Amy Fisher Barrier transcript

Amy Fisher Barrier Interview (part 2)

Date: October 4, 1979

Location: Mt. Pleasant, NC


Amy Fisher Barrier: The Western District: Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, for a long time. And then she had gone down to Fayetteville with Dr. Foster’s outfit, and --

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Was she the first Public Health Nurse in Fayetteville or that area, do you know?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh no, she went down there supervisor, from--cause she was supervisor in the Jackson-Macon-Swain District, and when we talked to her about coming to the State Board of Health, she said she would. Then we didn’t send her back to the mountains. She was a sand lover. She came from South Carolina, and she’d had enough of winter time in the mountains. She didn’t want anymore. So, Dr. Fox decided, he came to me and he said, “Let’s see how you like this.” He gave me… suggested an area around Raleigh that I could cover on daytrips. So, I had a district around Raleigh and the mountain range and of course he saw my eyes light up when he said the mountains. So, that was what happened. I worked all those counties around Raleigh that I could go on daytrips and do my office work and then I’d get out for usually a two week stretch. I’d leave; we worked then until Saturday noon, you see? That was on our five and a half day week and I’d leave Saturday afternoon and come to Mt. Pleasant. Then, Saturday night go to church with mother and the family and drive to Asheville or to Boone, which direction I was going to take on Sunday afternoon. And only once did I start from Raleigh and drive all the way to the end of the district and that was--one day, I left Raleigh at eight o’clock in the morning, the speed limit was 60, I sat on that, stopped in Hickory for a sandwich and I’d fill up on the gas tank, and ended up down in the tip, southwest tip of North Carolina at six o’clock in the evening.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Oh, goodness.

Amy Fisher Barrier:  So, most of the time I did, I’d break it, you see? By coming here and then if I was going to work the northern part I’d go to Boone and then work out from there for the week or I’d go to Asheville and work out from there. But, I thoroughly enjoyed getting back to the mountains of course.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: I bet you did.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And then as we grew, there were more and more consultants till we got people. Ms. East was in on industrial hygiene, Livian Baily had been the supervisor in the Asheville Health Department, and when she came to the State Board they sent her-- I believe it was to St. Louis, I’ve forgotten where, to take the special six weeks course in VD control. So, she was the one that worked with the nurses on that. Everybody had a district, but each one had a specialty that they were supposed to work with us on. Ann Lambs was a maternity, MCH.

So, that’s the way things went.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Okay, we’ve covered a lot of territory awfully fast here. There were a few things I wanted to ask you about …

Amy Fisher Barrier: Well, so much of the work then was some of VD clinics, you know? The health departments were doing a terrific amount of work with VD clinics.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: What kind of facilities did you have then? Let’s go back to—when you were in Boone, did you have any type of office? Or did you work out of your car? Or…

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: How did you…(inaudible)

Amy Fisher Barrier: Well, when I was workin’ with the church as the Watauga Parish Nurse, I worked out of my house, home, you see? And they paid my salary and gave me a church, I mean a car. But, and when they started the health department in Boone, they, it was upstairs over, their post office was on the left side of the street, opposite where the post office was built, there was an SO station right there on the corner and we were right across from that, one of the office buildings upstairs. And we had clinic days. But, most of the work there, Dr. King and I spent most of our time in either clinics, or in the summertime, you know? When they did massive typhoid clinics all over the county and the immunization clinics as they became DBT, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: We didn’t have measles vaccine then. But, it was small pox we had to do. Small pox vaccinations in those. And then in the winter time, we spent our time visiting schools and we’d take—we started out with the ones that were up on top of the mountains, you know? There were 50 schools.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: 50 schools?

Amy Fisher Barrier: 50 schools. They had begun to consolidate just before I left, and or as I was leaving they brought three schools I believe down to Valley Crucis, you know? And Silver Hill came down. All of these schools. But, it was a question of getting up to the top of the mountain where the little school was. The teacher would help. A lot of these were one room, one teacher school. Some of them were two teacher. And, Dr. King would examine the children, the teacher would help me weigh and measure and make out the cards, you see? She’d probably be the secretary while I was doing the weigh and measuring and the vision, put up the eye charts to do the vision tests, you see? The teacher and I did those things while Dr. King gave them the physical and that’s the way most of our days were spent during the winter cause it took us a long time to get around to 50 schools, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyer: I bet it did. I can imagine.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And we had clinic days. So, we had to be in the office to do the VD treatments and prenatal visits. When I had a chance, I did prenatal visits, that sorta thing and of course kept up taking children to the orthopedic clinic in Lenoir and this, but, and (inaudible) Miller was the social worker, that if I had too many children to go, we’d both, we’d each take a car to get down to there.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: And you couldn’t go except in the summer probably, or just certain times?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Well, no, we went most of the time. They, the highway kept the roads cleared out. The main road, up and down the mountain. There was very few times that it was blocked. Of course we never went in any snow storms, but, I don’t remember that there were many times that we couldn’t go. It was just once a month, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm. Okay, I see.

