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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Lillie M. Henson, 1999

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Object ID: WV0068.5.001

Description:

Interview documents Lillie M. Henson’s career as a nurse; including her service in the Army Nurse Corps from 1942 to 1945 and her nursing education after World War II.

Summary:

Henson recalls attending nursing school; briefly working as a nurse; signing up for the army for only one year, before Pearl Harbor Day; and the differences between training and expectations of army nurses and WAACs. She briefly discusses her time in England before noting the details of her assignment in North Africa, including the facilities and daily routine; patients coming in at Sidi-bel-Abbes, Algeria; and the difficulty of seeing the injured men.

Her postwar discussion includes her nursing education at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) and Duke University; and work as a nursing instructor.

Creator: Lillie Mary Henson

Biographical Info: Lillie M. Henson (1916-2011) of Greenville County, South Carolina, served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1941 to 1945, followed by a long career in nursing education.

Collection: Lillie M. Henson Oral History

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and I'm in Landrum, South Carolina, today at the home of Lillie May Henson.

LILLIE HENSON:

Mary.

EE:

Mary? Oh, that's right. I can't read my own writing here. Do you go by Lillie or Mary?

LH:

Lillie.

EE:

Lillie, great. Well, thank you for having us today in your home, Miss Henson. We are here for an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. I've got a complicated question to start out with, the same one I ask everybody: where were you born, where did you grow up?

LH:

Well, it was really Greenville County [South Carolina], up by the state line.

EE:

So you're a South Carolina native then?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

LH:

Yes, I had four brothers and one sister.

EE:

Are you the oldest, the youngest, or somewhere in the middle?

LH:

I'm in the middle.

EE:

My mom comes from a family of seven, and she's the oldest, but she didn't get much privilege out of it, she had too much competition.

LH:

Well, now I only have two brothers.

EE:

Do they live close by?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Great. What did your folks do?

LH:

My father was a caretaker for a family.

EE:

And your mom took care of all the kids?

LH:

All of us, yes.

EE:

Right, so everybody was taking care of folks. From Greenville County themselves? Did they all live in that area or raised in that area?

LH:

My mother came from Henderson County and my daddy was from around this area.

EE:

So you went to high school—Where'd you go to high school?

LH:

Tryon, North Carolina.

EE:

So did you actually move across the state line at some point?

LH:

No, I was right in the same place all the time, but that was the closest school.

EE:

So you just went on over. That would be a lot of paperwork nowadays to get the bureaucrats to let you go across state lines. [chuckling]

LH:

They send a bus up from Landrum, I think, now, up around the lake and so forth.

EE:

To go get you?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

That's great. Of course now, I guess, all that land is pretty much—a lot of that's owned by people coming up from Florida, aren't they? I think a lot of the land right here, I think at the Highlands development and things like that—

LH:

I've read something about a lot of people going and buying and building up at the head of the lake.

EE:

What's the name of the lake that you're talking about?

LH:

Lake Lanier.

EE:

Were you somebody that liked school when you were in school?

LH:

Oh yes.

EE:

What were some of your favorite subjects?

LH:

Well, it's hard to say. I liked most everything. I liked English and most anything that they gave.

EE:

What was it that you wanted to be when you grew up, when you were in high school?

LH:

Well, I was thinking about nursing for a long time before I finished.

EE:

Did you have any friends or relatives who were already nurses?

LH:

No.

EE:

Just something that appealed to you, the idea of taking care of people and helping them out. My mom's a nurse, so I was just curious. So when you finished high school, what did you do after you finished high school?

LH:

Well, I went into nursing pretty soon. Let's see, I finished high school in May or June and went into nursing in September.

EE:

May or June? What year would that have been, '40?

LH:

Let's see, now you're getting me on dates. [chuckling]

EE:

What year did you graduate from high school?

LH:

I graduated in '34 and then I graduated from nursing school in '38.

EE:

So did you go right from high school into nursing school?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

My mom got her nursing degree from Cabarrus Memorial Hospital. Did you get your degree from a hospital or did you get your nursing training in a hospital?

