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Alice C. Boehret « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Alice C. Boehret

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
Branch of Service
: Army, Army Nurse Corps
Location of Service
: Europe

DATE: May 15, 2000

EE: Well, transcriber, my name is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Today is May the 15th in the year 2000. Time is moving on, and I’m in Greensboro, North Carolina, visiting this morning with Dr. Alice Boehret. Dr. Boehret, thank you for sitting down for this interview.
AB: Thank you.
EE: This is for the Women Veterans Historical Project, our oral history collection. I’m going to start off this morning, Dr. Boehret, asking you the same simple question I ask everybody, which is where were you born and where did you grow up?
AB: I was born in Roxborough, Philadelphia, and we moved to Wildwood, New Jersey, when I was five and moved back to Philadelphia when I was ten. I lived there until the army.
EE: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
AB: I’m the youngest of six children, five of which my mother raised.
[Clock chiming]
EE: Were they boys? Girls? How’d that play out?
AB: Three boys and two girls. Well, there were three girls. The first one died.
EE: This is a more musical one. [Referring to clock] I’ve been listening to a lot of clocks in my other interviews, so we’ll just let the hour pass. That will be a good way. It’s ten o’clock here this Monday morning.
What did your folks do for a living?
AB: My father was a butcher. And my mother, in those days, mothers did not work unless they were desperate. But we moved to Wildwood, because she bought a hotel, which she lost in the ’29. It just went. So my sister and brothers put together and brought mother and me back to Philadelphia, and we lived together until I finished high school.
EE: You graduated from Germantown?
AB: Germantown High School. Germantown is the town next to Roxborough in Philadelphia.
EE: My aunt lives in Lafayette Hills.
AB: Oh, yes.
EE: That whole area’s got an interesting look right there along the banks of the canal nearby.
AB: No, creek. It’s not a canal. Canal’s on Schuykill River.
EE: Not a canal. You’re right. It’s the creek, which is spelled C-R-E-E-K, for those of you who don’t live in that area. [Laughs]
AB: That’s right.
EE: Did you like school growing up?
AB: No, I didn’t find school a least bit interesting until fourth grade, and I had a practice teacher from Glassboro State. She said that you really should have a liberal arts degree. I didn’t know what it was, but when the G.I. Bill came and I could get it, I got it.
EE: Excellent. So somebody put those magic words in your brain early on.
AB: Oh, I don’t think I ever opened a book till I got to graduate school. I have a good memory. If they hadn’t said it in class, it wasn’t interesting enough for an exam question.
EE: When did you graduate from high school?
AB: 1937.
EE: Pennsylvania schools, were they twelve-year high schools?
AB: Oh, yes.
EE: We were a little slow in North Carolina.
AB: Yes, that’s why we got in down here.
EE: I was reading that they were a little low on the class enrollments, because they had that extra year.
AB: Well, our class was the smallest since ’34 at WC [Woman's College], probably the smallest since, too.
EE: How did you get interested in being a nurse? You went from high school to–
AB: Well, I was out a year, and my youngest brother said I should go into nursing. I said, “I don’t want to be a nurse. I don’t like it.” He says, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.” So I went into training at Jefferson Medical College Hospital School of Nursing in 1938, finished in ’41, was not allowed to graduate till I passed state boards in ’42, but that was the whole class.
EE: How many people were in that class all together?
AB: Seventy-five.
EE: You all lived right there in the hospital? They had a dormitory for nurses there?
AB: Oh, yes. We had a nurses’ home two blocks away.
EE: As you were doing it, did you like your brother’s advice?
AB: No.
EE: You still didn’t like it? [Laughs]
AB: I’ll tell you. When I got to teaching and students did poor work, I said, “Do you want to be a nurse?”
And they’d say, “Yes.”
I said, “Then shut up and do your work. I never wanted to be, and here I am.” And I was their teacher. They didn’t have a leg to stand on.
EE: That’s great. That’s great. Well, now, you said you had a year before you went to Jefferson for your hospital practice. Did you just work local jobs?
AB: No, my oldest brother had had a stroke, and I spent my time with him. He was an interior decorator, so I got a lot of interesting things from that.
EE: That’s a lot. Your brother and your older sister dying. That’s a lot for your family to go through with just that–
AB: Well, my brother died two weeks after school started here in ’46.
EE: Was he married?
AB: No.
EE: You were at Jefferson. Did you specialize in any particular kind of nursing?
