Miss Bessie Catherine Draper was born on January 18,1904 to Lawrence and Fannie Draper of Rocky Mount. Her father died before she was six years old. By the early 1930s, she had graduated from the Park View Hospital School of Nursing in Rocky Mount and was employed there as the night supervisor.
Deciding she wanted to be a public health nurse, Draper took advanced training from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She became the only public health nurse in Dare County in 1940. An article in the June 15, 1951 Coastland Times described her work. Among her regular duties were home visiting and clinics for prenatal and infant care, screening school children for various health defects, vaccinating school children and adults against small pox, diphtheria, whooping cough and typhoid, administering tests and x-rays for suspected tuberculosis cases, inspecting and issuing health cards to food handlers and providing health lectures on numerous topics to community groups.
Draper had a severe stroke in 1962, at age 58 and she had to retire from her job. Reporting on her condition after the stroke an article in the Coastland Times noted that she had her first rest in 21 years of “vaccinating, hand holding, jeep driving, examining, cussing and laughing her way into the hearts of the folks of the Outer Banks”.
Draper received honors for her work including a citation for her untiring efforts during the Ash Wednesday storm and a letter of commendation from the North Carolina Public Health Association for her dedication to her patients and to the field of public health.