LH:

I got my training in a hospital, and it was one of those three-year programs.

EE:

Did you do it in Greenville or in Spartanburg, or where did you—?

LH:

In Asheville [North Carolina].

EE:

In Asheville? What kind of nursing work were you doing? Was it a floor nurse or was it particular, like surgical, or what was it?

LH:

It was taking care of patients.

EE:

So they basically had you work—Did you work first shift, second shift, or whatever, just kept shifting you around?

LH:

Right, you had to do all of them.

EE:

Was that your first time you spent a long time away from home, I guess? Or how far were you from home?

LH:

Oh, it wasn't very far. It's just about forty miles.

EE:

But you were living apart from the house?

LH:

Oh, right.

EE:

Did you stay with some of the other nurses in a dormitory, or did you all have to have apartments, or where were you?

LH:

We were in a dormitory.

EE:

What was the name of the hospital?

LH:

Asheville Mission Hospital.

EE:

Is that a church-affiliated hospital?

LH:

No.

EE:

It sounds like it with that name, doesn't it?

LH:

[chuckling]

EE:

So you obviously enjoyed the nurse training and you enjoyed the work.

LH:

Right.

EE:

You graduated in '34, you graduated from nurses training in '38, where did you get a job next?

LH:

I did private duty [nursing] for about two or three months, and then I went out to Sylva [North Carolina] and worked for a while.

EE:

That's the one that has the courthouse that has the steps that go on forever, isn't it?

LH:

Right. [chuckling]

EE:

I remember eating at Jarrett House over in [nearby] Dillsboro.

LH:

At one time I counted those steps [at the county courthouse in Sylva], but I've forgotten how many there are now. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, at one time when I was younger I could run up those steps, but I wouldn't dare try now. [chuckling] So you worked at the hospital in Sylva?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

How long did you do that job?

LH:

Goodness, I don't know. [chuckling]

EE:

Did you do that right until the time you joined the service?

LH:

Yes, I think that ran up till the time I joined the service.

EE:

Now Sylva is a little bit farther than forty miles from the house. Did your brothers and sisters go off to school or go to work? What were they doing at this time?

LH:

I can't keep up with myself much less what all of them did. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, you had a pretty big family.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

In Sylva were you staying in an apartment by yourself, or did they—?

LH:

We had a home where we stayed.

EE:

For all the nurses to stay?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

I think my mom was doing that with Presbyterian Hospital even in the fifties, I know.

LH:

Yes, it was right by the hospital.

EE:

So if they needed you, you were close by to come in for an emergency.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

In Sylva were you doing—was it floor nurse work again, taking care of patients?

LH:

Yes, that, and part of the time in the operating room.

EE:

So that was the first time you started doing operating?

LH:

Yes. It was just a small hospital, so you did a little bit of everything.

EE:

Right. Some people who like the nursing profession, as far as taking care of things, have real trouble with the operating room. They're squeamish about blood and stuff like that. Was that a problem for you?

LH:

Oh no. [chuckling]

EE:

Early on you had decided you could take care of that?

LH:

Right.

EE:

The world is changing while you're in your career, because I guess soon after you got to Sylva—it wasn't a year or so later when [Adolf] Hitler started his big trouble in Europe, invading Poland. Was that something that you—I know that the mood of the country at that time, a lot of folks were sort of split between whether that was their problem, something we ought to let them handle, or something we ought to be involved in. Do you remember any discussion about that?

LH:

Well, I probably did at the time but I don't remember now.

EE:

What is it that got you to decide that you wanted to leave Sylva and join the military?

LH:

Well, I just liked to change places.

EE:

It was sort of going to be an adventure for you, as far as seeing someplace new and different.

LH:

Right.

EE:

So I imagine you didn't have a boyfriend that was keeping you tied down to Sylva?

LH:

No. [chuckling]

EE:

Did you have any that were already in service, and people that you knew who were already in service?

LH:

I don't believe so at that time.