AB: Oh, you didn’t specialize then.
EE: Just full nursing.
AB: Three years.
EE: I assume in most in-house nursing programs you’re taking classes during the day, then you worked for four rotations somewhere as part of the day, too?
AB: Yes. Sometimes the head nurses wouldn’t let you off to go to class.
EE: So you learned what was the priority. The work came first.
AB: In fact, we were told when we were probationers that until we got our caps and worked a twelve-hour day in a hospital we weren’t worth our room and board. Don’t forget, it only cost fifty dollars to go in training in those days, and that paid for your books, plus twenty-five dollars when you were capped, and twenty cents for the cap, before your next textbooks.
EE: Are all the women about the same age?
AB: Yes.
EE: You were training ’38 to ’41, and most people that age, no matter whether they’re in nurses’ school or college or whatever, they’re not really reading the newspapers.
AB: Oh, no.
EE: They’re into life. So you’re not really paying a lot of attention to what’s going on in Europe and things like that?
AB: Well, we had known about a lot of it when I was in high school, because of the number of Jewish people in the community. So we knew a lot about that.
EE: Had that number gone up because of the exodus out of Europe?
AB: Yes, we had a lot of them. The Von Trapps were in Germantown for a while two blocks from where I lived. We didn’t know them, but they were there, and we knew they were there.
EE: So when you finish in ’41, now you have to wait for your state boards. What do you do with that year?
AB: We were allowed to work as graduate nurses.
EE: Right there in the hospital?
AB: Yes. Made forty dollars a month plus twenty dollars because I lived out.
EE: Was that pretty good for then or was that just getting by?
AB: That was pretty good for then.
EE: During that year when you worked in there, were you on duty Pearl Harbor day?
AB: Yes. Well, I worked in central supply room. I made all of the intravenous solutions for Jefferson Hospital for that year.
EE: Were you working that Sunday when Pearl Harbor?
AB: No. I was in Atlantic City visiting one of my roommates, and we were walking on the boardwalk when the newsboy hawked that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. My roommate’s name was Alice Donovan. There were five of us lived in one room. And Alice said, “Oh, my, the 38th will be organized.” That’s Jefferson unit. So we got all excited about it, and we knew it was going to happen.
EE: So this hospital had been mobilized as the 38th back in World War I?
AB: Yes.
EE: Did any of the people that you had worked with on staff there, had they served as army nurses?
AB: Yes. And one of them, when I said I wanted to sign up, said, “It’ll be the best thing they ever did to you, Miss Boehret. You go join.” We never called anybody by their first name. That’s a real no-no.
EE: That’s changed just in my generation. We had the same thing growing up. But it’s changed. When did they start mobilizing? Was it that spring before your boards?
AB: Oh, yes. Let’s see, that was the seventh. We heard Roosevelt. We had a secret radio in central supply, which we weren’t supposed to have, and we heard Roosevelt’s speech. Then we were told that if we were interested to go to the nursing office. So I went over and put my name on the list, and then we just waited. I can’t remember when I went for a physical, but I didn’t pass. I was accepted for limited service. So we put all of them, and there were something like twenty-three of my classmates in that unit, we put them on the train, and then on the fifteenth of July I was told to report to the Customs House in Philadelphia to be sworn in. So my mother and I walked down to the Customs House, which is at Second and Chestnut, and I was sworn in.
The young man that swore me in said, “What’s a nice girl like you doing joining the WAACS?”
I said, “I’m not joining the WAACS. I’m joining the oldest one.”
He said, “Oh, an older one.”
EE: So the WAACS just started off with a bad footing, public relations, wasn’t it?
AB: Yes. Yes. They thought they were going to be what the Japanese called comfort girls.
EE: When you signed up, and I guess it sounds like from the traditions of this hospital, there wasn’t really a choice in your mind between navy nurse and army nurse.
AB: Yes.
EE: That tradition was to be they were going to be mobilized as an army unit.
AB: Well, that’s right, yes. Now, actually, I think that we would have preferred the navy, because no matter who won the Army-Navy Game, navy always won. But there was really no choice. Besides, I didn’t have my wisdom teeth, and I knew the navy would not take me without my wisdom teeth.
EE: And that game was played in Philadelphia then, wasn’t it?
AB: Oh, yes.
EE: Up to just a few years ago, I think.
AB: Yes. The hospital always sent an ambulance down, too. I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to go on it.
EE: How did your folks feel about their daughter joining the service? You didn’t have to do it.
