Interview with Mary Knowles Roberts, January 20, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Roberts, Mary Knowles Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn / Parnell, Jerry Date of Interview: 1/20/2004 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 90 min
Mims: This is an oral history interview for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Special Collections on the Health Services of the Lower Cape Fear. My name is LuAnn Mims. In the room is Jerry Parnell and we are talking today with Mrs. Mary Roberts.
Mims: Mrs. Roberts where were you born, what was your hometown? Give us a little bit of family background.
Roberts: I was born in Rose Hill, North Carolina, the poultry capital of the world. Do I need to tell my age? There were five of us children and I had always wanted to be a nurse. I graduated from Rose Hill High School. We had three girls that went into nursing training.
One was an LPN and another one went to Rex Hospital in Raleigh and I came to James Walker. I did not realize it, but in reviewing history and everything at one time when they first started the school of nursing it was only two years. Then at a certain time they went to three years. That's year round, summer too.
So I came in training in September 2, 1952 and it was an enjoyable time. We had a good time. At that time we lived in the nursing home. You were not supposed to be married or get married. When we graduated three years later, we were the first class in many years that there was not anybody secretly married.
So we went through our stages of the pre-clinical stage and then we went to our capping exercise and then after the first year we got a wider band. The first cap was a plain white starched stiff cap. We got a narrow band. The next year we got a wider band and then when we graduated, our cap was a linen hemstitched cap which you very seldom see people wearing them now. Even while I was still nursing, we quit wearing them.
Mims: You said you always wanted to be a nurse. Why do you think you wanted to be a nurse and why did you come specifically to James Walker?
Roberts: Well, I wanted to help people and there were not any nurses in my family. I figured it was either a teacher or a nurse so I decided to be a nurse. I came to Wilmington because it was closer. I had only been to Wilmington maybe a couple of times. Most of the time was enjoyable. We made a lot of friends.
Mims: What did your father do for a living?
Roberts: He was a farmer.
Mims: What kind of farmer?
Roberts: Tobacco, at one time, some cotton, not much, but mainly tobacco and strawberries, corn and soybeans. My mother never worked out of the home. She always worked at home.
Mims: What did they think about you wanting to become a nurse?
Roberts: It was fine with them.
Mims: A lot of encouragement and support?
Roberts: Yes, yes.
Mims: Whenever you came to Wilmington, what was Wilmington like? Do you remember what the town was like?
Roberts: Basically you could do most anything. I'll share this; you might want to delete some of it. When we first came in training, they told us you do not walk down Red Cross Street at night. We could walk down Market Street if there was more than one and that's the street we walked down. You do not accept rides from anybody. Well, the first part of our training, we would get off at 11:00 on Saturday and then you'd have your suitcase packed and then you'd rush to the bus station to go home and come back on Sunday afternoon.
Well, one Saturday there were three of us. There was a friend who was going home with me and one of the other ladies was from Magnolia, which was right up the road. So there were three of us and we were running late. This car pulls over to the side. We were just hightailing it down Red Cross Street, but it was in the daytime. We figured we'd take the chance because we didn't want to miss our bus.
This car pulls over and he says, "You girls want a ride?" So we looked at each other and said, “well there's three of us and only one of them, we'll take the chance.” So we get in and had our little suitcase with us because it was just overnight. After we got in the car and everything, he said, "I'm Dr. Hare," and I thought, “Oh Lord,” so he carried us to the bus station. That was an incident that we remembered all those years.
Mims: To apply to the nursing school, what was the process like for that?
Roberts: We had to come and take an exam and, of course, there were certain classes you had to have had in high school to be able to apply. I had had all the classes. One of the requirements was a chemistry class and math, which we thought, “Well, why do we need math?” But I was very fortunate when I was in high school. My math teacher, he taught regular math and then he got into the equations and things like that and we went through the book that we had and then he got his college book and he taught us out of his college book.
When I came in training, that was a big plus for me because I knew how to work the equations and things like that which at that time you had to do. You were given a certain amount of pill that was a certain strength and you had to give either half of it or a third of it, you had to know how to work it and it was a big plus for me to have that background. Some of the girls had not and it was harder for them.
When we first came into training we went to Wilmington College for some of our classes. We were told that that would apply to our BS degree if we wanted to, but it did not because we were not taught separately. I mean we were not taught with other students. We took chemistry, psychology and anatomy and physiology. Mr. John Charlton was one of our instructors and Mr. Wright was another. I don't remember who the other instructor was.
Mims: At Wilmington College?
