Jane Abernethy Plyler Papers, 1979-1980

UNC Chapel Hill

Jane Abernethy Plyler Papers, 1979-1980 Collection

Jane Abernethy Plyler received a B.S. in nursing from East Carolina University in 1967 and an M.S. in community health nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980. She has practiced nursing in a variety of situations. Eighteen cassette tapes of oral history interviews with public health nurses who practiced during the 1920s and 1930s in North Carolina. Individuals interviewed are: Rubye Bowles Bryson (1913- ) of Haywood County; Amy Louise Fisher (1901- ) of Watauga County; Edith McNeil Holmes (c. 1905- ) of Halifax County; Mary King Kneedler (1913- ) of Alamance and Pitt counties; Anne Eliza Lamb (1897- ) of Dare and Granville counties; and Elizabeth McMillan Thompson (1908- ) of Cumberland County. Also included is a copy of Plyer's thesis, "Public Health Nursing in North Carolina: Oral Histories of Earlier Years," which includes edited excerpts from the interviews.

Audio files for some of Plyler's interviews can be found on the Internet Archive:

  • Amy Fisher Barrier - Barrier describes her missionary work, which included health education at Bible camps, as well as more general public health tasks like delivering immunizations, monitoring maternal health, administering tonsillectomies, and family planning education. She describes the lifestyles of early public health nurses, including travel difficulties and the reactions of supervisors to nursesâ marriages. Barrier describes the changes she observed in public health nursing over time.
  • Rubye Bowles Bryson - Bryson discusses aspects of child health and health education, such as tonsillectomy clinics, school health screenings, immunizations and parental resistance to them, and Little Jack Shows, puppet shows that conveyed public health information. Bryson describes quarantine processes and tuberculosis sanatoriums as well as treatments for venereal disease. She talks about oral health programs and recounts the growth of public programs for mental health. Bryson speaks in detail about creating a rapport with her patients; she also discusses her personal life and the ways in which she balanced it with her career. She describes the identities and practices of midwives early in her career, midwife education and regulation, and her observations of folk medicine. She relates stories of local resistance to as well as cooperation with public health programs. She recounts the building of a new health department and describes other highlights of her work.
  • Edith MacNeil Holmes ("Nurse Mac") - Holmes discusses her childhood, family background, and education, and work as a public health nurse. Holmes was black, and a recurring theme in the interview is the role of her own race in connecting with African-American, Native American, and mixed-race patients. She faced challenges from discrimination and segregation. Holmes gave vaccinations, sometimes traveling to farms during the lunch hour to administer them to workers who lacked the time to visit her clinic. She dealt with tuberculosis and tuberculin testing as well as venereal disease treatments and midwife supervision. This task included educating the midwives and mothers about maternity health. Holmes talks about the role of poverty in public health issues and describes her efforts to secure resources for her patients. She discusses folk medicine and lay medical practitioners. Holmes covers the process of school visits and school screening. She discusses the way of life of black tenant farmers in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as that of the African-American community in general.
  • Mary King Kneedler - Kneedler's interview covers her work as a public health nurse. Kneedler explains the nursing tasks she performed, such as immunizations, treatment for venereal disease, health screening in schools, the education and regulation of midwives, and tuberculin testing and tuberculosis sanatoriums. She discusses folk medicine and the role of midwives and other lay medical practitioners in rural communities. She describes her role as public health nurse during World War II, when she promoted the war effort and educated families in first aid to compensate for the scarcity of physicians. Kneedler discusses her own life as a public health nurse, mentioning such things as her salary, housing situation, and difficulties traveling around remote mountain communities as well as the general quality of life for her patients in rural communities. She talks about balancing her work and marriage and about conflicts with supervisors. She discusses her own supervisory experience and her role in creating a nursing program and nursing curriculums. Kneedler discusses the changes in nursing over the course of her career.
  • Anne Eliza Lamb - Lamb's interview centers on her work in maternal and child health and family planning. She discusses midwives and the effort to educate and regulate them. She explains the process of enforcing these regulations and compares midwives in different communities in different areas of the state. Lamb talks about the folk medicine that she encountered in her work, especially the practices that related to pregnancy. She describes the reaction of communities and local governments to her work in providing birth control and birth control education to the public. Lamb also discusses her work in generalized public health nursing and her own life as a public health nurse. She describes her salary and housing, her personal life, and challenges in transportation and communication that she faced in her work.
  • Elizabeth McMillan Thompson - Thompson describes her childhood, family background, early interest in medicine, and education, and decision to go into public health nursing. She explains the tasks she performed as a public health nurse. She was first appointed during a smallpox epidemic, so she gave immunizations, dealt with quarantine requirements, and cared for patients. As her career progressed, she continued to give immunizations and inoculations to the public, made visits to schools, administered treatments for patients with venereal disease, and provided women with birth control. She educated midwives and oversaw maternal health issues in her area. She dealt primarily with the African-American community in Cumberland County, but she also worked with Native Americans. Thompson discusses her own routine and way of life as a public health nurse, as well as her eventual strategies for balancing her work and family life.