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Interview with Ila Cowen Ulmer, January 12, 2005 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Ila Cowen Ulmer, January 12, 2005
January 12, 2005
Mrs. Ulmer is a 1930 graduate of James Walker Hospital School of Nursing. Her recollections include her time in training, living in the residence hall, Wilmington social life, and physicians. After graduating she worked briefly in a doctor's office, moved away and returned to work after many years out of the field. She retired after 11 years of service with Davis Nursing Home.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Ulmer, Ila Cowen Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn / Parnell, Jerry Date of Interview: 1/12/2005 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 50 minutes

Mims: Today is January the 13th, 2005 and my name is LuAnn Mims with Jerry Parnell with the Randall Library and we’re going to be talking to Mrs. Ila Ulmer who was a 1930 graduate of James Walker School of Nursing.

Ulmer: That’s right.

Mims: How are you doing this morning? You’re doing good?

Ulmer: Oh yea.

Mims: Let’s…let’s talk a little bit about your…your family background. Where were you born and raised?

Ulmer: In Maple Hill. That’s near Burgaw.

Mims: What was your family doing there?

Ulmer: Farming. My father was a farmer.

Mims: What kind of crops did he have?

Ulmer: Oh he had everything, tobacco and corn, and just about everything. Then he grew…he had hogs and chickens, and turkey, and…just above everything.

Mims: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

Ulmer: Two brothers and two sisters.

Mims: And where were you in all this? Were you the oldest or the youngest?

Ulmer: I was next to the youngest.

Mims: Did you go to high school?

Ulmer: Yep, I graduated in Rose Hill High School.

Mims: After you finished high school, what were your plans?

Ulmer: My aunt told me to go in training.

Mims: Your aunt? Was she a nurse?

Ulmer: No. Her husband is sick though, and she had a nurse to stay with him there for a few days. And so when I graduated she just told me to into training.

Mims: How did you find out about James Walker Hospital?

Ulmer: The woman who was his nurse knew about it…knew about James Walker.

Mims: Had you been to Wilmington before?

Ulmer: Not many times, if ever. I probably never had been.

Mims: So you decided to go to James Walker School of Nursing?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: Do you remember anything about the process of getting into the school?

Ulmer: I think you had to…I don’t remember if you had to pay to get in it or not. But I know we had to wear uniforms and black stockings, and you didn’t get a cap until you graduated.

Mims: You didn’t have a student cap you wore?

Ulmer: A what?

Mims: A student cap.

Ulmer: After you’d been there a little while, you’d get a cap. And if you made a mistake you’d lose your cap for a while.

Mims: Did you ever lose yours?

Ulmer: Yea. We had a patient…one named Coddington and one named Cottingham and they ordered cascara pills for one and cascara tablets for the other. They’re both the same thing, but I got mixed up and gave it to the wrong one, and I should have kept my mouth shut, but I told it and they took my cap for a week.

Mims: Oh no. So that was…then everybody knew that you had made some kind of mistake?

Ulmer: Yea.

Mims: Who was the Director of Nursing at that time…do you remember?

Ulmer: Her first name was Bertha. I don’t remember…my memory is getting bad.

Mims: That’s okay. We just appreciate whatever information you have.

Ulmer: Bertha would probably know.

Mims: Meier? Mrs. Meier?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: Do you remember if you had to go somewhere to get your uniforms or did the school have them for you?

Ulmer: I think they had ‘em for us, the best I remember.

Mims: How about, like, your stockings and your shoes…did you buy those anywhere in town?

Ulmer: You know, I don’t remember whether we had to buy ‘em or not. But…I remember hating those old black stockings.

Mims: Why did you not like them?

Ulmer: I just thought they were ugly. And then when we were graduating we would have to wear white stockings, and I hated that worse than I did the black ones.

Mims: You did?

Ulmer: …with the uniform.

Mims: They were harder to keep clean, or…?

Ulmer: No, I just thought they were ugly.

Mims: How would you get to Wilmington, anyway? Did you take a car or did you take a train…when you came down from Maple Hill?

Ulmer: They let us ride on the trolley to town. I think we were allowed to come…I forgot whether it was one time a week or two times a week.

Mims: To go home?

Ulmer: No, to go to the downtown.