Roberts: At Wilmington College over on Market Street across from New Hanover High School over in that area. But those were the main courses that we took over there and then the rest of it was taught in the nursing residence.
Mims: Who were your instructors at James Walker?
Roberts: We had several. We had Miss Dixon. She was involved over at UNCW whenever they first started there, nursing program over there. Miss Jenkins, Miss Rountree, they were the main ones we had. Our nursing director at that time was Lucy Maston and Miss Beadie Britt was the assistant director at that time. We had some of the doctors that came in and talked.
Mims: Who were some of the early doctors that you got instruction from?
Roberts: I'm trying to think… Dr. Hebert Johnson was one of them. Usually they would have one of the specialties. I'm just trying to think, who were some of the other doctors. I don't remember who they were, but this was who were some of the faculty whenever we were in our nursing training.
Mims: What was a typical class setting like? You received instructions and then…
Roberts: Most of the time, they could not do it all of the time, but most of the time if we were studying pediatrics, we were working on the pediatric floor. The instructor, most of the time they would be over on the floor with you for a while and everything. Basically, of course it didn't always work out that way, that you were taking medicine and working on the medical floor. You might be working on the surgical floor because we had 26 that came in, in our nursing school and we had 23 that graduated. We were the first class from James Walker to go to Dix Hill for our psychiatric training. We went in two groups.
Mims: Was that for a day?
Roberts: No, that was for three months. We lived in the nursing home up there. I still carry a scar from up there.
Mims: What happened?
Roberts: One of the floors where I was working, one of the patients, she thought that I looked like her husband. They had had problems and she was a nurse. She just had it in for me. She got a hold of my hand one day when we were in the dining room and bit it.
Mims: And that didn't deter you from continuing on with your nurses training?
Roberts: No, it did not. The only thing was they decided for my safety that they transferred me to another floor. In fact, they put me on the men's area where she was in the women's area. They decided it would be for my safety if they moved me.
Mims: You had some pictures you were going to hold up for the camera. This is a picture of your class?
Roberts: Yes, our capping exercise that we had where we received our cap.
Mims: Now that's not the same as graduation?
Roberts: No, this was in May. We came in, in September so it was probably nine months when we received our caps. At one time they had different stages of your uniform. You might wear the bottom part of the apron and then maybe you'd wear the bib, but with us our uniform was complete. Cuffs, the cuffs were separate, but the uniform was like this. Then we had the cap and like I said after we wore this from May until September, that was the end of our first year, then we got a small band for our caps. Then the next year we got a wide one and our third year we graduated and got a different uniform and everything.
Mims: Don't you get a pin too?
Roberts: When we graduated we got a pin. I'm not sure if I even have a picture of it. When they graduated they had a scarf that you wore in a graduate uniform and very few of the graduates wore it. I mean it was not practical. But we got our nurse's pin and I do have one, it's in the other room.
In this picture, this is our class. This is one of our classes in the nursing home.
Mims: And by nursing home, you mean the residence?
Roberts: Yes, it was set up down in the basement where they had regular classrooms and we practiced giving each other shots. But this is our nursing home.
Mims: Those uniforms must have had high maintenance for ironing and starching.
Roberts: They did them in the laundry so we did not have to do them. The only thing was in folding our cap, they had to be folded a certain way and everything. They had to be real stiff so most of the time whenever you fixed up your cap, they did not get them stiff enough in the laundry at the hospital. Therefore most of us would take them home and we had a certain kind of starch that you could put in and keep adding to it and everything and stick them in the refrigerator and let them dry like that and then you could fold them.
She's doing her cap there. This is the girl from Brunswick, Georgia. She came to nursing school up here. She had an aunt that lived here.
Mims: Did most of the nurses that came up here from out of the area; did they have some kind of local connection like a relative?
Roberts: Not necessarily. I didn't have anyone here when I came here. Our rooms at the residence were private rooms. We did not have roommates. We had a sink in the room, but the bathrooms and showers and everything were down the hall.
Mims: Was there a curfew?
Roberts: Oh yes! I think for six months we had to be in by 7:00 during the week. I did have a distant cousin that lived here. Her husband would come and pick me up sometimes and take me to their house for supper and they'd have to rush me back to be in by 7:00.
Mims: Who controlled the student nurses? Who watched over you?
Roberts: We had two housemothers and there was someone sitting at the front of the residence. When someone came in, she knew who it was and you had to sign in and sign out. If you were late coming in, it was too bad.
Mims: What would happen if you came in late?
Roberts: If you were late, say you might have two 11:00 passes a month or something like that, well if you came in at 10:30 and you should have been in by 10:00, then you'd have to use one of your 11:00 passes.
