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Interview with Johnny Sutton Fields, May 5, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Johnny Sutton Fields, May 5, 2004
May 5, 2004
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Fields, Johnny Sutton Interviewer:  Mims, Luann Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  SENC Health Services Length:  60 minutes


Mims: Today is May 5, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina. Today we're talking to Mrs. Johnnie Fields and she is a Community Hospital graduate and she went on to have a long nursing career within in the area and was in fact the first mental health nurse in our area.

Mims: How are you doing today?

Fields: I'm fine thanks.

Mims: Great, if we could get started by you giving me a little bit of your personal background, where your family came from, what your family was like and we'll just start from there.

Fields: Yeah, I grew up in Rose Hill, North Carolina, a small town where we owned a small farm. The principal crop at that time was tobacco. I know all about that. I am the daughter of Maggie S. Bell Boney Sutton and John Sutton. The Boney family is pretty widespread in the Duplin County area. All of the small families there owned their own farm. It was passed down to my family from my grandfather, Charles Boney, who owned approximately 10-acres and that family farm is still in the family. He received his deed to that farm in 1898 and I have a copy of it and I'm so very proud of it.

I attended the Rose Hill Colored High School, met at that time a Mrs. Futch who was affiliated with the Red Cross and hence that was my introduction to nursing as a profession. I also have just one brother living, but I come from a family of four, one sister and two brothers. My older brother went on to become a professor at Howard University; my younger brother still resides in the Rose Hill area. My sister was the best homemaker one could ever know and she is now deceased. But then on to graduation from high school and onto Community Hospital.

Mims: How did you find out specifically about Community?

Fields: Mrs. Futch, and I have thought of her many times since because when she came to talk to our high school about health care, preventive health care, that is really what sparked my interest in nursing. My major interest was to go to medical school to become a physician. I knew well that my family would not be able to provide the resources for that so I had to search around to find something that we could afford. At that time information on scholarships and the like was just unknown to me.

We had a family physician, a rural physician, Dr. C. L. Halls, whom I went to speak with. He treated everyone - irrespective of race, color or income - talked to him and he agreed to do my paperwork free of charge in order that I might be able to enter nursing. I was blessed with some fairly good genes, some intellectual whatever and had good grades coming out of high school.

So everyone in the farming community was interested in seeing us go on to some institution of higher learning, so much so that my cousin who is a teacher and lived at Virginia Beach, took me over for the summer to work in a hotel so that I would have the money resources to buy the things that I needed in order to enter the nursing school. So everyone there sort of participated and gave me a chance to come to school.

Mims: Do you know what the application process was like?

Fields: I don't recall exactly what that was like or who specifically guided me through. I tend to think it was Dr. Halls and my mother. My mother had come to Wilmington in her early years to attend high school, which I understand was the equivalent of college at the time, but she dropped out when her mother died to care for her siblings. My mother was an intelligent woman, somewhat educated so I feel that the two, she and Dr. Halls, collaborated and took the necessary steps to get me here.

Mims: Was there any time of entrance exam where you had to show your skills or something?

Fields: I don't recall that there was. I think we had to present our high school transcripts, and then the physical exam and whatever paperwork as I can recall. I remember sitting in Dr. Halls' office and he completing that paperwork so I'd like to give him the credit. Our families lived like a mile apart. They were very large plantation owners and I'm sure we worked the farm some, but he was quite instrumental in helping to get me here.

Mims: Had you been to Wilmington prior to this?

Fields: Yeah, we had. We came to Wilmington on shopping trips, road the train as I recall and that was like a major vacation, traveling from Rose Hill, which is like 45 miles to the north, comes right on the train to Wilmington and I think that was the height of our recreation and entertainment so I was a bit acquainted with the city.

Mims: What year was it that you started training?

Fields: I came in 1948.

Mims: Okay, so we just finished World War II, so knowing that it was a big, busy place how did your parents feel about you coming into this situation?

Fields: Can't recall discussions on that, but I believe my mother took the lead role. My father was not very active. I think she was very comfortable in having me come and two other young women from the area came also. One was my high school classmate and she now resides in Jacksonville.

Mims: So that's great, you came down here with people that you knew.