Mims: Oh, to go to downtown, okay. But when you…when you came from your home in Maple Hill to come into Wilmington…did you go buy car or did you go by train?

Ulmer: We went by horse and buggy.

Mims: You did?

Ulmer: Or a mule and buggy, I don’t know which one.

Mims: So your dad had to bring you down in his farm cart? His horse and buggy…

Ulmer: Oh he had carts and buggy…

Parnell: And this was in 1927 when you came, right?

Mims: Wow. So you came into Wilmington and you understood you had to live in the nurse’s residence hall, right?

Ulmer: Yea, yea, they had the home for the nurses, you know, students.

Mims: Um hum. Where was that located in the hospital?

Ulmer: It was a separate building from the hospital.

Mims: Um hum.

Ulmer: Haven’t you ever been out there?

Mims: So it was that building that’s there now?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: I can’t remember when it was built. So you lived in the…the nurse residence hall. What do you remember about that environment?

Ulmer: We had to be in at…on Satur…on weekends we had to be in at ten o’clock…and the best I remember, we had to be in a nine o’clock the other days.

Mims: Who oversaw that…the regulations?

Ulmer: I guess the supervisor, you know, the head…I guess they did.

Mims: Were there house mothers at that time? Did you have a lady that just lived in the dorm with you guys and maintained where you were supposed to go…you don’t remember that? Okay. Did you have a roommate?

Ulmer: Yea, we had…most of the rooms…my rooms was in front of the…the telephone, and it didn’t have but one bed. But the best I remember, most of ‘em had two beds in ‘em.

Mims: So you didn’t have a roommate?

Ulmer: Uh uh.

Mims: How did you like that?

Ulmer: Well, I liked that. I liked to read and we were supposed to have our lights off at ten o’clock. I’d get in the closet and close the door and turn on the light and read until I got ready to…they never caught me.

INTERVEWER 2: You said the telephone was outside of your door?

Ulmer: Yea.

Parnell: Did you have to answer it?

Ulmer: No, no.

Parnell: Were ya’ll allowed to use the phone anytime you wanted to?

Ulmer: Whoever happened to be there at the time would answer the phone.

Mims: It wasn’t one of those party lines was it, where it rang so many times to know that it was directed at you guys, or…? You know, where they use to have different rings on the telephone, not like today…?

Ulmer: No, no. Same…

Mims: It was the same. Well, what was it like your first couple of months there. I understood you had to take classes to begin with? Do you remember where those classes were?

Ulmer: Yea, we had a room where they had the classes.

Mims: Was that in the residence building or was it in the hospital building?

Ulmer: I believe it was in the hospital, the best I can remember. But…and they fed us of course. We had to stand in line…it would be a long line when we’d go down to eat.

Mims: Did you eat in the regular hospital cafeteria…or was there a separate dining room for the nursing students?

Ulmer: I believe we all ate in the same building, the best I can remember.

Mims: In the hospital?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: So you guys shared a lot, didn’t you? Shared a place to live, a place to eat, and then of course, your time in training, everybody worked together. How did everybody get along? Did you become friends?

Ulmer: We got along good.

Mims: Did you make friends with people?

Ulmer: Yea, we…there’s not but three of us left in my class. Bertha and Sally Johnson, who lives in another town.

Mims: What was her maiden name, do you remember?

Ulmer: Huh?

Mims: Do you remember what her maiden name was? What was her name…

Ulmer: Maid?

Mims: Her maiden name…Sally Johnson.

Ulmer: That is her maiden name.

Mims: That is her maiden name.

Ulmer: I don’t know what her married name is.

Mims: Okay. When you got there, did they assign an older nursing student to kind of take care of you, like follow you around, or you followed them around?

Ulmer: Well the older class was in charge of…I mean they were the boss…the older you were the…

Mims: I’ve heard some of the other nurses talk about being assigned a big sister and I didn’t know whether they were doing that when you were there or not…where somebody kind of like oriented you to, you know, what the plan was, and how to dress, and act, and that kind of stuff.

Ulmer: Well we…our dresses had to be fourteen inches from the floor and the supervisor would…sometimes she’d meet us at the bottom of the stairs and measure each hem, make sure it was long enough.

Mims: My goodness. So everybody had to be the same. Their hem length had to be the same. Hum. What other equipment did you have to have to be on the floor, do you remember?

