Interview with Marjorie Bower
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Marjorie Bower
Interviewed by: Wanda Wood
Date of interview: 21 April, 1978
Wanda: This is Wanda Wood, interviewing Marjorie Bower of Highover Road, Chenango Bridge. The date is the 21st of April, 1978. Marge, you've recently retired from, ah, the nursing profession, and we'd like to know something about your early years of nursing and, ah, on up through until your retirement.
Marge: Well, nursing has been—ah—was my choice of professions from the time I was a little girl—ah—having had a mother who was, ah, chronically ill, and I had some knowledge of the medical profession through, ah, the doctor who took care of her, and through taking care of her myself at home. So I was rather anxious to become a nurse and, ah, to do it in a professional manner. So I was able to, ah, get in training at, ah, Binghamton General Hospital.
Wanda: Where did you—what was your early schooling, before that?
Marge: I graduated from Union-Endicott High School and, ah, I graduated in 1934 and went—ah—I was only 18 then, or 18 shortly after I graduated, so then I went immediately into training. And training was quite different in those days than it is today. We, ah, planned on, ah—our first six months of training was what we called the probationary period, and we were hazed, ah, quite a bit by the upperclassmen, and—ah—
Wanda: Do you remember any incidents about that?
Marge: Well, we were—I can't remember specific instances except being told to go get a—different kinds of instruments which, of course, didn't exist. And everybody always got a big charge out of the “probies” coming and asking for these strange instruments that were nonexistent. So they had quite a few laughs on us, but of course when—when we got to be juniors and seniors we did likewise to the probies. But, ah, it was a very strenuous training. We had to be up and have our breakfast by six—by six o'clock, and then by six-thirty we had inspection. We wore big black ties and white aprons and starched uniforms, black stockings and black shoes. And if everything wasn't perfect, we were sent back to our rooms to make it perfect—that is, our bow tied right and our apron exactly, ah, pristine white, and if—if it wasn't in that condition we—we were sent back, and we were still expected to be on the ward at five of seven where we had transfer. And during the day, we were supposed to have two hours off during the day. We were very fortunate if we got it, because the head nurse always seemed to—it seemed to us—to delight at finding some extra duty for us to do. That extra duty could be cleaning medical cabinets, cleaning up utility rooms, straightening up, ah, bath trays. I might say that the bath tray—that every patient had a bed bath because patients stayed in bed a long time. In my early period we had, ah—that was before penicillin and before the antibiotic drugs, so nursing care was extremely important for medical patients and for surgical patients too, because we had nothing really to combat, ah, infections. And some of it was sad times because we saw many people die, that today would have been back working in ten days, from pneumonia or from a post-op infection. But we lived through it and—ah—
Wanda: What were the hours?
Marge: The hours were, ah, seven to seven, with supposedly two hours off during the day. Now we had class time, and if our supervisor on the floor could arrange it, she made sure that our two hours off was our class time. But sometimes she couldn't do that, so we might have an extra hour when we could sit comfortably in class. And in class we—had a—nurse's training had advanced to the point where we had a great deal of Anatomy and Chemistry. We had laboratory work. We had Nursing Ethics and—ah, I'd like to say something about nursing ethics in those days, because that was the day when—ah, if you were on a ward and a doctor came anyplace within your presence, you stood, and although you didn't salute, you were at attention. And you stayed that way until the doctor left the floor, and—ah, I was quite surprised several years later to, ah, be accompanying a physician friend on a floor and have her, ah, looking at a chart and see a student nurse come over and say, "I am sorry, Doctor, but I need this chart," and remove the chart from the doctor's hands. And I—I was astounded because—ah, we—ah, couldn't think of that in our time, if we had to stay on duty an extra hour to do our chart, we would have stayed and not dared to even approach the doctor who was reading a medical record. But, ah, that's a change in the times, and when I think sometimes back to—ah, the way—when we were, felt that we were so subservient, that I, I, I’m glad of the progress, really.
Wanda: And that's just been a few short years, really.
