Interviewee: Marion Kissam
Interviewer: Faith McCarthy
Date: November 3, 1993
M: This is Faith McCarthy and I am interviewing Marion Kissam. Could you please
tell me your name and give me your address?
K: It is Marion Kissam. [My address is] Route #2, Box 125-30, Micanopy.
M: Let me get a little bit of background on you. I would eventually like to work into
your education and your career as a nurse. But I would like to start with a little
bit of background. Where were you born?
K: In Alachua.
M: And you were raised there?
K: Mostly in this area.
M: Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
K: I was an only child. Beyond that, what would you like to know?
M: What did your parents do? Were they farmers? Or did they work?
K: My father had a business in High Springs. We traveled. He was an insurance
business district manager for both metropolitan and __ for years.
We traveled. We lived in hotels and boarding houses and so forth. Until I
started school, when I started [living] with my grandparents in Mobile. And then
my parents were dissatisfied with that, so he took a demotion back to a manager
in Tampa, and I came back with them. And then we moved around mostly in
Florida. His district was Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana, and that area. And
then we eventually settled over in High Springs, where he went into business for
M: OK. So what age were you when you settled in High Springs?
K: Oh, I was probably about twelve, or somewhere in that area.
M: And you grew up in that community and developed friendships?
M: So at what age did you graduate from high school then?
K: [I was] seventeen.
M: At that time, what were your thoughts about the future?
K: Well I had planned to go on to college. In fact, I had a room reserved at Florida
Southern. I had been accepted there and at Alabama, where my father wanted
me to go. And I became interested in nursing due to Margaret Kingman, who
was working this nursing school up at Alachua General [Hospital], or in Alachua
County (at that time). I became interested in it and went in, really fully not
intending to stay; it was just something different at the time. And I really liked it.
M: So when you were graduating from high school you had intended to go to college
and study liberal arts?
K: Well I had been offered a scholarship in music at that time.
M: Do you play an instrument?
K: [I play the] piano.
M: So your parents must have been fairly supportive of the idea of you going to
K: Oh yes, they definitely were.
M: What did they think when you decided [to go into nursing]?
K: My father was very much against it very much so.
M: Do you have any idea why?
K: No, not really. It was just the idea, I guess. I do not know. The older people did
not think much of nurses at that point, I think.
M: And your mother?
K: My mother was very supportive of it. My father changed his mind later on.
M: Once you got into your program?
K: Yes, later on.
M: And maybe he saw how much you were enjoying it.
Now I am not understanding this; the recruiter came to your high school and you
got excited about the idea of nursing?
K: I became interested in it at that time. Over the summer I think, my interest sort
of grew a little bit more.
M: Now the recruiter would be the recruiter from the cadet nurse program?
K: Well, Margaret Kingman and Audrey Jones were setting up the school here in
Alachua County at the time. So actually, they were from the nursing school itself
at the new hospital.
M: Were you exposed to any of the other recruitments pamphlets, posters, that
sort of thing from the cadet nurse?
K: Not really.
M: So you were not really attracted to the idea of that official uniform of the
K: Not really.
M: We talked about your family's ideas concerning nursing. What about your
friends? Were they surprised when you decided [to do this]?
K: There were two other girls from my High Springs high school graduating class
that went in at the same time. One finished, and one was a cousin who did not
M: Tell me a little bit about the application process. You had to be a graduate of
high school, right?
M: What other restrictions do you remember?
K: I do not remember any. I think you were supposed to have been eighteen to go
in, which I was close enough to.
M: Now there were no black students at the program. Do you ever remember any
discussion about that, or was it just assumed?
K: I guess it was just assumed; none of the schools were integrated here at that
M: None of the high schools?
K: No, no schools at all were integrated.
M: What about the idea of men in the program? Was there any talk?
K: It was just all most unheard of; you did not even think about it, I guess.
M: You were probably pretty unusual at this time; a young girl in the 1940s having
the opportunity of a college education. Would you say that was quite unusual?
K: No I think a number of my classmates either went on to college or some sort of
schooling. It was unusual though, because I guess the majority of the girls at
that point really did not think about further schooling.
M: So you feel like a lot of the women in your community were able to go on to
K: A number of them did, yes.
M: What do you think were some of the benefits of going through the nursing
program at Alachua General Hospital when you did?
K: Well I think we were very fortunate because we got extremely good training.
They were striving to set the school up, so the standards were set very high.
And almost all of our students scored very high on the state boards.
M: Do you think that the requirements for the cadet nurse program had anything to
do with the requirements for the curriculum that were set up at the high school?
K: I do not think so. I think it was Audrey Jones' curriculum that was set up. She
was an extremely good director of nurses.
M: She had standard of what she thought nursing school [should be].