Ulmer: No, just…just…they furnished all the…

Mims: I’ve heard some of the other nurses talk about having to have their own syringe kit.

Ulmer: No, we had syringe…I don’t remember having my own syringe.

Mims: You don’t?

Ulmer: We had to boil ‘em though to sterilize ‘em after using ‘em.

Mims: Um hum.

Ulmer: You have to boil ‘em…it think it was three minutes in boiling water.

Mims: ‘Cause I’ve heard some of the other nurses talk about that you had a syringe kit and if you broke the glass syringe, you had to pay for it out of whatever little money they gave you. You don’t remember that?

Ulmer: I never broke one.

Mims: In your pre-clinical situation, did they teach you anything about being a professional nurse…how to act in a hospital setting, do you remember that at all? Like, if you were in the hospital and a doctor came in…

Ulmer: We had to stand up.

Mims: Did you learn that in a class?

Ulmer: We learned that when we first got there. In fact we had to stand up if you were in the senior class and I was in the junior, I’d have to stand up when you came in.

Mims: We’re just trying to figure out how you learned how to do that. Did someone just tell you to do it, or was there a class?

Ulmer: They told us to do it. We learned that to begin with.

Mims: Do you remember who told you to do that? Was it an administrator or another student?

Ulmer: The administrator.

Parnell: What did you think about that?

Ulmer: We didn’t think anything about it then. Now I wouldn’t do it.

Parnell: You had to do it then.

Ulmer: But if one of the doctors came in, you had to stand up.

Mims: Well when you became a senior nurse, though, how did that feel whenever you knew that the younger nurses had to stand up in respect to you?

Ulmer: I wanted ‘em to do it!

Mims: You’d paid your dues, huh?

Ulmer: I’d been doing it for three years!

Mims: What do you recall about your rotations through the hospital environment? Like, I know you had to go to pediatrics and labor and delivery, do you recall any of that?

Ulmer: Oh yea, we…we had classes in, you know, everything.

Mims: Uh huh. Do you remember one that you liked the best?

Ulmer: That I liked…?

Mims: That you liked the best. Which one did you prefer?

Ulmer: I don’t know, I’m…I believe all about the same.

Mims: Um hum. I hear some people prefer, like, the surgical rotation over the medical rotation. Just trying to get an idea of what people’s preferences were. What do you remember about the pediatric area?

Ulmer: I remember…oh, I remember one woman…back then they had people selling groceries…

Mims: Um hum.

Ulmer: …and they’d go by and say “tomatoes, potatoes, I’ve got ‘em!” real loud, you could hear them all up and down the street. And the windows in the hospital were open because the weather was hot…we didn’t have any air condition…and this woman was having a baby and he went by saying “I’ve got ‘em,” and she says, “Yes, damn ya, and I’ve got ‘em too!”

Mims: I never thought about that, being able to hear stuff from the street. What did you guys do for fun as a student nurse?

Ulmer: We got together in the home and, one night…did you ever know Lela Lewis?

Mims: Um um.

Ulmer: She’s the one that disappeared and they’ve never found her. She disappeared with her little girl.

Mims: Was she a nurse?

Ulmer: Yea.

Mims: Really?

Ulmer: She was in my class.

Mims: Really? Did that happen your first year you were there, or… what year were you when that happened?

Ulmer: It happened…I’ve forgotten what year it was, it was after we got out and she was married and had the little girl. One night, we were supposed to have the lights off at ten o’clock and I heard a noise outside my door and looked and they were running down the hall with toilet paper unrolling it, but Lela said, “We’re playing hockey.” If they’d have caught us then, they’d have killed all of us. It was a night when we were supposed to be in bed.

Mims: Uh huh. Well, there’s a picture in your scrapbook of you guys trying to escape. It looks like you’re going out a window or something. It’s just…it looks like it’s just you and a friend playing around, and there’s a lady standing on the steps that you’ve got written down as Bebe Thompson. Do you remember her at all?

Ulmer: Wasn’t she the supervisor?

Mims: I don’t know. That’s why…I didn’t…you didn’t say what she was, so…but you just called her Bebe. You think she was your nursing supervisor?

Parnell: Maybe I can find it.

Ulmer: She’s the one that was so strict on us, we didn’t like her.

Mims: I didn’t know whether she lived in the residence hall with you or not.