Mims: If you broke curfew too often, would that mean you'd get kicked out?
Roberts: No, you were campused, you were restricted. Sometimes it might be for a few days; sometimes it might be for a month whatever. The worst, I was trying to find it, the worst restriction you could have was… we could go out on the rooftop and sunbath or go to the beach. If you had transportation to go to the beach, that was fine. But the stipulation was if got sunburned so bad that you had to be out of work, and then it was too bad.
We had one girl that did not graduate because she was so sunburned, she had great big blisters on her legs and arms and everything. She stayed out too long. She had some of the girls bringing her meals from the dining room and so just knew what was going to happen. So when she got well enough that she could get out, she went home. She just decided it wasn't worth going through with because they probably were going to send her home.
Mims: Tell us what's going on in this picture.
Roberts: They had a glee club and any of the three-year students could be in it. I did not because most of the time I was either going home…a lot of the girls that were not close enough, I mean if they were close enough, they'd usually go home. So, I did not get involved with the organization that they had. It was through the First Baptist Church or the Glee Club because I went home a lot, as much as I could.
Mims: They had other activities for the girls?
Roberts: Yes, they had a basketball team that some of the girls participated in. Of course I was too short. I couldn't do anything like that. I know that Dr. Van Velsor was one of the coaches at one time with the students.
Mims: That's nice and what's this picture?
Roberts: This is a couple of the girls posing like they were studying a lot and most of those girls did. But this one on the right side, she decided she wanted to get married, so she just dropped out.
Mims: Your last year and you'd be finished up, what was your graduation like?
Roberts: Our graduation was at New Hanover High School and it was just more or less a ceremony where you were given your certificate of graduation.
Mims: Prior to that did you have to take a state licensing?
Roberts: No, not then. After that then there was a certain period that you could take state boards and we had to go to Raleigh and take state boards and I think it's about two days of taking them. Some of them had to go back to take certain parts of it if they did not pass. Now they take them on computers.
Mims: What made you choose to stay in Wilmington and seek employment?
Roberts: Probably because it was close to home, and the field that you wanted to work in. As soon as I graduated there were several of us that stayed here. Of course you just accepted the fact that you were going to be working the 11:00 to 7:00 shift and that was it. There were several of us that stayed here and I worked those hours from September to the next June.
I did basically PRN wherever they needed me. Sometimes you were assigned different areas to relieve a certain floor. Most of the time I worked in the pre-term nursery, regular nursery or pediatrics. I got married in June, the latter part of June of the next year so then I went on 7:00 to 3:00 and 3:00 to 11:00, but mostly 7:00 to 3:00 and had to relieve from 3:00 to 11:00.
I went to work whenever I was on the day shift, I went to pediatrics. I stayed there for 12-1/2 years until James Walker closed. Then I didn't work from June until the 1st of November and then I went to work at Koseruba’s office so I stayed in the pediatric field for 41 years.
Mims: What made you want to stay in pediatrics?
Roberts: That was just my love.
Mims: Well the early days at James Walker when you first started working, can you describe what it was like out of the hospital?
Roberts: Well, even on pediatrics after I started day shift back then you worked 5-1/2 days. You would get a day and a half off a week, 8 hours. Of course now most of them work 12-hour shifts at the hospital. Some of them like it, some of them don't. I don't think I would.
One time I worked an 8-hour shift on the pediatric floor. Then I did private duty on one of our patients that was on pediatrics the next 8 hours, which was not hard because the little girl had chicken pox and she was in isolation. She was young enough that it was a requirement that somebody had to be in the room with her at all times and her mother couldn't stay and she asked me if I would do private duty and I told her yes I would.
Mims: Not ever being inside Walker Hospital, can you give us an idea of what it was like structurally, like the pediatric floor?
Roberts: Well, the pediatric floor was not a long floor like what we call upper hall and lower hall and south wing three. In the pictures it shows you the layout of the hospital halls and it was just long floors. On the upper hall, there was a 10-bed ward for the men and the lower hall did not have that many. Most of them were semi-privates and private rooms. I think there was maybe a couple of four beds.
But pediatrics we had one area that we could have quite a few patients in because all mothers or people could not stay with the patients so therefore you had to have a ward bed so they could be in there. So we had a girls' porch and a boys' porch where there was I think five beds on each of those and then the rest were private rooms.
Mims: What was your assignment? How many children would you have to take care of?