Fields: Yeah, there were people in my class that I knew.

Mims: Now there was a nursing residence you had to live in?

Fields: Yeah, when we came there was this magnificent facility, red brick facility, which was a three building complex. It was the hospital in its majestic sense, the nursing home, we called it that, was an adjoining building and a recreation building just to the south which was called The Soda Shop and belonged to the Dr. Burnett-Dr. Eaton family. That was sort of the hub of recreation, of formal recreational activity. So those three buildings joined into a complex just across the street from the Williston Industrial High School at 10th and Castle Street.

Mims: So the nursing home, what was that like structurally, you each had individual rooms?

Fields: No, it was roommate shared. It was a two-story building with two nurses entering the same time shared a room, rather small quarters, but adequate quarters in my view. It allowed for study and had a laundry room and recreation and all our entertainment room and was always monitored by a housemother.

Mims: So they kept pretty good tabs on the girls?

Fields: They kept great tabs on the girls (laughter). They did with specific check-in times. We had to be in by a certain time of day, visitors were monitored and so I would imagine that most parents felt comfortable having their daughters there. My director of nurses and the founder of the school, Miss Salome Taylor, she is the founder of the Community Hospital School of Nursing.

I believe any mother would have trusted their daughter to live under the direction of Miss Taylor. She was the epitome of a professional nurse. She ruled the school with discipline and guidance.

Mims: I read a little bit about her, but as a person what kind of contact did you have with her?

Fields: We had a good bit of contact with her because we would have assembly and we would have one on one contact with her. She was there most of the time. She grew up in Wilmington, one of the better-known families on Red Cross Street. I think she would go home to be with her family occasionally but the nurses' home was her home as I recall.

Mims: She stayed there with you?

Fields: She stayed there.

Mims: Whenever you first got to the school, did they give you a uniform?

Fields: Yeah, there were two periods as I recall; one period was called the preclinical period. I can't remember the subject matter, but I believe it was mostly the theoretical part where we would go to class everyday and then that uniform was different. By the time, we had completed all the requirements for that and we knew we were going to make it and move on to the next level, then we were given the student uniform and that uniform is displayed at the hospital with their history.

It was called the capping ceremony, as I understand where we would gain our cap and that was a true honor then. You knew that you were well inducted into the life of a nurse.

Mims: Can you give us an explanation of what the uniform looked like?

Fields: The uniform was a blue chambray type basic dress with cuffs. The apron that went over the uniform cross-crossed in the back, buttoned at the waist. The skirt part to the apron was a wrap-around white. It was all white. The apron part, which protected well during contact with clients, and the cap was white. But it was a crisp starched, I say really good looking uniform. When the nurses walked, you could hear the uniform bristle from the starch in the skirts.

Mims: Now was the uniform complete with white stockings and shoes?

Fields: White stockings and shoes always.

Mims: Did you have to care for your own uniforms or was there somebody there at the school that did that?

Fields: There was a laundry on site and I believe that laundry took care of our nurses' aprons and uniforms. There would have been no way we could have kept those aprons as crisp as the nursing school required. I remember the laundry at the back of the hospital who did the hospital laundry and I believe they did the nurses' uniforms as well especially the aprons.

Mims: Did you have any personal equipment you had to take with you when you were in training?

Fields: I don't remember what we had to buy. I know somewhere along the line we seemed to have had our own stethoscope, but I believe most of the equipment belonged to the hospital.

Mims: I don't know whether you had to have a thermometer or a scissors?

Fields: The scissors we kept always, you're correct. The scissors were a part of the uniform and there was a special pocket at the back of the uniform at the apron where you tuck the scissors in and they were with you always and we also had to have a watch, now that you mentioned that, with the sweep second hand so that we were always ready on the spot to check someone's pulse. I remember those two items were certainly requirements.

Mims: If you weren't with all this equipment and in uniform, were there any type of demerits given or how strict were they on how you looked, what your appearance was like?

Fields: Don't remember. I'm sure there were requirements but the nurses at that time were so determined, so much wanted to be in the school, I can't recall any disciplinary problems as an outcome of not caring for the equipment or the uniform. There were some nurses who could not make it through that pre-clinical or trial period, but I think that failure was based mostly on poor academic performance.