Marge: That's just been a short—it seems like a few short years—I suppose it's been quite a few, really. But—I graduated from training in, ah, 1937 and went immediately to work as a night nurse at General Hospital. And the hours then were—ah, twelve hours, seven to seven. My pay was—ah—eighty-five dollars a month. If you worked days it was eighty, but because I worked nights it was, it was eighty-five. They gave us a stipend of five dollars for working the night shift.
Wanda: And did you live—did you live in the hospital?
Marge: We lived in—we lived in the, what we called the dorm, and had a—had a small room. It, it was, it was adequate and—ah, the living conditions were good, but we were still under the strict supervision of, ah, nursing ethics, and in those, you didn't go overtown unless you, ah,
wore gloves and a hat—at all times. And I remember distinctly, one time, my mother had bought me a—a quite expensive hat. It was real nice, and I was coming back from overtown across the Washington Street bridge, and the wind came up and my beautiful hat blew into the river.
Wanda: Oh no.
Marge: I got back to the nursing home and one of the supervisors saw me walk in without a hat on. And this was the time when I was a graduate nurse, but I was still called on the carpet for having been overtown in unladylike apparel, because I lacked a hat. And no explanation that my hat, which had cost so much, had blown into the river, would suffice. So I, ah, of course, was a little bit beyond the area where they could dole out punishment, but I did feel reprimanded and made sure I wore a hat for the next few years.
Wanda: With a hat-pin!
Marge: Well, I—I never got one with a wide brim after that. Or else took it off going across the bridge. And then my mother became quite ill because—ah—so I quit, ah, nursing at the hospital and took care of her for a year. And after her death I went back into public—into private duty. And I found that quite satisfying, I—through all of this period I really—there is a great deal of satisfaction in nursing because—ah, during my—during my night period of nursing I—I really would like to mention some of that because, ah, I think some of the nurses today perhaps don’t see it because it is gone, become such a technical field, but it was—ah—a real great, ah, feeling to have somebody who had come in in the middle of the night in a bad accident and then have them several days later, ah, tell you that it was your presence and your smile that really helped see them through a difficult period of life when they had no family around for a few hours and things were so rough. And with the roads the way they were, General Hospital was in the area where we saw many tragic accidents coming down Conklin Avenue and Vestal Avenue, and of course they were admitted at General. And the comfort you could give parents and relatives when they came in after somebody was hurt—and I don’t think there’s any other field—professional field—where you really have this satisfaction of really being close to a person in their hour of need and fulfilling that need. And no matter what the other circumstances of nursing were, you did have that special and personal satisfaction, even though the pay was low. And I—I did private duty for about three years and then I decided to go on into an area of specialization, so I went to Syracuse University and, ah, did work in Public Health. And I worked for a year and a half in Public Health in Onondaga County. And that, too, had its special compensations in going into homes and dealing with families as a whole unit, from childhood to the old-aged.
Wanda: How did it differ in Syracuse? Were you connected with a hospital up there?
Marge: No. I was not connected with a hospital. I was in—
Wanda: —an agency?
Marge: No. I was in Syracuse University and after I finished my special preparation for Public Health, ah, we had student experience there. I worked in schools for a bit—for school—for student experience as a Student Public Health Nurse and then I worked with, ah—what they called the VNA. That was a Visiting Nurse Association in Syracuse who did home nursing, where in that period of time we went into homes and—ah, gave—ah, maybe gave a bath and taught parents and family to take care of elderly people who were bed-ridden and might go in for shots. And this was during the War and doctors were very scarce, so our services were in great demand. And it was a very busy time for me—both as a student and then when I finished my training I worked for the Onondaga County Nursing Association. Worked out of the Town of Marcellus and the Town of Tully. And the—of course the War was still going on, so that we really were very—we were very busy and yet it was very satisfying to, ah, do this, and of course it was much different. You didn't have the close supervision that you'd had in the hospital. And because of the lack of doctors, nurses were called upon to do a great deal more. We did a lot in pre-natal work, and checking the parents and in instructions. It was—Public Health is mainly a preventative and a teaching program. And it was interesting.
