Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Saturday, October 4, 2003
Editor's note: In 1985, Mary Lou Montgomery interviewed Dora Painter Betts about her career as a registered nurse. The following story was printed as part of the newspaper's Local Legacies feature.
For 18 years, Levering Hospital served as a teaching institution where young women trained to become registered nurses. In 1905, the first class of four graduated. All went on to pass the state examination to become certified registered nurses.
Dora B. Betts of Hannibal was a member of the last class to graduate from Levering. The five members of her class completed their course of studies in 1932.
"We lived at the school all year. We were not allowed to go home overnight until our two-week vacation in the summer," Mrs. Betts said.
Students worked at the hospital in lieu of paying tuition. According to information supplied by Levering Hospital, student nurses were paid $5 a month during their first year and $8 per month the second year. "This amount is not intended as wages as the education given is considered a full equivalent for their services," the training manual stated.
In order to qualify to be a student at the school, each applicant was required to submit a personal history of three or four pages and two testimonials, one from a minister and one from another acquaintance. Once students were accepted, they were placed on a two-month probation.
After passing English, reading and writing tests, the candidates were required to undergo a physical examination. If passing marks were given, the student signed a two-year contract. It required her to obey all rules, dress in the uniform of the hospital and perform the assigned duties either within the hospital or when sent out to private cases, rich or poor, without extra pay.
Students lived in a building located at the west end of the hospital. It is now marked to signify the former location of the nurses' quarters. Students worked from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., six days a week. They also worked on Sundays, but were allowed four hours off-duty on the Sabbath. Students were required to have lights out by 10 p.m.
"When we studied for exams, we put a quilt over the windows and studied until midnight," Mrs. Betts said.
Students were supervised very closely. They were required to buy their own books and furnish their own uniforms. "If we broke something, we had to pay for it," Mrs. Betts said. "Julia Chernay was the hospital supervisor. If she was in the basement and heard us break a glass tube, she would be up the stairs before we could hide."
In the nursing school, students learned to cook for invalids and to warm and ventilate rooms and wards. They were taught to change linens and clothing for helpless people; dress sores and wounds; strictly observe patients; correctly read temperatures, pulses and respiration; keep bedside notes and prepare and make bandages and antiseptic dressings.
They were responsible for cleaning patient rooms, dusting the floors, bathing the patient, watering plants and writing up detailed reports.
Mrs. Betts remembered that during the first year of studies, students spent most of their time in the classroom. The second year, students started working with patients under very close supervision.
"We had a lot of practice before we could ever handle a patient by ourselves," she said.
The nursing field has changed drastically since Mrs. Betts was a student. Initially, nurses were not allowed to start intravenous feedings. "That was a job for doctors," Mrs. Betts said. Now, registered nurses start IVs routinely, and practical nurses with additional training can also qualify for this procedure.
Today, members of the medical staff use disposable syringes and needles. During the 1930s, it was the responsibility of the nurse to clean, sharpen and sterilize the needles. They also washed, wrapped and sterilized syringes.
"I've sharpened hundreds of needles by hand," Mrs. Betts said.
Mrs. Betts said that graduates of the Levering nursing school include Ethel Dean, Ruby Bucks, Phyllis Layne, Vera Rhino and Georgia Karr, who all lived in Hannibal, and Margaret Van Marter of Laddonia.
Mrs. Betts left Hannibal and acquired surgical experience at the state hospital at Fulton and the University Hospital at Columbia. She also served as a supervisor of surgical clinics at the Northwestern Medical School in Chicago for three years. She spent two years in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II.
Upon returning to civilian life, Mrs. Betts became a field nurse for the Missouri Service for Crippled Children. In 1947 she served as an assistant administrator at Levering.
She was responsible for organizing two Missouri chapters of the District Nurses Association, one in this area and the other near Nevada, Mo.
Mrs. Betts retired from nursing in 1961 and returned to Hannibal after her husband's death in 1980.
Mrs. Betts died Dec. 30, 1997.