Philatelic Nursing

Students in Nursing’s Past as Prologue (a course required of seniors) have studied artifacts and archival materials from the Dolan Collection. In association with our current exhibit, Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection, we present alumna Selina Jose’s report on a stamp album that collections philatelic items related to nursing and medicine, currently on display in the Widmer Atrium.

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National Library of Medicine Exhibit at UConn School of Nursing

NLM Pictures of Nursing traveling exhibit
NLM Pictures of Nursing traveling exhibit

Until early September, the UConn School of Nursing will display a National Library of Medicine traveling exhibit, Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection.

Located in the atrium of the Storrs Hall Widmer Wing on the Storrs campus, the exhibit examines nursing and gender, social respectability, and service to humanity. This exhibit has been arranged by the school’s Josephine Dolan Nursing History Collection.

NLM Pictures of Nursing traveling exhibit
NLM Pictures of Nursing traveling exhibit

According to the NLM, “the postcard is a fleeting and widespread art form influenced by popular ideas about social and cultural life in addition to fashions in visual style. Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards.”

Pictures of Nursing, Dolan Collection Artifacts
Pictures of Nursing, Dolan Collection Artifacts

In addition to the NLM traveling exhibit, a display case will feature objects from the Dolan Collection, including book covers, advertising, and postage stamps.

“Ephemeral popular culture materials like postcards, book covers, and movie posters provide vivid representations of the nursing profession at given points in time,” said Dolan Collection curator, Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long. “They are windows into what people thought about nursing, and sometimes what they fantasized about nurses.”

The Widmer Wing atrium is open daily.

Pictures of Nursing, Dolan Collection Artifacts
Pictures of Nursing, Dolan Collection Artifacts

On Exhibit: World War I Nursing

This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I (1914-1918), with hostilities formally ceasing in an armistice agreement signed on November 11, 1918 (the origin of the modern Veterans Day).

To mark this anniversary, temporary exhibits in the Widmer Wing Atrium feature of variety of materials from the Dolan Collection.

These include recruitment posters and a uniform.

There is a generous collection of other artifact materials: a service uniform, photos and photo album, an autograph album signed by soldier patients of a British nurse, a period newspaper front page.

In addition, books from the Eleanor Krohn Herrmann Reading room, both from the period and later scholarly books, are on display.

Public exhibits from the Dolan Collection are open seven days a week.

Latest Acquisition: Alumna donates handmade frontier crib

The UConn School of Nursing’s Dolan Collection was visited recently by the Weinhold family, long-time friends of a 1955 alumna, Barbara Ann Contessa Madgwick, who has donated a handmade crib from her days in Frontier Nursing. The crib was made by a local craftsman, Alonzo Sizemore (Hydon, Essex County, KY) of hickory saplings with woven hickory bark for the bed.

Weinhold Family
Frontier Crib (1956) of hickory saplings and bark, donated by Barbara Ann Contessa Madgwick

This beautiful and unusual item has been added to the permanent sickroom exhibit in the Widmer Wing atrium.

Frontier crib in Dolan Collection permanent exhibit

Madwick and the Weinholds have done the curator’s job for him by providing the following explanation:

Barbara Ann Contessa Madgwick earned her baccalaureate from UConn’s School of Nursing in 1955. Immediately after graduating she joined the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in Hydon, Kentucky, as a staff nurse.  Her duties were primarily home visits by horseback or by Jeep to families scattered throughout the hills of southern Appalachia, one of the poorest and most inaccessible areas in the United States.  She assisted at the FNS hospital in her off times or when she was on call.  A clinic was located on the first floor of the old stone hospital.  Maternity services were on the 2nd floor.  The School of Midwifery was down the path from the hospital. (In the 50’s nurse-midwifery was not yet legal in most states so most of the midwifery students were training for overseas missionary work.) Staff nurses such as Barbara assisted the teachers with deliveries, post-natal care and home visits. The staff nursing team consisted of 4 to 6 young women supervised by a senior British nurse-midwife.

Poverty in that area of Kentucky was endemic. Many homes visited by Barbara and her colleagues were little more than shacks, lacking running water, electricity and indoor plumbing.  The largest medical challenges were chronic respiratory problems among the miners, a huge issue, and general malnutrition.

Toddlers and young children with disabilities were kept in cribs such as this one in order to protect them and keep them safely away them from the “far” (fire), either the open hearth or a potbellied stove.  Barbara remembers being sent into the hills to check on Jeannie, about 8 months old, for “failure to survive.”  Jeannie was kept in a crib like this one. Her family gave her Coke when she was thirsty. Children who were particularly vulnerable or fragile would be kept in the FNS hospital through the winter.  Such was the case with Jeannie.  Parents were comfortable with letting the nursing staff care for the children in this manner. Jeannie slept in a cardboard box while in the hospital and was carried around by the nurses who watched over her. Barbara recalls accompanying Jeannie by ambulance to a hospital in Cincinnati for evaluation and perhaps treatment.

Barbara commissioned this crib from a local craftsman, Alonzo Sizemore. Sizemore was the middle-aged maintenance man/ driver/jack-of-all-trades for the FNS and he made cribs as a side business. The crib is made of hickory saplings and the bottom is lined with hickory bark. This was important because hickory bark is impervious to moisture and thus resistant to decay caused by urine.  Sometimes a crib would be cushioned with a blanket.

