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1981: Elizabeth Barkley remained proud of nursing profession

Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Author: From the Courier-Post files, May 23, 1981

Editor's note: Mary Lou Montgomery and Betty Nickell interviewed Elizabeth Barkley of Palmyra for a May 23, 1981 feature. Miss Barkley was a 1932 graduate of the Training School for Nurses at Levering Hospital. Miss Barkley shared her memories of early nurse training with the newspaper readers. During Elizabeth Barkley's nursing career, penicillin was discovered. She worked 20-hour shifts as a private duty nurse, and received $6 compensation per shift. When caring for a patient, she did everything, from dusting the floor to guarding the patient's life. The 86-year-old retired registered nurse graduated from the Training School for Nurses at Levering Hospital in 1932, and served patients in Hannibal, Quincy, Ill., and Palmyra until her retirement in the 1970s. She was one of five graduates of her class. Others were Georgia Mae Karr, Dora Belle Painter, Phyllis Merle Hurley and Virginia Holtz Brown. Miss Barkley always wanted to become a nurse. "There were seven in my family, and our parents died when we were young. We raised each other," she said. She wanted to enter the Levering School for several years, "but each time I tried, someone got sick and I didn't get to go." Finally, at age 35, she entered the three-year school. The school, she said, was taught by Hannibal doctors. "They were kind enough to give their time for our education, and we certainly appreciated it," she said. The students attended classes, lived at the Levering nurses dormitory, and actually staffed the hospital. "There was a desk nurse and students. We were the hospital staff," she said. There were no orderlies, aides or licensed practical nurses. "The hospitals were just about broke, and we weren't paid until our last year. That was part of our training." The students were allowed one-half day off per week, unless a class was scheduled for that time period. "I wouldn't take a million dollars for my three years there," she said. Her graduation from nursing school was one of the highlights of her life. The newspaper clipping of her graduation in part read: " 'Not To Be Served But To Serve' was the subject of the impressive address delivered by Dr. C.J. Armstrong, pastor of the First Christian Church, to the members of the 1932 graduating class of the Training School for Nurses, Levering Hospital." The five joined other nursing school graduates in St. Louis during early January 1933, to take their State Board examinations. After completing the two-day examination, Miss Barkley waited for each day's mail telling her whether she had passed the test. "The state wouldn't spend enough to send us the word ­ they notified the hospital," she said. Finally, during March of that year, she received her license in the mail. "I got my license the day the bank moratorium was declared. I went to the courthouse with $1.04 in my pocketbook, and it cost a dollar to register my license. I came home with 4 cents in my pocketbook," she said. "The same day I got a call for a special duty nursing job." While serving as a private duty nurse, Miss Barkley said the 20-hour shifts began at 7 a.m. and ran around the clock, with a four-hour break in the afternoon. "I slept four hours in the afternoon, and if the patient wasn't too bad, I could bring a cot in the room and rest at night. But I didn't get those patients very often," she recalled. "It was the patient's life I had in mind." During her career, she treated scarlet fever and diphtheria, and remembers when immunizations for serious diseases were introduced. "We were fortunate to have a very conscientious county doctor. For those who couldn't come to his office for shots ­ he would ask for volunteer nurses and go to the schools to immunize the children," she said. Although she would not like to go through the rigorous training involved in becoming a registered nurse again, she is very proud of her profession. "It's a profession ­ you have gained it, and if anything comes up, you have a backing." Although retired, Miss Barkley still keeps her license current, and pays her dues regularly to the various nursing organizations. "I'd miss a few meals to have my license paid," she said.

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