EE:

You joined in '41. This was before Pearl Harbor?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

So you weren't one of those who were convinced to join to help—Well, actually it's different, the services that were started just for women, the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] and the WACs [Women's Army Corps], didn't really gear up until after Pearl Harbor, and they all had that “Free a Man to Fight” slogan. And yet you were entering the army in a profession, and I imagine army nurses had been around for a while.

LH:

Well, I really went in for one year. They had a special program, and I went in for one year and then I got caught up. [chuckling]

EE:

So you volunteered for a year and then they decided to make you stick around for a little longer.

LH:

Yeah, after the war started, then I was stuck. [chuckling]

EE:

Tell me what happened then when you went in. Did you have to go to a recruiting office? Were they making special efforts to recruit women to join the army nurses, or how did you find out about it as an option?

LH:

I don't remember now.

EE:

Do you remember where you went in the first day for reporting to duty?

LH:

I went to Camp Croft in Spartanburg [South Carolina].

EE:

I had somebody else that was at Camp Croft who I interviewed last week. So that was there before the war started then.

LH:

Right.

EE:

Did you have your basic there, basic training? Did nurses have to go through basic training like the regular enlisted folks?

LH:

We didn't have basic training. But sometime overseas they decided that we needed basic training since we didn't have it, so they put us through a little bit of it.

EE:

Sort of, you know, “Back up and we'll redo your career path on you.” [chuckling] So you went in and joined, and at Camp Croft at the hospital there you were a nurse.

LH:

Right.

EE:

So it basically was just another place of employment for you when you first started.

LH:

Right.

EE:

It was like you just reported to a different employer, there wasn't anything that was particularly special about being in the military. Did you have a uniform you had to wear to show you were an army nurse?

LH:

Yes, we had a special uniform—I mean just when we worked. When we went out we just wore whatever we wanted to.

EE:

So you weren't required to wear a uniform?

LH:

No, not out.

EE:

Okay, because the women who joined as an enlisted or an officer right from the beginning then, because they start the basic experience, they're immediately told, “You're different. When you go out you are no longer you, you're a WAVE, or you're a WAC, and you're special and we want you to look a certain way.” But with the army nurses when you first started, you were a nurse first and foremost who just happened to be in the army when it started that way.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor? Were you at Camp Croft, I guess?

LH:

Yes, I was there. I was working on one of the wards when I heard about it.

EE:

Did somebody come in and tell you that it had been on the radio or something?

LH:

Well, we had a radio on all the time.

EE:

I guess you probably had no idea what that would mean for your career then, did you?

LH:

Well, not really. [chuckling]

EE:

But you knew probably it meant that more boys would be going to go fight.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Your year, if you joined up in '41, was it springtime of '41 that you joined, or do you remember what time of year it was?

LH:

It seems like it was September, but I wouldn't say for sure.

EE:

When did you get the word that you weren't going to be getting out after a year?

LH:

Well, after war was declared we knew pretty well that we were going to be in for the duration.

EE:

So, as soon as [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt has his speech about what Pearl Harbor means, then the attitude changes pretty quickly.

LH:

Yeah.

EE:

How long did you stay at Camp Croft?

LH:

I don't remember exactly.

EE:

Do you remember where you went after Camp Croft?

LH:

Let me see if I have something written down. I'm not remembering very well. [footsteps as Henson walks away]

EE:

Okay. I was telling my wife last week, she was asking if I remembered some stuff and I said I have a difficult time remembering what happened the day before, and it is difficult to remember things from fifty, sixty-odd years ago. We'll pause here for a second.

[recorder paused]

EE:

Where did you serve, other than Spartanburg?

LH:

Well, I guess I went overseas from there, and I went to England for—I guess I was there about a month and then went on to North Africa, and was in Italy for a short time before I came home.

EE:

You were in England for a month? How long were you in North Africa then, probably most of the time?

LH:

That was most of the time.

EE:

Where were you stationed in North Africa, in Morocco or Algeria?

LH:

It was a little town called Sidi-bel-Abbes.

EE:

That's one I'm going to have to get you to help me spell, Citadel Bess [Sidi-bel-Abbes], B-e-s-s?

LH:

B-e-s. It was the home of the French Foreign Legion.

EE:

Okay, and was this in Morocco, or where was this?