AB: Oh, my mother would kill me if I didn’t. We were patriotic. My mother just thought I should.
EE: Did you have any other family members who joined?
AB: My youngest brother was conscripted later, the next year, and he was at Fort Lee, Virginia, my second Christmas, and I was at Fort Story, and I got leave to go up. The CO’s would not let me go.
And I said, “Why not? You let So-and-so go to Richmond. Why can’t I go to Petersburg?”
And he said, “I do?”
And I said, “Yes, you do.” So I went to Petersburg.
EE: Well, that’s good. That’s good. When you joined and you went to the Customs House, where did you go from there? There’s a basic training for you all as well?
AB: No, we didn’t have such a thing as basic training.
EE: What did you do?
AB: I went directly to Fort Story, Virginia, which was quite an experience. I took the night train.
EE: Was this is your first big trip out of the state?
AB: Yes. Here comes John.
EE: Okay. We’ll stop for a second.
[Tape recorder turned off]
EE: That hospital at Fort Story?
AB: A station hospital.
EE: Station hospital. So it’s seeing any and all kinds of patients?
AB: Yes. Fort Story is a coastal defense unit. We had the biggest gun on there, the sixteen-inch gun, for coastal defense. It was at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
EE: This is on which river? The Rappahannock?
AB: No, Chesapeake. I don’t know. It’s not a river. It’s the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.
EE: Right. So it’s right there at Norfolk?
AB: Well, Norfolk’s across from it.
EE: Right, okay.
AB: I took a ferry over to Norfolk.
EE: So it’s near where Langley is and all the other stuff?
AB: Yes. Yes, it’s Cape Henry.
EE: Right. Cape Henry, right at the mouth of the James then.
AB: Yes.
EE: One of the things I’ve discovered in talking to folks, as you know, is that a lot of these places were decommissioned after the war.
AB: Now, Fort Story is still there. I drove through it one day a couple of years ago.
EE: I know Fort Lee, we came down just recently from Washington, and they have the Quartermaster Museum there, and they’ve moving to WAC Museum to Fort Lee.
AB: Oh, really? The Nurse Museum is in San Antonio.
EE: When you got there, I guess when you signed on as a nurse, what’s your rank when you sign?
AB: We had relative rank, and it was second lieutenant. My salary jumped from forty dollars plus room and board to ninety dollars plus room and board. But we generally got ninety dollars.
EE: That’s pretty good. When you joined, did they give any limitations on the kind of service that you did? I know some of the different branches of services were limited. They could not serve overseas. Nurses didn’t have that restriction. Did they tell you going in what kind of work you’d be doing and what the possibility was, or you were serving at the pleasure of the government?
AB: That’s right. I was an officer and a gentleman. But I was on limited service, which they said meant I would not go overseas. It is said that I looked around at these sand hills and pine trees and said, “My god, the duration here.”
EE: Yes, I can understand that. You were telling me before we started that there were several other women that you later met in the nurse corps who were from Jefferson. But when you joined, because you were held back, I guess you were the only one coming in at that time from the hospital?
AB: Yes.
EE: Or did you go in with other women?
AB: Yes. Well, this had nothing to do with the hospital. It was strictly the army.
EE: How many people were at the hospital? How big a unit was it?
AB: A station hospital, if I remember correctly, had sixty to seventy-five nurses. It’s a small hospital. It’s between a field hospital and a general hospital, and now they have a M.A.S.H. hospital, which is further forward. But station hospitals are small hospitals. I think they only run about 500 beds.
EE: When you arrive, you’re living on base?
AB: Oh, sure. Sure. We were in a barracks, the nurses’ barracks. One nurses’ barracks was across the road from the doctors’ barracks. Then came the hospital and then another nurses’ barracks.
EE: What kind of work did you do when you were at Fort Story?
AB: Well, just general nursing. One of the dentists on the post found out I was a Jeff graduate. He recognized my cap, because we wore our caps till our uniforms came, and he had done his internship at Jeff. So he asked, and I was put on the dirty surgery ward. He sent me all his fractured jaws. I could make a mean eggnog, no liquor. But he knew that I had been to Pine Street, Jeff, which was where the tuberculosis was, and we used to have to make eggnogs for them. So fractured jaws need extra nourishment and eggnog is right there.
EE: Right.
AB: Interesting while I was at Fort Story, I think I’m the first person in the world that ever sent cookies home from the army post at Christmastime. I made cookies and sent them home. [Laughter]
EE: That’s great. What was your regular schedule like?
