One of the many topics we will be exploring in the museum’s new displays is rural healthcare. Our latest blog by Abbey School students focuses on the story of a 1940s District Nurse, Jean Young.
Jean Young was a District Nurse/Midwife. This ambiguous job title in fact entirely sums up the role; for the first few weeks they were a “nurse” to every new baby in the village, then became a “health visitor”, visiting only once a month, yet also addressed the wounds of the elderly. Jean Young was the “Queen Nurse” for East Garston and the 25 surrounding miles which she attended in her black Ford 10 which was provided by the Nursing Association.
A day in the life
This seems like it was one of those jobs, like a business owner of today, that you sort of take home with you. Every morning Jean began by making up her bag in the ‘glory room’ and starting out on the job in hand at 9. However, this time alters depending on who she had to see; she might leave earlier to give insulin to help a diabetic, so they can have breakfast at a decent hour. Usually dressed in a dull-blue drill frock with a trim belt and tiny turn-down white collar, black shoes and stockings, she altered her outfit depending on the job she had to do. A navy blue overcoat, white overall, mask and peaked cap for maternity and an apron and starched cap for nursing duties. Every day Jean would leave a slate on the door which showed her movements of the day, so if someone in the village came to her house with a problem, they would know where to find her. After a busy morning and then lunch, she would relax in the garden; within reach of the phone of course. Queen Nurse would be back out in the evening ’til late, ensuring everyone in the village was happy and healthy.
Her Role as a Midwife
Jean had 35-40 mothers attend her clinic in East Garston (and the surrounding 25 miles), with babies from 1 month to 4 years and 11 months of age. She played a very important and prominent role in the children’s lives until they were 5 years of age:
- For the first 2 weeks of the baby’s life – Jean was the nurse for the baby, keeping a very close eye on both mother and baby
- From 3 weeks until 1 year of age – Jean became the ‘health visitor’, visiting mother and baby once a month for a quick check up.
- From 1 to 5 years of age – Jean visited less regularly, only once every 3 months
- From the age of 5 year old – The children now attend school, which will take care of their health, though she still keeps a close eye on ‘her children’
Jean also has to always be prepared as a midwife, and so in her bag she carried “everything for producing a new citizen”:
- Blood pressure apparatus
- Test tube
- Delivery case, lined with washable linen
- Gas and air
Here is a quote from Jean herself, telling of one of her more extraordinary experiences as a midwife – “Here [in the countryside] I cope with everything, including fire and flood. Just recently one of our babies arrived in a tiny front parlour because the road was under water and the mother couldn’t get to the hospital. Two days later that parlour was under 4 feet of water.”
Her Role as a Nurse
Although she did all her own paperwork through the night and woke early, her job was described as being quite glamorous. She was said to have “as many wardrobe changes as a movie star” and she drove a “shining black ford 10” supplied by the nursing association, and her maximum salary was £435 per year.
Her nurse’s bag was different to that of her midwife role. It contained:
- The ’14 day’ attache case
It can definitely be said that her genuine care and dedication for her patients was clear in her work.
By Gemma and Kate
The students used the following items from the MERL library for their research:
The Farmers Weekly XXVI Jan-June 1947 (May 16th 1947). MERL LIBRARY PER OPEN ACCESS–PER 1934- (available in the open access library next to the reading room)
If you want to explore this story further, the Farmers Weekly journals can be consulted in our reading room. Find out here about visiting the reading room.