Mims: Was there any remedial type help if there was a poor academic performance?

Fields: I think so. Many nursing supervisors were very nurturing and I'm sure they provided counseling and I think they use some persons from the education arena who taught some of the courses like biology and so on so I'm sure there was, but I never needed to be involved with that so I don't recall a lot of that.

Mims: Now you mentioned the cap, there was a capping ceremony. Was this the cap that you kept the entire time?

Fields: Kept the entire time and it became the standard for you even after graduation. Many of the nurses still own theirs. That was the symbol for your nursing practice career.

Mims: Identified you as a …

Fields: Community Hospital nurse and that cap had a small black velvet ribbon around the edge of it and that marked the Community Hospital nurse.

Mims: During your time in training, did you have to rotate through various areas of the hospital?

Fields: All the time through various practice areas. The hospital, I believe, was structured as a general hospital. They had the major departments, obstetrics, surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, outpatient clinics, laboratory. There was a well-planned schedule for rotation and you also had to rotate shifts.

Mims: So you weren't always working during the day?

Fields: Not always working the same shift, we worked days, we worked evenings, we worked nights and it was really very rigorous for participation as I recall.

Mims: So this put you working with direct contact with physicians.

Fields: Yes.

Mims: Who were some of the doctors you can remember?

Fields: The physicians that are recalled, firstly I remember Dr. Roane, whom I think was the first African-American doctor to practice at that hospital. Later I remember Dr. Gray, Eaton, Sinclair, Mebane and these are all Caucasian doctors who were also members of our board. It was a mixed doctor staffing. Those are the names that seem to be most prominent with me right now.

Mims: Did you guys have to follow the old way of recognizing a doctor when they arrived to see patients?

Fields: We did and that required us to stand and recognize the doctor and that's where I had difficulty (laughter) because I don't know, my family was always a pretty independent spirit and it's not that I didn't want to do it. I think basically I never understood why and I don't until this day why that was a requirement. I still don't understand that. Some of my colleagues had less difficulty with it than I did and they still today don't have much difficulty.

I equate it with that family spirit. I remember once when we were working on the farm during strawberry season and a Mr. Blanchard who owned thousands of acres I believe said to me, "I hope you go to school because you're never going to make it here working on the farm" (laughter). It was kind of my insolent nature and I believe that same spirit in nature followed me into the hospital. Consequently, I didn't understand paying that kind of homage or whatever to physicians.

Some of them really sometimes didn't speak to us very nicely. So I just always….I had to tolerate it. I had no choice. Even as a graduate nurse when I moved on to work at James Walker, that practice was still in effect.

Mims: Not now though?

Fields: I don't know now. I've been away from hospitals so long.

Mims: It's very hard to tell who's who in any hospital setting. I can appreciate what you're saying. I had even heard that there was like a call bell like when a doctor came sometimes, there was a bell rung so that the nurses would be alerted that there was a doctor on the floor. Do you recall anything like that?

Fields: I don't recall, but along the way I just met some outstanding physicians and the ones that were mentors for me and who offered me such great opportunity, Dr. Joseph Hooper who was a urologist and who was community commissioner was always kind to me and would serve as a reference for me at any time and a Dr. Charles Graham, a well known surgeon became my mentor and used to talk with me all the time about business and the value of saving money and investing and so on.

Oddly enough I had the kindest conversations with the…like person to person, level to level with those two Caucasian physicians more so than I did with the African-American physicians and I don't know why that was so unless it was just at a different point in time.

Mims: I was wondering if any of the doctors ever related personal stories to you regarding like a change in the medical services?

Fields: Don't recall having that level of conversation with the physicians.

Mims: ‘Cause wouldn't it be nice to be able to talk with them today?

Fields: Yes, yes.

Mims: Because many of the doctors you mentioned have passed on.

Fields: Later on, Dr. Eaton and I became, Dr. Eaton Sr., we became talking friends. We would discuss civil rights issues and so on. He would call me sometimes. This was in his later stages, but during the medical practice time we did not have those kinds of conversations.

Mims: As there's not any visible reminder of this facility for the general public today how would you describe how the hospital looked to you and that whole feeling about it. Like if you were to walk in, can you kind of describe for us what it was like?

