Paid with a pig: Nursing in the 1930s
Evelyn Douglas graduated from Weyburn General Hospital in 1936 and,
after her family was raised, worked there for many years.
A few years before she passed away a thoughtful relative recorded
some of her reminiscences about being a student nurse, and nursing,
in the 1930s.
Question: And what
was the system in those days for people who were training for the RN program?
Evelyn: You had to
train for three years. It was a no pay job.
Q: The Weyburn General hospital was accredited
as a teaching hospital for RN programs?
E: Yes. I believe the first nurses
were trained more or less by the hospital. It wasn’t yet under
the provincial government in Saskatchewan. I believe around 1912
most of the nurses were midwives or young people that had been trained
by doctors, but in 1924 they gave the first diplomas for nurses trained
in Saskatchewan. From 1935 or 36 you no longer could train in any
hospital that had less than 75 patients.
Q: You lived in the nurses residences,
beside the hospital?
E: No above it. We were in the attic
of the hospital. And it was twenty-four duty. You were on call if you
were on the OR, the Operating Room. The way they called you if you
were downtown was to turn on the big OR lights, which, with the old
Weyburn General being on the hill, you could see all over town.
Q: So if you were downtown you had to
keep an eye on the hill to see if the light was on.
E: If you were the OR nurse and you saw
those lights, you were there immediately. And you spent a minimum of
three months in the OR. I spent more than that.
You took your probation training
first. And that was four months.
Mainly it was book work, theory, how to do
things. The practical part so that you could bath patients and could
give certain treatments, but not medicines. After the probationary
training for four months, during the days, from then on you went
on shifts. There were three shifts in the day. They were twelve hours
long but were divided. The probationers went on duty at seven in
the morning and went off at seven at night, with time for meals and
I think they got a half hour off in the afternoon. At maybe nine
o’clock you would have a study
session, or you would have a lecture session with the doctors as lecturers.
We had instructors in addition to the doctors. The instructors came
from Winnipeg. There was a Miss Stevenson when we were there. We took
classes through the day, but the minute classes were over, you went
back on the wards. You carried trays, you carried glasses up to the
patients. After the four months that you were supposed to be able to
do treatments. In your second year you went on nights, and you could
be on nights alone. In your third year, you were supposed to be able
to do most everything that was necessary through your training.
Q: When, if ever, did you get a day
E: We didn't get days off. We got a half
day off in a week. Six and a half days of 12-hour work days (or nights),
with two hours off on Sunday. That didn't count as a half day.
You couldn't have Christmas or New Year's, or any holiday off, those
were considered for the patients. But you got a day off maybe the seventeenth
or the eighteenth of December, the week before Christmas. You could
go home or you could do what you liked, in place of Christmas.
If you were sick during your three years training, you had to put
in that time after you were through. In those times, a married women
was not allowed to work. And not just as a nurse, but practically any
I couldn’t be married and work as a
nurse. I completed my RN exams the summer of 1935 and had been working
in the hospital for a year after that when we were married.
I had graduated so I could get married, but
according to the law I couldn’t work. There weren’t enough
jobs to go around, that was the way they looked at it. But I was
called back, temporarily, numerous times afterwards.
After I had my RN, after I left the hospital,
after I was married and living on the farm. Dr. Good called to say
he had a patient, really bad, a heart condition and I don’t know what else. He was quite
an elderly man. Dr. Good wanted me to come to Yellow Grass to keep
an eye on him for two or three days. He got better and came along fine.
When it came to paying for it, they gave my husband a small pig. Money
just wasn’t in existence in those days.
Thanks to UNA member and Registered Nurse,
Lexie Douglas for bringing in her grandmother’s uniform,
photo albums and even an interview she gave before she died.