Then I came back—my Dad was sick and I had to resign from that position and I spent a year at home with him. And after that—ah, I decided to go in—I had an opportunity to do school nursing for the Broome County—ah, is it County Board of—the Broome County Board of, ah, Services [Broome County Board of Extension Services]. Anyway, they provided school nurses for the schools in Broome County who did not have their own school nurse-teacher. Then, because after I’d worked for them a while, I could see that this required further specialization, I went back to school and took nurse—courses in school nursing—school nurse-teaching.
Wanda: At Syracuse?
Marge: I took some at Syracuse, but I started with—a Syracuse Extension at Harpur, and I took some at Harpur and through the next—ah—because I stayed in school nurse-teaching from then until my time of retirement three years ago, I, ah, took courses at Cortland and Oneonta and, ah, did get my Bachelor's degree from Oneonta. So that I would be fully qualified for doing school nurse-teaching.
Wanda: That must have been quite a new branch of nursing at that time, wasn’t it?
Marge: It—it really wasn’t a new branch of nursing. There had been the school nurse-teachers, but just a few, but—ah, during the next few years from 1947 on, school nurse-teaching grew because there was a need for it in the schools. There was a need for people—nurse-teachers who understood and could put the nursing profession really into the teaching situation, where you had children and you could teach Health along with giving the necessary care and preventative medicine. It was—it was a combination of public health and teaching in a—almost a captive, ah, audience group.
Wanda: Was this with young—ah—all ages?
Marge: This was with all ages. When I started, I was covering Broome County. I was doing school nurse-teaching in the Town of Binghamton, and Chenango Forks, and in Harpursville and in Port Dickinson. I covered all of those areas at, ah, various times. And of course this—this cut your time—it was a lot of travel time. We did immunization clinics in all of the schools. We did hearing tests and vision tests and tried to cover all the children in all of these schools. And although we didn't have the time for teaching then, as we would have liked to, I—I think we fulfilled a great need because many of these areas, I—for instance, areas like the Harpursville area, they only had one doctor in the town and, ah, that was Dr. Torrence and he was a wonderful man to work with. He was a G.P. and did general surgery. And also there—he was Health Officer, so all in all we—ah, between the school doctor and yourself, you did a great deal of medical work and preventative work among the children.
Wanda: Now how many other teachers—what was the staff in this—ah—?
Marge: Four. There were four of us in this, ah, when we started. Then that was phased out in 1950, ah, 1 , and I went to Harpursville for a year and after going to Harpursville I, ah, had the opportunity to come to Chenango Valley Central Schools—they had just centralized and I spent the rest of my, ah, working days as school nurse-teacher at Chenango Valley. And this saw—it—it’s a great deal of satisfaction. There isn’t any area of nursing, whether it’s specialization or general practice, that there isn’t—ah, satisfaction there. It has its, ah, shortcomings, or had times when—ah, when things don't go right, or, ah, you—you can’t get something corrected that you know needs to be, because of perhaps the financial situation of the parents, they’re not able to have the child’s eyes corrected or surgery that the child may need, but by working through various agencies in the county you usually can help the parents get some help. And, ah, it—ah, I—I think it fills a need and I hate to see the trend now where school nurse-teachers are being phased out, because it is an area of specialization and you can’t put—ah, I saw the need when I went into it, that I needed more education to—to do the job, but at the present time, school nurse-teachers are being phased out and either R.N.s or clerks being hired to take their place and they, ah, put in—children of our county are being—or of our state or maybe across the nation—are being short-changed because of this. They’re not getting counseling to help counsel them in their need and—ah, also the—the mental health counseling that, ah, a school nurse-teacher can give. And I really would like to—put in a plug for that. That—ah, it's the wrong direction to take, which many of our schools are taking. Our school boards and our school administrations are, ah, not being far-sighted enough. And I realize it's because of financial reasons that—
Wanda: Is that a fact, really?
