Our Stories: 1950's


Audrey Jane Perry, BSN 1950

I received a BS Degree in nursing, Magna cum Laude, from Vanderbilt in June 1950. The graduating class of 1950 was comprised of 19 students from the Basic Professional Curriculum, a 5-year program, and 15 students from the Professional Curriculum for graduate nurses. Students in the latter group, many of whom were World War II veterans, were admitted to Vanderbilt as first-term sophomores, having been given one year of credit for our hospital school diploma. (I was one of the Veterans.) In September 1947, when I entered Vanderbilt, the post-war unsettled campus conditions still prevailed, and veterans were still trying to find their way, and stabilize their lives. In the School of Nursing, there were several foreign nurses seeking whatever educational help the nursing faculty could give them. Since the University operated on a quarterly schedule at that time, short-term, personalized attention generally could be found for them.

After my required degree work was finished in March, I left Nashville, and returned to campus for my diploma at the commencement exercises in June 1950.

I returned to my previous job, as occupational health nurse, with the Tennessee Valley Authority. (The agency had kept me on leave-without-pay while I was at Vanderbilt.) I resumed work with the Authority at the Widows Creek Steam Plant Project at Stevenson, AL for three years.

I was transferred in June 1953, to the Gallatin, TN Steam Plant Construction Project as the local supervising nurse. I remained at the Gallatin location for five years.

While working at the AL and TN projects, I was close enough to Nashville to return for alumni programs and to continue various professional activities, as well as to participate in local cultural events. This, despite the several years of driving over two-lane roads and experiencing the slow traffic of Monteagle Mountain.

In May 1958, I received a promotional transfer to Chattanooga, TN where I had nursing supervisory responsibilities over the Chattanooga medical-service area, one of four areas in the TN Valley.

From Chattanooga, I was able to get back to Nashville frequently. I continued to be active in state and local professional groups, and enjoyed the cultural advantages in Chattanooga, including the operatic and symphonic, the Little Theatre, and other offerings.

In October 1953, I was initiated into the Vanderbilt Iota Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the National Honorary Society of Nursing.

In 1973, I became certified as a Founder in the field of Occupational Health Nursing.

I took early retirement in January 1976. I remained in Chattanooga where I had a home, and pursued miscellaneous non-professional interests, including piano and Bible studies. I was active in many programs of the Chattanooga Brainerd Presbyterian Church; and, in fact, did volunteer work there through 7-8 years.

I took permanent retirement from the practice of nursing in 1994, surrendering my TN license number 006761. This decision was made with some reluctance, for sentimental reasons; however, at the age of 80 years there was no practical reason to continue with the rising costs of licensure.

After living 28 years in the beautiful city of Chattanooga, I moved in March 1987, to Oxford, MS to be near relatives. Since then, I have been deeply involved with my four-generation family, whose members are scattered across the country.


Sylvia Ferrell Alderson, Class of 1953 and MSN class 1976

My student days at VUSN included my first experience with people from all walks of life, and varying educational and socio-economic levels, a humbling experience. Having come to Vanderbilt University from a comfortable suburban background, I became aware that people are more alike than different in their essential humanness, their basic needs, drives, and many of their values. It followed that I developed a profound respect for all people.

Against a backdrop of profound learning, we also had a lot of fun. My funniest memory is of one of our classmate's making her first bed with patient in it. She worked very carefully to do everything just right. She worked on that bed, pulling all the sheets tight enough to bounce a dime. Then she heard the patient's sounds of distress as he tried to extricate himself from under the draw sheet!


Margaret Jacobson, Class of 1954 and MSN class 1958

In 1950 I was not a typical student at VUSN. I didn't live on the Campus. I was married with two young children and had been out of nursing for eight years. At that time all other School of Nursing students lived in Mary Kirkland Hall amid classrooms, faculty offices, a housemother, and a student's pet rabbit until he wondered into the hallway once too often. Typically students had creative signs on their doors. One student's sign read, "My name is Mary Lou Moore and I'm going to marry Hale Donaldson." Later that student and I each received the Founder's Medal, became faculty colleagues and have remained lifelong friends.

It was a fortuitous time for me to enter the RN program. The new four year basic program was beginning and there were still five year students finishing their program. Thanks to my progressive advisors and teachers (Virginia Crenshaw and Helen Howell) I had classes with students in the new basic program as well as in the RN program. They planned an integrated program for me long before the RN program officially became part of the basic program in 1963. Although older than the basic students I felt well accepted and certainly academically challenged. The courses were demanding and students were expected to excel. (Several years later Julia Hereford told me I was admitted by mistake. Helen Howell said I was no mistake).

My earlier college courses were outdated so I had to update by taking some campus courses. I thoroughly enjoyed Rob Roy Purdy's classes even though that winter they met in a cold basement classroom at eight in the morning. I dutifully memorized the requisite Prologue to The Canterbury Tales and identified with the Clark of Oxenford during that cold, cold winter. When possible I took campus courses when I had child care at home. At times this resulted in unintended consequences and once I found myself struggling through a premed course in comparative vertebrate embryology with premed students who it was said " would kill for a grade. " Another time I had to take an advanced course and its prerequisite simultaneously.

Virginia (VA) Crenshaw was a challenging (read also demanding) teacher who introduced me to a whole new concept of nursing as a profession, the many roles of nursing in settings other than acute care, and to the process of inquiry and research. She encouraged me to enter the fledgling masters program and later my doctoral program at Peabody. I was the first graduate of the fledgling masters program and received a blank diploma, I bound a copy of my thesis in green and labeled it How Green is my Research. VA was not only my teacher and mentor long before the term mentor became popular, and she has been a cherished friend for over 50 years. The late Helen Howell, arranged my Public Health field experience in Williamson County when the Rockefeller TB and Histoplasmosis study was still ongoing. I was fortunate to have a very small part in the data collection and some of the early testing of polio vaccine. It was an invaluable and unusual experience for a student at that time. I attribute whatever success I may have had in other major universities to the educational foundation and experiences provided me at Vanderbilt and Peabody.

At this Centennial VUSN it is impressive to see that over time Vanderbilt consistently has been an innovative leader in collegiate nursing education. As I look back through Lou Donadldson's History of VUSN I realize I was either a student of faculty member from 1950 to 1965 and an alumnus for over fifty years of this Centennial. The changes are astounding. Fifty years ago there were questions about the professionalism of nursing, its place in higher education, and whether the BSN nurse could function as well as the diploma nurse. Now one sees advanced practice nurses in many areas, outstanding nursing research, the PhD in nursing, and various graduate programs combinations with other disciplines. It is my hope a nurse historians at Vanderbilt will expand and update Lou Donalson's documentary history though this Centennial year as a continuing record of the VUSN note worthy and creative responses to the needs of society nationally, internationally, and maybe even in outer space.