LH:

It would have been in Algeria, I guess. It was about fifty miles inland from Oran.

EE:

When did you go overseas? Was it sometime in '42?

LH:

Well, I had been in the service about a year before I went.

EE:

So probably late '42?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Did they take all the nurses who were at Camp Croft, or were just people selected individually to go?

LH:

The first ones of us that went volunteered to go.

EE:

So you were a volunteer?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Did they tell you what you were volunteering to do?

LH:

Well, you found out after you got there. [chuckling]

EE:

Did they tell you that there was a chance you would be exposed to some risk personally?

LH:

I don't remember anybody saying anything about it, but you just knew from just common sense that there would be risks.

EE:

Do you remember the trip over to England? I guess it was by boat?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Were you on a troop ship, part of a fleet that was going over?

LH:

We were part of a fleet that was going over, I guess you would say. I think we were the only hospital group on that ship.

EE:

Was there a big red cross on the side of the ship to note it was—

LH:

I have no idea.

EE:

So you were on a hospital transport ship. That meant that everybody on there was somehow a medical employee or medical—?

LH:

Well, I think that it was just a troop ship.

EE:

And you came into England? Where did you come in? You didn't come into London, did you? Where did you come into?

LH:

No, we weren't in London. We were—

EE:

At Plymouth?

LH:

I don't remember where we went in now—Birmingham—but I made a trip to London to see it.

EE:

But you were just there long enough just basically to have had a short sightseeing trip.

LH:

Yeah.

EE:

So they put you in Birmingham basically—probably to figure out what to do with you.

LH:

Just to send us on to somewhere else.

EE:

Right, that was just a holding place.

LH:

Right.

EE:

Your first time overseas? That was your first time in another country?

LH:

I think so.

EE:

Did you know any women that you were going over there with? Some of the women from your Camp Croft experience went with you, right?

LH:

Right. I think there were about twelve from Camp Croft.

EE:

So you got to travel together at least over to England. Did you stay together after England? Did you go to North Africa together?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Well, that was good. So you had some—A lot of people, one of the problems with the military is that they'd have friends they'd make and then they'd all get different assignments. But you at least had some carryover with people staying with you.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

So this group of twelve from Camp Croft goes to England and then gets assigned to Sidi-bel-Abbes in Algeria, where the French Foreign Legion was stationed. Were you assigned to a French hospital, or where were you working?

LH:

Oh, we had our own hospital. It was in a school. At some time it had been a school.

EE:

That had been converted. And this was a hospital for the folks who were fighting the tank war in North Africa?

LH:

We were seeing people back from the front line part of the time.

EE:

Were you in a secure enough area? Did you ever come under attack yourself when you were at the hospital?

LH:

No. We walked from the hospital to where we stayed.

EE:

You stayed in a dormitory next to the hospital?

LH:

No, it was downtown where we stayed, and this was a few blocks away from there.

EE:

What was a typical day like for you working over there?

LH:

Well, we usually had long days. Sometimes our patients came from the front. They'd already been through a field hospital or something like that and would come to us. And most of them were like that, but occasionally we would get them right from the front.

EE:

I know stateside that the hospitals, they had sort of a—one at Valley Forge might be for blind, people who had gotten blinded, some would be for amputees, some would be for burn victims. I guess where you were it was any and all kinds of cases.

LH:

Right.

EE:

Were you working in the operating room there, or just as a floor nurse, or just whenever they needed you?

LH:

Mostly as a floor nurse.

EE:

Floor nurse, and a seven-day-a-week work week?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

And wartime there's no time for a weekend vacation, is there? [chuckling] Did you have any kind of a leave scheduled at all? Did you get to see any of the area other than right there where you were working?

LH:

We got to take some trips. I remember going into Oran. Most of the time this was just for a few days.

EE:

Did you get to talk to any of the local people? It's a different culture, isn't it?

LH:

Yeah, there were a lot of French around where we were, but we let them learn English. [chuckling]

EE:

You didn't take French in high school?

