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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Katie King, 2005

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Object ID: WV0334.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Katie Sawyer King’s her service in the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II and her ministry in the AME Zion Church in the 1980s and 90s.

Summary:

King briefly discusses her early life, decision to be a nurse, and entering the Cadet Nurse Corps in 1944. She talks about attitudes toward the program and attending the Hampton Training School for Nurses and St. Phillip’s Nursing School. Related topics include: entrance exams; uniforms; learning patient care; the daily schedule; dormitory life; food; the departments in which she worked, including obstetrics, the nursery, and surgery; social life and recreation, including going to the beach and dances; restrictions; having to go on leave when her mother died; and VE Day.

King also describes her nursing career after completing her training, including discrimination in her job at Highsmith Hospital; working as a charge nurse in the army hospital in Augsburg, Germany, while her husband was stationed there in the mid-1950s; getting a bachelor of science in nursing from the Tuskegee Institute in the 1960s; and her other nursing positions.

King also briefly describes her calling in the ministry and her service in the AME Zion Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in the 1980s. She explains her training and some of her responsibilities at the church. King also talks about her involvement in programs for African American alcoholics and other volunteer work.

Creator: Katie Sawyer King

Biographical Info: Katie S. King (b. 1923), of Fayetteville, North Carolina, served in the Cadet Nurse Corps in the 1940s and, after more than twenty years in nursing, became a preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the 1980s.

Collection: Katie S. King Papers

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:

Hermann Trojanowski:

Today is Wednesday, October 12, 2005, and my name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Reverend Katie S. King in Fayetteville, North Carolina, conducting an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

Rev. King, thank you so much for talking with me this morning. We really appreciate it. To get started, if you don't mind giving me your full name including your maiden name, and we'll use that as a test to see how your voice sounds on the tape.

Katie King:

My name is Katie Sawyer King, and I was born on October the ninth, 1923. I had two brothers and one sister. My father was a minister and he was painter. He did painting at Fort Bragg and other jobs for the military.

[Tape recorder paused]

HT:

Okay. Now, you told me where you were born and when you were born. Where did you live growing up?

KK:

In Fayetteville.

HT:

Well, tell me a little bit more about your family. You said your father was a painter, and what about your mother?

KK:

My mother was just a housewife. My father finished college, but my mother only went through high school, because that was as far as you could go at that time.

HT:

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

KK:

I had two brothers and a sister.

HT:

Where did you go to high school?

KK:

I went to high school to the local high school, E.E. Smith High School, and I graduated in 1943.

HT:

And what did you do after high school?

KK:

After the high school, I got a job working at Fort Bragg in the laundry, and during the time that I was in high school, of course, I heard about the Cadet Nurse program and all it had to offer. I had some leaflets and pictures of cadet nurses in pharmacies, and things that they would do if you chose to go there. At that time there were only two professions that I could choose from. One was teaching and the other one was nursing, so of course I chose nursing.

When I contacted the school they gave me [a list of] what I needed to come. I needed a watch and I needed a suitcase. The first nursing school I went to was St. Phillip's.

HT:

Where was that?

KK:

In Richmond, Virginia. And I got sick. A rash broke out all over me, and the doctor gave me some medication and I didn't want to—I just came on back home until I got well. Then I applied for another nursing school, and that was Hampton Training School [for Nurses].

HT:

Is that in Virginia?

KK:

In Hampton, Virginia. I had this suitcase, a watch, and everything that I needed to go, and I made an appointment and got a date and went to the school, and they gave you a dormitory room to live in. The dormitories were right across from the hospital, and Hampton Institute was about two blocks from me, so I went to Hampton Institute to take an exam, education exam, you know, to see if I'd pass that, and I did real well on the exam on the material that they gave me.

HT:

Do you recall when you went to Richmond, the date that was, by any chance?

KK:

It was in '43.

HT:

And then what about Hampton?

KK:

Hampton, '44.

HT:

What do you remember about the first day that you were at Hampton?

KK:

The first day was very good. I adjusted well to the things that they wanted me to do, and after, see, I took the educational part of the program, I had to do the physical, and there were thirty or more, fifty or more people applying there to take the exam, and twenty-six of us passed the exam, the physical exam. They checked your heart and your physical system entirely, and I did very well on that.

But before I went, I got it done here, you know, because I wanted to be sure that I'd pass the exam. I went to my doctor, and he told me that I had a leaking heart. I said, “Well, do you think I can do this?”

And he said, “Yes. You have to take plenty of exercise and eat the right food.” So I was prepared, you know, knew what I had to do when I got there for the physical [unclear].

We started off with class introductions to the instructors that were going to teach us, and they gave us a tour of the hospital and told us that if we were there for six months that, you know, we'd put you into the cadet program. In other words, we would get full benefits. They gave us uniforms, the cadet nurse uniforms, the street wear, and also the hospital uniform, and the hospital uniform consisted of a white apron, and the top was striping with this emblem on the side. We had to go to class and then we had to work on the wards, and I remember the first patient I had. There was a family patient, and I had to move him. They taught us how to give baths and how to take care of a patient, how to turn, how to lift, how to apply bandages, certain things that we were allowed to do. We were allowed to put Ace bandages on.

HT:

Now, who were the patients? Were they military people?

KK:

They were civilian patients, except for the army personnel that came over. Mostly we had from obstetrics, we had the babies and mothers from the army post near there. It was Fort Lee. I can't think of the other one. Fort Lee was near us, and there was another one, two hospitals that we had their families there. We took care of the babies and the mothers for a certain period of time. I think it was ten days that they had to stay there.

Then the VA [Veterans Administration] Hospital was not very far from there, so I had an opportunity to visit that. And on campus we all had certain classes on campus, because the instructor said we needed certain courses in cooking, mathematics, and other courses that they couldn't teach us at the nursing hospital, so we got on campus at the Hampton Institute.

