Back Then UNC CH
Thursday, May 27, 2010 — Oaxaca Cultural Navigator
History of Carolina Nursing Introduced to First Year Nursing Students
When Geraldine (Geri) Snider Laport, BSN `55, Barbara Hedberg Self, BSN `57 and Frances Ader Read, BSN `58 took the stage in Carrington Hall Room 15, the one hundred fifty students in their first year of the baccalaureate program at the School of Nursing fell silent. There was a sense of awe and respect for the women who came to speak to them on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. More than fifty years had passed since their graduation and a lot had changed, in nursing, at the school, in the curriculum, at the University. Yet, the bond between them was strong and solid. They were all Carolina nurses.
Professor Meg Zomorodi, RN, CNL, PhD organized the program with
Anne Webb, associate director of advancement, to introduce the history of the SON and create continuity between then and now, a link between past and future. The three alumnae shared their personal stories and memories , then students had an opportunity to ask questions. At the end, students and alumnae gathered together for photos. The class ran well beyond the allotted time because students were wholly engaged and didn’t want to leave! Students posed for the camera with our guests as others took their photos with their cell phones. Dr. Zomorodi reports that she heard one student say , “I hope to have the same passion about nursing fifty years from now. It is wonderful to be in Chapel Hill.”
In 1955, Geri Laport stood tall in the third row of her class photo, which she proudly handed out to the assembly. Of
course she has changed over the years, and she was still the stately, beautiful and intelligent blonde who stood before us today. While twenty-seven young women were admitted to the first class, sixteen made it through the four-year curriculum and graduated. They arrived in September 1951, eager, hand-picked by Dean Elizabeth Kemble, to be models for the future of baccalaureate degree nursing. First, the class moved into Smith Hall, which was a dorm then. The hospital and the School of Nursing were not yet completed. It was a quiet life on campus, though punctuated with occasional panty raids which Geri describes as being “exciting, but nothing happened.” In September of the second year, the group moved into the fourth floor of Memorial Hospital because the nurses’ dorm was not yet completed. At that time, a private hospital room was twenty-seven dollars a day.
When the Class of 1955 graduated – the first class at the School of Nursing — they walked across the stage at Kenan Stadium (much smaller than it is today), shook hands with the governor, and were each given a bible. They were proud, and justifiably so.
Geri reminded us that at the time the state desperately needed schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and public health, and these schools were chartered after World War II by the state legislature to address the health care needs of returning veterans and rural communities with limited access to care. She recounted that in the 1940’s North Carolina men were rejected by draft boards because of poor health; the rejection rate was one of the highest in the nation. The state invested in a collaborative health affairs campus, an innovative approach at the time.
Barbara Hedberg Self remembers that she and her classmates were required to sign in and sign out each time they entered and exited the dorm. The weekday curfew was ten o’clock and the weekend curfew was eleven at night. Once in a while, Dean Kemble would give permission to stay out later and this was a big deal. She remembers garters that held nylon stockings, starched uniforms, and how proud she and her classmates were of their Carolina nursing caps. They started clinicals in the hospital as soon as they learned to take vital signs. She was instrumental in designing the School of Nursing pin that all students receive when they graduate. There was a contest in the SON and she ordered a half gallon of lime sherbet from the Dairy Bar, invited classmates to join her on her dorm bed and asked for their ideas before she went ahead and put pencil to paper to design the school’s pin.
About one-third to one-half of the class didn’t make it because of chemistry, Barbara recalls. The professor didn’t think that women belonged on campus and he let them know that. After graduation, Barbara worked in the operating room (OR), and then after she married Bill Self, they lived in Japan as part of his military service. When they got married before she graduated, Bill had to promise Dean Kemble that she would graduate. Dean Kemble had a lot invested in these first nursing students, since they were examples of the kind of quality program she was trying to build.
Barbara was out of the workforce for seventeen years during the period she raised her children, but she went back to nursing. For twenty-five years she practiced geriatric nursing before recently retiring. “It’s a wonderful thing to have a degree and this type of education,” she said.
Frances Ader Read felt special to be part of the Carolina nursing program. She applied to both Duke and Carolina and went to visit both. At the time, Duke’s program was five years and Carolina’s was four. The Carolina program was welcoming, receptive and the curriculum in pubic health nursing was exactly what she was looking for. She was a public health nurse for over twenty-five years. She remembers that VD (veneral disease, now called STDs or sexually transmitted disease) was rampant then. The county health director had the power to put people in jail for not getting treatment for tuberculosis or VD. The people diagnosed with VD had to give the names of those they had been in contact with or risk legal action. She remembers patients who had relationships with a dozen people and each one of those needed to be tracked down.
Because she had a BSN degree, which was considered “advanced,” she was tapped to teach. Nursing schools needed baccalaureate educated instructors in the classroom in order to get accreditation. Frances taught at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for twenty years.
“I loved nursing then. I love it now. I still keep my license so I can give flu shots. I’m not ready to give it up,” she says.
Q & A: Students and Alumni Ask and Reply
Q: Do you remember your first clinical patient?
A: We all did case studies and we were apprehensive. There was one patient I remember who had a total body burn who was suspended on a striker frame between sterile sheets. He was in a lot of pain and I was very careful when I turned him.
We had iron lungs then; lots of people had polio since this was before the vaccine.
We were concerned as new nurses; we didn’t have a lot of clinical training. We valued the hospital orientation, the ability to ask questions. Our critical thinking skills came in handy and we were able to listen to patients concerns.
Q: Where people turned away from admission then?
A: We had to pass a rigorous entrance examination. Everyone was hand-picked by Dean Kemble or by faculty members who traveled the state to recruit students. A faculty member came to my high school in Charlotte to recruit me.
Dean Kemble had high standards and she got us off to a strong start. She set the bar high. She was never mean. She had a deep, commanding voice and you paid attention when she spoke.
I remember that Dean Kemble came in when we were studying to take the state boards. She asked us who the president of the National League of Nursing was and we couldn’t answer. She was definitely disgusted with us for not knowing this. We learned the answer and no one failed the state boards.
There are profound changes in nursing. Then, medical doctors gave orders. Now, they respect women and nursing. They ask us for advice now and respect us for our knowledge and professionalism.
Men are respected in nursing now; there is definitely a place for men in managing care.
Why did nurses need a BSN then? It is important to remember Mrs. Elizabeth Scott Carrington, who was a nurse. She was a strong supporter and formed Mrs. Carrington’s Committee. At the time, there was a strong movement for the hospital to grant a diploma degree and not establish a School of Nursing that would award a BSN. The influential support from Mrs. Carrington and her committee with the state legislature is what made the difference in establishing this school.
Q: What was your commitment to nursing and social justice?
A: I always wanted to be a nurse and defined myself that way. This was my calling.
We wanted to help others and make a difference. You feel you made a difference in the world. I always knew at the end of the day that I felt good and did something meaningful. You never know what you are going to come up againt and reach back to pull out what you learned.
As soon as anyone found out I had a BSN degree from Carolina, I was offered a job.
The ICU (intensive care unit) than was on Ward 3 West. It was eight beds.
There was lots of discipline in that era, in schools and in families. Most of us came from small towns across North Carolina and this structure gave us security.
Q: What was the social life like?
A: It was vibrant. I ran for University office. There were parties, intramural competitions. We were involved in everything on campus, incuding the Beat Duke Parade, Miss Modern Venus, skiats, the Sigma Chi Derby, and the Hillbilly Willers. We were pretty dignified.
It wasn’t a disposable society then. We cleaned and sterilized needles and equipment and reused them. We reused everything. It’s not like it is today.