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Miss Battson played pivotal role in evolution of nursing

This undated photo of Dora Belle Battson was contributed by Sara Grimes McBeth, accessed via


In late May 1910, Dr. Edna Day, head of the home economics department at the university in Columbia, Mo., invited Miss Dora Battson, principal of the Training School for Nurses in Columbia, to demonstrate techniques for handling the sick.

Among other things, the home economics students learned to:

Make a bed;

turn a patient on his side;

administer medicine to the bed ridden;

read the clinical thermometer; and

hold the wrist so as to count the pulse.

Miss Battson was a newcomer to the role of principal of the nursing school; prior to accepting this job, she served for a short time as head nurse at Levering Hospital in Hannibal, Mo.

Palmyra roots

Dora Battson spent the latter part of her youth in Palmyra, one of 10 children of J.D. Battson. She graduated from Centenary College in Palmyra. After teaching “up north” for eight years, she decided to change careers, thus enrolling in the three-year training school at the Parker Memorial Hospital, Columbia. She completed the course in 1905, a member of the school’s second graduating class.

During the summer of 1906, she completed post-graduate training associated with the Boston Floating Hospital, a treatment accommodation for sick children.

After returning to Missouri, she went to work as a surgical nurse at the same hospital where she had attended training, Parker Memorial Hospital. She later served as assistant principal for the nursing school. After working a stint as head nurse at Levering Hospital in Hannibal, she returned to Columbia, where she took the helm of the nursing school there.

Changing role

In December 1910, Miss Battson discussed the changing role of trained nurses, in an interview with the University Missourian.

“The day of the old-time nurse has passed,” she said, “and there are various reasons for the change.”

She first described the role of 19th Century nurses.

“The old nurse was a woman who could stand by the bedside of the sick patient and administer a dose of medicine every hour, or make a hot sloppy poultice and apply it, for in those days doctors thought relief from sickness came from the continual giving of medicine,” she said.

“Lights were kept burning in the patient’s room and friends came in and stood by the bedside. In fact they made as much noise as possible in the old days, particularly if the patient became ill beyond hope of recovery. As many as possible would gather in the room, those not having a place in the death chamber going outside and whispering.”

Miss Battson used her own training and experience to describe modern nursing.

“As medical science has changed in the past generation, so the nurse has changed. Instead of the continual giving of drugs, the science of therapeutics is used more. Fresh air, sunlight, heat and rest, are now depended upon in a large measure to cure sickness. The present trained nurse has to learn the reason for things, so that her actions may be based on scientific knowledge.”

Private nursing

While much of Dora Battson’s career focused upon hospital work and teaching, she also worked as a private duty nurse.

In February 1908, she served as private nurse for the children of A.L. Griswold of Clarence, Mo.

In the winter of 1909, she nursed 4-year-old Zack McPike of Palmyra back to health, after a severe case of pneumonia. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank McPike.

Health concerns

In the spring of 1912, Miss Batson resigned her position at Parker Memorial Hospital for health reasons.

Back in 1895, when Miss Battson was about 25 years old and living in Palmyra, she had come down with what doctors believed to be malarial fever. Three months later, she was but little improved, and was taken to St. Louis for treatment.

The Palmyra Spectator, on Jan. 2, 1896, reported: “The trip was made Friday, but under many difficulties as the patient was very weak and consequently hard to handle.”

Lingering health issues prevailed, and in April 1913, Miss Battson was herself a patient at Parker Memorial Hospital.

Health concerns would continue to plague her. Perhaps this early illness prompted her interest in nursing.

War years

By the beginning of January 1914, Miss Battson had begun an affiliation with Central College for Women, and had relocated to Lexington, Mo. She remained with this college up until the start of the first World War. During the war years, she served as a government instructor in nursing.

After the war, she accepted a position at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., according to her death notice, where she worked as a surgical assistant to famed physician Charles Mayo. She resigned in July 1922, and moved to Astoria, Ore., a town which she had visited during the war. There she lived until her heath necessitated assistance, and she was transferred to the Portland sanitarium two months before her death, which came in December 1922, when she was 52.


Miss Battson’s father, J.D. Battson, died in 1915 at Palmyra. Following is a list of his children, and their locations at the time of his death, according to his death notice in the March 2, 1915 edition of the Quincy Daily Herald.

Clara Battson Ham (1857-1933). In 1915, she was living in Nickelson, Kansas.

J. Homer Battson (1858-1931). In 1915 he was living in Troy, Ohio.

John Sherman Battson (1860-1944). In 1915 he lived in Santa Fe, Ill.

Joseph Morton Battson (1861-1923). In 1915 he was living in Palmyra, Mo.

Maude Battson Rooker (1863-1927). In 1915 she was living in Hale, Mo.

Hattie Battson Henshaw (1865-1905). She died before 1915.

William Ellsworth Battson (1867-1948). In 1915 he lived in Palmyra, Mo.

Dora Battson (twin) (1870-1922). In 1915 she was living in Lexington, Mo.

Flora Battson Dawson (twin) (1870-1933). In 1915 she was living in Pike County, Mo.

Daisey Battson Kale (1872-1939). In 1915 she was living in South Bend, Ind.

Notes: Dr. Edna Day left the University of Missouri soon after Miss Battson’s health care class in 1910. She accepted a similar job at the University of Kansas. During the summer of 1914, she was married to Abraham Lincoln Hyde, a professor of engineering at the University of Missouri. Soon after the birth of her son, Edward Clarendon Hyde, Edna Day died, on Jan. 8, 1915.

Parker Memorial Hospital became the university’s first hospital in 1901. MU’s first class of nurses graduated in 1904.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at

This sketch of Hattie E. Battson was published in the St. Louis Globe Democrat on May 31, 1894. Hattie was an older sister of Dora Battson. Hattie graduated from St. Charles College, (now Lindenwood) one of five members of the Class of 1894. She wrote a book of verse, “Dust or Diamonds,” while living in Palmyra, Mo., which was published in 1886.

The Parker Memorial Hospital building still stands on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Source: University Archives, Brick and Mortar.

This advertisement for student nurses was published in the Dec. 4, 1907 edition of the Palmyra Spectator.

Dora Belle Battson and her twin sister, Flora, when they were young children. Contributed by Sara Grimes McBeth, via

Among the students of Miss Dora Battson at Parker Memorial Hospital was Nina Shelton of Hannibal, Mo., who for a time served as Marion County Health Nurse. During the first world war, Miss Shelton was the first assistant to the head of the Red Cross expeditionary forces. Passport photo via


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