Amy Fisher Barrier: So, there weren’t many months, but Dr. Gaul was real good with the children, and then there was the follow-up work to do on that. But, so much of it, time was spent, you see? In trying to keep up with catch up with the schools.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: What about family planning? Was that approached during that time period in the mountains? Or anywhere really? I know it started fairly early in North Carolina compared to most states.

Amy Fisher Barrier: North Carolina was the first state, and one day, when I went into class at Teacher’s College, this gal that had been we’d been pretty close talked and she said, “Amy, did you see the announcement that North Carolina is the first state, they just are starting a Planned Parenthood program.” She said, “How in the name of common sense are you gettin’?” I said, “No, I hadn’t heard that. This is brand new.” It was that year that I was up at Teacher’s College and when I came home, Dr. Cooper said that he had worked things out with the Catholics in there, in Raleigh, that they would not endorse or oppose; that they would just leave it alone and say nothing.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Well, that took some politicking, didn’t it? (laughs)

Amy Fisher Barrier: He had worked with those people, with the Catholics there, the priest and the head of the Catholic Church and had worked out a real good program. And the first program was sponge and foam powder. That was the first contraceptive that they had.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: And this was..

Amy Fisher Barrier: And that’s what we were doing, and they got Roberta Pratt in there on that maternity program to help us get clinic started and all the maternity clinics started giving Planned Parenthood if they wanted it, you know? And then that was a part of every home visit. If you had– I mean for the appropriate patients.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Anyone that wanted it. We weren’t trying to force anybody.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: But it was just being offered, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: How did they react to it, do you recall how ..

Amy Fisher Barrier: Well, a lot of them were real happy to have a chance to plan when they were going to have their children, their babies. And of course, only the ones that wanted it were the ones that came or the ones that we talked to. So, they were happy about it. If anybody didn’t want it, I would certainly didn’t try and force it on them at all.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Now this sponge and foam, it was inserted like a tampon. Is that correct?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Yes, they inserted it themselves. Then, the next development was, we started the clinics and that was with the diaphragm and jelly. They had to be examined and fitted and rechecked, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: So, I was in Durham at the time. We started, we had the clinic there and there was a woman doctor who, who did the clinic for us, fitted the diaphragms and, you see? Dr. Lord was in the city of Asheville, she had started the clinics up there.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: That’s interesting, I had not heard of the foam or the powder and sponge method until just several weeks ago when I was talking to Elba Butler in Chatum County.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Uh huhh.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: And I just never heard of it, and I said, “you gotta be kidding”. And she was explaining

Amy Fisher Barrier: To you

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Explaining about it

Amy Fisher Barrier: About it

Jane Abernathy Plyler: To me…

Amy Fisher Barrier: You know lately they’ve said, I’ve read something about going back to the foam.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: How effective was it? Were there any statistics or...

Amy Fisher Barrier: I don’t know if there were any statistics really, I don’t know. But, as so long as they used it

Jane Abernathy Plyler: It worked?

Amy Fisher Barrier: It worked.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: What was in the powder? Did they put on the sponge...

Amy Fisher Barrier: Well, that was

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Spermicide?

Amy Fisher Barrier: It made, it foamed up. But, it was something that would kill the sperm. It was an outta sperm powder. I mean no point in puttin’ in that if it wasn’t something that would take care of that, but I don’t know, it was just white powder and I don’t know what the formula was, but I know it was something that would kill sperms.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: And it worked.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And it worked, yeah, if they wanted to use it. Or, sometimes the thing that would happen would be that they’d go to bed and she wouldn’t of didn’t bother to get up to put the foam, put the sponge in. Why, then it wouldn’t work of course. But, it had to be inserted just like the diaphragms had to be inserted. And then of course later we got the IUDs, all the controversy about that. Then the pills, there was no pill until later.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: That’s interesting. (Inaudible) Maybe switch gears a minute. There were some things I was reading in the Jean??? paper. You had to sign an agreement if you received a scholarship from the state and you couldn’t get married, right?

