Former Nurse and special educator Jeanne Schreiber reflects on her academic and social experiences of attending Adelphi in the 1940s.
Former Nurse and Special Educator
I knew I wanted to go to college, but I did not have the finances to do so; joining the Cadet Nurse Corps seemed like the perfect solution. In August I had an emergency appendectomy, and in those days, patients were kept in bed for ten to twelve days after surgery. I had also enlisted in the Navy, and while I was flat on my back in the hospital, Victory over Japan Day occurred, and I was informed that the Navy no longer needed me. I wasn’t too worried because Adelphi had accepted me into its nursing program.
All was well until my mother informed me that the surgeon had advised her that I should rest for at least six weeks; therefore, I was not going off to Adelphi. I didn’t rest; I worked in a lab doing mostly urinalysis in the morning. In the afternoon I sold sewing machines and supplies at a shop, and then taught sewing in the evenings. I was barely able to make ends meet but I did have a busy social life. One night, I met my surgeon at a party and he inquired about my nursing career. I told him what my mother had said about his recommending an extended recuperation, and he denied it.
After receiving a letter in the mail stating that there was an opening in Adelphi’s nursing program, I responded not only by mail, but in person. Traveling to Adelphi was my first experience on the Long Island Railroad. Once there I had the pleasure of meeting Dean Harley, Miss Montag, and Dr. Eddy. I explained my financial situation and assured them that I was not afraid of work. I remember Dr. Eddy told me not to worry because the College would help me out, and even find me a job. While the class of 1949 started in September of 1945, I joined my classmates in January of 1946.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi?
My first semester was spent working as a “gofer” in some of the administrative offices, where I learned to be a switch-board operator. Then I started helping out in the dining hall, doing the books and filling in for the director, Mrs. Jewett. Soon after, I was put in charge of the dining room evening meal, where I remember we had tablecloths and candles. With the arrival of men on campus, we had a wait staff. All the students living in the dorm were expected to serve dinner for a week, and some of the waitresses who served longer than their one week would develop favorites and try to give the men extra food. I remember one time Mrs. Jewett went away on a vacation, completely forgetting that she had agreed to cater a luncheon during that time. The kitchen staff and I pulled off the event beautifully. The Eddys – whom I had gotten to know rather well because Dr. Eddy would frequently take a meal with us – were very aware of our coup. When Adelphi opened the snack bar down in the basement of the “A” building, Dr. Eddy offered me the manager’s job. I declined.
I was playing a lot of bridge at Adelphi. One day Dean Harley called me into her office and suggested that I make up my mind between bridge hustler and nurse. I chose nursing.
There was a bus that ran from Nassau Boulevard to Point Lookout Beach in the mornings. Because we did not have time to go back to our rooms to change after an early lab, we soon discovered how to disrobe into beach clothes while racing across campus. The bus would go very slowly until we made it to the back side of campus. We couldn’t do that nowadays; there are too many buildings. We did a reverse routine coming back to Adelphi, because we had to get into the dining room before it closed. I remember one day I had the misfortune of (literally) running into Miss Natwick, the assistant director of the School of Nursing. She scolded me for being lobster red after sitting in the sun all day, and went on at great length about how I should have better sense if I was going to become a nurse. She predicted that I would need to go to the infirmary or emergency room, certainly unable to go to class the next day. She was wrong; I always turned bright red in the sun, I still do! The next morning, I barely had a tan. She was very gracious, but she never forgot about that day. She kidded me about it years later.
I remember many of the nursing instructors we had at Adelphi, particularly Mrs. Rapp, Miss Fenalson, Miss Natwick, and Mrs. Bunnell. I will always remember Barbara Allen, who was our instructor at Meadowbrook Hospital. She wasn’t much older than we were and would have liked to be our friend, but we gave her a hard time. I remember one instance in particular. It was prior to taking an important exam in pediatrics; this was her field, and she wanted us to do very well. We lived in the nurses’ residence and could hear anyone approaching our building. One evening she came up to our rooms to check if we were studying, and although we were truly hitting the books, once we heard the elevator, we dispersed or pretended to be playing cards or doing our nails. She was beside herself. When everyone ended up getting very good grades on the exam, she was speechless!
Our class did most of its basic clinical nursing at Meadowbrook Hospital. We went over to Nassau for obstetrics, and I spent time in a nursery school in Lynbrook for early childhood development. We were at a tuberculosis sanatorium in Farmingdale for communicable diseases, and then off to Central Islip State Hospital to complete our psychiatric clinical experience. I did public health with Nassau County.
Back on campus, the men had arrived just before we began our affiliations. This led to a tremendous change in the environment at Adelphi. Women I had never seen even wearing lipstick were now using mascara; we could no longer slip a pair of jeans on over our pajamas and go to class; and some girls even got up in the morning for breakfast. With the arrival of men on campus, social life on campus changed as well. We had a Veterans Club, and they hosted a dance; I was honored when the President of the club asked me to go with him.
My husband George was an engineering student and a Navy Veteran. He spent two years at Adelphi and then went to New York University. Even though so many people told us to wait to get married because they thought I would never finish school, we were married in the middle of my sophomore year. I did earn my bachelor’s degree in nursing in January of 1950, and our first child was born in April of 1950. Sixty two years, six kids, and eight grandchildren later, I know we made the right decision!
What are some changes you have seen in nursing throughout the years?
During our nursing education, Adelphi arranged for a number of doctors to come in and give lectures. I remember we had one surgeon who insisted that ulcers were caused by smoking and another one who said smoking had nothing to do with it, but that alcohol was the main cause. One thing they all agreed on was that our bodies were not Volkswagons, and that you had to keep your body in good shape because there were no spare parts around to replace any worn out organs. While this was the underlying mentality back then, times have certainly changed; liver transplant anyone?
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