Sunday, March 7, 2010

Annals of Nursing- The old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing

This picture is fit for a time capsule , for it is of a moment that has passed and will never come again. I graduated from this school in 1972, and only two classes followed before the school was closed. There was no place for "Nurses' Training" anymore. By 1985 all nurses were supposed to graduate from universities and have bachelor's degrees. ( This did not happen. Community colleges began to graduate large numbers of nurses with associates degrees).

The young women who entered the class that graduated in 1972 came from all over New Hampshire. There were young women from Vermont as well, for the hospital schools of nursing at Mary Fletcher and Degosbrian Hospitals in Burlington had closed. We were the daughters of small town business men, of farmers, of loggers. The state and the Federal government gave us loans, and some of us agreed to stay at Mary Hitchcock for two years after we graduated so the hospital would pay our tuition.

We lived in the Billings Lee Nurses' Home and the dormitories behind it. We were across Rope Ferry Road from Occum Pond and next to Dick Hall's House, which was the Dartmouth Infirmary. We were mere blocks away from the Hanover Green and Dartmouth College. We were an underground tunnel away from the hospital wards where we trained and the cafeteria where we took our meals.

My class was a happy class, and I remember this as one of the finest times of my life. There were fifty or so of us, and most of us graduated. Not so, for the class before us. They were bitter and shell-shocked , for fifty of them started, and twenty-five graduated.

Nursing was once a calling, not a job. My instructors believed this , and they were relentless in weeding out the lazy and the indifferent. There was no place for young women who lacked altruism, who had no capacity for self-sacrifice. This was a profession conservative to its core. This would change, for it was later than we thought.

Sometimes the girls in my freshman class saw the truth before the instructors did. I remember sitting in Fundamentals of Nursing. We opened our hefty new textbook to a page with a photo of a grossly obese woman with an enormous bedsore on her buttocks. A girl in the row in front of me looked, closed her book, stood up, and walked out of the class. She called her father, who came and took her home. Some girls did not come back from Christmas break. I was almost one of them, but that is a story for another day.

I remember being treated graciously by Dartmouth College, if not by the town of Hanover. The college let us use its libraries, and we were welcome at its White Church, where we had chaste parties and held spaghetti supper fundraisers. When we were sick, the Dartmouth Infirmary took care of us.

The town was not as liberal. To paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse, we were not ordinary townies, we were baby-sitters. Our status was not much higher than a maid's. One of Hanover's foremost landladies of that era once told a young doctor I knew that she never rented to young nurses looking for their first apartments because "all nurses are either whores or lousy housekeepers". I remember seeing an ad in Lebanon, New Hampshire's newspaper for an apartment in Hanover. "No dogs and no nurses", it read.

Two years after I graduated I heard from Dr. Sandra McKay, one of my former teachers, that Mary Hitchcock had tried to convince Dartmouth College to incorporate my nursing school into a degree program. Here the civility and noblesse oblige ran dry. Dr. McKay told me that the college was horrified at the thought. "They said Dartmouth wasn't interested in a 'training school' ".

This will be the first in a series of posts about my education as a nurse. It will not be as much about me as it will be about a time and a place and a profession that have changed beyond recognizing, and which I feel are worthy of remembering.


troutbirder said...

I think this is why nurses and teachers tend to have a similar view about life and social responsibility. To me teaching was "a calling not just a job."

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I moved to hospital administration and am glad for my nursing background; it is more valuable,in my estimation than the MBA who has not been exposed to the softer side of health care. OF course, this comes with time or the administrator moves to another, less service-oriented industry. I can say this because I am not a nursing administrator but an operations manager on the front lines of patient care delivery.

Clementine Moonflower said...

Wow, how shocking to read that nurses were thought of so poorly then. Now we are the most trusted profession! (but still not the most respected, that's true)

Nan said...

OMG! Betsy I went there! Only for a year, 1966-67. I wasn't cut out to be a nurse. I liked talking to the patients and writing letters for them and reading to them, but not shots or meds. :<) I wonder if it was my class from which so many dropped out as you noted in part 2 of your MH series. There was one person in my class from Massachusetts called Betsy - Betsy Gee. You're not her are you? Couldn't be if you started in 1969. Amazing though. Wow.

betsy said...

No I am not Betsy Gee, though I must say the name sounds familiar- My last name is Sprague. I am hoping to start work on the last two parts of the Annals soon. We diploma nurses are dying out now. We were Nightingale nurses. I do not know what to call those graduating now. I pity them. Health care is collapsing around our ears-

Nan said...

I do wonder if it was what would have been my class that had the small numbers. Right off the top of my head, I can think of several who left. One girl from Berlin NH left after her boyfriend was killed in Vietnam. Another left part way through the year. I stayed till the end but should have left sooner.
My mother graduated from Brightlook Hospital - St. Johnsbury Vermont nursing school in 1934.

betsy said...

It may have been your class. The stories we heard were that the instructors were out to get people, and succeeded. 50 or so girls went in. Half came out. My class lost only a handful. The Junior and Senior year instructors were all young women. Freshman year had the Harpies!

Nan said...

I think my class would have grad. the spring before you began in the fall. But just in case- these are the names I remember. Susan Dugas. Barbara Dilberger. Shirley someone from Haverhill Mass. Jean Foley from Methuen Mass.

betsy said...

No one sounds familiar. Most of my classmates came from New Hampshire and Vermont, especially from Burlington. I believe Mary Fletcher School of Nursing and De Gosbrian had just closed, leaving Vermont without a diploma school. It was the twilight of the three year nursing program. The AD and the BSN killed the diploma schools. I talk to young nurses now who do not even know what a diploma school was- This is part of the reason I am writing the Annals.

Debbi said...

I'm a 1980 M.H.M.H.S.O.N grad and was part of that last class. I love your thoughts on the school and relate to much of what you've written. My class was a wonderful group and I have fond memories of them and our extracurricular craziness. Nursing remains a special calling for many of us but the current environment is difficult, frustrating and overwhelming. I always caution young women to carefully consider if this is a career they truly want. My cousin and niece also went into nursing and are thriving despite staffing challenges. Thanks for your insightful blog!

Debbi Whitney, MHMHSON '80
Pine Brook NJ

lfulwood said...

Hear Hear Deb! Those 3 years were an amazing time in my life where I created life-long friendships, how to sneak into the dorm after midnight, and realize I did not want to do anything else with my life. When I finally got to do my OR rotation, I knew I was home. They closed the doors with us leaving in 1980, but MHMH SON will continue to live until the last of her students are gone. Thank you Betsy for writing about your years. It is great fun to hear of the years before our class tearfully closed the doors.