Ulmer: Yea, yea, she was there. Miss Thompson.

Mims: Um hum. And see, there’s you and a friend, right there, pretending like you’re trying to escape. I think you wrote somewhere that she…

Ulmer: That’s Lela Lewis; she was washing dishes in the kitchen.

Mims: Oh, is that what that is? Okay.

Parnell: Did ya’ll have to help in the kitchen?

Ulmer: We washed dishes.

Parnell: You did?

Mims: It looks like she even has on her nurse’s uniform washing dishes. Doesn’t she have…

Ulmer: That, you see, is a the white…

Mims: Bib?

Ulmer: …apron. And the uniform is striped, blue stripe. You can’t tell that there.

Mims: Well, and you can see her, right here in the background there, so that was the kitchen?

Ulmer: Yea, that was the kitchen.

Mims: Is this looking out, like towards the emergency room…this window here?

Ulmer: No, that wasn’t the emergency room.

Mims: No, I mean, looking out towards the emergency room? I just didn’t know where…if you could recognize that barrel. Because obviously it was a rain barrel sitting out…outside there.

Ulmer: But boy was she strict.

Mims: Miss Thompson? Was she the one that would measure your skirts?

Ulmer: Yea. If you did the least little thing wrong…

Mims: She wrote you up for it, huh? So what else did you girls do for fun?

Ulmer: She’s the only one that’s…she, and Bertha, and I are the only ones that’s living.

Mims: Okay. Okay.

Ulmer: Matilda was her nickname, though.

Mims: Matilda?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: You said you would take the trolley downtown. What would you do downtown for fun?

Ulmer: Well, we didn’t have much money, but we just go down and look around and the streetcar…he’d see us walking and he’d stop and let us ride and didn’t charge us anything.

Mims: That was nice. Well, Ms. Meier talked a little but about a miniature golf place down near where the coastline was. Do you remember that at all?

Ulmer: I don’t remember a golf course.

Mims: Like a miniature golf…somewhere near the coastline station.

Ulmer: Mr. Sprunt used to pay for us to go to the beach.

Mims: Oh.

Ulmer: And he paid for our dinner and our ride back and forth…wasn’t that nice of him?

Parnell: Uh huh.

Mims: Is this where you guys could possibly stay in one of his beach houses? Did you ever do that?

Ulmer: There was a place down there that we could stay. But I don’t remember the name of it.

Mims: Because I read a newspaper article that said that Mr. Sprunt opened up his home for student nurses to go and have a little rest and relaxation.

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: Do you remember ever…

Ulmer: This here is Dr. Green.

Mims: Uh huh?

Ulmer: If you gave him the wrong instrument in the operating room, he’d hit you. He’d take the instrument and hit you. I said, “If he ever hits me, I’ll hit him back.” Somebody told Dr. Hooper about it and the next time I was in the operating room, he asked for an instrument and he hit me. It made me so mad I whirled around and he winked at me!

Mims: So Dr. Green was a surgeon?

Ulmer: Uh huh.

Mims: How about the…this doctor? Turlington?

Ulmer: Turlington, he was an intern.

Mims: An intern. And there’s a gentleman there that’s holding…these two guys here, holding this skeleton, do you know…remember who those guys are? There’s another picture of the skeleton and a guy that you’ve got listed as “Brickhouse.” Does that ring any bells?

Ulmer: It’s the brick house down here.

Mims: Oh, okay. Brick house is a building, then, definitely. That skeleton looks kind of odd, it’s got like muscles on it. Usually you don’t see, like, you know, see, like just skeletons, but see, it looks like it…it’s got like, muscles on it. Was that a teaching device?

Ulmer: No, it didn’t have any muscles on it, it was just, I recon it’s the way the picture was made.

Mims: Uh huh. Was that something you guys used in your training…that skeleton? Or was that for the interns?

Ulmer: That was for the interns.

Mims: Okay.

Ulmer: Dr. Goldston was an intern. He said that…my name was Cowan. He said we were the only Jews there.

Mims: Oh really.

Ulmer: Neither one of us were Jews. But Dr. Green, I’m telling you, if you made a mistake and cut the bandage off too short or too log, he’d hit you.

Mims: And you couldn’t say anything to him, could you?