HT:

So it sounds like you spent maybe half a day doing practical nursing training, and the other half in academic training.

KK:

Yes. We worked for twelve hours at that time, from seven to seven, doing classes and doing work on the wing ward.

HT:

Can you tell me something about the instructors?

KK:

The instructors, well, some of them were nice and some of them were not. But we had an RN [registered nurse] in charge of each section of the hospital, and when we finished with one section of the hospital we went to the other one. I didn't like the lady that we had for surgery, but when they taught us in surgery, I thought she was awfully mean. She would holler at you, yell at you, and you know, that makes you get excited and you couldn't figure out what you were trying to do.

But obstetrics, I liked the babies. I worked in the nursery and we had maybe up to thirty, at least thirty or forty babies in the nursery to take care of, and we had the premature ones that you put in the incubator that you gave the special attention to. Then we went to the children's department where the children up to twelve years were taken care of, and we had to spend so much time there.

But after I received my cap, probation, I received my cap, and we were transferred to affiliate, back to the same school, St. Phillip's. I went back there to St. Phillip's in Richmond, Virginia, in the hospital, and you had doctors, the doctors were training there, and the nurses were training there. They had several health people that were taking different courses at the school, and I was especially impressed with the formula lab. They took us through the formula lab, how the formulas were made, the machine that they had when they prepared the formula in the bottles for the baby, to go back to the nursery.

I was at first with the nursery at St. Phillip's because of one special doctor was there. I don't remember his name right now, but he was in charge of the nursery at St. Phillip's, and he always thought that we gave tender, loving care. So I asked the nurse supervisor, the girl that I was working with, the senior nurse, I said, “What is tender loving care?”

And she said, “Come on, I'll show you.” So she took me to the nursery, picked up a baby, and you hold it and you talk to it and put it across your shoulder, and spend some time with the baby. That was tender, loving care. And, of course, you had to feed the smaller babies. But I was impressed with that part, because I had never heard of tender, loving care. And the supervisor girl I was working with, she said, she told me what.

I said, “I need some tender, loving care.” So we just really enjoyed that particular section of the pediatrics.

I had one bad experience there, and that experience was that they had a premature baby in the nursery, and we had to give it oxygen, and they found a mixture of oxygen—what's the other thing that you can't—anyway, they found a tank that shouldn't have been there, and so it was between two girls and me, and we had to go before the supervisor and tell our side of the story. I was awfully upset about this, but they accepted my description of what had happened with the newborn baby.

HT:

Was the newborn injured?

KK:

No, it just had to have oxygen and they gave it—they got a combination of oxygen and I can't think of the other thing that you give a baby, make them breathe. Anyway, they found—the baby probably should have had it, because it was all right, you know. It survived and everything. But the idea of this incident happening about the oxygen tank, we were reprimanded for it.

HT:

If we could backtrack for just a minute, what did your family, friends, neighbors think about you joining the Cadet Nurse program?

KK:

Mama was excited, and by that time a few classmates, most of them were already gone. They were already gone, because I was late going into the college. But the atmosphere and the attitude and all of it concerning the Cadet Nursing program was very, very good. And the fliers that they had, I have the fliers to show you, that they passed out to encourage us.

HT:

Did your parents have to sign papers for you to join, because you were under age?

KK:

No, I was eighteen. I'd finished high school. I have a picture of me when I was in high school. I had finished high school and I was eighteen, and they didn't have to sign. I'll tell you what I did have to do, though. I had to take my rationing book. You know, we were rationed for sugar and what else, something else we were rationed for, and I had to take that with me so that they could use it at the school.

HT:

So you had to turn in the rationing book, I guess.

KK:

Right, I had to turn it in.

HT:

Now, were you paid any kind of money to attend school and that sort of thing?

KK:

Yes. We were given a stipend of fifteen dollars a month.

HT:

Fifteen.

KK:

Fifteen dollars a month.

HT:

Of course you had room and board, and so I guess the fifteen dollars was spending money.

KK:

Yes.

HT:

What was it like to live in a dorm on campus?

KK:

It was unusual for me, because I'd never lived in a dorm before. All of us were girls, and all of us were different classifications. You had the freshmen, the juniors, the seniors, and we all lived in the dormitories. We had different floors to live on. We were on the bottom floor, the freshmen were on the bottom floor to start off with, and we had all of the facilities that we needed. There was a laundry, a room for ironing your clothing, and the matron was there to supervise, and we could ask any question and she'd see that everybody was in their place and did what they were supposed to do. And, of course, we had to go through the matron to go outside of the facility. If we wanted to go into town shopping, if we wanted to go to the movies and to church, we had to sign out, and we had to sign back in, and she kept an account of each one of us.

HT:

So on the average, how many hours a week did you train at that time?

KK:

We had two days off during the seven days of the week, and we could utilize it as we saw fit. And then, too, it was changed around. You know, we didn't always have Saturday and Sunday off. It was changed around because you would either do duty in the hospital whenever we were assigned that particular task, eleven to seven, three to eleven. It would have been seven to three, but we had seven to seven because we had classes.

HT:

I think we touched on the uniform briefly earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about your uniforms that you had, what they were like and how you took care of them, that sort of thing?

KK:

They did the laundry for them, but they loaned you—this is a picture of the uniforms. We had the cape. It doesn't show it so well, but this is the uniform. This is striped up here, and the apron went all the way around and across the shoulders.

HT:

So was this your daily uniform?

KK:

Yes, that was for the hospital. When we got up in the morning we got dressed. We could wear street clothes now and then. Most of the time when we went out we only could go out uniformed. This is the winter uniform. They also had the spring uniform. I have a copy of those for you to look at. The cap that we wore was plain. It didn't have a black band around it until after we had passed the period in which we could be given the band, and they went through a ceremony when they presented you with the black band to go around the hat. It would go around the top of your cap. I have a picture of that for you, too.

