"During World War II, young nursing students ran the hospitals while the older student nurses were off at war. We were given a lot of responsibilities."
Former School Nurse
I worked in a hospital setting as a private duty nurse and medical-surgical nurse. For a large part of my career, I worked as a school nurse. This is an ideal position when you have three young children.
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
I always wanted to be a nurse. At two or three years old I was already playing nurse with my dolls. I seemed to have a natural instinct to want to take care of things.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi and your residencies?
I will always remember Adelphi with warm thoughts. When I enrolled in the Cadet Nurse Corps at Adelphi, World War II was in full swing. Everyone was doing their part during the war; there was a great sense of patriotism. My nursing classmates and I proudly wore our gray uniforms. We all hoped we’d have the chance to serve our country and be sent overseas as nurses in an army or navy hospital.
Adelphi sent us to different hospitals for each specialty. I spent time at Central Islip State Hospital for psychiatrics, a tuberculosis sanatorium in Farmingdale for communicable diseases, Grasslands Hospital for pediatrics, and completed medical-surgical nursing at United Hospital in Port Chester. The hospitals we were sent to and the nursing instructors we worked with were all very good. I felt we received excellent preparation. Adelphi was always top rank.
During World War II, young nursing students ran the hospitals while the older student nurses were off at war. We were given a lot of responsibilities. There was maybe one charge nurse on the floor during daytime hours, but I did it all from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. during night duty. At United I remember being in charge of 60 patients, without the help of any aids or maids. Student nurses did it all; from washing patients’ hair to scrubbing toilets, to caring for patients, to working in the operating room. We were tired all the time. We would often be called in the middle of the night to pick up a shift, exhausted after having already worked 12 hours straight. World War II was a good experience for us because having to do everything forced us to learn quickly.
I worked at the library and as an Adelphi switchboard operator during the war as well. One day in 1945 while I was working on the switchboard, I received a call from overseas. It was from a Colonel Chastaine. He told me that he had been held prisoner in the Philippines, at Santo Tomas Internment Camp, and that his family had not heard from him in months. He was trying to reach his daughter, a student at Adelphi, to let her know the camp had been liberated, and he was alive. I was able to get his daughter on the phone, and then managed to make outside connections with four other members of his family, all through Adelphi’s switchboard. Colonel Chastaine told his five family members that he was alive, and that he loved them. (Of course, I was listening in!). The whole family was connected and able to converse with each other. They were all yelling and laughing, and I can still remember their screams of happiness. It was a moving experience and it happened thanks to the Adelphi switchboard!
While World War II was a grim and serious time, we still managed to have fun. I fondly remember the sisterhood of the student body. My sorority sisters and I so enjoyed college dances held at the Waldorf-Astoria and fraternity dances we would have with two or three other colleges.
I embraced the collegiate atmosphere that Adelphi had to offer. I was very active in organizations on campus, such as the Student Nurses Association, the glee club and the newspaper. Joining the sorority Tri Delta was a great experience, which allowed me to develop strong friendships. I don’t think today’s students have the same sense of sisterhood that we did during our Adelphi years. My sorority sisters and I were always competing to get higher grades; always challenging each other. There is a Tri Delta chapter in Westchester, so my sorority sisters and I still get together for lunch.
I have fond memories of Ruth Harley, who was also a Tri Delta. Everyone loved her. She was a wonderful person, and a fine dean of women. Students felt they could go to her with any problems and talk to her about anything.
Founding director of the School of Nursing, Mildred Montag, had been a professor at Adelphi, but by the time I enrolled, she was in an administrative role. She was a ball of fire who would go to bat for her students. I have one memory that really demonstrates her commitment to her students. While fulfilling my clinical experience at United Hospital, there was an instance when I was asked to take test results to the lab, which I did. Later on, the test results were nowhere to be found, and when I explained that I had already brought them to the lab, I was accused of lying. Miss Montag came all the way from Garden City to Port Chester to defend me. She scolded the individuals involved for blaming a nursing student for what was their own mistake.
Miss Montag eventually left Adelphi to complete her doctoral studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. One afternoon I went to visit her. She told me I was taking the nursing master’s exam that same day, took me by the arm, and enrolled me in Columbia’s Graduate School of Nursing. I received my master’s degree from Columbia in school administration and education in 1965. She was a heavy handed, honest, wonderful woman.
In the year 1947 I was engaged to my husband at the end of April, graduated in June, and married in August. I was preparing for my state boards when we first started dating. After studying all day, he would come over to test me each night. That was our courtship for weeks! I passed my boards the first time around; I owe this in part to my husband’s help.
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
Work hard. Take pride in what you accomplish; this will motivate you to always do your very best.
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