K: I think it was mostly Audrey Jones. We never did think much about the cadet
nurse corps frankly, because we got in at the last, when there were no uniforms
or anything, and it was almost a forgotten issue by the time we finished.
M: Do you think the idea of a free education attracted some of the women in the
K: Oh I am sure it did, because there were a number in there that probably could
not have afforded to go on to school at that point.
M: Tell me about the idea of the maintenance program; you were allowed to stay in
the dormitory, you ate at the hospital, (I assume) your laundry was done, you
had supervision. What kind of attraction did that hold for you as a young
K: I do not know that it held any.
M: The idea of leaving home and going into a safe environment; did that ever enter
K: Well I was so close to home; I was just twenty-six miles from my home anyway.
I guess I was always pretty well independent anyway. I had my own car and
otherwise, and I could come and go. I guess being independent all of my life, I
never thought about it.
M: Do you think some of the other girls might have felt a little different leaving
K: Probably so.
M: What about your parents? Did that attract them this idea of this supervised
K: No more so than college. Of course, college was very restrictive at that time; it
was very supervised.
M: Looking back on it now, or even at the time, did you see any problems? From
what I hear from many of the graduates, it was just the most positive experience.
Is that your [position as well]?
K: Very much so.
M: Going through an apprenticeship program where the student nurses were
expected to carry the load on the wards, did you feel exploited at all?
K: Not really. I mean, it was a learning experience, and I wanted all of the
experience I could get. In fact, when I got into surgery further on, in my second
year, I took extra call in surgery because I enjoyed it.
M: What sort of hours do you remember working?
K: Long [laughter]. It was supposed to have been eight hours a day, including
classes and all of the wards. But it never worked into that; it was always longer
hours. And we had to be in the dormitory by 10:00 p.m. You signed in and
signed out: where you were going, and what time you expected to be back. And
you signed in when you came in. In the first six months, we were maybe allowed
one overnight, and one late leave until 12:00. And then it gradually worked up
to, in the second year, maybe two something like that.
M: So you could go home, see family, and that sort of thing?
K: The ones of us that lived close by. And the majority of us I believe, did live close
by. [Or we lived] fairly close, anyway.
M: Were you aware of the controversy over the accelerated program at that time?
At this time in nursing they were shortening the time to just a three-year program,
or thirty months. Were you aware of any of that?
K: It had been a three-year program for quite some time when we went in. There
were very few nursing schools on the four or five year program at that time. In
fact, the one here was opened after much later than that.
M: The University program?
K: Yes. And of course the two year program at the community college was unheard
M: As a young student nurse, what was your relationship with the doctors that you
came into contact with at the hospital?
K: I think we were probably taught to have more respect for doctors than is
M: The war [WWII] was just ending, so were you working with a lot of doctors
returning from the service?
K: We had about eight or ten doctors in this town at that point. And then a year or
so after the war, we began to build up different ones coming back. But you could
count the positions here on your hand. And you knew all of them extremely well.
M: OK. Now what year did you graduate?
M: So you spent three years in the program and developed a lot of relationships?
K: Yes. Our class was a rather close class; all of our group was close.
M: Now you started out with about thirty students?
K: I think we were about thirty probably thirty two.
M: And [you] ended up with [how many]?
K: About fourteen, I believe. And one or two of those were in the class below us,
which was a small class. They just incorporated it [into our program] and these
girls worked on and finished up after graduation, about six months or so [later].
M: Now tell me about living in the dorms. You have talked about the checking in
and checking out. You had a roommate the entire time?
K: Our first year, we did not. We were on the third floor in private rooms; we had
individual rooms at that point.
M: And then you went down to the second floor?
K: We were later moved down to the second [floor] with roommates.
M: Tell me about moving down to the second floor and getting a roommate. Who
was your roommate?
K: I guess my first roommate was Paula Wells, probably. She was a girl from here
M: Did you develop a friendship that would last your life?
K: I was not that close with this particular girl.
M: But [were you close to] some of the other students?
K: Oh yes. Some of us are still really close.
M: Did you work together after graduation?
K: I went into public health afterwards. The hospital only offered $150 a month and
I could get $175 doing public health. But actually, I liked simple movement,
rather than just working straight on the floor. I never enjoyed the floor duty I
guess, as much as I did the special [work]. I was actually in charge of O.B. at
one time (the labor room) before I graduated. We were very short of help and
had to add on night duty. And I enjoyed that very much. And then I had so
much time in surgery in the last six months when they got to checking hours, I
did not have enough hours on the floor to graduate. So I had to go back and
work the last six months. But they kept calling me back to surgery and
requesting [me]. And these doctors would send me back there every time.
Because I did enjoy it.