Ulmer: No, you weren’t allowed to then. But…

Mims: There’s a picture you have in there of swans at the Airlie Gardens. Do you remember going down there as a student nurse?

Ulmer: That was probably…

Mims: Or was that Greenfield?

Parnell: It was Airlie.

Mims: It says Airlie in the book but I didn’t know whether it was…I think it’s the other direction, but I didn’t know whether Airlie was some place that the nursing students would go.

Ulmer: I forgot her name, but she and her sister were both in training.

Mims: I think her name is on the back here…Mary Reeves. And you’ve got, died in 1940.

Ulmer: She…she was one of these that everything had to be just right. Clothes, everything, had to be just right.

Mims: Was she your…was she…did she enter the same time you did? Mary Reeves…enter training the same time you did?

Ulmer: I…I don’t know. I don’t believe…I don’t know about anything about any of ‘em now.

Mims: Um hum.

Ulmer: These were after I got out of training…these here in the back…

Parnell: Do you remember any other doctors you worked with while you were there?

Ulmer: Dr. Green, Dr. Hooper, Dr. Robinson, and…

Mims: Dr. Robinson, the anesthesiologist?

Ulmer: He was just regular…

Mims: Okay.

Ulmer: We had a patient that was in a car accident and she came in hollering. She’d holler all night long…all day…hollering. I went one day and I gave her a bath and I rubbed her back and I said, “Do you need anything?” “Nooooo,” and she kept on hollering. I said, “You don’t want anything?” “Nooooo.” I said, “Well shut up then.” And you know, she shut up? And Dr. Robinson walked up about that time. I said, “Oh I did something awful.” He said, “Why didn’t you do it sooner?”

Mims: Do you remember Dr. Fales?

Ulmer: Yea.

Mims: Dr. Robert Fales?

Ulmer: Yea, yea.

Mims: What do you remember about him?

Ulmer: His brother Alton was my dentist. I don’t remember too much about him…about him.

Mims: Well you were talking a little bit earlier about Dr. Murchison. Was he one of the doc…

Ulmer: Medical…medical.

Mims: Medical doctor. And he was out at the hospital while you were in training?

Ulmer: Yea, he was in the hospital when I was in training. I mean, he had patients there.

Mims: Right.

Ulmer: Then I worked in his office after I got out.

Mims: So after you graduated you went to work for Dr. Murchison.

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: Where was his office?

Ulmer: On Front Street.

Parnell: How long did you work for him?

Ulmer: Two or three years, I think. I…I can’t remember the doctor that asked me to…he moved to California and asked me to go work for him, and said he’d pay me twice as much as Dr. Murchison. I…I was crazy to do it, but I did it. In fact, I wanted to go just for the trip anyway.

Mims: So you did go with this doctor?

Ulmer: Yea, I went down there and worked for almost a year.

Mims: Who was that?

Ulmer: I can’t remember his name.

Mims: Who is that? I couldn’t find a name on the back of it.

Ulmer: He’s one of the boyfriends of one of the girls out there, I don’t know which one.

Mims: And so…

Ulmer: I wish I had written the names on all of ‘em.

Mims: You did a pretty good job…you did a pretty good job.

Ulmer: He’s one that married Lela Lewis, the one that disappeared with her little girl.

Mims: Um hum.

Ulmer: I wish he could find out what happened to her.

Mims: Hum.

Ulmer: We roomed together after we got out of training.

Mims: Did you ever work at James Walker after you graduated?

Ulmer: Just about…I did for a little while after I got out of training and then Dr. Murchison offered me a job in his office.

Mims: We got…we made a copy of your state board license. So after you graduated you had to go and take the state board. What was that like?

Ulmer: It was just like any other…just had to answer a lot of questions. We had to go to Raleigh to do it, I mean…I think it was Raleigh.

Mims: Um hum. We also got a copy of your New Hanover County registration saying you were a nurse. What was the…what was the thought behind that, that they…all the registered nurses in the county…was that being on the registry?

Ulmer: Yea, you had to…

Mims: Well, was that considered being on the registry at that time…if you registered with the county?

Ulmer: I think so, I’m…I’m not sure of that.

Mims: I know that there was a registry kept for private duty nursing.

Ulmer: I did private duty a little while until Dr. Murchison hired me in his office. We made five dollars a day for twelve hours work.