Marge: This, this, this is a real fact—that so many schools have phased out their school nurse-teaching programs and have hired R.N.s. Legally the R.N. cannot do as much and it is because we are living in a technical age, in an age of specialization. Unless the people who are fulfilling their job have the know-how, the job is not going to be done as it should be done. And in the end it's the student who is, ah, short-changed. And the student is the future parent and the future citizen of our country. And we are not doing enough in the area of, ah, sex education; we’re not doing enough in the areas of drug education in the way that it should be done; we're not doing enough in just plain health education, consumer education. Our students are being bombarded with all of these—ah, aspirin ads and medical ads on television where they’re not getting, really, the health education in school to, ah, combat this trend. And I think—ah, too many people are still saying education should just be the three Rs and feeling, because of the financial reason, that they are going back to that, and that's not preparing our children—our future parents—for the world it is. Because they’re coming up into this world, as it is.
Wanda: Do you think—do you feel that parents are bowing out of their responsibilities in that way? In educating their children on these problems that you mention?
Marge: Well I—I feel that in—in some ways parents are bowing out, but let’s face it, the parents haven't had the education themselves. What—ah, unless they have some help, how are they going to educate their children? I mean, it, it’s, it's a fast race and it's—it's just as hard for parents to keep up with it as it is for teachers. That's why we need, ah, people who are really specialized in this field. We had—ah, the State has mandated health education teachers in the schools, but, ah, some boards are getting around that by trying to have a school nurse-teacher do a school nurse-teaching job and go in the classroom too, and, ah, some are bowing out of it because, ah, they get one or two parents who, ah, object to the—the health education in the schools, and when I say health education, I mean, we know that venereal disease is, ah, on the uprise in our nation, and we, ah, conveniently may say that it's being covered in our health education classes, but ah, I think if somebody went in and observed some of the health education classes, they would find the teachers are afraid—to teach about it. Be—because of parents—a few parents' repercussions. They really feel that this isn't the thing for the school to do, but where are the boys and girls going to learn about it?
Wanda: On the streets, right?
Marge: Well, on the streets or after they have it. I—I think that, ah, our State is trying. They have passed laws so that, ah, boys and girls who feel they have—might have a venereal disease can go in and be checked for it, and it will be kept confidential. And that's a—a big plus. That's been done by the legislature. And of course they—the legislation has tried to say that we will have these things covered in school, but ah, our school administrations are, ah, reluctant to take the big step. We had a good case of that when Sue Crouse—when she went into, ah, some of the schools and with some of the Girl Scouts, where parents—ah, well, the Letters to the Editor were pretty rife in the papers for quite a few months. And, ah—this is getting maybe off the subject of nursing, but, ah, it’s something that's a community need. And I think the school nurse-teachers have been some of the first ones to see it. To try to, ah, fight for it and arrange for programs in the school. I don't know, maybe this is one of the reasons we're being phased out! But I think the big reason is financial, because I know that all of the people in education are there for the good of the children or there wouldn't be any education, or most of them. But altogether it has been a very satisfying career, and I—ah, there are many specializations in nursing and, ah, allied fields of medicine, so nursing is taking on a new dimension in—ah, the nurse-practitioner now, in which they are becoming a closer doctor's assistant in that they are going away and taking specialization in—ah, examinations. They are doing this in schools where the school pract—school nurse-practitioner will be examining children under the close supervision of the pediatrician or school physician. They are also taking specialization in working in doctors’ offices and doing initial examinations to—ah, shorten—ah, well, to assist the doctor and to maybe give him a little more time on the—ah, the—ah, critical aspects of the patient care.
Wanda: It sounds like a wonderful career for some children that don't want to go into extensive education.
Marge: That’s right. And, and it has taken such a turnabout. I mean, it has become so technical now that even in the hospitals where—ah, where in my period of training we practically stood up and saluted and bowed when the doctor came in, the nurse now is more of a co-worker with the doctor. And, ah—her, ah, place in patient care is being given more recognition, as it should be, because she is doing a great deal more and is much better trained to do it. So it's, it’s a great career and it brings you close to people—if you, if you like people and you want to help them, you want to be close to them and do as much for your community as you can, you can’t go into any better profession than nursing.
Wanda: Well, you certainly have proven that and I know you’re much admired in this community for what you’ve done.
Marge: Well, thank you.