starched-to-cardboard-stiffness cap. Ribbons on the cap were added or changed as the nurse progressed from student to graduate. The group photo of the nursing students, above, shows them in striped dresses with no ribbons on their caps. The photo of Audrey at the top of this post shows her with a striped dress and a narrow ribbon. In her graduation photo, below, she wears a white dress and a wide ribbon. Her cap is long gone, but Audrey saved both black velvet ribbons.

Commencement exercises for the Warren City Hospital School of Nursing were on Friday evening, September 10, 1937. Audrey saved her diploma, printed on heavy parchment, secured by ribbon corners inside a leather folder. She also saved several copies of the graduation program. What pleasure and joy, what a sense of accomplishment she must have felt to have achieved what she set out to do.

The graduates, besides my mother, included Mary Cott Barnes, Gertrude Cunningham, Betty Jane Daugherty, Thelma E. Franks, Ruth Eleanor Haas, Clela Marguerite Huggins, Cora Louise MacDonald, Mary Eleanor McClellan, Leona Marie Paine, Pauline V. Rose, and Verlinda Jean Smith.

The sequence of events after graduation is unclear. Her state registration document was dated April, 1938. In September of that same year, she married Lee Doyle. We know that she worked at Warren City Hospital for a time because she saved a letter received in response to her resignation in November, 1938, signed by Miss Gernie Yoder. By the time of her resignation she was pregnant with her first child.

She never returned to formal work as a nurse. I don’t know if she and my father agreed that she would be a homemaker, wife, and mother, or if it was my father’s preference. I believe he always felt that the husband should be the provider in a family and the wife the homemaker and mother. Audrey continued a limited use of her nursing skills on her husband and children, and to some extent, other family members. But sometimes I wonder if, in later years, my mother wished she’d continued the profession of nurse, working outside the home at least part time.

Though she was the first of her mother and known foremothers to obtain further education, she and my father, with only an 8th grade education, ensured that their children’s education didn’t stop with high school. And all of the grandchildren have furthered their education in some way. No doubt, the expectation will continue for future generations. Her desire to learn never ceased: she was a life-long learner with an interest in many and varied topics. I think this is a legacy she passed to her children, who will pass it on to future generations.

After Note
My mom, Audrey, compiled her scrapbook sometime during the 1970s, as evidenced by the thick, bright orange yarn tied through the sides of the pages. Having grown up during the depression, she practiced frugality all her life: she used construction paper for the pages of her scrapbook. I doubt she ever gave a thought to the term archival, and, indeed, perhaps she never thought her scrapbook would be of any interest to her children.

This post will be a participant in the 94th Carnival of Genealogy: The Changing Role of Women. You can learn more about the Carnival of Genealogy at footnoteMaven and also at Creative Gene where across the top of her blog you will see several COG tabs.


  1. A wonderful post! An elderly friend of mine did her nursing training at about that same time and she had a lot to say about the change in nurse's uniform today!

  2. Thanks for visiting, Vicki. I honestly don't know how they kept their white dresses white, considering the environment in which they worked. I like the looks of the old uniforms, but life is much more casual these days.

  3. This is a fascinating post on so many levels. Looking at it now, it seems sad that your mother worked so hard to achieve her goals and then was expected by husband or culture to subordinate all her dreams to those of her husband, to give up her career to facilitate his. Yet she might have taken that loss for granted, felt like she was moving on to something she was destined for. I wonder, though.

  4. Meri -
    My mom was very private and never talked about whether she expected to work as a nurse in addition or as opposed to being a wife and mother. In our family the expectation was that the young women would obtain some employable skill/education, use it or get married, and have the skill to fall back on if the need arose. Perhaps that was the expectation my mother had for herself also. I just don't know. I suspect that most people in today's society would agree with you and view her situation as very sad.

    I have also been thinking about her scrapbook. It would be easy to assume that this was the biggest thing in her life because everything was compiled - in a scrapbook with the other things with it. But I'm not so sure that's true. I compiled a scrapbook of our time in the P.C. in El Salvador. It wasn't the biggest event in my life, but because there were so many bits of stuff - photographs, postcards, letters we wrote saved by recipients, and just general memories - I put everything together in a scrapbook. Perhaps my mother chose to do the same.

    I do wish I'd pressed her a little to share her feelings and memories.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts and comments.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your mom, Nancy! Thanks for sharing her story.

  6. Enjoyed reading your post about your mother and her nursing career. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I have already read about her but here i found some more information about her. I'm glad to come on your blog which is full of great information. I also recently post an article about Registered Nurses.
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  8. It feels so happy to be a registered nurse especially if your patients are too appreciative.
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  10. I want to to thank you for this excellent read!! I absolutely enjoyed
    every bit of it. I've got you bookmarked to look at new things you post…


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