Roberts: It just depended on how many people you had working. Sometimes you might be assigned the 10 boys and girls' porches. Sometimes you might have all the private rooms, but the private rooms was not as bad because most times the mothers would bathe them and feed them and things like that. Back in the ward, it just depended on how many patients you had back there.
Mims: What were children typically hospitalized for?
Roberts: Pneumonia, respiratory illnesses, surgical patients. They were all confined to that area. If we were filled up, sometimes they'd have to put a child on another floor. Some of the nurses, they couldn't read some of the doctor's writing. They'd call me, want me to come and translate some of it and most of the time I could.
On pediatrics we had two treatment rooms where they gave a lot of IV fluids and, of course, back then most of the time they would what they call push it in and give them sub-q fluids the small babies. Of course now they've progressed and have better techniques for setting it up and letting it drip in and having some restraints and things to give them.
Mims: You mentioned you were an expert at doctor's writing. Who were some of the doctors you had to work with at that time?
Roberts: Dr. Koseruba, Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Joseph Knox, Dr. Walter Crouch, Dr. Auley Crouch. At that time we had dictaphones where they would translate their medical history, the patient's history and physical to put on the chart and everything. They would use the dictaphone to put in there and then the transcriptionist had to translate it all. One of the girls called up one day. She said, "Mary, would you please ask Dr. Auley Crouch to quit eating peanuts whenever he's dictating. I cannot understand what he's saying." I said I'd tell him and of course I had to do that.
Dr. Preston, she was a doctor, she did not have a private practice. One time she was giving the IV and the sub-q fluids for a couple of the doctors and so sometimes she might spend two hours in that treatment room giving fluids. That's all she would do, would be come and all the orders that had been left that morning, then she would be giving all the fluids.
We did spinal taps and just different procedures that we would do there. Of course we would have routine orders on a lot of the patients that would include especially if they were running a high fever, a tepid bath and an enema or a saline enema. I mean just things like that where you could take them into the treatment room and do them.
Mims: Different from today-you're describing total patient care.
Mims: You stayed at Walker for 12 years and during that time you stayed in pediatrics. During that time were you known as like a charge nurse?
Roberts: Yes, I was head nurse part of the time.
Mims: What was different between a charge nurse and just a floor nurse as far as responsibilities?
Roberts: Okay, a charge nurse you made out the time schedule and was responsible for whatever, the 24-hour period of time. Back then you had to serve the trays, but they did pick-up the trays when they got through. It didn't matter what you were doing, whenever that food cart came from the kitchen to the floor, the dietary person would fix the trays up and you had to serve the trays. So then after you got done serving trays, then you had to help feed some of the patients especially those back in the ward because most of them were six years and younger. Some of the older ones could feed themselves.
Mims: What was the hierarchy of orders, it was nurses and what? Were there assistants at that time?
Roberts: We had nursing assistants. We had ward clerks, but that was about the time that I got out. They started having a ward clerk on each floor that could answer the phone and transcribe some of the orders from the chart to making out the medicine tickets and things like that. Then the aides, then through the housekeeping department they had a maid and a porter. The porter usually did the scrubbing the floors and things like that. The maid did the dusting and sweeping.
Mims: How did you feel when you found out Walker was closing?
Roberts: Well we had a long notice that they were going to be closing and everything. At that time it was combining because Community Hospital was known as the Negro hospital and they were combining the two. So we knew it was coming. I chose not to work for a while then. So I never worked but one day and that was a private duty for a personal friend of mine from James Walker Hospital. The rest of my time was in the pediatric offices.
Mims: You said you started to work for Dr. Koseruba. What was that routine like?
Roberts: At the time that I started there, he was taking out tonsils in the office. We had an anesthetist from the hospital that would come. They would schedule the surgeries. Most of the time we could do two patients in the mornings and you had to be at work by 7:00 in the morning. We'd take out the tonsils. We had a little operating room. The anesthetist would put the patient to sleep and we'd take the tonsils out. Then in addition to looking after those patients until 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, you had your regular routine of seeing patients in the office. So we were very thankful when that came to a screeching halt.
It was more convenient at that time. We did not have but one ears, nose and throat doctor here. Then some others came in so he quit taking out tonsils. But the patients, most of them if they were within this area, they could go home. If they were not from this area and didn't feel comfortable taking the patients home, some of them would spend the night at the hospital. They'd be admitted to the hospital and spend the night. Some of them would stay in a motel and stay there. The next morning if everything was all right, they'd call in and say everything seems to be doing ok. If there were any problems, they were right here.
Mims: Where was his office in proximity to the hospital?