HT:

What about the food? Do you have any recollections of what the food was like?

KK:

Going back to the uniform, the uniform was a very attractive uniform and I was proud to wear it.

Okay, the food was nutritious. We didn't always like the food, but we had times to be served three times a day, breakfast, dinner, and supper, and we always had to be in the cafeteria at that time. And if you needed a diet, or if you needed anything special you had to go through a supervisor to get it. Some of the girls, you know, were overweight. I didn't have that problem. The only thing that bothered me about the food situation and eating is that most of the time you had to eat in a short while, maybe a half hour or so, and I found myself—I learned to eat fast and I still do it, but that was the only thing. We had too short a time, I thought, for meals.

HT:

Now, when you were doing your training you had various assignments, I assume. Could you request various assignments in the hospital, or was it all predetermined by the matron?

KK:

It was all predetermined by your supervisor, just like if you finished, you worked here one area. We didn't go on night duty to begin with, but you worked in these different departments for a certain amount of time. You were required to spend so much time in each department.

HT:

Everybody was?

KK:

Everybody was.

HT:

Can you tell me something about what you recall about the various departments in which you worked?

KK:

Yes. The obstetric department where the babies, where they went into labor was one section. The patient was checked in and was taken to, we called it the obstetric department, labor department. They stayed in that department for, I think, about ten days. And the babies, the nursery was another department that we had to spend so much time in, the nursery for taking care of the babies. And we worked all three shifts. In all the different divisions we worked all three shifts.

And like I told you about surgery, we had to go on call for surgery. After a certain length of time, if they needed any work during the nighttime they would call and you had to be prepared to go, get dressed in uniforms and get over to the surgery department.

HT:

Which was your least-favorite area?

KK:

Surgery. [laughs] I couldn't—I didn't like my surgery supervisor. She was too mean. She would yell at you about a thing, and when she'd yell at me—I wasn't accustomed to being yelled at.

HT:

So as nurses you helped the doctors during surgery, and that sort of thing?

KK:

Yes. They had a team. They had a surgical team, and we were given a certain spot on the surgical team. You had your RN, then you had a student nurse, then you had the doctor, and then you had the anesthesiologist to put the patient to sleep, and then you had the a circulating nurse there.

I had an interesting experience in the operating room. One of the students went in for an appendectomy, and I was working with her and very familiar with her, and she stopped breathing on the operating room table, and did she give us a fit. The doctor tried the usual thing, the shot. The anesthesiologist did what he was supposed to do, and our girl just would not start back to breathing, and all of us, you know how we felt. The whole operating room was in a tense situation. And finally he turned the patient upside down and she started breathing, so that was one of the experiences that I had that was unusual.

HT:

Did you have any unusual experiences with the babies? I think you mentioned earlier about the mix up in the oxygen. How about were there any other unusual happenings?

KK:

Yes, there was one other one. The baby had—you know, you pin the diaper on, and the baby had a pin all the way through its skin. You could see the prick marks. And I saw it but I didn't report it, and I was on 3:00 to 11:00. So the person before me was the day shift, and that had to be the person to do it, because the one that came on 11:00 to 12:00, she reported it, and that was a hassle. My time was extended three months because of that situation.

HT:

Your training time.

KK:

My training time was extended three months. Well, all of us, it's the whole three of us, the day shift, the day girl, the evening girl which was me, and the night girl. All of us were extended three months for that experience.

HT:

So all total, how long was your training, how many months or years?

KK:

Three years. I went in in September of '44 and came out in September of '47, and I have my program for graduation. I did have a graduation picture, but I haven't found it yet. I wanted to share that with you. But all we had, it was at the Hampton Institute in the auditorium.

HT:

So you spent your entire three years at this one school?

KK:

Right, except for the six months that we went on affiliation at St. Phillip's. In the auditorium at Hampton Institute, it was a very nice experience. They did the baccalaureate ceremony and they gave all of us a bunch of flowers and our certificates.

HT:

During the three years that you were at Hampton were you able to leave and go home on furlough or something like that?

KK:

Yes. After I received my cap I came home for a visit, and I showed Mama and everybody my uniform. I showed off, you know, I showed them my uniform. Then you could stay off campus when you got to be a senior, so I checked out and went to the beach overnight, spent overnight in a motel and went to the beach, and I had guests at that time. I had guests on the beach. And then we could have a guest come to the dormitory where we were, after hours or on the weekends, and we would dance and play games and just, I guess you'd say communicate with each other.

HT:

But you had to be a senior to have all these privileges?

KK:

Well, the senior privilege is to go off post. You know, like I had an aunt that lived in Newport News [Virginia], which is not very far. I could go off post as a senior. I said off post; off campus as a senior. I had more privileges as a senior. Our recreation consisted of visiting these two army posts that I was telling you about. We would go in there for the dances and for the parties, like New Year's Eve and Christmas or whatever. We would attend that for recreation, and we did the same thing on campus at Hampton Institute campus, which is about two blocks from ours.

It was a lake and water that was the base of sailors. I mean, they were stationed there. They were trained as, what do you call that, sailor department? They were trained there, and it was a beautiful scene. We called it a home by the sea, Hampton home by the sea, and we spent some time there. We'd go on campus and go down by the lake, and we'd also visit the activities that they gave. They gave different activities like graduations or senior proms and stuff. We were able to go to those things, in general. After we got the six months we had more freedom, and then the older you got, like seniors, you got more and more privileges.

HT:

When you first joined did you have to sign any kind of papers indicating that you would remain in nursing after you graduated, or anything like that?

KK:

Yes. We also had to take an oath, the Hippocratic Oath. We had to take that, and we had to agree that we would practice at least two years after our training. We almost got drafted. There was a bill in Congress to draft us before the war closed, but they didn't get a chance to draft us.

HT:

Now, you were still considered civilians, or sort of quasi-military?