Fields: I would describe it as just a magnificent building, well cared, it had the aura of a place of healing. There seemed to have been much caring, much dedication to the quality of patient care. I think of it with just such fond memories and wish that there could be a memorial of sort so much so until we pull the nurses together. The Community Hospital Nurses' Alumni, Mrs. Floyd and I, we put together a proposal package, submitted it to the Department of Human Resources, Division of History and Cultural Affairs so that we could receive funding and prepare some kind of museum or marker.

We felt that we needed to do that because we were all getting older and if the nurses didn't take on the responsibility for doing that, we were afraid that our hospital would get lost with history. We submitted the proposal, receiving a funding letter that said we were going to be awarded some funds. Later on though we had to submit some more information and we never found out what exactly happened to these funds.

And this is like as recently as four or five years ago. Still would love to see even if it's the university help us to get some kind of memorial or physical memorial for our hospital. We are very concerned about that and put a lot of work and effort into it.

Mims: I hope that the community can appreciate your time and effort because without any kind of marker or physical memory, it's like what you said; it's going to be past.

Fields: And because it was close to Castle Street, we worried so much and we wanted that marker to be along Castle Street because the hospital was so much a part of the Castle Street area. We haven't given up hope on that.

Mims: Okay, well maybe we can come up with something to help on that. You said that there was a recreation building…

Fields: We called it The Soda Shop.

Mims: Tell me a little bit about that.

Fields: It's where we could gather for soft drinks, music, conversation, personal interactions. Don't recall that there was any dancing in there. I think you could buy a sandwich and snacks, but it was just a small gathering place right at the corner of 11th and Castle, but touching the hospital.

Mims: Were there any type of organized activities like a singing club or I don't know, anything like that?

Fields: Yes, we had a I think we called it a glee club made up of nurses and the hospital had some kind of a relationship with Camp Lejeune. Don't know exactly how that worked, but Camp Lejeune would send buses to the nurse's home to transport nurses to Camp Lejeune for various activities. A lot of the nurses married Marines coincidentally and some of them are still married and living in the area. There's one at 11th and Castle who married a Marine.

Mims: I guess it was, “Where can we get some women, oh there's a nursing school down there” (laughter). Well that's interesting. How about like exercise or anything like that. Did you guys have any organized workouts?

Fields: I don't recall. I think we might have worked 12-hour shifts. I think we did, the nurses worked 12-hour shifts at that time and when you covered the long halls of the hospital, I'm pretty sure that was pretty good exercise. I don't remember many nurses being obese at that time.

Mims: Was there any other activities you can remember doing?

Fields: We were, I know when we had the capping exercises, they were held in various churches, but I don't recall structured activities beyond that. Perhaps some of the nurses who maintained longer working relations with the hospital, kind of like Mrs. Floyd. Sometime after graduation I moved on to another hospital, but nurses were still coming in and after my time I suspect more activities were formed.

Mims: Did you guys have a yearbook?

Fields: Yes, we did have a yearbook. Have no idea where mine is, but we did have yearbooks.

Mims: How about contact with previous graduates?

Fields: Previous graduates were employed by the hospital as nursing supervisors.

Mims: And they were well recognized?

Fields: Well recognized. When I was doing a bit of research, I believe the hospital graduated over 300 nurses. Those nurses went on to have major, major careers throughout the country. Right in this area some went in to becoming instructors like Mrs. Floyd. She went off to the Margaret Hague; I believe it was in New York, to major in obstetrics.

The hospital hired major affiliations for the nurses. We didn't get all of our courses at the hospital. We went off, I did, to Tuskegee, Alabama, to a psychiatric hospital for psychiatry. We went to Dooley Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, which is part of the medical college of Virginia for communicable disease and pharmacology.

Later, I understand the hospital had an affiliation with Oteen, North Carolina for communicable diseases so our curricula was not all provided right there at the hospital site. They sent us wherever we needed to go to complete the course for becoming a well-rounded professional nurse and it also prepared us for taking the state board examination.

Mims: During all of your rotations, which did you like the most?