Roberts: Okay, his office was at 5th and Orange at the time that I went to work there. Before then he first started his office was across the street from there in a basement of a house. Then they found an office on Doctors Circle. At that time it was Professional Pharmacy right there.
Mims: That was closer to the hospital.
Roberts: Yes, but whenever I was working at James Walker Hospital if I needed him, I could call him and tell him. I called him one afternoon. He had a patient that they admitted that morning and I was working 3:00 to 11:00 and the patient was not doing good so I called him. I said, "Dr. Koseruba, I need you to come." He said, “Ok,” and told me what to go ahead and do until he could get there. I got the medicine and the syringe and walked back in the ward and he walked in behind me.
Mims: So you had a nice relationship with him at the hospital.
Roberts: And Dr. Reynolds, we were in the treatment room one day and I had called him and told him I needed him to come. So he came and one of the students said, "Dr. Reynolds, why in the world did you get here so quick?" He said, "Mama Roberts don't call me unless she needs me and if she needs me and she calls me, I know I better get myself there." I said, “That's right.”
Mims: In working with some of these older doctors, what did you learn about the history of medicine in this area? Did they have old stories they told?
Roberts: Oh yes.
Mims: Do you remember any of them?
Roberts: Not right offhand. I know Dr. Koseruba, we'd talk about making house calls. In fact even after I started working there might be an occasion where he would make a house call, say if something came up where he might need to run by there after he got out of the office, he would.
Mims: You described a lot of changes. What were some of the biggest changes that you noticed in your career?
Roberts: I think one thing is giving the nurses more responsible of doing things that we did not do whenever we were in training and after we got out of training. Now the nurses do so much back then that the doctors did.
Mims: Can you give me an example?
Roberts: Putting down feeding tubes. We did not do that when we were in school. Now after we graduated we could start IV fluids. Then we went through a period of time there and also I know they did at New Hanover that they had IV nurses. That's all they did was go from floor to floor and start IV fluids. In fact I would start IV fluids and if they were on another floor, they would call me and ask if I would come and start the IV fluids because they felt like I could probably do it easier than they could with the children.
Mims: Is that something the doctor would have done earlier on or was that always the nurse's responsibility?
Roberts: Well, after we got out of training we could start them, but you didn't start them when you were in school.
Mims: I know that nursing has been predominantly a female field. When did you start noticing men coming in?
Roberts: Over on pediatrics before James Walker closed, the Director of Nurses was saying that we needed someone on the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. So she told me she had a male RN that is coming to work and said she thought he would probably be good on pediatrics. I said, “That's good.” He never got pediatrics. He ended- up in the emergency room. That's where he really wanted to work.
I can remember one experience up on…it must have been whenever I was on night shift after I graduated. This was probably shortly after I graduated in '55 that male nurses started at James Walker. I can remember on lower hall, which at that time was mostly male patients and this man had turned his call light on. The male nurse went down there and the patient told him he wanted to talk to the nurse. He said he was the nurse and the patient said he meant a ‘nurse’ nurse.
I had been a patient at New Hanover and my nurse was a male nurse, but I mean it's something that you get used to.
Mims: How would that have changed the dynamics of the nursing school there at the residence if they started accepting male nurses there as students?
Roberts: Well, I don't know how it would have worked out because you were required to live in the nursing home and it was all female. Then after they could get married, they didn't have to live in the nursing home, that part hasn't changed.
Mims: How about starting to work with minority nurses, when did you notice that?
Roberts: That was there even when I was in training because they had what they called a colored ward and you went through that section to. Most of the time the nurses over there were black. Eventually there were white nurses that worked over there. In fact the head nurse over there was a white nurse.
Mims: They got their training from Community Hospital?
Roberts: Different places because wherever they graduated from…some might have been from Community and some of them from other places.
Mims: Your time at Walker though, the black nurses there were only on the colored ward? They never came over to pediatrics?
Roberts: When we first in training they didn't, but eventually they did.
Mims: What time frame would you say?
Roberts: Probably 10-15 years. Some of the best nurses that I knew and worked with were black.
Mims: I was looking for relationship with people of other gender and other races and how that influenced the transition of nursing as a profession.
Roberts: Well, the dietary department, this black lady who was in charge of pediatrics in the dietary department, she was just good, very good. Even after I started working in Dr. Koseruba's office, she came out there one day and they called me from the desk up there. I went up there and she was there and she just hugged me. She said, "We miss you." She soon retired.
Mims: You weren't interested in working at New Hanover?
Roberts: No, not at that time.
Mims: What are your feelings about your participation in this field and how do you feel overall about it?
