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.