AB: Seven to seven.
EE: Seven to seven, okay.
AB: You might have two hours off during the day.
EE: Was that five days a week? Six days? How was your work week?
AB: I can’t remember in the army whether we got two and a half days a week or only one, but it was seven days a week. I mean, patients don’t go home. Night duty was twelve hours straight, though.
EE: Did you do rotating shifts?
AB: Yes, day or night.
EE: With twelve hour shifts, right. But you would like have a week or two of day shift and shift to night? Is that how you worked?
AB: More like months.
EE: That would give your body a little time to adjust.
AB: Yes. Well, I sleep all day and all night, too. So that doesn’t do me any good. I think I’ve got in that writing about one time on a ward we had rice left over, and I love rice pudding. So I mixed some eggs and milk and the rice and baked it and put it in the refrigerator thinking about how good it would be the next day. I found a note in it, “Thank you, Lieutenant. Make some more.” The pan was totally gone. [Laughter]
EE: Just stop leaving them in the common refrigerator. That’s what you learn from that, I see.
AB: We used to have to lock the door to keep the fellows out when I was making cookies.
EE: A lot of people who joined the service who were not professionals coming in, they were attracted by the slogans “free a man to fight.” You’re coming and working in a hospital situation. The kind of work you’re doing is nursing work.
AB: That’s right.
EE: So there’s relationships.
AB: We didn’t replace anybody.
EE: And you really didn’t have training. Did they teach you sort of protocol issues on the job?
AB: Oh, yes. Yes. There were two, what do they call them? What is the name of it? Rules that everybody gets. It was 93 and 97, I think, and both of them were about rape and the person would be hanged by the neck until death. They were the only two I ever remember hearing.
EE: But your day-to-day supervision was similar to a civilian hospital in that sense that you had a head nurse, I guess, for the beds?
AB: I think there were two nurses on the floor, and sometimes it was only one, and there were around thirty-six patients per ward. But in the army you’re either sick or you’re on duty. So the soldiers were there a long time getting over things. And as I said I was on the dirty surgery ward. The dirty surgery ward was hemorrhoids and pilonidal cysts, most of them. So I got expert in telling people how to take a sitz bath and asking, “Have you had your sitz bath today?” S-I-T-Z.
EE: I know. My wife had to have those after having a baby, yes.
AB: Yes. So I got pretty good at it, and there’s always something else. One guy I know had fissures in the rectum, and the doctor told me he wanted me, not the corpsmen, to give the enema. Well, the soldier damn near died. But I had to put my finger in his rectum and then thread this catheter in for the enema, and I used a small catheter. Of course, you know, the regular catheter is about that big.
EE: Right.
AB: So I used one that wasn’t much bigger than that. And he said, “Miss, I never felt that.” [Laughs]
EE: Right. Grateful, I’m sure for the gentle touch.
AB: Yes.
EE: Was it a different thing? You know, in a regular state hospital your patients are not going to be all men, where I guess your patients were largely all men, were they not?
AB: Totally.
EE: How long were you at Fort Story?
AB: From ’42 to ’44, not quite two full years. It was July to February.
EE: How did you get the news that you were leaving Fort Story?
AB: Orders came.
EE: Did the whole group of you go from there?
AB: Well, about seven or eight of us, I think, from Fort Story were sent by a rickety old train down to Fort Jackson to the 74th General.
EE: Down in Columbia?
AB: Yes. It was the 74th General was being activated. I met with them twice, because they meet once a year [reunion] at Pigeon Forge now, the 74th does.
EE: How long were you at Fort Jackson?
AB: Weeks, two or three, and then we went by sleeper train up to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, and we were there about a week and then shipped out.
EE: This is all as the unit of the 74th moving on. That’s when you headed to England?
AB: And what?
EE: That’s when you went to England?
AB: Yes. We went on the Queen Mary.
EE: Oh, okay.
AB: Because the Lizzie[Elizabeth] had been bashed in “by a wave.” We never believed it. [Laughter]
EE: Somebody just made a wrong turn, I think. When you went to England, where did you anchor and enter?
AB: In England? Well, I got seasick, and I really got seasick. So I took Seconal, and evidently I’m allergic to it, because I broke out with rheumatic erythema. So when we got to Glasgow, I had to be taken off the boat with another nurse and several men who were sick and taken to a hospital outside Glasgow, American hospital, and I was there for several weeks. Then I was shipped alone by train, strange money in my pocket, to Liverpool.