KK:

We had all the makings of the military. In fact, you even had to stand at attention when somebody came in-how do you say—people older than you in the nursing, you had to stand at—

HT:

So the upper classmen?

KK:

Yes, and the supervisors, we had to stand at attention. I have a book here showing you the things that we had to do so far as training was concerned. This is the training that we had to go through.

HT:

Interesting. So you had physical training, exercises.

KK:

Certain things that we had to do. And we got medical care at the hospital, or if you wanted to get dental care you could go downtown and get dental care. They didn't give you dental care.

HT:

Did you enjoy being in the Cadet Nurse Corps?

KK:

Yes, I did. I enjoyed it. There were some strenuous moments taking exams and working. For example, I was in class, we were in psychology class and we had our instructor, Dr. Bassett. He gave us our instruction in psychiatry, and I'd study my work and sit in class and try to keep up with him going on, and he called on me to recite. I looked around and recited, gave him a very good answer. He said, “We've got some people that can sleep in class and still take part in the class.” So I remembered him.

HT:

Had you fallen asleep?

KK:

I'd fallen asleep. You know how you doze? But when he called my name, you know, I guess I was dozing. He must have been watching me. I must have been dozing all the way through class, so he decided to wake me up, and he called on students. Well, this was not unusual, but he called on different students. But he got me that time sleeping. I hope I wasn't snoring. That was embarrassing.

HT:

And there were no men in your program whatsoever, is that correct?

KK:

No men. There was one man nurse that worked at the hospital at that time, but none within the program. And we had to do everything. We had to make the bed. We didn't do the laundry. Our uniforms and the hospital laundry, we had nothing there, but so far as cleaning, mopping, taking care of bedpans, making beds—what else do you do in the hospital? Now they have people to do all that, you know, but we had to do everything. We worked to assist the doctors, and now you know they have different people to do different things. They have people to give them therapy treatment, breathing treatments, and they have people to do the housework, that's all the household people. And then they have nurses' assistants and nurses' aides and all those different people they have now that we didn't have. We had to do everything.

HT:

Tell me a little bit about the instructors. You've mentioned some of them in passing, but do you recall any specific stories about your instructors, such as the nurse who was your supervisor in surgery who yelled at you, and that sort of thing?

KK:

Okay. In obstetrics the lady, she was—I can't think of her name, though, that's the thing about it. You had to observe before they would let you participate. You had to stand there and observe, and people going through labor, they don't do like they do now. They give you anesthetic to help you, oxygen and stuff to help you go through labor, but then the person had to go through it all by themselves. In other words, they went through the different stages of labor and we were tested on that, what stages they were going through. And then, of course, when the doctor delivered the baby, then you were allowed to do more and more, accepting the baby, you know. I can't remember the doctor let me accept the baby from the mother's pelvis, but I was there to take the baby and resuscitate it. You had to make it cry and resuscitate it, and wrap it in a blanket and pass it to the next person, or if you were the next person you'd take it to the nursery and see that it was taken care of, and that was obstetrics.

Now in the Nursery Department they had the babies, I guess, separated so far as the premature babies and the regular babies. They had them separated, and we had to take the babies out to the mothers to be fed every four hours.

HT:

So the babies didn't stay with the mothers all the time.

KK:

No. The mother would feed them and you had to go back and get the babies and bring them back, and put them back in their beds and take care of them. If the baby didn't—some of them breastfed the babies and some of them didn't, and if they breastfed the babies and they were still agitated like they were hungry, you had to give them more formula, and you had to take care of the nursery.

Now the Youth Department which was children up to twelve years old, was another department that we had to go in and we had to spend different times with different babies. I'm trying to think of any actual experience I had in the hospital with the babies. Oh, the mothers and the families had so much time to spend with the babies, visiting hours. You had to be present for visiting hours, and we knew how to admit patients and discharge patients.

In each section you had to admit, like if they go to the obstetrics you had to admit them, they go to the surgery you had to admit them, and the nursery, you had to know the procedures to go through, the paperwork, charting, and what else can I think of that was concerning—oh, going back.

One of the courses that we took was cooking. We had to go over to the institute, go into—they had all the kitchens set up properly, and you had to cook a meal, prepare a nutritious meal, and you were graded on that. I'm trying to think of that supervisor. I still can't remember anything particularly interesting about that particular supervisor. But she crammed, you know, we had to learn a lot of stuff. I already knew somewhat about how to cook and prepare food before I left home, but there you had to go by the recipe. You'd go before her and submit your recipe, and then proceeded to prepare that.

HT:

What was the reasoning that they required nursing students to learn how to cook?

KK:

It was a requirement among all the other requirements that we had to do. That was one of the things that we were required to do. I can only think of this practical means, you know, they wanted you to be able to cook food for yourself, I guess, in case you had to do private duty nursing. You know, private duty nurses used to do some cooking. I don't think they do it now, though.

And, of course, any time you had to be on time. You were reprimanded if you weren't in the right place at the right time.

HT:

I'm assuming this was a general hospital.

KK:

Right. It was a general hospital, attached, I mean, well we did like I told you we did. At Hampton Institute, Dixie Hospital training was in Hampton Institute, and then we took part in the classes on campus.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you had to do physically during your three years in nursing training?

KK:

I think the hardest thing were the hours and the times that you had to do things, you know. That precision and accuracy I think was probably more difficult for me than anything else. On days she told us this, she says, “I want to know when the patients dies.” In other words, I want to be there. She wanted to know, the supervisor, if you had a patient that's awful sick, she wanted to be there, and she didn't want you to call her after he was gone, like after the patient had expired she didn't want you to call, so you had to watch the patients very often, make rounds and check on them, and be sure that they were all right. She made rounds, too, and she said that we were on duty, she made rounds for us. We had—we couldn't—it was considered terrible, I guess you'd say, if you found a patient dead. That was out of the question.

HT:

Now, were most of the patients in private rooms or wards?