Fields: I believe I liked psychiatry the most. I remember my highest grade was in psychiatry on my state board exams. I think it was psychiatry, I thought that was interesting that I later joined the Mental Health Center because I'd always had this curious nature and psychiatry is not a science I don't think as yet. Anyway I believed I liked psychiatry. I liked the analytical part to it and the socio-dynamic part and I think that's still with me and I have to be careful that I'm not analyzing every situation even today.

Mims: Can't get away from it. What do you think was your least favorite?

Fields: I think communicable diseases because there's always that little fear, “Am I going to get sick or something?” I didn't like hiding behind the mask. I remember in Richmond, Virginia that was the most difficult time working in that communicable disease hospital. I didn't like that very much.

I don't think I ever thought about the most desirable or the least desirable. I just knew that we had to have all of it in order to become well-rounded practitioners.

Mims: Tell me what your graduation was like? Was there a big ceremony?

Fields: I can't recall the specifics around that so much, but I'm sure there was where we were handed our diplomas and so on. I don't know why that part has often escaped me. When we awarded our diplomas, that I have not focused on very much since.

Mims: Did you get your pins at that time?

Fields: Yeah, we got our pins and they were the most beautiful pins with Community Hospital, a little blue pin and one is on display at the hospital. We would receive our diplomas, we might have gotten our pins early towards our senior year because there things were awarded at intervals. Now I'm sure Mrs. Floyd or some of the others recall that better than I do.

Mims: Was there a change in uniform at that time?

Fields: After passing the pre-clinical period, the uniform that we received after that remember the uniform, the permanent student nurse uniform until graduation. Now during graduation, we wore our white uniforms. I do recall that. We were then called practicing nurses, not yet RN because we had to take the state board examination. Then we became RN's.

Mims: But you assumed the cloak of….

Fields: We were graduate nurses at that time.

Mims: Did any of the uniforms have the cape?

Fields: We had our very own cape that came with our uniform even with the student uniform, the blue cape. I believe it might have had a red lining. But that was part of the student uniform. I had forgotten to mention that when we were describing the uniform, but we did have the cape.

Mims: I've heard other nurses say that identified them like if they were riding the bus or walking through the neighborhood as a nurse. I didn't know whether you had an experience like that.

Fields: I know it was part of the standard uniform. I never understood the real purpose by identifying whatever, but it did. It was the image, the picture; it's always the uniform with the cape. The cape was worn as a student nurse and continued as a graduate registered nurse. It was part of the standard uniform.

Mims: Now after graduation what did you do?

Fields: After graduation I worked for a short period at Community Hospital.

Mims: What floor?

Fields: Don't recall that, I think it was like an evening supervisor for a very short period. Moved from there to James Walker Hospital where I worked as a staff nurse and I worked in a unit called the colored ward. The colored ward, as you know, was donated I believe by the Sprunt family. It was a mini-hospital within itself. I worked there for some few years and it was there I met Dr. Joseph Hooper. The Hooper family was well known in the area.

I left James Walker to go into public health. The hours were better. I worked straight days and was home on weekends with my children. During my course at public health, which was certainly a community outreach nursing program, my assigned area was the north side of Wilmington, the Taylor home area. Worked there for several years and ran the well baby clinics where we did the immunizations.

My physician contact, well the physician that I assisted there was Dr. Rap Moore who was a wonderful, wonderful community pediatrician. Don't know where he is now, but he was so kind to the mothers in taking care of their children in the well baby clinics. I visited many people in the Taylor home area and still now see the children. I still have contact with some of the babies that I worked with in the Taylor homes region.

Stayed with public health some few years and mental health grew out of public health. When the Mental Health Association formed the first mental health center, public health nurses worked there on a part-time basis. I was assigned to work there on a part-time basis like one day per week so when a full time nurse position was established, of course I was asked and I wanted to apply for that position - so I was the first mental health nurse hired in the area.

I was hired by staff from the North Carolina Department of Mental Health out of Raleigh. They came down to interview me and to see if I could fill that role. I stayed with mental health many, many years because I had a nursing career of 41 years and I worked with the state for 28 years and many of those years were with mental health. I stayed in direct nursing with mental health for some years.