EE: Never having been overseas, and you’re all by yourself.
AB: Never. Never.
EE: Just ordered to show up there.
AB: Yes.
EE: This is where the 74th was located then?
AB: At Tynsfield Park in a town called Wraxall. W-R-A-X-A-L-L. It was Lord Wraxall’s estate, and they had all these Gerry-built Quonset huts there.
EE: And it was?
AB: Tynsfield Park.
EE: Was this an air base? What was it?
AB: No, no. This is a hospital base. Just a hospital. An old cow pasture.
EE: So there was no other military function?
AB: No.
EE: Just clearly a hospital.
AB: Just us.
EE: And they did that way before the war?
AB: Oh, no, no, no. This was Gerry-built, which meant it was put up because of the Germans in this war, yes.
EE: So you’re talking about Quonset huts?
AB: Yes. Yes, we had central heating, three stoves down the middle of the ward. And the huts we slept in were like that. We had to have people arrange to get up at night to go and stoke the fires so that we wouldn’t get cold. And the bathroom was up a hill about four huts up. So there were all little yellow piles outside the door, because nobody–it was too cold. We didn’t want to put shoes on. We didn’t want to put coats on, you know, I mean, boots.
EE: Right. You’re getting there. In retrospect, I guess, they’re moving you there and they have D-Day?
AB: Oh, yes. Yes, because while we were at Hoylake, which was the first place we were, we were at a dance one night and this British paratrooper, I think he was, who’s clothes smelled of mothballs, said that they were going to invade France the beginning of June. And we said, “Oh, sure.”
EE: Yes, he was right.
AB: He was right.
EE: Six days in, I think. You were– Hoylake. Where is this?
AB: Hoylake? Hoylake is outside of Liverpool, England. It’s on the Cheshire,
the Wirral.
EE: So that’s where the group was before you went to Tynsfield Park?
AB: Yes. We were billeted with families.
EE: Oh, okay.
AB: I lived with a family who would take an American sister rather than a British Tommy, because a British Tommy destroys everything they touch. And she was raised in San Francisco, the woman with the house.
EE: So you lucked out. They had some understanding of what America was.
AB: Well, yes and no. But they took me to the concerts at the Liverpool–to hear the Liverpool Symphony when Sir Malcolm Sargent directed it. Oh, it was wonderful.
EE: All together how long were you at Kinsfield Park?
AB: From the end of May of ’44. We went to France on the thirtieth of June, 1945.
EE: So it’s a little bit more than a year that you’re there.
AB: Yes.
EE: When you’re there, the patients that you’re taking care of, are they both British and American?
AB: No.
EE: Just American.
AB: We never got any British, that I can recall. I didn’t get any on any of the wards I was on or in the operating room. We got our first patients at D plus six.
EE: So the twelfth then. You talked about the ward you were on stateside in Fort Story. What kind of work were you doing then? It wasn’t just whatever cases came your way. It wasn’t so specialized. It was just whatever?
AB: Well, there were post-operative wards, and then there were recovery wards. There’s a difference. They moved them, and I was in several of the different ones. Then, because I had worked in the operating room at Fort Story, also, I was put in the operating rooms a lot. That’s where we first learned to drink Nescafe. It was brand new. And the circuit relating nurse would come in and say, “You want some coffee?” And we’d say yes. She’d say, “Come over here.” And you’d stand up and go like this, and she’d pull your mask down and give you a cup of coffee.
EE: Heed the sanitation commission. Yes, freeze-dried. I guess that is right. You talked about how many folks were at Fort Story. How many are at this hospital?
AB: Was a hundred nurses at the general hospital. That means a thousand beds.
EE: Similar twelve-hour shifts?
AB: Oh, sure. Except that they extended it. Some of the wards had as many as two tents added to them with twenty or thirty beds in the tents. Everybody slept head to foot. One bed was a head. The next bed was a foot.
EE: Was that just to make it easy?
[Clock chiming]
AB: No, you’d use each little space. Except the ward with the orthopedic wards. They all had to be the same, because feet were hanging up in the air for a broken leg.
EE: Sounds like, you know, I can imagine that there are certain procedures that they’re telling you at Jefferson, “Here’s how we do it in the hospital.” And when you get to the army situation, “Here’s what we’ve got to do.”
AB: Yes, that’s right.
