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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 1, The Nurse

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 03, 2011

This 10-part series of suggested occupations for Mormon girls, with the upside and downside of each, was published in the Young Woman’s Journal in 1927.

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

[Mrs. Stewart will continue this series of talks on occupations for women through a number of issues of the Journal. We are sure they will be of interest and value to many of our readers. – Editors.]

Time was – and not so long ago, either – when a girl was looked down upon if she worked for pay. It wasn’t even nice for a girl to be educated – too much. Quite all right, of course, for her to know how to cook and sew, play a few easy airs on the piano and paint flowers on pillow cushions, but outside of these arts, womenfolk were supposed to have no business venturing.

How different now! A girl may become anything she wishes to be, through her own talent and hard work, and the world will be proud of her for her initiative!

Of course, first in every girl’s heart, I believe, stands the wonderful possibility of motherhood, and in her most cherished secret dreams the most important figures are the Prince Charming who will come for her some day, and the lovely little chubby angel faces of the children she hopes will some day be the joy of her home.

If one could plan the world as one wishes! But even the girl who is entering matrimony will be doubly fortunate if she has a profession or business in which she is efficient and to which she may turn in case of necessity. And the husband who marries a girl who has worked for her living is doubly fortunate because his wife will be more careful of his income, having managed one of her own, and she will be a greater help in his progress.

Every girl has the right to the joy and independence which earning her own living brings. There are a great many opportunities open to girls today, and daily doors formerly closed to women are opening. What would you like to be?

I. – The Nurse

If you wish to become a nurse, you must begin by studying hard for four years in high school. That is the requirement made by the hospitals for all girls desiring to enter the hospital for training. For three or four months you are placed on probation, on trial, to see how well you will work, and whether you have the necessary physical strength for the profession.

After the probationary period has been passed the hospitals pay a small monthly salary to the girls who are training. The amount varies with the different hospitals, but ranges from $7 to $12 a month. This is in addition to board and room.

During the first year of training the nurses are engaged in the more menial tasks of washing up, sterilizing, etc. They must do three years of satisfactory work in the hospital, and must pass the hospital examinations satisfactorily in order to get their degrees. After this they must pass state examinations in order to obtain a license to practice nursing in the state. These examinations are given, in Utah, at the state capitol building.

During training the nurses work on twelve hour shifts. The day nurses come on duty at seven in the morning and the night nurses at seven in the evening. The hours are long, and the work very tiring, because they must be on their feet such a large proportion of the time.

A graduate nurse receives from $5 a day upward. She usually sets her own salary, and what she is able to get depends on the amount of experience she has had, and also on her post-graduate work. If she wishes to progress in her profession she may take advanced post-graduate courses in the phase of nursing in which she is most interested, studying in the larger eastern hospitals. She may become head of one of the divisions in the hospital, as for instance the maternity section, or may become superintendent of nurses.

The profession of nursing is a difficult one, but one of great importance. It requires a tremendous reserve of physical strength and vigor. A nurse must work many hours at a stretch under severe physical strain and be able to stand it. And her body must be so strong and healthy that it can resist the diseases among which she must work. In times of epidemic when many lives are ravaged by disease, as was the case during the sweeping spread of influenza in 1918, the nurse is on duty night and day, taxing her powers to the uttermost in an attempt to save lives.

In addition to courage, the nurse must have plenty of common sense – which isn’t so common after all – and the sort of cheerfulness which overflows in a sickroom like sunshine and makes the patient better just because she is there.

She must know how to handle excitable weeping relatives who are worse than the patient. She must have that quiet, calm firmness which inspires confidence and gives her the command of the situation.

She must not be squeamish, for she is going to meet a lot of situations which are not pleasant. sickness and disease are never pleasant and she must learn to stand almost anything without flinching.

Her touch must have gentleness but surety. No patient likes to be fumbled with. The nurse must work quickly, quietly, efficiently and firmly.

She must have sympathy and kindness in abundance, but always tempered with cheerfulness. She must always be careful, because the smallest error may be exceedingly dangerous. In a recent case which obtained wide public attention, the nurse weighing a certain drug, placed, by mistake, two tiny sheets of paper instead of one in the scale opposite the drug, to balance the sheet of paper on which the drug was laid. The difference of that sheet of paper extra caused the death of two patients from an overdose of the poison. Accuracy cannot be given too great importance.

The nurse’s hours are long, and they interfere with the usual pleasures folks enjoy as part of their right to happiness. When a nurse is on a case, she works at least twelve hours, and often longer. her sleep is often interrupted by her patient’s demands.

The compensations received in her work are the joy and satisfaction she finds in helping others. Her work is a wonderful one, entailing sacrifice of self for the sick and helpless. Hers is the task of building health, and her reward is the gratitude of those she aids back to strength and normalcy.

Hers is the kind of work of which the Master spoke when He said, “If you do it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”



6 Comments »

  1. What a wonderful series on lessons! I look forward to the insights into the training required for certain jobs in those days.

    Comment by kew — January 3, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  2. Oh, good! I found them appealing, and eye opening.

    The range of jobs covered will seem traditionally narrow, I think, although there may be a few surprises. In every case, the training and dedication to excellence in that field is presented just as seriously as this one is.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 3, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  3. Somedays I walk away from my desk thinking that I’ve earned about $5, but I suspect that it doesn’t go as far these days as it did in 1927.

    By comparison, I remember my father mentioning that his father’s schoolteacher income during much of the 1930s was about $1,000/year. At $5/day, or $100/month, the nurse’s wages compare favorably (although she–and weren’t they all women then?–wouldn’t have got a summer vacation).

    Comment by Mark B. — January 3, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  4. This is really interesting; I’m eager to see the rest of the series.

    Though in some respects the introduction is not that different from the advice I heard in MIA, in tone, and practical outlook, it is as different as night and day.

    Comment by Mina — January 3, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  5. Wow. Very interesting. Where to start?? There’s too much to say!

    Perhaps I could say something about the information provided to the Young Women. I was just called as a teacher for the Young Women, and every time I open the manual I cringe. Something has definitely changed in the Young Women program.

    Perhaps I could say something about women’s professions. If women are the more delicate sex, why are theirs among the most physically demanding professions? (Mother, nurse, teacher of young children, etc.) Certainly not every woman is suited, personality-wise, to the traditional “female” professions.

    And perhaps I could say something about the career of nursing. I’ve certainly been around enough nurses in my time, and sure appreciate a good one, male or female. (One of my son’s very first specialized cardiac nurses was male.)

    Nursing is a physically demanding job. This article notes the 12 hour shifts. I wonder how many shifts these nurses were expected to work in a week. Nursing can of course also be extremely emotionally taxing. It can be very taxing to see people suffer and see people die. But it can also be a blessing to be able to alleviate suffering in the most practical of ways.

    Comment by Researcher — January 4, 2011 @ 4:07 am

  6. The professional progress of a nurse then is not much different than the nurse today; a period of unpaid or poorly paid work doing the most menial portions of the job (internship) followed by increasing amounts of education and specialization. The shift hours are a little different, but not much. Of course the pay is a little better (and more complex) today.

    I don’t recall lessons like this when I was in Young Men. Though there is a joint YM/YW career lesson in my ward tomorrow night.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 4, 2011 @ 9:22 am

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