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Proud to Have Been Called Nurses
Recalling Davis Memorial Hospital School of Nursing

By Tom Felton

Graduating class of licensed practical nurses (LPN) at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins in 1967. In the first row, from the left, are JoAnn (unknown), P. Mole, G. Wolfe, and M. Miller. In the second row are Ms. Meffee,
Carol Winebrenner (Isner), and Ms. Pritt. In the third row are Ms. Vance, J. Woodford, M. Reed, M. Swiger, and Ms. Koon. Photograph courtesy of Carol Isner.

In the late 1800’s, U.S. Senator Henry Gassaway Davis and his wife, Katherine Anne Bantz Davis, had a vision of a hospital in Randolph County. Mrs. Davis, known as “a woman of extraordinary altruistic character,” sought to alleviate the suffering of the sick, and she dedicated the last years of her life to planning the project. Senator Davis shared his wife’s compassionate nature and began building the hospital in the early part of the 20th century. Although Mrs. Davis died before its completion, Senator Davis dedicated Davis Memorial Hospital in his wife’s memory in 1903.

The same year the hospital opened, the Davis Memorial Hospital School of Nursing was also established. The school offered a three-year basic professional program leading to a diploma in nursing and eligibility for licensure in professional nursing as a Registered Nurse.

Until 1937, the student nurses lived and trained in the hospital. That year the new training center and dormitory was built and equipped by William F. Hitt, a member of the board of trustees for the hospital. Much the same as Senator Davis dedicating the hospital in memory of his wife, Mr. Hitt bequeathed the Katherine Elkins Hitt Memorial Hall to the institution.

Early admission requirements were strict. “Personal qualities include sincere interest in nursing, the ability to work well with others, a love of people, patience, and sympathy. She must possess calm judgment, poise, self-reliance, and high moral standards. She must be capable of developing characteristics and abilities essential to achieving the qualifications of a professional nurse.”

It is little wonder many former nursing students liken the school to “being in the military.” A set of rules given to each student from the early days of the school included:

• There must be no talking from the window to anyone in the street;
• Beds should be made and room in readiness for 7:00 A.M. inspection each day;
• Kindness, purity, and delicacy should characterize the nurses’ conversation, both in social and professional life;
• Temperance in the use of intoxicants is considered paramount in maintaining the morals of the school and the dignity of the nursing profession;
• Chewing gum, lipstick, excessive rouge and nail polish or perfume do not harmonize with the nurse’s uniform;
• Nurses are expected to speak in a well-modulated voice and to avoid the use of slang and unladylike language;
• All sources of avoidable noise, as banging of doors, singing, etc., should be avoided;
• Nurses are entitled to three hours off each day for REST. It is not permitted to go down street each day. Instead spend some time mending your clothes, reading good books and magazines, relaxing in games, music, etc.;
• Do not congregate at the front entrance. It is not a place to entertain your friends;
• Avoid boisterousness as it reflects on the reputation of the school;
• Any uniformed group must be dignified. Speak to your friends but do not notice any unknown tourists.

Student nurses had to sign in and out upon their departure from and return to the school. If they did not, they would be grounded and could not leave, take telephone calls, or entertain visitors until the restriction was lifted.

The first six months after they entered school the nursing students were on probation and were referred to as “probies.” During this time they took classes at Davis & Elkins College, but did not work the floors in the hospital. After they had completed this period they were given their caps.

In addition to the training they received in Elkins, each student was required to go out of state for affiliated training at larger, specialized hospitals. These “affiliations” each lasted three months.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.