Mims: Five dollars for twelve hours? Goodness, that’s a real bargain.

Ulmer: We were glad to get it.

Mims: Really? Well we’re talking about during the depression at this time.

Ulmer: It was the depression alright.

Mims: What was life like during that period of time in Wilmington here, do you remember?

Ulmer: Well, we didn’t know any different.

Mims: So you’re headed out to California in approximately 1933, ‘34?

Ulmer: When?

Mims: When you went out to California, was about ’33 or ‘34? You worked for Murchison two or three years.

Ulmer: It was probably around that time, may have been ‘35.

Mims: Do you remember where in California you went?

Ulmer: Los Banos.

Mims: And you stayed there about a year?

Ulmer: I stayed there eleven months.

Mims: Okay, then where did you go?

Ulmer: I came back home.

Mims: You did. Home to Maple Hill or home here to Wilmington.

Ulmer: Wilmington.

Parnell: Did the doctor you went out there with…did he stay?

Ulmer: He…he died not too long after I left, but I was crazy to go out there, but I really went just for the trip.

Mims: I think it sounds fun! You’re young, you’re not married yet. Who’s that? Oh, that’s Dr. James Sprunt Hall.

Ulmer: He’d say, “Good morning glory” every…every time you meet him.

Mims: Can you recognize what’s in the back; right here…what’s he standing in front of?

Ulmer: I don’t know.

Mims: I didn’t know if you could place where he was.

Ulmer: You see those old black hose?

Mims: I see them. It almost makes your legs disappear in the picture. When you came back to Wilmington, did you continue working as a nurse at that time?

Ulmer: I…I don’t believe I worked any. And when I got married I moved down to Porter’s Neck and I hadn’t been working there very long when…I mean living there very long, and the administrator of Davis Nursing Home lived second door from me and he asked me to go work for him just two days a week at the nursing home. And the regular nurse had to leave for some reason and he asked me to take over until they could find somebody. I ended up working eleven years.

Mims: Took ‘em a while to find somebody, huh?

Parnell: Did you work any…before you started working with Davis, did you work anywhere else?

Ulmer: No, not after I came back from…

Mims: You got married.

Parnell: Got married.

Mims: How did you meet Mr. Ulmer?

Ulmer: He was dating a girlfriend of mine and he kept calling me and asking me for a date and I wouldn’t do it because he was dating her. She moved out of town and he asked me for a date and then I went out with him. And we got married.

Mims: So you were in Wilmington during the war years…during World War II?

Ulmer: Yea, yea, um hum.

Mims: What were you doing at that time?

Ulmer: I was doing private duty, I think, the best I remember.

Parnell: You were living out at Porter’s Neck then?

Ulmer: No. I lived at 110 South Fifth. The house cost nineteen hundred dollars.

Mims: Wow! What…we hear so much about war time Wilmington and how if you had a spare room, you opened it up for a soldier or a soldier’s family. Did you do anything like that?

Ulmer: No I didn’t have…I…I had…I lived at 422 South Fifth the first time and I had an apartment upstairs and then I…my husband…my first husband made a payment on the one at 110 South Fifth…you know where that is?

Mims: Ah…I’m not sure…I’m not sure I could place it, but I know the area that you’re talking about. It’s that nice boulevard stretch there.

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: It’s gotta be right off of Market Street, down near…near the Bellamy mansion.

Ulmer: Yea, it’s a block…about a block from Market Street.

Mims: Um hum. Yea, that’s a real nice location. So who was your first husband?

Ulmer: My first husband died.

Mims: Uh huh, what was his name?

Ulmer: Everette.

Mims: That was his last name?

Ulmer: Henry Everette.

Mims: Okay.

Ulmer: But he was a patient out at James Walker.

Mims: He was?

Ulmer: Um hum. Before I married him.

Mims: Did you get married to him before you went to California?

Ulmer: He died before I went to California.

Mims: Oh, I see. Goodness. So that trip to California maybe was trying to get…get you back in touch with what’s going on, huh? And then you married Mr. Ulmer when you returned. When you said you were doing some private duty, what hospital were you doing that at, or was it a home?

Ulmer: James Walker.

Mims: It was a James Walker? Did you ever work at Bulluck Hospital?

Ulmer: I did some private duty down there a time or two.

Mims: We understand they had a nursing school there.

