Tag Archives: Chautauqua School of Nursing.

You Can Be a Nurse. Yes, You!

20 Feb

“Nurse” was a word that figured often in Isabella Alden’s novels, but not all her nurses were created equal.

In some of her stories, “nurse” was another term for a nanny—a woman who took care of young children.

Nurse and baby, about 1910.

That was the case for Miss Rebecca Meredith in Wanted, who hired herself out as a “nurse-girl” after she applied for the job listed in this newspaper ad:

Wanted—A young woman who has had experience with children, to take the entire care of a child three years of age. Call between the hours of four and six, at No. 1200 Carroll Avenue.”

In other novels, like The Older Brother, nurses were everyday people who knew what to do whenever illness struck, like Aunt Sarah:

Aunt Sarah proved herself a veritable angel of mercy. She was able to lay aside her brusqueness and her sarcasms, and become the skillful practical nurse, taking her turn and indeed more than her turn with the others, and compelling the anxious mother to take such rest as she needed.

Aunt Sarah and Rebecca Meredith developed their nursing skills through practical experience, and a history of caring for neighbors and family members who were ill.

But when Helen Betson’s father fell ill in Echoing and Re-echoing, the doctor insisted on securing the services of a “professional nurse,” which threw Helen into days of anxious waiting:

If she could have done a share of the nursing—but they had been forced to employ a professional nurse who shared the task with her mother, so that it was only now and then a little service that Helen was permitted to do; and she grew weary of the long waiting that seemed so purposeless.

In Isabella’s lifetime, it was common for physicians to train their own nurses, but they often found it difficult to find candidates who already possessed basic knowledge of human anatomy, nursing science, and mixing medicines.

A young nurse in the 1890s.

The best candidates were trained in a hospital setting, but hospital training programs had drawbracks:

Most programs had age limits that disqualified women who were middle-aged and older.

The coursework took years, and tuition was expensive at a time when there was no such thing as tuition assistance or student financial aid.

Portrait of a graduating class circa 1890.

The programs tended to attract only local students because the best teaching hospitals were in large American cities where the high cost of living proved a barrier to outsiders.

Fees charged by graduates of hospital programs meant their services were unaffordable for the majority of Americans, especially those in rural areas of the country, so nursing school graduates tended to live and practice in larger cities.

Four nurses at Samaritan Hospital, Sioux City, Iowa, about 1910.

The result: America had a great shortage of competent, trained registered nurses. Dr. Everett mentioned the problem in Isabella’s novel, Workers Together:

Professional nurses are good when you can get them. It is unfortunate that they are especially scarce just now. I have been on the look-out for one all the morning without success.

Graduates of Roots Memorial Hospital nursing program, Arkansas, about 1908.

A New Yorker named Cyrus Jones decided to do something about it. Because he lived very close to Chautauqua Institution, he was familiar with the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. The CLSC conducted first-class four-year college degree courses via correspondence. He was certain nurses could be trained using the same methods. He said:

There must be many thousands of bright, earnest women, young and old, who would be nurses if they could learn the profession without going to a hospital. Other branches of knowledge are taught by mail and learned at home. . . . Why not nursing?

An advertisement in Christian Nation magazine, 1915.

Mr. Jones launched the Chautauqua School of Nursing in 1900, and it was immediately successful. Over 200 students enrolled the first year.

Unlike other schools, Chautauqua School of Nursing did not have age limits, welcoming many women who were denied admission to other schools because of their age.

The administrative offices for the Chautauqua School of Nursing in Jamestown, New York.

Since the enrollment fee was only $75.00, women who intended to work as professional nurses knew they would soon earn back that cost because they would earn between $10.00 and $35.00 a week as a registered nurse after graduation.

A young woman’s nursing school graduation photo, undated.

But the highest enrollment came from students who lived in rural and isolated areas where conventional hospital training schools didn’t exist.

A 1913 newspaper ad.

Like the hospital-based schools, the Chautauqua School of Nursing bestowed upon its graduates its own pins, caps, and certificates.

A 1913 diploma (from Flickr).

In every respect, its graduates appeared to have the same training and cachet as graduates of hospital programs. The public couldn’t tell the difference.

From the Columbus Weekly Advocate (Columbus, Kansas), November 27, 1913.

They also employed a very unique marketing tactic: They advertised their students.

The school used their real students as models in their print ads in magazines and newspapers.

Print ad for Chautauqua School of Nursing, 1915.

And if a prospective student was unsure whether or not she should enroll in the course, she had only to write the school.

Three Chautauqua nursing graduates, 1910.

In return, the school would provide the prospective student with the name and address of the graduates closest to her, with an invitation to contact any one of them to get more information about the school, the teaching curriculum, and what graduates’ lives were like as professional nurses.

Chautauqua school advertisement, 1909.

By 1910 the school had bestowed diplomas upon 12,000 nursing students; the class of 1911 alone exceeded 3,000 enrollees.

In all respects, the school was a success. Because of the Chautauqua School of Nursing, hundreds of communities had a trained, reliable nurse for the first time . . .