EE: You’ve got to make do. You’ve got to make do.
AB: Yes. Except we had better equipment in the army than we had at Jefferson, more up to date.
EE: More access to antibiotics and things like that?
AB: They were brand new. When I got off the ship, the Queen Mary, I carried a box of penicillin in my lap. I was sitting on the wrong side of the car, and that was shaky to see things coming at you. That’s left-handed drive or something. I don’t know. Whatever it is, we have different, right-hand drive. And I carried the penicillin for the hospital.
EE: Which was like gold, I’m sure.
AB: Oh, yes. We had to mix it. It came in a vial, and you had to put water in it and shake it up so you could give it. There were like ten doses in a vial, if I remember correctly.
But orthopedics triggered my memory. I had knit myself some red socks for bed, because my feet get cold. And these feet hanging up in this cold room, because it was central heat, stoves down the middle, I took my socks in. The patients had red socks up and down. The ward officer almost died. [Laughter]
EE: You’re there. And, I guess, Liverpool was still getting attacked by buzz bombs?
AB: No, the buzz bombs came later. Buzz bombs came later. Buzz bombs were really later. Oh, there’s a joke about that. Do you want the joke?
EE: Yes, sure.
AB: Why is the end of that bomb on fire? Or why do they go so fast? We’ll you’d go fast, too, if you’re ass was on fire. [Laughter]
EE: Liverpool. I’m trying to remember just my geography and where the attacks were. But was there fear of German air raids?
AB: Oh, sure. The Germans went over once before we started with patients, and you’ll never forget that sound. The German planes were diesel and the engine sound of them. They told us to get out of bed and get under it. I just put on my helmet and said, “The hell with it. I’m Presbyterian. If I die, I die. It’s my turn.”
[This was in Tynsfield Park which is outside Bristol]
EE: That’s right. It’s preordained. You were, I guess, in Liverpool sort of in the northwest part.
AB: No, it’s west. Direct west. Directly opposite Ireland.
EE: Right. But I’m thinking it’s northwest of London.
AB: Yes. And it’s a shipping center. It always has been.
EE: You were there. How did your folks feel about you being overseas?
AB: Well, my mother wanted me to come look up her family, but I never did get over [to Oldham].
EE: Did they keep you pretty much posted on what was happening with the war, or did you get that information just from the troops that you were taking care of?
AB: No, we got a newspaper. I can’t remember what the name of it is. A G.I. paper came around. When we went into town we could read, but I don’t remember ever reading anything except the G.I. paper that came out.
EE: There’s different environments over there in another countries, but how did people on the street react to you in uniform?
AB: Fine. I only had one unpleasant episode, and that was on the train when we were going on leave for a week, after I had pneumonia, and we were going to Scotland. That’s when I learned ladies ride backwards so they don’t get in the draft in British trains.
I was in a carriage and this woman said, “When are you going overseas?”
And I said, “I am overseas. I’m thirty-five hundred miles from home. That’s overseas.”
“Well, we don’t want you here.”
I said, ‘Madam, I didn’t ask to come here. Your government asked for us, and we were sent.”
There was a Scottish officer sitting there, and he said, “Madam, the sister is right. We asked them to come here.” She shut up and never said another word.
EE: What would be the reason that someone would be resentful of that? I know there were a lot of wartime romances or worries about–
AB: Well, that, plus the black soldiers. They also resented the fact that we had food, and we had good clothing, and we had money. Because the $180 a month we got then was a lot more than they got.
EE: When you got there, talking about the air raid, how close to the frontlines did you actually feel? The possibility, and I know you had to feel somewhat back from it.
AB: Didn’t feel a thing about it. I had no worries about it. What is to be will be.
EE: That’s the sort of attitude you have to have, but it’s easier to have that attitude in your twenties, I think.
AB: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m eighty-one, and as I just said to my niece, I’ve had a good life.
EE: Sure. It is attitude. You were there for a little more than a year, and while you were there, did you leave in–when was it, ’45 that you leave? In June of ’45. While you’re in Tynsfield Park, a couple of big things happened, several things. Can you think of any mood changes or moods when you heard about the Battle of the Bulge?
AB: No, we were worried about what would happen, and we got an awful lot of frozen feet in. I can remember taking my bandage scissors and cutting toes off because they were frozen through and only the rest was hanging and it was all dead. I was not allowed in the ward with them, because we always took the sergeant, and he gave the instructions in Buerger’s disease. In Buerger’s disease the feet had to go up in the air, and they had to wave their legs and do things. So we weren’t allowed in the wards.