KK:

Well, we had both. We had the men ward and the women ward, and then we had private rooms. And we had some important people there. I can't remember a movie star or anybody like that, but we had important people there that we were able to get to know. And we weren't supposed to date any of the patients, of course, if you met somebody who was a patient, you couldn't do anything. And you were qualified, you couldn't date any and everybody. They required you to date somebody on your level.

I went out with a guy, that home person I knew before at home. He went AWOL [Away Without Leave] and he wrote and contacted me when I was in training. They had a fit, so I had that experience, you know. I'd known him all my life, and then he asked me would I wait for him, and I couldn't promise to wait for him, so he went AWOL. That was a bad experience.

HT:

He was in the military, obviously?

KK:

He was an enlisted man in the military.

HT:

Well, you've told us about the hardest thing you ever did physically. What about emotionally? During those three years, what was the most difficult thing?

KK:

Mother died and I had to come home. She died in '44 or '45, I guess. About a year after I got there she passed away and I had to come home. All the way home I couldn't—you know, I was very upset. The girls got me packed, my clothes and everything, got me packed and I got on a bus, and when I was on the bus I was talking to somebody and telling them about my mother had died, and they said, “Well, don't believe it until you get there.” You know, he was trying to calm me down.

When I got here, of course, I went with everybody else to make the funeral arrangements, and I got to see her. I fainted, had to go to the doctor's office, and he gave me medication which I took for about six months after I got back to school.

HT:

What kind of leave did they give you to come home for your mother's death?

KK:

A pass, they called it a pass.

HT:

It was not an extended pass at all. It was probably fairly short?

KK:

I could stay as long as necessary. I stayed until after the funeral. I stayed the necessary time that I needed. They didn't tell me how long to stay, they just let me go home. I guess if I hadn't come back— [laughs]. No, I'm sure they would have—

HT:

Well, do you ever recall being afraid?

KK:

Afraid. Other than the operating room? I had one patient that was sick and that she passed on me, and I was scared then when the supervisor got there. That, taking care of a seriously ill patient, I think bothered me. I mean, you know, they played on my emotions.

The other thing with me, I had menstrual cramps and I had to take special medication for that. They didn't have drugs like they have now, you know. And before I left the hospital, after I finished my training and everything, I got permission and selected a doctor to do surgery, do a D&C [dilation and curettage] on me so I wouldn't have that problem. That was in '44 [1947] just before I left.

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing or humorous moments?

KK:

Humorous moments. Well, I think the most humorous thing that I enjoyed, you know, exciting, is when we would go off campus to visit that parties and the dances, and also church—Oh, I know, here's one thing that happened to me. While I was a nurse one of the undertakers there asked me to be a nurse at the funeral, and I went. I tried to find out what I was supposed to do when I got there, and when I got there they tried pretending they were sick or pretend they were fainting. One was over here and one was over there, and over there, and I was standing up there, you know, trying—

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

HT:

Reverend King, we were talking about you going to an undertaker to be a nurse, take care of a family, when the tape stopped. Do you recall anything more about that particular incident?

KK:

Well, after we left the house—this was at the house before they left-we went to the church for the funeral, and it was conducted and everything went real well after I'd sit there with them and was able to give the family the support that they needed. That was one of the off-campus experiences that I had.

Just to bring you back to see how strict it was, let me read you this.

HT:

Okay.

KK:

[reads] “While on duty in the hospital no nail polish, long nails, jewelry. They had to be dressed neatly and wear the collar at all times. All the clothes were to be kept clean and well repaired, all shoes and stockings. Permission to leave assigned floors should be obtained from the head nurse in charge. All nursing care to be carried out according to procedures taught, unless otherwise, and supervised by the head nurse. All classes attended in full uniform. No one is excused from class unless the head nurse gives permission. All nurses to stand at attention for their senior, until permission to resume their work. Courtesy and respect to all patients, doctors, graduate nurses, and seniors. No unnecessary talking permitted at any time.” I have a whole page of these.

HT:

Okay. Well, what were your favorite songs and movies and dances from that period of time?

KK:

You know, I dance. I liked to dance real well. I can't think of some of the dances at that time. Music, I liked songs, let's see, Goodbye Baby. [pause] Cut it off for a minute.

[Tape recorder paused]

HT:

What was the general mood of the country during World War II, as you recall?

KK:

It was very topsy-turvy. Everybody was concerned about the war, and different friends were going away for the war, and different sacrifices were being made, like rationing. We didn't have television then, we had radio, and, of course, we had to keep up with the radio, and also newspaper. We had the newspaper to help keep up with what's going on.

About the time that the atomic bomb was exploded, it was excitement for us. You know, we were well aware of what was going on, and I think maybe that's the first thing you did. We'd find out if and when the war was going to end, because we knew that we were going to have to participate. When I said that I mean we were going to have to-right then we were just taking the place of the other nurses, so that they could go, and we were the only main staffing in the hospital all over, and there was, I think you'd say turmoil, so far as the war was concerned.

HT:

Do you recall where you were when VE [Victory in Europe] Day happened?

KK:

Oh yes. I got off duty. I was working that day and I got off duty, and the paper, they had the newspaper boys passing out newspapers, and I can remember picking up that paper and seeing that the war had ended, and I was so happy, you know. I mean, we would rejoice, we'd tell each other, we'd say, “Let your hair down.” It was a terrific feeling, very, very terrific feeling that the war was over.

HT:

And what about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, which happened in August, the middle of August?

KK:

Isn't that the day that the war ended?

HT:

Well, VE Day was the day that the war ended in Europe, which was in May, and then the war ended with Japan in the middle of August. They happened fairly close together in 1945.

KK:

Yes, the newspaper was the same day deal, you know. We'd get a newspaper off the street. You probably didn't have to pay very much for the newspaper, and be sure that you read it and passed it on to the neighbors and everything. So both of those days were exciting and uplifting, and made us happy and all this sort of stuff. So that's very good. And then, of course, home, you know, contact with home and that sort of thing.