Roberts: Well, since I was in the pediatric field over the years a lot of my patients' parents would call me at home and even going to church here and everything, I still see so many of my patients. They were patients and then they would take their children there and so over a period of time, you just stay involved. A lot of times they'd say, “Well, call Miss Mary, she'll tell you what to do.”
In fact just last week for our senior adult luncheon that we had at the church, he was talking about having a mission fair through the senior adults because we have several doctors, several nurses that go to church up there and having a mission fair either in the spring or the fall. People would have their blood pressure checked, eyes checked, cholesterol checked, things like that that we could help do.
Mims: As a little girl growing up, did you want to become a nurse? In retrospect, do you think you would follow that same path?
Mims: Why do you feel that way?
Roberts: It is something that I enjoy doing. One thing with the children if you have to come into the hospital or into the office and just be so sick, but they can get well so much quicker than adults. Most of them are so loving. Now some of them, I had this one particular boy in the office and every time he'd come in, if I walked in he'd say go home nurse, go home nurse. Okay, that was just him. They always referred to me as the ‘shot nurse.’
We had this one particular boy, he was a good size boy, but he would really give you a hard time when you were giving him a shot. His mother couldn't hold him. I couldn't hold him all and give the shot too. I mean if they're small, it's different. You learn a technique that you can hold them and give them a shot. So we had to call his daddy from work and he'd come. He'd be there in just a few minutes to hold him and I still see him every once in a while. Of course he remembers me.
Mims: You didn't mind being the “shot nurse?” A young person today wanting to get into the nursing field, would you have any career advice or recommendation for them?
Roberts: They would really have to be dedicated. Of course ours was a three-year program and I don't know whether it's still a three-year program or not. Most of them go to the two-year program through community colleges or the four-year program through universities. A lot of them want the BS in nursing so they can be more in administrative and when they get through with that, they don't have a lot of the on hands experience. I mean we did have a lot of the on hands.
Mims: So someone needs to be dedicated and be willing to do something more than just want to go into administration to keep the nursing field alive. You know there's a critical shortage of nurses and I hear what you're saying. Most people want to go in and be managers, but the people that are doing the hands on stuff…
Roberts: And so much more is allowed for the nursing assistants to do because whenever we were in nursing school and shortly after we got out, I mean they could just hire anybody as a nursing assistant, but then they started having classes. You had to go through a nursing assistant class then to be hired as a nursing assistant.
Mims: Did you ever have any contact at Babies Hospital in your career?
Roberts: Nothing except visiting down there because it closed. There was a girl who worked with me on pediatrics. She trained at Rocky Mount. When she came down to work, then she and I went down to Babies Hospital to visit somebody. Other than that, that was all. I don't know what year it closed.
Mims: How was it comparatively? You came from a pediatrics floor at James Walker. How was it seeing the baby ward there?
Roberts: It was the same basically. In the private rooms the mothers were usually with them. The wards you were responsible for all of the care and everything.
Mims: Did they take in black children at Babies?
Roberts: I would imagine so.
Mims: You don't remember seeing that?
Roberts: No, not that night we went down there.
Mims: We were talking a little bit off camera, talking about family life and being a career nurse. How did you manage that?
Roberts: Well, the family was one reason that I went more to the office nursing because the scheduling was better, your days off, holidays off, weekends, most weekends. Dr. Koseruba was a Seventh Day Adventist so we were always off on Saturday. When I first started working there, we would work every other Sunday half day. There was another nurse there and we would rotate every other Sunday. It was supposed to be for emergencies only.
We had patients from South Carolina, Myrtle Beach around that area as far up the coast to New Bern, Warsaw, Whiteville, Lumberton. We had patients from all around. So on emergencies, some morning you might have a patient from there. But you knew what your hours were going to be, when you would be off.
When I was working at the hospital some Christmas I might be working when Beth was small, my daughter was small, I might be working Christmas day. I mean you could not be off every holiday. So it just worked out better for me knowing what my schedule was going to be.
INTERVIEWER 2: When you were living in the nursing home, what was it like for visiting or dating?
Roberts: Okay, if we had a visitor, they would stop at the front door entrance there and then the housemother would call up on the floor and tell that Mary had a visitor. Then they had what we called a living room down there where they could go and be waiting in the living room until we came down. They were not allowed upstairs. Usually the first year you were on the fourth floor and then each year you went down a floor. The next year you'd be moved to the third floor, then the next year, the second floor.
They also had an area, which they called the graduate nurses, people that worked at the hospital wanted to live in the nursing home. In fact I stayed at the nursing home after I graduated from the time I graduated until I got married.