EE: I bet that was unusual as women [unclear].
AB: That’s right. Oh, no, they never let you in. They might expose themselves.
EE: Oh, okay. Like you hadn’t seen it on the sitz bath duty.
AB: No, I never went in when they had a sitz bath. They did that by themselves.
EE: So there were certain things unassisted, unlike my experiences in a recent urologist visit. [Laughs]
AB: No, none of that. That wasn’t allowed. Even doing an enema was unusual for a female nurse. The enlisted men had to do that. We had to teach them, the corpsmen.
EE: You’re also there as President Roosevelt passes away. How did you hear about that?
AB: How what?
EE: How did you hear about President Roosevelt passing away?
AB: I don’t remember. I don’t remember how that news came through.
EE: How about VE Day? Do you have any recollections of VE Day?
AB: Yes. No, it was VJ Day I remember.
EE: VE Day you were still then at Tynsfield Park?
AB: Yes.
EE: VJ Day you would have been in France.
AB: Okay, then it was VE Day I heard there. Wash and I went to the movies. We saw Keys to the Kingdom. Two soldiers sat behind us, and they said, “The war’s over.” We turned around and said, “Oh, yeah.” Because we couldn’t believe it. But we got outside the theater and we found out it was right. Wasn’t often we went to a real theater, because we usually saw movies on the post.
EE: Did you have a service club or something there?
AB: Oh, yeah. We had an officers’ club. They had a dance every Saturday night. Wore evening dresses so we could be human. We had parties.
EE: I talked with some nurses who said that they felt a little uncomfortable, a little guilty, I guess, the fact that officers basically could have dates, and enlisted people couldn’t.
AB: That’s right.
EE: How did you feel?
AB: Didn’t bother me at all. Well, marriage never was on my agenda. So that was that.
EE: But it did change the dynamic, I think, in the fact that women officers–
AB: Well, my brother came from France to visit me in England, and I had to carry a note in my pocketbook saying that Lieutenant Alice C. Boehret was allowed to be seen with Corporal Karl J. Boehret, in case we got stopped. In fact, that’s funny. The day he came I was out at the gate waiting for the bus to go into Bristol, England.
This man pulls up in a car and said, “Where you going, sister?”
And I said, “Into town to meet my brother. He’s coming from France.”
“Come on, I’ll take you in.”
So I got in the car. I never saw the man. We drove into town. He said, “What station?” I told him. He said, “What time?” I told him. He said, “Oh, we’ve got a lot of time. Come on, I’ll take you to my office.” So I went to his office. His secretary gave me coffee and a biscuit–that’s a cookie–and I talked to him. Then he said, “Time to go, sister. Come on.” And we got up and I went. I don’t even think I thanked the man I was so excited. I had bought my ticket. You had to buy a ticket to get on the platform of the train. Got on the platform. I’m walking back and forth looking, and all of a sudden, “Karl!” I throw my arms around him. And somebody comes by and says, “Hum, Corporals have all the luck.” [Laughter]
EE: With his sister. That’s great. You left Tynsfield Park, the whole unit, I guess, and went to France.
AB: Oh, yes. Yes.
EE: Where did you go in France?
AB: I was thinking this morning. I couldn’t remember. The first place we were we were waiting for a hospital, because it was moving further front. So we had to wait for them to get out, and we went to a place that was a castle. It had a red cross painted on it, but it was one with no moat, but those round towers on it. It had been German place, a German hospital, but we didn’t set up a hospital there. We just stayed there. We were all in one barracks there, and that place, the latrine had honey buckets under the seats. One day one of our girls was sitting on it concentrating and all of a sudden she felt a draft. They pulled it out from under her. [Laughs]
But while we were back in Tynsfield Park in the fall, I had been on night duty a month, which was a long time, because my friends came on, and I developed atypical pneumonia. The War Department notified my mother I wasn’t expected to live.
EE: That’s pretty dramatic news. Now, how long were you out with that?
AB: A good six weeks. I had 80 percent of my lungs involved, were consolidated. I was breathing on that one, and the priest came in and pinned a medal on me. The chief nurse almost died. She said, “You have one lobe left, and he has to pin a medal on it.”

He was funny. He came in and he said, “Do you mind? Your chaplain’s not here.”
I said, “Oh, no. You’ll do. You’re all trying to get us to the same place. You might take different roads.”