HT:

Speaking of home, how did you keep in contact with what was going on around back home here in Fayetteville?

KK:

By mail.

HT:

I'm assuming you would come home every so often as well.

KK:

Right. We were allowed to come on pass.

HT:

Was it difficult to get a pass?

KK:

No. After we passed six months probation I put in for a pass request. You had to request a pass, the time you were going and the time you were coming back, except when my mother died they didn't ask me about when I was coming back.

HT:

Did you have any kind of military-type ranking, or was it just considered freshman nursing student, and sophomore, I guess, and maybe junior or senior, that sort of thing?

KK:

Yes. Cadet, they always add that cadet in there. I think I told you, you had to wear that uniform. You couldn't go anywhere without wearing the uniform. On duty or off duty you had to be in uniform.

HT:

Now, I think you said earlier in our conversation that the course of training lasted three years, and after you graduated what were your plans?

KK:

Then I knew that I had to put in two years of nursing, so after I left you had to take state boards, and the state board [exam] was scheduled. I left in September, that fall. Then shortly after that I came home and stayed a while. I'm trying to think when I took the exam, how much time expired before I took the exam. I came home with my sisters and I studied for the exam and took the state board.

HT:

Here in North Carolina?

KK:

No, in Virginia. I'm registered in three states, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. So we were stationed in Tennessee, that's how I got to be registered there. And I worked in Tennessee, Kentucky. We were on the borderline. Fort Campbell was Kentucky, but I worked in Clarksville, Tennessee.

HT:

So did you have to take board exams in all three states?

KK:

No, I took it for Virginia and registered by reciprocity from one state to the other. You had to fill out a form, apply for it and all that.

HT:

So after you graduated—

KK:

I came home—

HT:

To North Carolina?

KK:

Yes. After I graduated I came home, studied for exams, and then went back—no, I got a job. My first job was working at Highsmith Hospital, and I was in charge of the colored ward. I was a supervisor. I was in charge of the next hospital I worked in; I'm trying to think of the name of it. But anyway, I was the charge nurse on the black ward, and I worked different shifts. Most of the shifts were in the daytime. I had a very good, I guess you say status of working that way, because the doctors commented me. They liked the way that I'd been trained to do certain dressings and stuff.

HT:

So you think you got excellent training at Hampton.

KK:

Definitely.

HT:

And exactly what is a charge nurse? I'm not familiar with that term.

KK:

Supervisor of that particular ward. You have the nurses aides and the orderlies working under you, to assist you in doing what you're doing.

HT:

So when you graduated you became an RN, I assume, registered nurse.

KK:

Yes. I am an alumna at both Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute. Let me tell you about—in '48 I was working at Highsmith Hospital, and that's when I met my husband, and we got married, and then we started traveling [coughs, asks for juice].

[Tape recorder paused]

KK:

—to Tuskegee Institute and got my bachelor's degree, and that took two years. We had college preparation and working ward. It's similar to when we were in training, except it was at more depth. I had to go for public health, had to go affiliate for public health in Georgia, and then I graduated and I had a certificate, and graduated in 1962 with a bachelor of science in nursing.

HT:

And that bachelor of science in nursing is from Tuskegee?

KK:

Yes. I could have probably gotten it, then transferred at Hampton training school to another school and got some more training, but I didn't. I just came on home with what I had. So I figured I could get my bachelor of science and my master's later, and I did get some hours at the master's level in guidance at Tuskegee.

HT:

But you never actually got a master's degree?

KK:

No, I didn't.

HT:

You mentioned earlier when we had the tape recorder off that you and your husband had been stationed in Germany. Can you tell me a little bit about the type of work you did there?

KK:

Yes. I worked in the army hospital in Augsburg, Germany hospital, and I was in charge. I was the charge nurse, and I worked with all different kinds of patients. It wasn't specialized. They had the setup the same as the other hospital. They had different departments for different things, and the part that I worked in was general medicine and general surgery.

[Telephone rings]

HT:

So even though you didn't like surgery during your training, you somehow managed to get back into it?

KK:

Sort of.

HT:

And when you came back to the States where were you and your husband stationed?

KK:

We were stationed at Fort Bragg. Then I left Fort Bragg and went to Tuskegee, and got my degree in Tuskegee in '62.

HT:

Then how long did you stay in nursing?

KK:

Over twenty years. I have a résumé, too. Yes, I did all different types of nursing. I did occupational nursing, and I did medical/surgical nursing, I did pediatric nursing, and I did community nursing as a public health nurse in community nursing. Community nursing was this community action program, and I've got a newspaper clipping of that, a newspaper clipping of my class and me doing a procedure at the community, and they came down from the paper and took pictures for us for the paper.

Then I went back to Hampton for my fifty-year family reunion. I didn't go back to Tuskegee for the fifty-year reunion. They gave us the special treatment. They gave us—we went through the exercise. I have a picture showing me wearing the robe that I wore at that particular exercise, and they gave us food, you know, all the meals and an overnight stay and everything that we had was furnished to us free. So that was a good experience.

I told you about, you got this about the write-up?

HT:

Yes. Well, during your time in nursing training and as a nurse, did you run across any kind of discrimination?

KK:

Definitely. Definitely, all the way through until—we were sort of discriminated, even though it was an all-black school I went to, because we had to address ourselves as Nurse So-and-so-and-so, and they wouldn't accept us saying that we were Mrs. or Miss or whatever. That was just a small amount.

When I got back in the first job that I had, it was discriminating because they had—I was in charge of the all-black ward, and the patients, I had to watch the patients on the ward until time to deliver them, and then they were transferred to a white section of the hospital when they delivered the babies; same thing for surgery. I had to take care of the surgery patients until the time came for them to go to the white ward, and then the physicians took over. So it was stress in knowing that you had to do this time enough for he patient's condition to be okay.

