Nurse Frances Allen

Nurse Frances Allen


The Polio Epidemic


Frances Allen, standing third from left

                Frances Allen, a native of Ellenboro in Rutherford County, trained as a registered nurse at Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing in Knoxville, Tennessee, and earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She was a public health nurse during the 1944 polio epidemic, Here is her story:


                “There were only two public health nurses in Catawba County at the time of the polio epidemic, and the other nurse-besides myself-had left to join the Army Nurses Corp to help fight the War.  Since I was the only public health nurse, the job seemed insurmountable.


                “When the research physicians form Yale came to the county, they wanted a nurse who knew the territory and had scientific knowledge to work with them to collect stool specimens  from family members of polio patients who were in the hospital.  They wanted one special person rather than several, so the specimens would be collected in a uniform manner and their research would be scientific.  I was selected to do this.  Of course, Dr. Whims and Dr. Hahn were the front line directors.


                “Doctors from Yale gave me specific instructions. Each home was to be visited to collect specimens when a new patient was admitted.  I was given a carrying bag with dry ice, so the specimens could be preserved.  Two visits had to be made-the first to leave specimen containers and instruct family members on how to collect specimens, and the second visit to collect the specimens and take it back to the researchers.


                “Of course, on the visit I recorded a short , but detailed, history of the family, a description of the house and surroundings, family names, and work that [family] members were involved in at the time.


                “These visits required a lot of travel from daylight to dark.  I recall one visit in Watauga County that took me up a small unpaved road.  I then had to park my car and walk about one-fourth mile to the house.  Of course, there were dogs to combat, but luckily no dog bites.  The family proved to be very cooperative, and I collected-and put on ice-their specimens to take back to researchers.


                “I traveled to Wilkes, Burke, Caldwell, and Alexander counties.  I do not recall visiting any black families because few black families lived in those areas.


                “At the time of the epidemic, nurses from all over the United States were brought to Hickory, and the Hickory Hotel was turned over to nurses and physicians.


                “I was in the hospital every day where patients were treated by the Kenny hot pack method.  Schools were closed, and children were asked to stay home rather than be in crowds.  In fact, the whole town was somewhat quarantined for a time.  Later, as the number of cases became fewer, the worst cases were transferred to Charlotte Memorial Hospital.


                “The next big job for me and health educators was to plan and schedule gamma globulin clinics for all school children.  These clinics were run by public health nurses, other nurses, physicians, and volunteers and required a large number of personnel who gave of their time.  Not every school was a site for a clinic, but children, along with the teacher, were bused to the clinic site.  Parents were required to sign a permission slip, and most parents signed for the shots.”