Then I moved to middle management where I became the Director of Adult Services and supervised the staff of approximately 30. That staff was made of psychologists, social workers, nurses, support, employable persons and volunteers. I supervised that staff for a number of years and developed many programs while I was at Southeastern. Some of the major programs that I developed, I am the founder of the Sherwood Village Apartments, which were by its independent living for persons with mental health disorders.

I'm the founder of Ocean House, which is a community support program that teaches persons with disabling mental illness conditions to become independent. It is now located here on 5th Street down by 5th and Grace. I am the founder of a partial hospitalization program that Southeastern had.

What I'm speaking about is forming a complete continuum of care for mental illness persons so they can enter the system at one level and then exit fully independent or citizens ready to live in the community and to find employment. The supported employment program that I developed was an employment program where by staff went out to negotiate with employers to hire persons with mental illness problems and to give them a chance to work for the very first time. So I believe I had a rather productive career with Southeastern Center.

I also provided placement training for UNCW nursing students working with Miss Adrienne Jackson and Dr. Jackson and Dr. Delilah Blanks who headed the Social Work Department in providing intern placements for some of her undergraduate social work students. But had a good career with Southeastern and in the early days there were people at Southeastern like Dr. Rolfe Fissher, Dr. Charles Furman, Dr. Patel, wonderful, wonderful physicians so were very, very kind physicians.

Dr. Fissher was so caring. By that time I had family and children and sometimes didn't have much money because I was a single parent and Dr. Fissher would say you have to go to this conference, you have to go and if I didn't have the resources, he would make it possible for me to go. So they nurtured me into the mental health system and I hope and pray that I was able to give something back.

Mims: This time frame that you're talking about is what? Late 60's, early 70's.

Fields: I left mental health in 1991 so I was probably there from somewhere in the early 70's or longer. I think I went to public health in '68 or maybe I went to mental health in '68 because I was with mental health and public health for a total of 28 years. So I had a long, long nursing career.

Mims: Well these are innovative programs.

Fields: They were new to the area, very new programs to the area. They hadn't been discussed much. I never talked about them much as being the founder, but I'm glad you give me the opportunity. I'm pleased that you give me the opportunity to do that.

Mims: Well, it's fascinating because this whole project that I'm doing is on health services and we're looking for origins and development and what are the threads to our community today.

Fields: And I expect when Miss Alice Brooks said to you to talk to me, I suspect she knew that I was the founder of those services.

Mims: Let me go back and ask you even a little earlier question. Working with those well baby clinics, now that was a fairly new idea too wasn't it?

Fields: Yes, but certainly I'm not the brainchild for that. That is just what public health did. They were one of many clinics that public health did. They had a range of clinics at the Health Department and I think the innovation was with the satellite aspect, having the clinics located in various areas so people could get there. Public health I believe had a much broader outreach service delivery program at one time than it does now. I believe they pulled in a little. As of later, more people have to go to the Health Department.

But they just had services situated throughout the community and I still say it's a service that you don't hear much about but provides a wonderful service in the area of childcare, maternal and childcare.

Mims: Well, you said that the doctor had a good rapport with the mothers because the education of the mothers would have bettered the health of the child.

Fields: It was there that I met the most innovative women. Some of the women that I met when I did public health I learned to admire and respect so much. They were mothers who sort of missed the opportunity somehow to go on to institutions of higher learning, but so much wit, so much common sense and I gained as much from them as they did from me.

I had to go into their homes to check on all newborns. We had to follow persons who after care with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, we had a working relationship with the orthopedic hospital, I can't remember the city, for children to go off for corrective surgery. We had to follow all of those areas in a community and I just think public health provided a great, great service.

And it was more generalized than mental health. Mental health was more specialized. I don't know what they do now with the Health Department because I haven't had much contact as of late.

Mims: But the training that you received from the Community Hospital allowed you to expand your role into these situations. Like you said, your time at Tuskegee may have inspired you to go with the mental health?

Fields: Yeah, I think so. Psychiatry is really an interesting field and I worry about the major changes. You know it's right at the phase now being revolutionized. I don't know what that is going to mean for persons with limited resources, mental and physical resources.