One person they brought back from orthopedics and he had a leg broken, and he was ordered to get a shot. I had to give him a shot, and I had to go all the way over to a white ward to get the medication. I had no medications on my ward. I had to go back over there and get it, and give it to him, and he expired. The doctor got there and he was all upset and everything. I don't think he knew the patient was in that bad a condition. But the idea that the segregation part came in because it was segregated part of the way. I mean, in other words you had to start working on the black people, and then turn them over to the doctors and people that were white.

HT:

Did that change before you left nursing?

KK:

Yes. Let's see. The only other—let's see, I worked at two TB sanatoriums, and that was segregated, the TB [tuberculosis] black people segregated on one ward, and the same thing there. You had to transfer the patients to the white. That was McCain Sanatorium; you had to transfer them for the last care. You took care of them part of the time and then they had to be transferred.

Then after I worked at Fort Bragg, and I ran into—I don't know if that was exactly prejudice as much as it was conflict, because I had a conflict with the army nurses and the civilian nurses.

HT:

You were a civilian nurse also?

KK:

Yes, I was a civilian nurse there, and the army nurse—they were not married. I was married, and they more or less set the office up so that the doctors would work in a particular place, wherein if it had been organized so that the patients—the charting room would be one place, and the doctors could, you know—but anyway, they changed that, and I felt conflict, I must say. But they were white, so maybe that made a difference, or maybe it was my personality, the fact that I didn't need to meet a doctor. You know how they are, they wanted to meet people, looking for husbands.

HT:

[laughs]

KK:

But there's a conflict there. Now, the only other place—that's the only conflict. The other places that I worked were integrated. Like when I was in Germany, that was integrated. From the time that we got married, most of the hospitals I worked in were integrated.

HT:

And I'm assuming your husband, like most military men were transferred quite often.

KK:

Right.

HT:

So you had to find another job about every couple of years, I assume.

KK:

That's why I didn't go civil service. If I could have stayed civil service I could have retired, but I didn't retire.

HT:

Well, after you left nursing what did you do next?

KK:

I got a calling into the ministry. I was already a member of the church, and I went through the procedure of preaching my trial sermon, and I have a picture of me when I preached my trial sermon, and then when I was elevated to elder, as an elder. I have pictures of those. The training that I had from nursing helped quite a bit, because it was working with people, and in the ministry you visit the sick in the hospital and the home, and you also do certain things for them. And while I did that I did more volunteer work. I volunteered for the VA, worked in the VA hospital.

Then the work that we consist of, I became Evangelist King. My title was Evangelist King. That was my job. But I was reverend, too. You had to be a reverend in order to be evangelist. Now, not necessarily; there are some evangelists that are not reverend, but our procedure was to become evangelist. That means you go places, you travel.

HT:

What type of training did you have to go through in order to become a minister?

KK:

I had to go to Livingston College [in Salisbury, North Carolina] and take training. Let me see if I can remember how much time I went. I think it was a year and a half, and then all along they give you certain trainings. The more you get involved, the more training you get. I did not pastor a church. I had an opportunity to pastor a church, but at my age, you know, I didn't feel comfortable applying for the position. If they had called me, or if they had nominated me, or whatever they do, for me to accept a church, I would have, but I didn't. I preached in churches all right here in North Carolina. I didn't go out of North Carolina to preach.

HT:

And have you retired from being a minister, or are you still active?

KK:

Yes, I retired, and I have a letter here that my pastor gave me. Shall I read it? It's short.

HT:

Sure.

KK:

[reads] It's a reference letter and it says, “Reverend Katie Sawyer King joined Hood Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at a tender age of twelve years old in 1935. She was reared in a church and brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Revered King has served in many capacities at Hood Memorial. To name a few, she served on a deaconess board, she taught Sunday school, she sang in the choir, and she worked with the youth, and she's currently serving as the director of evangelism. She served faithfully for many years, until she received the call to ministry in 1981, and was ordained an elder in 1992. She has served faithfully as an elder, and has delivered powerful, soul-stirring messages throughout the years. Reverend King retired from the ministry in 2003, yet she is still a member of Hood Memorial in good standing, and Hood Memorial wishes to thank Reverend King for many years of devoted service in the ministry.” And it's signed by my pastor, Reverend [Frederick] Hendley.

HT:

You said, Rev. Hendley?

KK:

Yes, H-e-n-d-l-e-y.

HT:

Thank you. So what have you done since you retired again? [both laugh]

KK:

Basically, I guess I could call myself a housewife. I wanted to do some more volunteer service, but my husband said no, if I'm going to volunteer, then volunteer here at home. So I haven't been able to do any, just two or three. My basic thing I'm doing now is my church work and taking care of my health.

I had a birthday Sunday and I was eighty-two years old. This is a birthday card my daughter sent to me.

[Knocking. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

Before we turned the tape off we were talking about what you've done since you retired from the ministry, and you said you're staying at home and taking care of your husband and that sort of thing. So no volunteer work anymore?

KK:

No. No, I haven't done any more.

HT:

Well, if I can just backtrack for a last few questions, and I promise they'll be very brief, whom do you admire and respect a great deal from your cadet nurse days in the mid-to-late forties?

KK:

Well, the lady that started the Cadet Nurse [Corps] was, what's her name? Anyway, they established it. Do you have that, how the nurse corps was established?

HT:

I think I have a brief printout.

KK:

It was President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and I think, you know, I have high regards for those people that were able to take us. With me, you see, I was from a poor neighborhood, poor, and my father didn't have finances to send me to college, you know, so that helped an awful lot for getting my education and then being able to maintain profession, proud profession, and being able to move into the ministry, because the work in the ministry was very rewarding, and it had a basic background from my nursing.

