In 1922 Davis Fischer Sanitarium had two buildings with three floors in each. Each floor consisted of 25 patient beds. Student nurses (approximately 75 in three classes) did all the work, as there were only three registered nurses to cover the hospital with its approximately 150 beds, the superintendent, and her two assistants. There were two other registered nurses, one to teach the students and one to supervise the operating room. At that time doctors taught many of the nursing classes. When Pauline was a senior, she recalled it was an honor that she was selected as one of the head nurses. She recalled night duty as very stressful when one student would have 20 patients under her care. Critically ill patients might have an additional student providing their private duty care. Private duty consisted of a 12-hour shift, either day or night, or 24-hour duty that consisted of being off from 1-5 p.m. each day, and having a cot in the patient's room to rest at night if there was opportunity. There was also a float nurse that could be called to help at night, but she had to cover the entire hospital. One horrendous assignment Pauline recalled was providing private duty for a student nurse who had contracted diphtheria (usually all contagious disease patients were sent to the Contagious Hospital near Grady Hospital). Both she and the patient were isolated for two weeks, she in an adjoining room with the bathroom between them. She was given antitoxin, but added, "I was sick as the patient, but they didn't let on like I was sick." Students were also sent with doctors to perform surgery in homes. She related two such incidents. The first was to Mansfield, Georgia to assist with a laparotomy on a Sunday morning where "the whole warehouse porch was completely filled with people to watch it" Another time she was part of the team that went to Douglasville, Georgia where two doctors performed an appendectomy on a patient placed on the dining room table. The operating room supervisor, Miss Barbin, sat in the corner of the room making sure the students performed correctly in assisting the doctors with the surgery. For their unrelenting hard work students were paid ten dollars a month. Most of this money went for books, or shoes and stockings. (Pauline's mother had made her uniforms prior to entering school.) Room, board, and linens were provided, as well as laundry service. Maids kept the common areas clean, but students (two to a room) had to clean their own personal areas. The building they lived in was new with nice furniture in the parlor where there was also a Victrola for playing records. The students would be off 1/2 day each week, but otherwise they were on duty each day for long hours (combining patient care and classes), with only one week's vacation a year. During the time that Pauline was in nursing school (1922-1925) her parents moved to Atlanta near Inman Park. During her four hours off each week, she would go home to see about her mother who was in poor health. The streetcar ride to and from the hospital to her parent's home took up about half of her time off, leaving only two hours to spend with her mother. Students had to make up time lost during their three years of training, so that when Pauline "graduated" in June 1925, she had to stay on until October 19 to complete her hours. She noted that most students were in this same situation. Her State Board examination date was November 23, 1925. She took the written examination in the State Capital building, and the practical examination at St. Joseph's hospital located in downtown Atlanta at that time. She recalled feeling "lucky" to have received an "easy" question in the practical part of the examination when she was asked to figure a medication dosage for a child compared to an adult. (Drugs and solutions had been one of her favorite subjects.)
Given her excellent academic and leadership records in both high school and in nursing school, it is not difficult to understand why Pauline would excel throughout her career in nursing. Interestingly, it was the difficult times she and her husband (George W. English) with their two small sons encountered during the early Depression that kept Pauline English working full time her entire 35 years in public health work. She determined that she would always be prepared for hard times if they came along again. She had worked in private duty nursing after graduation, but this was not to her liking, especially when it was in people's homes. Thus, in 1936 she applied for WPA (Work's Progress Administration) work where she was assigned to one of the few coveted positions available to nurses in public health nursing. With no previous training in that area, she appreciated the on-the-job training she was given. After the Depression, when the WPA ceased to exist, the State public health nursing department, under the leadership of Miss Weaver, took over the nursing work begun by the WPA. At that time most of the work that nurses did centered on schools, and when they did make home visits, they were admonished to, "Make the patient comfortable." Over the next many years, public health work would become much more sophisticated due to classes taught locally, and funds made available to send the nurses for bachelor degrees in public health nursing. English enrolled at Peabody College in Nashville, and even though separated from her family she felt fortunate to be funded for her tuition and travel, and to have her salary continue. After her internship in Birmingham, Alabama she continued her studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. It was a proud moment for her when in 1958 she received her bachelor's degree in nursing. In looking back on her career, and seeing all the changes in nursing education over the years, she declared she often wished she had been able to earn a master's degree, and perhaps even a doctorate in nursing from an excellent school "such as Emory or Vanderbilt."
In reminiscing about in-service opportunities through the health department, she especially enjoyed going to New York City for one month to study premature infant care. Her class made observational visits to many hospitals in the greater New York area, some serving only black patients. It was during this month that she cared for black patients for the first time. When she returned to Atlanta with an abundance of new knowledge, her first assignment was to prepare a manual for premature infant care for the Fulton County Public Health Department. Later as a supervisor over five Fulton County health centers, she worked with both black and white public health nurses and patients. She recalled how she gave encouragement and support to black nurses when they first began visiting white patients in their homes. Her interview is replete with other recollections that show this committed nurse was a lifelong learner, and provided excellent and creative nursing care. Her expertise was not only in the care she provided, but also in training students in public health, and taking on projects that challenged her abilities. She encouraged many students to take up public health work during their 3-month rotations in her department.
Pauline English was appreciative of the nurses who had made a difference in her career. Mentors included Miss Jane Van de Vrede (GNA executive secretary, and state public health administrator), Miss Nan Springstead (later Egan, of Emory University School of Nursing with specialization in public health nursing), and several presidents of the Georgia Nurses Association (GNA) during her years as a member. Her service to the GNA spanned many years, and in many roles, first as President of 5th District, and then in positions at the State level. In 1982 she was asked to be the first Historian, a role she continued in exemplary fashion until 1988, when she received Special Recognition from GNA for valued service.
Pauline English's interview reads like a history lesson. Both her grandfathers served in the Civil War, other relatives served in WWI, and her father's brother and his wife died of influenza in 1918 in spite of being nursed by Pauline's mother. During WWII, when nurses were in short supply in the state, English, along with most nurses, was required to take Red Cross classes, and then teach in the community. Later, both her sons served in the military, one in the Navy and the other in the Army. Furthermore, Pauline grew up in a rural area on a large farm where most of what the family ate was raised or grown. Children walked to school or church, and when it rained hard, were piled into a horse-drawn covered wagon to get to school. It wasn't until after she became a nurse that English bought a car (the first in her family to do so).
Her career accomplishments were framed within her broader life experiences. She was able to recognize opportunities, and she accepted challenges at every juncture of her life. She declared public health nursing a most satisfying career, largely because of the relationships she had with people. Her story is one of positive reflection, and can serve as strong motivation for those making career decisions today.
Rose Cannon interviewed Pauline English at her home in Union City, Georgia on May 8, 1990. The audiotape and transcription of the interview are located in the "Georgia Public Health Oral History Collection" in Special Collections, Woodruff Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
Cannon is a member of Georgia Nurses Association and historian.
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|Title Annotation:||ENDURING ECHOES|
|Author:||Cannon, Rose B.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2006|
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