The people of the area were very appreciative of the FNS—even if/when they frequently failed to follow medical advice.  In a region known for violent solutions to problems, and the sound of gunfire not unheard, the nurses were never in danger because their service and dedication were highly valued.

The FNS nurses wore uniforms, one for summer, another for winter. At that time the nurses were not encouraged to socialize or participate in local culture but they were always made welcome. They spent their free time cooking and singing hill country songs together.

Following her time with the FNS Barbara went on to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaya (1961-1964), where she served on a yaws control team in rural and jungle areas. Here is where the young Weinholds met her (and each other). The latter part of her career was spent working in an early intervention program for infants in Loudoun Country in Virginia.

Mary Breckinridge established the Frontier Nursing Service in 1926.  Over the years the FSN lowered the maternal and infant mortality rate in southern Appalachia from one of the highest in the country to well below the national average.  Today the FNS still serves southeastern Kentucky, with a new hospital in Hyden, four rural health clinics, a home health agency and the FNS School of Midwifery and Family Nursing.  People have come from around the world to study this model of rural health and social service delivery.


New Widmer Exhibit

The UConn School of Nursing’s permanent exhibit case honoring founding dean Carolyn Ladd Widmer has been renovated for the 75th anniversary.

Carolyn Ladd Widmer Exhibit

It features text from Widmer, her sons, and her grandson —

“But over the years, earlier in particular, what would amaze me, and this was unexpected but then it became commonplace for me, those women from the early years would come up to me and they’d each have different stories. But almost to a person, they’d say, ‘Mike, your mother changed my life. Your mother changed my life.’ And then they’d tell me their story. Dozens. And if dozens have told me, there are hundreds if not thousands of women out there (because it was mostly women in those days) whose lives were changed because of her. And I think that’s one of her great legacies, which can get lost around the institution and the academics, and that I think was a huge motivation for her.” Michael Widmer, 2015.

“It wasn’t the easiest job in the world for a single mother. On the one hand, someone who insisted on putting hot meals three times a day in front of my brother and me and attending to her motherly duties, which I think she found very satisfying, fulfilling to herself. On the other hand, trying to establish a school of nursing that would do all of those things in the way that the profession of nursing was developing in those years, which of course for many professional nurses meant that you had to itemize all of those skills. And the things a nurse would need to know how to do but might neglect or at least not put in first place, the humanistic ones.” Eric Widmer, 2015.

 “My late grandmother Carolyn Ladd Widmer was a lifelong traveler, and spent long stretches of her life in South America and Lebanon, working in public health and education. She seemed to never stop learning, and her overflowing rooms were another early source of inspiration. At some point in adolescence, I discovered that her grandfather Cyrus Hamlin was the founder of Robert College in Istanbul, a factoid that escaped much notice from me until I turned to the writing of this book.  . . . I have benefited greatly from this strangely insistent web of international influences.” Historian Ted Widmer, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World, 2008.

“When Grandfather asked the chief physician [at the hospital in Scutari where Florence Nightingale worked] why the patients could not have clean clothing, he was told that no satisfactory laundry facilities had been found, that the clothing was too filthy to be cleaned anyway, and that ‘every man had better mind his own business.’ ‘I thought,’ says the missionary, ‘that in such a scene of suffering . . . it was my “own business” to mitigate it.’” Carolyn Ladd Widmer, “Grandfather and Florence Nightingale,” American Journal of Nursing, 1955.

“Such is the spirit and such are the problems of the housewife nurses who are again taking up active duty. It is an unquenchable spirit, but alone it cannot solve all of the problems which these nurses are facing. Inasmuch as last year it was my pleasure and privilege to teach refresher courses to inactive graduate nurses and since I am myself the mother of two small children, I have had some contact with these difficulties. When at the beginning of one class hour I started to take my lesson plan from its folder (which I had had at home the night before) and drew forth instead The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the class realized that they were not alone in finding it difficult always to keep home and hospital from encroaching on each other.” Carolyn Ladd Widmer, “The Housewife Re-enters Nursing,” American Journal of Nursing, 1943.

New Changing Exhibits: World War I Nursing; AIDS35

Newly installed in the Widmer Wing atrium in time for the start of the new academic year are exhibits in two vitrines used as spaces for changing exhibits.

World War I Nursing Exhibit
World War I Nursing Exhibit

Facing the front of the atrium is an exhibit devoted to the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I (in 1917) and nurses’ service in that war. Included are books from the Dolan Collection, a period photo album of nurses and their patients, an English nurse’s autograph album signed by her French patients, and a three-page interview with American nurse Pauline McVey (the sister of the maternal grandfather of Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long, curator).

Facing the rear of the atrium is an exhibit honoring nurses’ involvement in the AIDS epidemic. AIDS35 marks the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of the syndrome, marked by exhibits in UConn’s Archives and Special Collections and the Benton Museum, as well as the School of Nursing. Items in this display come from the Dolan Collection, supplemented by items on loan from doctoral student Seja Jackson, MS, RN, who has been involved in AIDS care for 30 years.

AIDS35 Exhibit
AIDS35 Exhibit