Mims: Which was how long a time?
Roberts: It was about nine months.
Mims: So you must have met Mr. Roberts here in town.
Roberts: I met him while I was in training. One of the girls that was in my class, he was up from Delco, Columbus County. They knew each other and so I met him through there. There was another girl in our class that married that girl's brother after we all got out. That girl, she was from Columbus County. When we got out of training, she wanted to work in the operating room area, so she ends up going to a different county to work at the hospital in Kenansville and she met and married a guy from Duplin County and of course her sister-in-law and I married somebody from Columbus County.
But we could go out and I'll never forget one time, there were about five of us that ran around together. Of course the girl from Delco, me and a couple of other girls, we were out in Delco one weekend. I think it was probably on a Saturday or Sunday and there was a real bad accident there. We got to go up and do some things. This was while we were in school and everything that we got to go up there and help with the accident because we had had a little bit of experience.
Mims: Whenever you guys would go out, can you give me an idea of what would you guys do in Wilmington? Were there movies?
Roberts: Movies and skating rink, basically that's what it was, church.
INTERVIEWER 2: This was just downtown right?
Roberts: Yes, and the beach.
Mims: What was there to do at the beach?
Roberts: Swim, walk.
Mims: Did you ever go to Lumina?
Roberts: Yes, sure did. And at that time the Mendota, which was a Coast Guard ship was stationed at Wilmington. In fact my good friend, she met her husband from the Coast Guard. I never dated any of the Coast Guard. My husband was in the Navy whenever I met him, but he was home on weekends.
Of course we had the Coast Guard. Then Fort Fisher, there was an Air Force station down there. The guy behind me was stationed down there; his wife is a James Walker graduate. That's how they met. Also there was a USO here at that time too.
INTERVIEWER 2: It was still operational?
Mims: What was there to do?
Roberts: Now I didn’t go there, just meetings. The different guys from different areas Air Force, Coast Guard and then the local guys that might be in service and coming home or something like that.
INTERVIEWWR 2: Who were some of the other doctors in town?
Dr. Bert Williams was here and in fact I was trying to figure out when it was that Dr. Horace Moore came. Because see Dr. Horace Moore came in with Dr. Bert Williams and he came, I think, it was the year either before I graduated, either in ’54 or ’56. I think it was probably ’53 or ’54 somewhere in there that he came because I was looking in the annual ‘cause I was trying to find out when he did come to Wilmington, because I knew he was not here when I first came in training.
Dr. Bert Williams, Dr. Donald Koonce…Dr. Koonce operated on me when I was in training, I had my appendices out. Of course Dr. Warshauer was here, then he had a brother that was an anesthesiologist that was here for a while.
INTERVIEWER 2: Were there many female doctors in Wilmington?
Roberts: Dr. Sidbury’s daughter, Dr. Rowena Hall, she was here, in fact she was Beth’s pediatrician whenever I first had her, but then she left. She closed up her practices and left and so then I went to Dr. Reynolds.
Mims: You mentioned Dr. Koseruba had worked with Dr. Sidbury.
Mims: What did you find out from Dr. Koseruba about Dr. Sidbury? About his practice?
Roberts: Dr. Sidbury would come over to the hospital, too while we were in training. Because of his business he would have in the hospital plus he would have patients at James Walker too. Of course Dr. Sidbury was the known pediatrician in this area, probably for quite some time. But then his daughter, Dr. Rowena Hall, was here and of course, Dr. Reynolds and the Crouchs- Dr. Walter Crouch and Dr. Auley Crouch’s father had retired before I came in.
Mims: Any meeting with Dr. Fales? Dr. Robert Fales?
Roberts: Through surgery, through working in surgery. Dr. Ralph Moore was a pediatrician and of course, he’s still here. He came in, he and Dr…there was three of them that were together at one time. There’s so many of them that’s gone now.
Mims: What do you think about these children’s clinics as they have them set up now where so many doctors pool their resources together? How does that balance versus what you were doing with the single doctor?
Roberts: I got a taste of more than one, over at the Knox Clinic because there were three of them there before I retired. It was hard for me with being the only RN, the only nurse. Each of them calling you, wanting you to do this and wanting you to do that. But then finally they got somebody to help out with it. But then they had more nurses after I left. You associate and you find out what they like and what they don’t like, and how they do different things. I know one particular, Dr. Pomace, of course she’s Filipino like Dr. Knox, is Filipino too. Dr. Knox’s husband was related to Dr. Joseph Knox the pediatrician, but Dr. Angelina Knox’s husband was a psychologist. Dr. Joseph Knox, the pediatrician, was his uncle.