Ulmer: Yea, I think they did.

Mims: Do you remember anything about that nursing school?

Ulmer: No, I don’t know anything about it.

Mims: ‘Cause I think the last time we tracked it…it was in ‘31…was the last class that we could find that was there. So that was about the same time that you were in training…they had that program there. Well, what was it like at Bullucks Hospital?

Ulmer: Well, the best I remember, it was about the same way it was at the other one.

Mims: Just smaller?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Parnell: Do you remember any of the doctors that were there?

Ulmer: No, I don’t remember…except Dr…I can’t remember his name.

Mims: Well I think Dr. Bulluck died before the depression and then Dr. Sinclair and Dr…

Ulmer: Oh yea, I remember Dr. Sinclair.

Mims: And Dr. Mebane would have been there. I’m not sure if Dr. Pace was there or not at that time.

Ulmer: I don’t remember that name.

Mims: What do you remember about the Community Hospital? The African- American hospital?

Ulmer: I don’t know anything about that.

Mims: At the time you were in training, they would have been over on like Seventh and Red Cross Street. You don’t remember the small hospital there?

Ulmer: No, I don’t know anything about that. We had to work down at the Babies Hospital for, I believe it was two weeks, you know, when we were in training. We had to go down there to work about two weeks.

Mims: During the summer?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Parnell: How did you get down there?

Ulmer: Just like any other.

Parnell: Did you just…did you live there in the nursing home or did you just commute every day?

Ulmer: No we lived down there.

Parnell: You lived down there for the two weeks?

Mims: Was that…the place that you stayed at, was that on the top floor of the hospital…at Babies…do you remember?

Ulmer: You know I don’t remember where it was. My memory is getting bad.

Mims: That’s okay, you’re doing well to remember this stuff. I think it’s fascinating, you know, all the stuff that you…you got to do, and of course Wilmington has changed so drastically, so you can help tell us a little bit about what was going on. Like, we understand there was such a large influx of people during the war years. Do you recall that being a busy time as far as being a nurse goes? Did you do anything with the war effort as a nurse?

Ulmer: No, I don’t…I think I did a little private duty then, but I don’t…I don’t remember really…

Mims: Cause we saw all of these print ads about that the military wanted nurses at that time.

Ulmer: I remember we had to have the lights off and one night I was in the bathroom and the light was on and…that was a 422…and somebody knocked on the window and told me to turn off the light.

Mims: That must have been an incredible time to live here…so…so you worked at Davis Nursing Home for eleven years?

Ulmer: Um hum.

Mims: What did you do there?

Ulmer: I was the charge nurse on the…on the floor.

Mims: How did that compare to the time that you spent in training? Was is similar or was it different…being a charge nurse versus being a student nurse?

Ulmer: One is about as hard as the other.

Mims: You hear about…

Ulmer: See I had to do all the charts and give all the medicine and baths…I had help though, you know, to give the baths…

Mims: I’m just thinking being in this hospital environment you were taught responsibility towards your duties very early on, so I was just trying to make a correlation between being a charge nurse and if it was easy or harder, and you’re saying it’s about the same, huh?

Ulmer: Yea, the work is about the same. Being in charge is worse than the other.

Mims: Were there any doctors connected with Davis Nursing Home that you remember?

Ulmer: Dr. Murchison.

Mims: Oh really? He was a local…

Ulmer: I remember he was…wrote out a prescription…I looked at it, I said, “I thought you’d learn to write some time.” The two or three people standing around…they started laughing. Have you ever seen a doctor’s prescription?

Mims: Yea.

Ulmer: He said, “This girl used to work with me.”

Mims: So you could decode his writing.

Ulmer: Well, I couldn’t…I couldn’t read it.

Mims: Some of ‘em write really bad, that’s why they…some of ‘em have preprinted prescriptions now…they just sign…so, it helps…make sure they get the right medication. Well, in your…in your career, there were things that changed within the nursing environment. I…I think that you kept working up until what, the late ‘50s or early 60s? Is that when you stopped working?

Ulmer: uh…

Mims: Or after Davis, did you go to work some place else?

Ulmer: No, I didn’t work after Davis.

Mims: So that would have put you…

Parnell: When did you retire from Davis?

Ulmer: What?

Parnell: When did you retire from Davis?