LH:

I took it in high school but I wouldn't be able to speak it. [chuckling]

EE:

That's sort of like when my younger sister had a Spanish teacher, and when she came over she said, “Buenas dias.” [chuckling] If you use to too much of a southern accent, they won't understand you. So you got to live with the same women that you were in Camp Croft with while you were over in North Africa. You all did about the same kind of job, or did they get stationed elsewhere afterwards?

LH:

Well, we kept that little group for most of the period there in North Africa, and then later we separated.

EE:

How did your folks feel about you being overseas and doing all this stuff? Did you keep up with your folks?

LH:

Yes, I corresponded with them all the time.

EE:

The V-mail, I guess, was the way people—Did you do the V-mail, where they took the little picture of your letter or whatever and sent it over?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Could you tell them where you were?

LH:

No, we weren't supposed to do that.

EE:

Did you give them any hints? [chuckling]

LH:

Well, I talked about things, but I don't know if they could put—

EE:

Two and two together?

LH:

Right. I know the thing that fascinated me was their open market that they had, where they sold just everything in the way of food, vegetables—

EE:

Did you all cook your own meals? How did you handle your daily life, just day-to-day living, since you lived downtown separate from the hospital?

LH:

Well, we ate at the hospital. We took our meals there. We were advised to—like if we got fruit or anything from the market, we were advised to wash it well because their standards are not the same as ours.

EE:

And their stomachs probably all have a different constitution. How does the command structure differ for—Well, your head nurses were female? Was it just like a civilian hospital? How did the military hospital and the work experience differ for you than a civilian hospital?

LH:

Well, not too much, I would say.

EE:

Just in the—I guess maybe what the patients were experiencing. That's the different thing. You had all these injuries related to battlefield injuries, a lot of trauma injuries as opposed to—Of course, no, you probably had everything. You got people who were sick off the food. There's some variety just as human experience, isn't there?

LH:

Right.

EE:

You were there from about fall of '42, and then you say you stayed there and you then were transferred to Italy for just a short time.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go in Italy?

LH:

It was close to Naples.

EE:

I interviewed a woman who was a dietitian at the hospital in Naples. Were you there when the volcano erupted?

LH:

No.

EE:

Was it still blowing smoke when you were there?

LH:

Well, I remember a volcano somewhere, but I don't remember where it was.

EE:

Vesuvius right there, which you know covered Pompeii, erupted right in the middle of '44, and this woman was there when it erupted. It was an unpleasant experience. She remembered that as much as anything in the war. And you were doing floor nurse work at the hospital near Naples, too?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Did you ever feel that you were in physical danger or afraid when you were over there doing that work?

LH:

No. We were far enough back—Well, I remember watching some planes go over, but we were far enough back that we didn't feel like we were in too much danger.

EE:

When was it that they decided that you needed the basic training experience?

LH:

Let's see—

EE:

When you got to Algeria? I mean, at this point you didn't know how to tell an enemy—I guess from the sky you weren't given the idea of what the enemy planes looked like or instructed the differences.

LH:

No, we didn't learn anything about the planes. They just did a little marching and stuff like that.

EE:

So you got that when you were in Algeria, the basic training experience?

LH:

I believe that's where it was.

EE:

How long were you in Naples before you came back? Did you get your discharge papers in Naples?

LH:

Well, I wasn't in Naples, I was close to Naples. I came back by myself, for some reason.

EE:

Where were you on VE [Victory in Europe] Day? Were you in Italy or were you in Algeria? When the war ended in Europe in '45, were you still in Algeria?

LH:

I believe I was back home by then.

EE:

So you came back before the war ended?

LH:

I must have.

EE:

When you were at work in the military experience, how were women and women nurses treated? Did you get harassed by the soldiers, or were you treated appreciatively, professionally?

LH:

Oh, we were treated all right.

EE:

So you had no complaints?

LH:

No.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military nurse option a career? Were you encouraged to make it a career?

LH:

Well, you could do whatever you wanted to do.

EE:

So they didn't pressure you to get out, nor did they encourage you to stay in.

LH:

No.

EE:

Is there an embarrassing moment from your experience overseas that you remember, either for you personally or something that you saw happen?

