Tag Archives: Wanted

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.

    

iPhones and Isabella

20 Sep

Last week Apple unveiled its new iPhone with the latest innovations in communication technology. Its release came 130 years after Isabella Alden first mentioned the telephone in the plot of one of her novels.

As convenient and indispensable as phones have become in our modern age, the same could be said of telephones in Isabella’s time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephones changed the way Americans lived.

Isabella was 35 years old when Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone in 1876; but that first model had very limited capabilities.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell

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Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.

An illustration of Bell demonstrating his invention in 1877

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Then, in 1878, a man named George Coy invented the telephone exchange and immediately turned the telephone into a much more practical invention.

Instead of telephone lines being strung between two locations as Bell had envisioned, Coy’s exchanges linked any number of telephones to a single point: a switchboard.

An 1890 illustration of women working a switchboard at a telephone exchange.

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At the exchange, legions of trained switchboard operators used a series of cords and sliding keys to connect and reroute incoming calls to other telephones linked to the exchange.

An early telephone exchange, about 1898

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Thanks to those exchanges, telephone line construction exploded with growth over the next few years. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones across America. By 1881, telephone service between Boston and Providence was established. By 1892, a telephone line had been constructed between New York and Chicago; and two years later New York and Boston were connected.

Switchboard operators at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company near Washington, D.C.

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Another benefit of those exchanges: jobs. As telephone service expanded, more and more trained switchboard operators were needed to connect calls; and the majority of the operators hired were women.

A 1911 photograph of a switchboard telephone operator.

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When Isabella published her novel Eighty-Seven, she included a character who worked as a switchboard operator. Her name was Fanny Porter, and she worked in the Dunbar Street Telephone Office. Another character in the story described Fanny as …

… a bright, pretty girl, young, and quite alone here. She lives in a dreary boarding-house, and used to have some of the most desolate evenings which could be imagined.

Switchboard operators in 1914

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Fortunately, not all switchboard operators lived and worked under such conditions. While the majority of switchboard jobs required working for a Bell Telephone Company, there were other positions available. For example, some large businesses that required multiple telephone extensions were equipped with their own exchanges and hired operators to run them.

Switchboard operators in an office, about 1910.

In fact, businesses were the foremost users of the telephone in the late 1890s. That’s because, in general, phones were too expensive for individual homeowners to install and maintain; but Mr. Mackenzie, the wealthy businessman in Isabella’s novel Wanted, could afford to have a telephone in his home.

In fact, the telephone plays a small but pivotal role in the story. When Rebecca Meredith, the novel’s heroine, first meets Mr. Mackenzie, she thinks he’s hateful and selfish, until she mentions one evening that his young daughter is a little hoarse. To her surprise, Mr. Mackenzie immediately telephones the doctor and …

… administered with his own hand the medicine ordered. Even after the doctor had made light of fears and gone his way, the father sat with his finger on Lilian’s small wrist and counted the beats skillfully and anxiously.

After witnessing his tenderness for his daughter, Rebecca begins to change her opinion about Mr. Mackenzie.

In her 1892 book, John Remington, Martyr, Aleck Palmer was also a young man of great fortune; he, too, had a telephone in his home and business, which caused Mrs. Remington some concern. You see, she was intent on playing matchmaker between Aleck Palmer and her friend Elsie Chilton and invited the unsuspecting couple to dinner without letting either know the other had been invited. As Mrs. Remington explained to her husband:

Elsie is getting to be such a simpleton that I am afraid she would run home if I should let her know he was coming; and as for him, he is developing such idiotic qualities in connection with her, that I feel by no means certain he would not get up a telephone message or something of the sort to call him immediately to the office, if he should know before the dinner bell rang that Elsie was in the house.

But by the time the 20th Century dawned, the demographics and cost of telephone usage changed dramatically. Telephone companies had connected most major cities and strung sufficient telephone lines across the country to bring costs down, and phone company executives began to set their sights on a new goal: providing service to residential customers.

At first, advertising to consumers stressed the obvious: keep in touch with friends and family.

Blowing kisses over the phone, 1908.

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Then, in 1910 the Bell Telephone Companies developed several strong marketing campaigns that offered different reasons why every home should have a telephone. One campaign was directed specifically at the lady of the house.

The ads had strong visual cues, like this one illustrating how a phone in the home meant a family could summon a doctor quickly:

The series of ads was printed in magazines and on postcards, showing how a Bell telephone …

… keeps travelers in touch with home …

… guards the home by night as well as by day …

… summons help during household emergencies …

… relieves anxieties over a loved one …

… and quickly helps arrange replacements when servants fail you.

The ad campaigns were extremely successful. People began to think of telephones as an essential tool for the home, instead of a mere convenience. Soon, telephone companies across the country were installing residential telephones at an astonishing pace.

This Bell Companies business card for the Philadelphia area cites the number of installations locally and nationally. The blank space was filled in by an installation or service subcontractor with his own contact information.

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And after each new installation was complete, telephone residential customers notified friends and family of their new phone number by sending out cards like these:

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Soon telephones became not only an essential device for the home, but a convenient tool for the lady of the house. In Ester Ried’s Namesake, published in 1906, Ester Randall worked as a cook in the home of the Victor family. And being a stylish family, the Victors, of course, had a telephone, which Mrs. Victor used regularly, as in this scene where she explained to Ester her plans for dinner:

We’ll make the dinner light and easy to manage; just a steak and some baked potatoes and canned corn. Did you say there was no corn? Oh, I remember, you told me yesterday, didn’t you? Well, just phone for it. Call up Streator’s, they are always prompt; tell them they must be. And we’ll just have sliced tomatoes with lettuce for salad; all easy things to manage, you see. As for dessert, make it cake and fruit—strawberries, or peaches, it doesn’t matter which. Why, dear me, that dinner will almost get itself, won’t it?

It’s amazing to think that Isabella Alden saw the development of one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. In her time the telephone was innovative and exciting. It opened new avenues of jobs for women and changed the way people interacted with each other; and Isabella reflected those changes in her novels and stories that we still read and appreciate today.


You can read more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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