Ulmer: You know I can’t remember the date, but in order to get my Social Security, I had to quit working.

Mims: So you saw a lot of changes during…from the time you were a student nurse to the time that you retired as a professional nurse. One of the things that we notice, not being medical, is the changes in the uniforms. Did you notice that while you were involved with this?

Ulmer: I wish they would wear uniforms now, cause you can’t tell one from…at the hospital, you can’t tell who the nurse is.

Mims: And the most notable thing that’s missing is the cap, the nurse’s cap. And that was a sense of pride for you.

Ulmer: Oh yea.

Mims: You said you lost it and you felt bad.


Mims: So, did you wear your nursing cap and Davis when you worked out there?

Ulmer: Yea.

Mims: And now you go out there and you probably can’t tell who the nurse is…

Ulmer: No you can’t.

Mims: Can’t tell. So it’s a different kind of nursing that they’re doing today. It’s not really a bedside nursing. It’s a more technological…with the advancement of medicine. If you had to do it over again, do you think you would still go into nursing?

Ulmer: Yea, I think I would.

Mims: The expanded roles that nurses take on today, where they can become administrators or they go into their own type of practice as a nurse practitioner. Do you think you would be interested in any of those?

Ulmer: I’d rather work in the doctor’s office.

Mims: That would be your preference?

Ulmer: I like that kind of work.

Mims: Um hum. Why do you think you like that kind of work?

Ulmer: I don’t know, but I just did. I hated keeping charts and everything, but…

Mims: You’re also a nurse during a period of time that, of course it’s passed, but its the segregation that we had of the races. When you worked at the doctor’s office, did you guys see black patients there?

Ulmer: Well, we went out and brought the patients in to the doctor.

Mims: Um hum. How about black patients though?

Ulmer: Oh yea.

Mims: You would see them?

Ulmer: We didn’t have many though, very seldom. See, they had their own black doctor then.

Mims: Um hum. If you saw a black patient was there a separate entrance for them?

Ulmer: Oh no.

Mims: They had the same. Because I know the Murchison building is one of the last hold outs, but I know other people have said that there were different waiting rooms for their black patients. Yours wasn’t set up like that at all?

Ulmer: I don’t remember that.

Mims: How about at James Walker Hospital? I know that there was a colored ward.

Ulmer: Oh yea, they had the black ward and the white ward. We used to make dressings over there where the black ward was and this orderly would walk by, he had on a white coat, and every time he’d walk by we’d stand up. We was…four or five of us sitting there making dressings…you cut the gauze and make little patches out of it. One day he stopped and he said, “Girls you don’t have to stand up for me, I’m an orderly.” If I’d been him, I’d let us keep on standing up.

Mims: Did you have to ro…so you had to work over in the colored ward some, or…as a student nurse?

Ulmer: I don’t remember it being any different, we just…you know…

Mims: Um hum. We had talked to somebody, or read somewhere that the original residence hall for the nurses was above the colored annex.

Ulmer: You mean the rooms where we lived?

Mims: Yea.

Ulmer: It was a different building.

Mims: Right, but we had heard that at one time it was above the colored ward.

Parnell: Before they built the separate building.

Mims: Yea.

Ulmer: I…I don’t know about that.

Mims: You don’t remember that? Okay. Well, I’m trying to think of there’s anything else that we’re wrapping up. It was really interesting being able to look through your scrapbook, because that, of course, gave us a lot of visual images that we hadn’t had before. Are you still…do you participate in the alumni association at all?

Ulmer: No.

Mims: No?

Ulmer: Bertha does. But seems I always had something else planned on the day that she plans to do it.

Mims: Well part of the reason that we’re doing this is that in 2005 September, they’re having their homecoming. And we are trying to gather this information so that we can have an exhibit for the nurses at that time. And I do hope you come to that… because you are a part of that.

Ulmer: Well let…let me know when it is.

Mims: I think it’s like the 24th or something, but…

Parnell: We’ll send…we’ll send you something.

Ulmer: Is in the daytime.

Mims: Yes, it is in the daytime, so…

Ulmer: I don’t drive a night.

Mims: Well believe me, if you needed a ride, I’m sure there’s other people that would help get you there, so…but, just need you…wanted you to be aware that that’s what we’re doing here. And thank you so much for talking to us.

Ulmer: You’re welcome.

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