It was interesting sometimes whenever you learned to do something and Dr. Pomace would say something to me, “I wish you would teach those girls over at the hospital how to hold patients for spinal taps.” And I said, “Well, we were taught how to do it in nurses training.” She said, “Well, they don’t know how to do it.” And I said, “Well, it’s something you learn and you do it and you don’t give in to it either.” And that’s one of the things that they said, “Well, who are we going to get to do it?” I said, “Well, you’re going to have to teach them how to hold them.”
But I had Dr. Koseruba, Dr. Pomace, and Dr. Knox, all three.
Mims: So working in a hospital ward you knew how to make all of the different changes the doctors wanted? That helped you, but again a new nurse coming in and not have had the training that you had, it would be different. That’s why you don’t get the patients held a certain way.
Roberts: Yes, yes.
INTERVIEWER 2: Did you have anything you would add that we haven’t talked about?
Mims: Well, tell us where the Walker nurses are today? You said that they held a meeting every month.
Roberts: We have our alumni association that meets the first Saturday in each month except the summer months; we’re out usually June, July and August. We start back in September. We don’t have that many that’s interested. That’s one thing about the nurse we might have two or three that is active in our alumni association meetings here. We might average twenty something usual, we might have twenty-three, twenty-four there. You’d be surprised at the nurses that are just not interest in it.
Every five years we have what we call a homecoming. Now they are from probably every state in the union. We have this one girl that graduated a year before me from nurse’s school and she live in Washington State and I cannot remember a homecoming that she has missed.
INTERVIEWER 2: When is your next one scheduled?
Roberts: In 2005, we have them every five years.
INTERVIEWER 2: What month, or do you know?
Roberts: We use to have them in June, the first of June, then we changed it. The rates were cheaper at the beach, hotel rates and everything, in September, well then you got involved with hurricanes and things like that. But for the last two or three we have had in September. But we have already started talking about the one for 2005 and we might change it back to June or in the spring. Because we are all so much older now that we are not involved with our children graduating from high school or something like that. It’s more the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But we do have them from all over everywhere.
And we have had quite a few that went into the service too. In fact, this one girl that graduated behind me, she went in the Navy. She has been retired from the Navy now for I don’t know how long. She’s in Florida I think now, in real estate.
Mims: Of the Walker nurses that you know of locally here who are some of the older ones that you may have had contact with through these homecomings?
Roberts: Some of them I know are working up here at Davis Nursing Home, some of them at offices, some at the hospital. But they just don’t seem to be interested in coming to the meetings. In fact not too long ago I went over to Hospice and one of our James Walker graduates was over there volunteering. She had just moved back here but she had been out of this city for quite some time. They had a place at Carolina Beach and they just wanted to move back here. So they came back here.
My real good friend that was a classmate, she had lived in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, through her nursing and them they came back and retired up here at Hampstead. We have them from all different states. Usually, probably now with out homecomings if we have two hundred to two hundred fifty that might attend. And we usually have a coffee hour and a tea and then that might we have a banquet.
In 2000, we had it over at Cape Fear Country Club. We’ve had it at the Hilton, let’s see...where else? Because at one time the Hilton was the only place that was large enough. Then as the alumnus is getting older we are dying out, because you just don’t have that many that are really interested enough.
And you’re going to have to have somebody’s that’s interested, that’s one thing about Lil Newton. She’s the president and keeps things going. If it wasn’t for some of the older ones, say seventy-years plus, it would have been dead long ago. We had one lady, she was, I believe they said she was ninety-six or ninety-seven, and she very seldom missed a meeting. And our oldest graduate died probably about a month ago and she was one hundred and two, or three, or four – somewhere along there. Lil could tell you how old she was.
Mims: I think it’s nice that you guys have this type of organization because of the network that you guys created at the school and your service to the community. You might be able to keep in tough with that. Through the organization do you get more of an idea of the history of the contribution of the Walker nurse’s student there? Do you guys talk about that at all?
Roberts: I could tell you through this one of my classmates had been out of nursing for some time and she was wanting to get back into nursing and you had to take a refresher course. She said she was telling one of the doctors one day, “I guess I can still carry bedpans.” He said, “I’m not sure they even have anybody to have bedpans now.” But of course they do. It’s things that has progressed so…that if you don’t stay and talk to the people that you were in school with or in alumni with and everything you lose out on a lot.
Mims: You certainly do. Any other questions, Jerry? Just want to thank you again for doing this for us. It’s been very nice talking to you.