When I worked mental health you had this caring group of nurses and physicians who if a person was decompensating some way would go out to the home and see how this person is managing and you wouldn't see as many people wandering the street uncared for and so on. I'm watching this reorganization to see what that is going to mean for people, not that I can do much about it except that I guess I could call my legislature and complain that way. But I'm very concerned about what's going to be happening with mental health.

But I would be the first to say that some changes are need. Don't know what those changes ought to look like, but I think we need to go in a different direction. I'm not sure the cutting of resources and the limiting of the hands on is the way that it ought to go.

Mims: Too many people followed…

Fields: Right, and that is what I'm worried about.

Mims: Especially with non-English speaking people. They don't seem to get…

Fields: Just kind of low income, limited family resource people I'll say when there's not a caring network around people, then it falls to someone else to have to provide that level of care.

Mims: Well, with all of your experience if a person wanted to enter into the nursing field today, what would you offer them as advice?

Fields: I don't know how nursing has changed, but I think it makes a wonderful career for more than one reason. Firstly, for your own personal mental and emotional growth, physical, personal, mental and emotional growth. I think nursing helps you there, helps you to take care of yourself, helps you take care of your own family in many ways.

Secondly, I think it helps to provide the monetary means to have a very good quality of life because you're nursing now, the salaries are better. I think it provides the opportunity to give something back for having been so blessed with a profession, something back to aiding your fellow man either on a one on one basis or out in the community in a group or assembly forum. It provides the opportunity to do that.

Then on a much wider scale, the overall national network I think one can use the nursing skills, information and knowledge to help to keep us all healthy and safe in a general sense so I tell my granddaughter all the time I want you to enter the nursing profession. I think nurses and physicians, the whole health arena just as education is on that upper scale because without good health nothing else really matters other than the spiritual aspect.

So I think nursing is such a noble and worthwhile profession and I've always noticed something more of a humility with nurses. Nurses basically are to service, they give, they give. They just until recently have not asked for much for themselves. When the younger nurses decide that they would ask for salary increases, a higher pay scale, I applauded them.

I was not out there on the front line, but when salaries increased at the local hospitals, I was just so pleased because the nurse is the number one bedside person and the one that everyone sort of relies on to get the word out to the physicians, to the families and so on. So I'm now real pleased that the nursing salary as I understand it is getting to be more of a professional competitive salary.

Mims: Well, and there was certainly… it goes along with this next question, if you had to do your career over, what would you have done differently? I know there are more options now.

Fields: Yes, I believe I've often thought about that, but then I remember what I learned in mental health. One enjoys a better quality of life later on. If you look back over your life and say, “I'm pleased with the way it went” and certainly I'm pleased with the way it went, but should there be a major revolution and I could come back as a youngster, I believe I would follow my goal to become a physician. I believe I would and I believe I had the intellectual ability to do that.

Mims: And certainly the resources would be…

Fields: Would be different now cause I was locked into the economic whatever with just a small firm hard-working mother, not such a contributing father and didn't know from the public arena about scholarships and so on.

Mims: Also constraints still placed on females at the time. You're still talking about a time, women's lib had not hit.

Fields: Had not hit and I still smile sometimes when people come to me and say, "You know you had some of the highest grades ever to come out of Community Hospital.” I'm not surprised at that, but others seem to have been so I believe academically I could have mastered that.

But I think as I say looking back over my life, I believe I was able to use those skills in other ways even while growing up on a farm and learning from my mother in life one should always own land. She preached that to us so I have along with my husband been able to make some purchases in the downtown area and that is why we can pass some of that on to my children, sort of a legacy so that we can break the cycles of poverty and then each generation can carry that forward.

So the burden of that will rest with my children. What will they do with it (laughter)? But very pleased with the way my life has gone. I was blessed to have enjoyed good health for the most part and blessed that I could meet people such as Dr. Virginia Adams. She and I were together for a meeting where we were giving some comments on the new CEO that was coming to the hospital and formed a relationship. And from this day forward I will have a relationship with you. So I'm very pleased with the way life has gone.

Mims: A lot of changes. One is the interjection of male nurses. How do you feel about that?