M: That brings up an interesting idea about the wages. The wages for nursing at
that time were not that high.
K: It was tough when we went here. Now I think salary here was probably lower
because of the University veterans coming back; all of their wives were nurses,
and looking for work. So there was no shortage of nurses at that time. So [the
wages] here were probably lower than in Jacksonville, or somewhere like that.
Actually, the going rate for male college graduates at that time was only about
$200 a month.
M: So it really compared to other traditional, female professions?
K: [We made] probably as much as teachers, or otherwise.
M: Well tell me a little bit about public health. That is interesting. You went to work
for the public health service here in Gainesville?
K: Yes, my district was about half of the city of Gainesville, and the outlying areas
around. And I had most of the students who were in town and most of the
midwives that we supervised.
M: So what sort of thing [did you do]? Did you do a lot of education of the public?
K: It was mainly that, and holding well-baby clinics and ruby clinics. We gave
immunizations and then we did the outlying, smaller towns.
M: How long did you do that?
K: For about two years. When I married, we moved away from here.
M: Did you continue to go in and out of nursing, or was that pretty much the end of
your career as a nurse?
K: After we moved down south I was offered a small hospital over in Groveland to
administer. And I did that for probably a year and a half. And then I had medical
problems: I had a ruptured disc, and then I was pregnant. And at that point I
decided that I would stay home with the children. So I did not work for about
fifteen years after that. Well, I came back we moved back up here. And I
realized that I had gotten so far behind in medications and procedures that I
came over and I relieved the night supervisors two nights a week. There were
two of them on [duty].
M: At Alachua General [Hospital]?
K: Yes. And I did that for a while and just floated, where I could get back in on the
medications and procedures.
M: Primarily medical/surgical floors?
K: Well, you were all over the hospital; you just floated. And the hospital was very
small at that time.
M: Now what year are we talking about?
K: We came back up here in about 1955.
M: And so how long did you continue this type of work?
K: For about two years, and then I did part-time office work.
M: So when did you retire as a nurse?
K: Well in the meantime I married Edward. He is an orthopaedic surgeon. My
former husband had died of a lot of vascular problems after a lot of surgery. And
[Edward's] wife had died of cancer. Our two families had known [each other] and
had been friends for years. After I came back up here I started working for
Edward, I guess in 1969. And then I took over the management of his office and
did his surgical assist for the rest of the time, until he retired in 1983. I went back
to the University and went out and checked on my hours after we moved back up
here. There were no schools or anything around when we were down south.
But in the meantime, they had lost records. I had about sixty-four hours that I
had already done.
M: At the University?
K: They had lost the records from this school, because all of our classes were either
out at the University, or the professors from the University came over to our
nursing school and taught over there.
M: So you got no credit?
K: They could not find any [of the records], so I was going to have to start over
M: And that was just too much of a [hassle]?
K: Well at that point [it was], because my husband was ill and everything.
M: So you stuck with your original education and just built on your own research and
M: Did you enjoy nursing?
K: Yes I did.
M: Do you ever regret not [earning] a liberal arts and sciences [degree]?
K: I guess occasionally, but I think I enjoyed nursing more. I regret that I did not go
ahead an finish up.
M: And get a bachelor's [degree]?
K: I think there was maybe one out of our class who did [finish up].
M: Do you remember who that was?
K: Yes, [it was] Esther Prince.
M: You had one pregnancy. Do you have any children?
K: I have two sons.
M: Have either one of them gone into medicine or nursing?
K: No. One is an electronic engineer, and the other is in building construction.
M: Do you have any nurses in the family?
M: You have not practiced since the 1980s, but you must keep up on health care
and that sort of thing. What do you see in the future of nursing? Do you have
any idea where it is going?
K: I really do not.
M: Any impressions of what is going on now?
K: Well for one thing, I think the diploma school graduates were better nurses than
the others. We found this out after we were working in the hospital in Highland,
with people in our office that even in the hospital at that point were better-
satisfied with the diploma school than they were with the graduates, because the
graduates did not expect to do as much of the actual patient care as the other
girls did. And then the ones from the junior colleges just did not have
experience. They might come up and spend one or two weeks in surgery at
the most. And that would be __ We found that we spent months in surgery,
with those elements.
M: So [it was] the intense intention to clinical experience in the diploma program?
K: I just do not feel they are getting it in the graduate programs. Or, how do you
feel about yours? What sort of experience were you able to get?
M: I have a two year degree, and I felt the same way. I felt completely inadequate
when I was let loose in the hospital.
K: We found this out, in the hospital and in our office. My husband was an
M: That is all of my questions. Thank you very much for your time.
K: It was nice meeting you, and I have enjoyed it.
M: Thank you.