Amy Fisher Barrier: That’s right, to start with. You’d sign an agreement saying that you would not get married until this and the first girl that…you shouldn’t get married without permission. That was it. It wasn’t necessarily that you couldn’t get married, but you couldn’t get married without permission and the first person that really wanted to talk to me about it, I went and talked to her health director and he said that if she would sign her resignation and he could put it under his??? and if she would agree that anytime her work was not satisfactory, that her marriage was interfering with her work, that he’d pull it out and hand it to her, and she would accept it with no come back at all, why she could get married. So, we all three talked about this and she agreed and he agreed. She got married, and he never ever said a word about her marriage interfering with her work at all. She stayed on until she was ready to quit and have her family.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Do you, do you believe that most of the women that were career public health nurses at that time were not married?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Yeah, they…

Jane Abernathy Plyler: We talked about a lot of travel and stuff and I’m wondering. You were not married during this time, right?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh no. I hadn’t been married until just

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Just recently.

Amy Fisher Barrier: In January 1978

Jane Abernathy Plyler: You’re really a newlywed.

Amy Fisher Barrier: So, but most of the girls weren’t, you see? We didn’t take...girls didn’t get married and go in training at that time, you know? Schools weren’t taking them. So, they came out single.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And when we gave them a scholarship to go to school, you see? And we didn’t take anybody; we didn’t employ anybody until they had been to one of the courses and then we’d get…give the scholarships to this bunch of girls and when we had plenty of money it was a good sized class

Jane Abernathy Plyler: mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: That would come home and we’d have the applications from the health directors…health officers who wanted people and we’d arrange for them to come up and interview the girls, and they would select the ones they wanted, and the girls would work out an agreement, you know? Whether they, it was some place they wanted to go

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: They would never send any place that they didn’t really want to go and so they were all single girls at that time. Now, you get a lot of people going in training who were--are married or who get married (inaudible). But that was no problem. But, anytime one of them wanted to get married, I’d go talk to the health director and if he was agreeable, why, Dr. Fox would say, “that’s fine, the contract doesn’t interfere.” If it was agreeable with the health director and the nurse for them to get married, but we always cleared it, you see? In the early days.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: That clears up a little big point for me? I had wondered why so many were not married and I felt that probably they decided that that was what they wanted to do. They felt that they didn’t have time.

Amy Fisher Barrier: No, most of them just were out of training and ready for a job and went to school and then they were--they found somebody they wanted to marry later. Most of them weren’t—most of them weren’t –most of the girls who were really ready to get married then I guess didn’t apply for a public health job.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: That’s interesting.

Amy Fisher Barrier: But it was after the first one of course, why, they found out it worked and that most cases there were never any trouble about neglecting their work because they were married.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: You mentioned earlier that you had wanted to be a missionary in India and go to medical school. I was wondering what kept you from that.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh, well, that started when I was a child and we had a missionary, Mrs. Mcully?, Who was a cousin of family here of ?? in town who talked to us in our children’s missionary society and she dressed me up and I got the idea then and heard about Dr. Anna Kugler in India and all of this. So, that was the reason I started. But, when I found out after I got through college and found out how long it was going to take to get any money, then I decided, well I wasn’t so sure that I wouldn’t do better as a nurse.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Instead of as a doctor with my temperament. I wasn’t sure I was gonna be a good doctor. So, that’s the reason I went in nursing and I felt like I needed—that the mission field needed the information I would have in public health no matter what.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: The missionary board did the minute I got through at Cincinnati, wanted to know if I wanted to go to the foreign field to India in charge of a nursing school and I said, “heavens no, I don’t know anything about running a nursing school.”

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Ugh.

Amy Fisher Barrier: They had a vacancy and they needed somebody in that and I said, “Give me a chance to get some preparation in public health because I think a lot of the work in any one of these countries should be with people with families in their home”.

Jane Abernathy Plyer: Wow.

Any Fisher Barrier: So, that’s the reason I started in public health and then when Catherine Cox got hold up (inaudible). I started, I was mountain missionary, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Why, that just took over instead because they—the women’s missionary society was paying my salary to go to—start to work in Konnarock. So, I became a mountain missionary instead of a foreign missionary. My family would not of opposed my going to the foreign field because daddy was a minister and mother was very much interested in—we all were in missionary work, you see? But they were pleased that it turned out to be missionary work in the United States.