LH:

I don't remember anything.

EE:

Did you have any kind of a social life or any kind of time to relax when you were there or in Italy? I know some of the people who were working as enlisted persons, their schedule was not as demanding as hospital work and they had more time to have a social life. Did you have much of an opportunity for having a social life when you were working there?

LH:

Yes, we didn't work all the time.

EE:

Did you ever get emotionally close with some of the people you were taking care of? Did you ever keep track of some of those fellows?

LH:

No.

EE:

There's just too many people coming in and out to do that with, isn't there?

LH:

Right.

EE:

How long would most of the boys stay in there? Most of them, were they there for a long period of time, or were they just shipped back to stateside after a while?

LH:

Well, it varied on the length of time that they stayed, but most of them, I don't think, were there very long.

EE:

Did you have any dignitaries or special USO [United Service Organizations] folks come through to give you any special visitors at the hospital when you were there?

LH:

I don't remember any.

EE:

This was all under the U.S. Army's control. Did you have servicemen from other countries who were with you, or other branches of the service who were there, or was it all just for army personnel?

LH:

It was just army.

EE:

What was the hardest thing you had to do during your military experience, do you think, either physically or emotionally?

LH:

Well, perhaps the hardest thing was to see the very young boys that would have, say, like their legs amputated.

EE:

So it was hard to watch them emotionally have to go through that?

LH:

Well, they seemed to accept it pretty well themselves, but it was hard on me to see them, you know, with their legs lost and those terrible injuries that they received.

EE:

The kinds of injuries are a lot more dramatic and traumatic in a military hospital than what you'd ever see stateside, aren't they?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Did they give you special training on how to handle that or be prepared for that?

LH:

Well, we were, I guess you might say, prepared for most anything just being nurses.

EE:

Right. Did that experience, do you think, make you more of an independent person than what you were already?

LH:

Well, I think you mature all along as you go through life.

EE:

Do you have any heroes or heroines from that time period?

LH:

No.

EE:

What do you think about the Roosevelts, about President and Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

LH:

Well, nothing special.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Mr. Roosevelt passing away? Were you back in the States by then or were you in Italy?

LH:

I don't remember.

EE:

You came back from Italy. Did you come back to Spartanburg, or where did you get assigned to?

LH:

I think I went to Swannanoa [North Carolina].

EE:

Were you out of the service by then, or did they have a facility at Swannanoa?

LH:

Well, that was military at that time.

EE:

That's up there next to Black Mountain.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

There was a TB [tuberculosis] hospital up there, too? Or was that Oteen I'm thinking [about]?

LH:

Well, Oteen at one time was TB, and then they started having other things too.

EE:

Okay. So at Swannanoa it was a floor nurse position? Was it a general—for all different types of military personnel, or was it one of these that was specifically for amputees or for blind or something? What were the clients?

LH:

Well, I think it was for different things, but wards would be used for some particular type of thing.

EE:

How long did you stay there as part of the military? You got out in '45, did you get out before the war was over? The war ended in August of '45.

LH:

I'm sure rusty on dates today. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, it depends. Did you get a formal discharge paper from the service?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Do you know where that is?

LH:

Not right now. I was looking for some of that stuff.

EE:

Well, when you find it that'll fill in some of the dates. So don't worry about the dates, because that'll have basically where you were transferred in and transferred out, so I can get the dates later. But in '45 you ended your military service. Did you then decide immediately that you wanted to go back for the college experience? How was it that you decided that you wanted to go to Woman's College [now UNCG]?

LH:

I don't remember exactly why I decided to go.

EE:

Did any of your family go to college before you? Were you the first one? I'm the first one in my family to go to college, and I went into overdose. I went for a master's degree and the doctorate degree. Were you the first one in your family to go to college?

LH:

I think so.

EE:

Why did you pick Woman's College as opposed to someplace else?

LH:

I don't know now.

EE:

Do you remember where you stayed when you were a regular [student]? You were probably an older student then, or were you? There were a lot of folks coming back.