Also, of course, my parents, I have deep regard for them, and, of course, the people that assisted us, our teachers, even though we didn't like all of them, that gave us the training and started us on our way, I have high regards for those.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

KK:

Definitely, I was independent. In high school I took classes that would prepare me for college, because I knew I wanted to go to college and take opportunity for it, so I took all of those hard science and math classes, and everything that would give me strength or give me background to go forward in the type of profession like this. And the nursing profession has changed quite a bit, but I'm proud that I was a Florence Nightingale nurse. That's what I was, a Nightingale nurse. We couldn't get married at that time, so that made a lot of difference.

HT:

You say you were a Florence Nightingale nurse. I've never heard that term before. What does that mean?

KK:

Florence Nightingale was the one that started, was the first nurse, and she went into the army camps and gave nursing here, and she was, really, we call her the first nurse, or one of the first nurses, and she made a lot of sacrifices. Like I say, she was not married and all these sorts of things, the sacrifices that she made. We had to make the same sacrifices as she made in order to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer, trendsetter because you joined the Cadet Nurse Corps?

KK:

I think it helped out, because I was ready to try to establish things and to make things go. While I was working for community action program I established the Alcoholics Anonymous class for our program, for blacks, because they didn't have any at that time, and I also was instrumental in establishing Hope Harbor. Hope Harbor is still in existence, and the person that I helped is deceased, but his son is still here. They have a shopping center where they accept things that people will give them, and they sell it and that supports Hope Harbor, the home for alcoholics.

I worked with an alcoholic. Her name was Green, and she and I established that, you know, encouraged them. They could go, I guess, anyplace else, but we had set up a program for them. And I think I advised my children to try to go farther in school, and I think, when they say, “Behind every successful man is a successful woman,” I think I was the woman behind my husband, because I don't think he would have accomplished as much as he did so far as his own life is concerned.

I was hoping I was going to get him to make warrant officer, but he didn't go that far. But he did make E-8, and he was outstanding in the motor pool. He was one of the soldiers there, very outstanding in the motor pool, and when they got ready to go on maneuvers they would ask him, you know, where was the best place to go, and certain technical questions about the outfit I knew about, and he'd come home and discuss it with me, and we would make the decisions as to where his outfit was going to go in the field next time. [laughs]

Also, one of my hobbies is sewing. I showed you the one about gardening. Did I show you—is sewing. We used to do—he bought me a sewing machine and we used to put patches on. When the guys got promoted in his outfit, we would put the patches on them, he and I. He'd bring them home at lunchtime or whenever he got them, and I would sew the patches on, and then in the afternoon when he came home he would help me, so that was an interesting experience.

What was the other thing you asked me? As a minister I held prayer meetings, and I also taught first aid classes in the church. I was a Red Cross volunteer, so taught first aid in our church, and I held classes that would get people to farther, and I've always been teaching. I didn't want the position of teaching, but I ended up teaching. It seems about everywhere you go, you end up teaching something to somebody, somehow.

HT:

What impact do you think having been in the cadet nursing program for three years had on your life?

KK:

A great deal. It was good, I think, that my tour of duty, or whatever I went through, was a great influence on my life, on my private life so far as my family is concerned, on my community life so far as doing things for people, taking blood pressures, just simple things, passing opinions, and be sure that you let them know that you're not the doctor, but say, “If I was you, I would do thus and so and so,” and state some experience that somebody else has had that you know of, and relate it to them and let them know that there's hope.

I prayed with the sick. The one lady came to a prayer meeting at Hood, and she had lumps in her breast, and breast cancer was very prevalent it looked like most of all among I want to say blacks, but anyway just like high blood pressure. We have a tendency to be more susceptible to certain diseases than other races. And we prayed at the church that night and I laid hands on her, you know, touched her and prayed for her, and she called me up. She had an appointment to go to the doctor. When she went to the doctor the lump was gone. So I've had some experience, some religious experience, how you say, miracles. And I've had miracles for myself. I had a cyst under my arm, and I meditated and prayed on it and it went away, so I've had some religious experiences, and I told you I'm AME Zion Methodist church, that's my faith. So my experience in the Cadet Nurse Corps laid the foundation for the rest of my life.

HT:

Well, Revered King, I don't have any more questions, formal questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add to the interview at this point?

KK:

Cut that off, I want to see if I can get something.

[Tape recorder paused]

KK:

I have been honored at my church on Negro history. We celebrate that in our church everywhere, and they put my picture in the bulletin as—it's under our history. I thought that was interesting, that they respected me enough to put me in the church bulletin for Negro history.

I also do a little bit of dramatics in church plays. Like they have time to do church presentations like plays and dramas, and I do drama. I participate in that. One particular one that they like a lot is that, I'm going to get a whipping when Mama comes home. You know, I've done all these different things while she was gone. She told me to be careful how I step in the pies, so I put the pies on the steps and stepped in each one of them. And she told me be sure to keep the butter cool, so I went down to the stream and I dipped the butter, cooled it, and then it goes on and on, you know, things that I did. But every once in a while I said, “I'm going to get a whipping when Mama comes home.” [laughs] So I have a little bit of dramatics that I participated in.

KK:

Can you cut if off again?

[Tape recorder paused.]

KK:

I belong to several organizations in the neighborhood, and NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] is one of the organizations that I was a member of at that time, and every year they choose a woman to be mother of the year, and I was selected mother of the year from my church, from Hood Memorial AME Zion Church, and they gave me a sash to wear, and a certificate. They also gave me the opportunity to get some personal things done, like go out to lunch. They gave me a free meal, and they gave me free services at a beauty parlor, so I enjoyed that, participating for the NAACP.

HT:

Reverend King, thank you so much for speaking to me this morning. I really appreciate it so much, and hope to see you at the luncheon in a couple of weeks.

KK:

I appreciate you coming to visit me this day, and I appreciate your interest in me as a United States cadet nurse, and it's been a pleasure, and I will look forward to coming to see you November 5.

HT:

Again, thank you so much.

[End of Interview]