Jane Abernathy Plyer: I bet. How many children were in your family? How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Amy Fisher Barrier: There--four of us and I’m the last one now. They’re all gone. I was the second girl, middle girl. There were three girls and a boy. Catherine was the oldest and then I was next then Mary Virginia and then Henry Lee.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: So, your family backed your ideas to be a nurse. They backed it all the way.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh yes.

Jane Abernathy Plyer: And you were teaching here—

Amy Fisher Barrier: Here at m-----? For two years. Daddy was a teacher and of course he needed a teacher at the seminary and he wasn’t too enthusiastic about my getting into either medicine or nursing. He thought it would be a hard life and he’d been in the hospital one time and he thought that the nursing business was gonna be pretty rugged. But, if that’s what I wanted to do—

Jane Abernathy Plyler: He was behind you.

Amy Fisher Barrier: That was alright.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: What did you teach? Was it like secondary or college?

Amy Fisher Barrier: Oh no, it was in the seminary. I had a mixed up—I had whatever they didn’t have that year. I had taught chemistry and algebra and English literature.

Jane Abernathy Plyer: Oh my heavens.

Amy Fisher Barrier: I had what classes, you see? They—the teachers were employed for—to do certain things and that year I just picked up what he didn’t have somebody to teach. That—I’m just filling in on that. So, when I did the second year and he knew that I really wanted to get back to getting prepared to go to the mission field, so he made no objection to my going in training.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: That’s interesting. When you said you taught I wasn’t really sure. Now I know you taught a little bit of everything. Okay, we’ve talked about the nursing school and your reasons for entering public health and you’ve had a lot of jobs, a lot of different positions. Now, in 1952 you were appointed chief nurse in North Carolina.

Amy Fisher Barrier: They reorganized the state board of health. I was always what they—what the nursing group new as the state director of public health nursing. That’s what all of these titles were for. It was the person who was in charge of public health nursing was really known as the state director and we had conferences in—of all the state directors in the United States, you see? We had federal consultants who came and visited us and Mary Dunn was the one who was in when I first went to the state board of health.

Jane Abernathy Plyer: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And then all of ?? followed her pretty quick. But—and they called these meetings in Washington. The first one I went to Joe Daniel was in Oklahoma then and the secretary’s job of course was one that nobody was particularly anxious for

Jane Abernathy Plyler: (Laughs)

Amy Fisher Barrier: but Joe put my name up. They always tried to get somebody new to put that job off on and so (laughs) she suggested me and I was the lucky secretary? to counsel the state directors. It was not official, but then when they redid or reorganized the state board of health and they put it in sections I was made chief of the public health nursing section.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: So really you were director before--

Amy Fisher Barrier: I was the main one. The first—the director of the whole public health nursing in the state all the time. It was—that was my job. It wasn’t an official title, you see?

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Okay.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Until that. And Dr. Fox had promised me when I was sort of hesitant about coming to Raleigh and Joe had promised me that if I come to the state board of health I could have that western district. She wasn’t sure if I’d have headquarters in Asheville or in Boone. She wasn’t sure she could make the headquarters in Boone. She though it would probably have to be Asheville, but that could be my district, you see? So, and he knew that. So, he told me that if I ever found anybody that I wanted to put in my place to do the job at the state board of health, I could change jobs. I could swap jobs and have my district in the western part of the state or whatever. Well, of course by the time Ms. East, that I was ready to change, why Ms. East, who was our industrial had headquarters in Asheville and my family situation was such that I needed to be in a home. I needed to make a home for mother and daddy had been dead for some time and mother had been living with Catherine and she’d always wanted a house. So, when I talked with the folks at the state board of health about it, they—Dr. Fox was in the eastern part of the state then, he was down at Greenville, but they—Dr. Coker had been Mary Kneedler’s health director over in (inaudible)  and he was a local health director.

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: Division of local health at the state board of health and when I talked to him about wanting to switch jobs he said I wouldn’t do any better than to have to take Mary Kneedler, so, well, I got permission to swap jobs and we sent Mary Kneedler to New York to get her Master’s Degree with the understanding that she would come in and be—take a district as consultant nurse and that was the TB was the one that was open at that time

Jane Abernathy Plyler: Mhmm.

Amy Fisher Barrier: And then that we could swap. This was all just between Mary Kneedler and Dr. Coker and Dr. Applewhite and me. So, nobody else knew what was going on. They knew that she went off to school and when she came back with her Masters she took a local district and at the end of that