Fields: Oh, fine with that. In fact had the privilege of working with two male nurses. But it wouldn't have bothered me very much in mental health because there were psychologists and social workers who were getting into intimate working relationships with all genders all the time. So having male nurses I just saw as broadening that whole area of care providers.

Mims: Well, looking back at your time at the Community School of Nursing…

Fields: There were none.

Mims: Would they have been able to take any do you think with the ways things were organized?

Fields: Not at that time unless they had living quarters.

Mims: Because I find that kind of interesting.

Fields: But the hospital did have resident physicians who came for training. Male resident physicians came to Community Hospital. They had separate quarters. But they did live somewhere around the hospital. I think in one of the levels of the hospital.

Mims: So they could have probably shared…

Fields: I think so.

Mims: This is interesting.

Fields: A different time and place, isn't it?

Mims: And certainly with the integration of hospitals. You said you worked at the colored ward at James Walker Hospital. It was its own little entity. Can you remember any kind of integration at James Walker at all.

Fields: Not with patients but definitely with staff. Not with patients. Nurses were integrated, physicians, orderlies and nurses' aides were. But as I recall all of the consumers were African-Americans. I don't recall any Asians or whatever in that unit. They were all African-Americans.

Mims: And I've heard that within the African-American community they had the option of James Walker or going Community. What would have swayed to go to one or the other?

Fields: I think the physician. Dr. George Johnson, an OB/GYN specialist, delivered I believe 90% of all the babies and he practiced at James Walker so those African American mothers who went to him for their prenatal care would have delivered at James Walker and we delivered quite a few babies in the colored ward at James Walker.

Later though James Walker became fully integrated as I have heard. I was not there at that time, but I understand the African-American nurses also worked in other areas of the hospital so I think during the desegregation period all of that changed.

Mims: What about any memories of any of the other functioning hospitals like Babies Hospital? Do you remember any contact with that?

Fields: No, but I do recall working over at Bullock Hospital for three weeks. There was a major fire and some persons were burned and this hospital through company insurance wanted to take care of them, but as I said to you earlier, having been so affiliated with Dr. Mebane and Sinclair, they asked me to do private duty over there for a short period of time to take care of those burn victims. So I do remember working downtown on Front Street at Bullock Hospital for just a little while. I never worked at Babies Hospital or Cape Fear Hospital.

Mims: Did you work at New Hanover Hospital?

Fields: Never worked at New Hanover Hospital, I was already into the community nursing area at the time New Hanover was formed. So most of my practice in years was in community practice, mental health and public health.

Mims: Now where was your office located at that time when you were doing the community health?

Fields: I describe community health as public health and mental health. Public health was on the same complex as the courthouse. What is in there now? Where First Citizens Bank is now.

Mims: I remember getting my shots there (laughter).

Fields: Mental health started first on Red Cross Street with one or two employees. Then to 17th and Wright Street, there's a physician's office there. Then to 5th and Wooster Street for an office building that is now an apartment complex and then to where it is now, touching the Health Department in that whole medical complex. So there were four different sites during my tenure.

Mims: Is there anything that maybe we have left off that you think we need to talk about? We've covered a lot of ground here and we could certainly go into detail with a lot more stuff, but just as an overview…

Fields: The only thing I would ask you and I think I might have made that clear that if you could bring our attention and our plight to the university, we would be willing to give whatever resources we can to make it happen, but I know the university is great with grants and it is our heartfelt desire to have something of a plaque or a memorial mark or something for Community Hospital.

Because most of the nurses are getting on in age, we're going to have some younger energy, a little more know-how with organizing and securing funding. I don't know now that we're going to find that funding among ourselves, but certainly we could lend some support to that effort.

Mims: You do have an organized alumni?

Fields: Yes, and I'm going to give you Mrs. Floyd's name. I don't know how her health is and she could maybe give you more up to date information on how the hospital developed over time because I had moved on and she could help you with that. She is the chair of the Committee Hospital Nursing Association, quite an articulate woman and educated in that arena.

Mims: Well thank you so much for talking to me today.

Fields: Thank you for coming to my home even though it's a temporary home. We'll have it on the market again soon when I can get back into my house. My front door looks into St. Mary's if you're ever looking for me again. I'm hoping I'm going to be over there so thank you again for including me.

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