LH:

Yes. We didn't stay in a dormitory. There was a building that was sort of on the edge of the campus. I've forgotten what the building was used for previously, but we stayed in it, and it was close to the administration building.

EE:

Was that Gravesly, or what was it?

LH:

McIver House, I believe it was called.

EE:

McIver House, okay. He was the president, I think, of the university at one time. He started it. So that's where a lot of veterans were staying?

LH:

Yeah, they were just veterans in that house. There was—I don't remember how many. There were some rooms downstairs, and upstairs too.

EE:

So when you went back, it was at least nice that you were going back with a lot of other women who were older.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

You didn't quite feel socially as an outcast. I talked to a woman Tuesday of this week who ended up going back to Lenoir Rhyne. Apparently they did not have as many veterans going back in and she said she felt like she was being treated like a baby because they had these rules, and if you wanted to smoke you had to go get your parent's permission. She said her mama wrote back and said, “My daughter is twenty-four, she can do whatever she wants to do.” [chuckling] How old were you when you were—You were probably about twenty-four when you went back, weren't you, or how old were you? Early twenties anyway.

LH:

I don't remember how old I was then.

EE:

You graduated in 1938 from the school of nursing.

LH:

Let's see, I had worked and I had served in the military.

EE:

Well, you graduated in '34. You were older than that. You were in your thirties, I guess.

LH:

Probably so.

EE:

You went back to study nursing?

LH:

Well, they were offering a B.S. [bachelor of science] in nursing, and I realized when I got that that I didn't know any more than I did before about how to do anything pertaining to nursing.

EE:

But you had a piece of paper.

LH:

Yes, and people were ready to give you just any kind of job because you had a B.S. in nursing. So then I went for a year over to Duke [University] and got a B.S. in nursing education.

EE:

So did you become a nursing instructor then?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you do your work?

LH:

I worked at Charlotte Memorial [Hospital].

EE:

Which is now Carolinas Medicorp or whatever it is. It's huge now. So you went back. After going to Durham you went to Charlotte. How long did you stay in Charlotte?

LH:

A long time.

EE:

Did Memorial have a nursing school just like some of these other hospitals have?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Do they still have a nursing school at Charlotte Memorial, or all of them now—most all go to colleges, don't they, for nurses training?

LH:

I'm not sure whether they still have one or not.

EE:

What kind of degree did you get when you finished at Charlotte Memorial? Were you an R.N. [registered nurse]?

LH:

Well, I was an R.N. when I worked there.

EE:

Right, but I mean for the people who were graduating, who you were teaching, the women who were coming through, once they finished the program—

LH:

They got an R.N.

EE:

They were an R.N. So R.N. meant you were a registered nurse and you could be employed by a facility. And then if you were going to do more specialized nursing you had to get extra education, I guess.

LH:

Yes.

EE:

Did you stay at Charlotte Memorial until you retired?

LH:

I don't think so. I was trying to think how long I worked there. [chuckling]

EE:

I see you've got Duke Chapel up there. Who are the two girls underneath the Duke Chapel picture?

LH:

They are the daughters of one of my nieces.

EE:

They look like they're both in high school or college. What age are they now?

LH:

The oldest one is finishing up her master's degree and the younger one is graduating from Presbyterian College.

EE:

Great. This is a good time of year to be at Duke. The gardens are pretty nice this time of year. A lot of people have looked back at the fact that women were all over in the workforce in the Second World War, to a lot greater extent than they'd ever been before. Do you think that women who were in the military were sort of trailblazers for women later on being able to do a lot more different kind of jobs and work? Do you think that changed the country?

LH:

I don't know.

EE:

What kind of an impact did your experience in the military have on you? Long-term did it have—Obviously it enabled you to go to college.

LH:

Right.

EE:

Which you probably wouldn't have thought of going to college had the government not said, “We'll take care of it.”

LH:

No, because it would have been too expensive.

EE:

And I think that experience—It used to be that college was only for the rich folks, and I think that maybe may have changed people's experience some since you had the opportunity to do that. When did you come back to Landrum? How long have you been in this house?

LH:

Since 1980.

EE:

It's very pleasant. Did you come here straight from Charlotte then?