. . . and thousands of women entered into a respected profession that helped their communities, and produced a steady income for themselves.

Click on a book cover to learn more about Isabella Alden’s novels mentioned in this post.

    

This Woman’s Work

17 Mar

Many of the women in Isabella Alden’s books had to earn a living to support themselves or their families. That was the case with Maria Randolph in Household Puzzles, who took in laundry so she could buy medicine for her father and pay the family’s bills.

Women in Sewing Factory

And in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, Mrs. Bryant supported her children by sewing late into the night, when she wasn’t working long hours at the local canning factory.

Women working at the Endicott Johnson tanning factory

Women working at the Endicott Johnson tanning factory in New York

 

Earning a living wage wasn’t an easy thing for women to do in the years between 1880 and 1920. Competition for jobs was fierce, as more and more women entered the job market and took over low-paying, repetitive jobs that men once held—and they earned considerably less than men did for performing the same work.

Women working at the Anheuser Busch Bottling Company

Women performing manual labor at the Anheuser Busch Bottling Company

 

The majority of jobs open to women were manual factory work and service employment. Both were physically demanding. If a woman was lucky enough to find a position, she could count on working long hours in often poor conditions.

New York hat makers, 1907

New York hat makers, 1907

 

In factories there were few breaks in the long work day. Employers commonly boarded up windows to keep employees from being distracted; and they blocked doors to discourage workers from leaving their posts before the workday was done.

Seamstresses at Eaton's Department Store, Toronto

Seamstresses at Eaton’s Department Store, Toronto

 

Those were some of the conditions that lead to one of the worst work-place disasters in American history: the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist fire. A New York clothing manufacturer, The Triangle Waist Company, locked its workers inside their assigned work areas so they couldn’t leave. Most of the workers were young women and girls as young as fourteen.  When a fire broke out, their only means of evacuation was a dilapidated fire escape that collapsed under the weight of the first few workers who scrambled to safety.

Click on the image to view a pdf of the full page.

Click on the image to view a pdf of the full page.

 

The fire took a horrific toll: 147 people burned to death or died as a result of jumping or falling from the upper floors of the burning building.

Work in private service had its own set of challenges. Women worked long hours as house maids, cooks, and charwomen (women who clean other women’s houses).

Cooks in the kitchen of a private home.

Cooks in the kitchen of a private home.

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The work was physically demanding and they were often treated poorly. Isabella Alden gave an example of such treatment in her book, Pauline. In the story, Constance Curtiss had to fight off the unwanted advances of her employer’s eldest son because he thought a working woman wasn’t due the same level of courtesty as a lady who was his social equal:

Maid3She had always taken the position that no self-respecting young woman need fear being treated other than respectfully by men; that girls probably had themselves to thank for carelessness when any man attempted familiarity. Yet the only excuse that she had given Mr. Emerson was the fact that she had chosen to make herself useful, on occasion, in his mother’s kitchen, and accept payment in money. This, it seemed, not only shut her out from Mrs. Emerson’s parlor as a caller, which she had expected, but made the son feel privileged to call her “Ellen” and treat her with a familiarity that could have been justified only by long and intimate acquaintance. She felt that such a state of things was a disgrace to American civilization.

For a woman who was lucky enough—and had the financial means—to afford an education, she could go to school and be trained to work in a more skilled capacity as a teacher or nurse.

Newspaper ad for a New York nursing school

Newspaper ad for a New York nursing school

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Summer residents at Chautauqua Institution could take advantage of courses in stenography, teaching and library science—training that opened up new job opportunities for women. (Click here to read more about courses at Chautauqua Institution.)

Jobs_Teacher

But that kind of training cost money. Women who had to support themselves and their families often took whatever work they could get, leaving them at the mercy of their employers’ whims and wage structures.

As Constance Curtiss discovered in Pauline, she had to put up with long hours and some embarrassing mistreatment if she wanted to keep her job.

She meant to be brave and true, and to demonstrate that the religion of Jesus Christ was of sufficient strength to bear any weight; but in order to do this she need not accept the attentions and take pleasure in the scenes that other women of her age would naturally accept and enjoy. God did not ask this of her; she was thankful that she felt sure of it. How, then, was she to ward off such attention?

On her knees that night she gave herself solemnly to the work; and the sense of humiliation that Henry Emerson’s treatment of her had induced, passed. It had come to her that she might in this way have been permitted a glimpse of his true character for a purpose.

Constance’s prayers were answered. With patience and God’s help, she found a solution to the dilemma of her employer’s son, and in the process, she became God’s agent in saving a young soul.

Next week’s post: Lady Entrepreneurs in Isabella’s Books


 

Want to learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? This brief video from CBS marked the 100 year anniversary of the tragedy:

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And this documentary video provides a more comprehensive look at the fire and its aftermath:

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Click on the book covers to read more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post.

Cover_Pauline    Cover_Household Puzzles and The Randolphs    Cover_Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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