LH:

No, let's see, I was out in Texas sometime. Maywood, Illinois; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and then Kerrville, Texas.

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

EE:

Is that near Dallas or Houston? Where is that?

LH:

It's about fifty miles from San Antonio.

EE:

San Antonio is a pretty place. I've heard lots of people talk about the canals and all that kind of stuff.

LH:

Always got something going on.

EE:

Good. So you enjoyed that time. Were you working in a hospital in a teaching capacity out there as well?

LH:

Yes.

EE:

And how long were you out there? Three or four years?

LH:

Let's see, I think I came home from there. I must have been there about ten years or more.

EE:

Were you in charge of the facility out there? What made you go from Charlotte to Texas, more money?

LH:

I don't think I went from Charlotte to Texas. I was in Oklahoma sometime. I almost need my piece of paper to see where I was.

EE:

If you look at it and you find it, then that'll be something we can add to what we've got here. Looking back at your career in nursing—Well, a question I ask everybody is do you feel you contributed to the war effort? And I can tell you that as an Army nurse you did, but do you feel content with your work in the military? Do you feel like you made a positive contribution?

LH:

Oh yes.

EE:

Do you keep up with some of the friends that you made during that time?

LH:

No, not right now.

EE:

Did you for a while after the war?

LH:

For a while, yes. Some of them died and some of them moved somewhere else.

EE:

Did the army nurses have reunions and things like that where they'd get together, like some of the other groups?

LH:

I don't believe so.

EE:

How did the army nurses feel about the fact that women were coming into other branches of service, about WAVES and about WACs? There'd been army nurses for a long time before the war, you joined before the war started.

LH:

Right.

EE:

But when the war started they started having these special services just for women to come in basically to free men to fight, to do clerical work or to do specialty jobs that they thought they could let the men go off to war. How did you feel about women in other branches of the service?

LH:

Well, I don't think we liked the idea too much, but I don't remember being in association with too many of those.

EE:

You didn't really hang out. You weren't in an opportunity to have interaction with them. Did they have a special hospital for women, or did you have women patients at your hospital?

LH:

We had women patients, but there weren't too many of them.

EE:

So there were some WACs who were at your facility?

LH:

I imagine so, but I don't remember.

EE:

Well, we had somebody who wrote us who was an Army nurse down in Florida who said, “The thing is that all the WAVES wanted to do was get a husband. That's the only reason they joined the service.” Was that something that you heard?

LH:

I hadn't heard that. [chuckling]

EE:

So you didn't feel that way?

LH:

No.

EE:

When you say you didn't like the fact that other women were joining the services, what did you mean by that?

LH:

Well, I guess we weren't associated too much with them.

EE:

How many women were altogether working at that hospital in Algiers? How big of a staff was it?

LH:

We just had thirty nurses.

EE:

Thirty nurses? Okay.

LH:

That was including our chief nurse.

EE:

What was your capacity at the hospital? Was it about three hundred beds? Or how many beds were there?

LH:

Sometimes we had more than that, I think.

EE:

Just depending on how bad the situation got with the service?

LH:

Yes. But we had corpsmen that did a lot of the care of patients.

EE:

Well, is there anything about any particular person, interesting people that you met in the military, any memories you have of people that you want to share with us today, any particular stories?

LH:

I don't remember anything special.

EE:

Well, I appreciate you doing this for us today. Do you have any photographs or things? We're trying to get a photo of everybody from that time period that we interview, and I don't know if you have one of those that you could let us have or borrow to make a copy of, but we'd love to have something from that time period about you if you've got it.

LH:

I don't know where it would be right now, if I have any.

EE:

Well, just like me, it's somewhere in the house, I don't know where it is. As you run across it, and we will get this stuff back to you and we'll be letting you know how this develops. But as you look through your things, if you find anything like that, we certainly would be interested in it.

LH:

Okay.

EE:

Well, thank you for sitting here with us today and doing this. And as you look through your stuff, anything you can find we'd love to have from you.

LH:

All right.

EE:

Great. Thank you very much.

[End of Interview]