And when Maggie heard I had said that, she said, “How could you say that to him? He’s so narrow-minded he can see through a keyhole with both eyes.” He thought anybody that wasn’t Catholic was a heathen.
EE: Well, how did you get over that pneumonia?
AB: I just got over it, that’s all. I got better.
EE: Just the luck of the draw that you–
AB: I had penicillin six times a day. Oh, I also had thrombo phlebitis in both legs. Lost all my hair.
EE: This is all before going to France?
AB: Yes. Lost all my hair.
EE: So what kind of medal did you get for [unclear]?
AB: Nothing.
EE: Oh, my goodness. Is this related to your work environment, do you think?
AB: It was because I was on night duty, and we slept in tents during the day. The beds were wet when we got in them and didn’t dry out until we got out because of the dew because it was in the fall. I’ve got to go to the–
EE: Go right ahead. Well, we’re right close to the end, anyway. Hold on just a second.
[Tape recorder turned off]
AB: . . . warm weather. I was on the postoperative ward, and I remember the man in the first bed had a cast on his leg. The ward officer came in one day and I said, “You need to open that cast there.”
And he said, “Why?”
I said, “I don’t know, but you need to open it there.”
He said, “There’s no blood. There’s no reason to open.”
I said, “I can’t help it. Open it there.”
And he said, “If you want it opened, open it.”
I said, “Okay.” So to the enlisted man, the corpsman, I said, “Get me a knife and some water.” And I cut it open and pus came out. I said, “Now, should I open it or not?”
The ward officer said, “I didn’t know that.”
I don’t know what caused it. I just knew that it should be opened. And that’s called fenestration, and I couldn’t remember the name.
EE: Like opening the window.
AB: That’s right.
EE: The famous defenestrating of Prague, where someone actually talked about the window.
AB: Well, especially since I’m a French major.
EE: That’s right. Well, now, how long were you in France?
AB: From the end of June till I came home before Thanksgiving. There’s another funny story about after I got over pneumonia. I don’t remember when now. I’m mixed up on time. But a patient had a cast on again, and I don’t like to make an occupied bed if I can make an empty bed. So I was thinking he didn’t look too big.
So I said, “Put your arms around my neck.”
I said, “Put your arms around my neck.” And he put his arms around my neck and I picked him up and pivoted and put him on the next bed, because they’re only three feet apart.
He says, “I’m not going to tangle with her.”
EE: When you finally did set up, you didn’t set up in this castle for your hospital, but you did set up?
AB: Yes. That’s where we had to wear hat and gloves to go take a bath.
[Begin Tape 1, Side B]
EE: . . . before Thanksgiving. Was that the end of your military service? I don’t think so, was it?
AB: I spent about another month at Camp Butner, which is up–
EE: North Carolina.
AB: No. Maybe it’s Butler. It had been a hospital for deaf people in Western Pennsylvania.
EE: That’s Butler. Butler’s in Pennsylvania, and Butner’s in North Carolina.
AB: Yes. I was there and they asked me if I wanted to get out and I said yes.
EE: It had been that, but was it been a triage center or something? What kind of place was Fort Butler? Just general hospital?
AB: Yes. As I remember.
EE: I know the different parts in the war I know different hospitals specialized in different things.
AB: Yes.
EE: Burns or amputees and things like that. So you were at Butler for about a month?
AB: Yes.
EE: And then you left the service before the end of ’45?
AB: No. No, I had off Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. So it was in February or March. I had a lot of accumulated leave.
EE: And you didn’t get a chance to take it.
AB: Well, I got to the Riviera in France.
EE: That’s good.
AB: We went down on a nonscheduled flight. We went down on a flying prostitute. That’s a B-26. She has no visible means of support. Of course, we weren’t on a manifest then to go back, so I had to go and I had to talk them into putting me on a manifest, Gerry and I, and we ended up in Belgium. Then I had to talk the MPs into recruiting a Jeep to take us back to France. And I had to get back because it was payday.
EE: What did you do with your free time when you were there? I mean, this was unusual, but I’m just thinking in general. Did nurses tend to hang out together, or was everybody sort of on their own?
AB: Everybody was on their own. We did a lot of different things. We bicycled. I had a bicycle. That was the only time in my life that I ever–while I was sick, somebody stole it. But we bicycled down to the sea, the Irish Sea. Wraxall was right next to the town where [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge wrote Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We’d go into Bristol to the theater. We went to the theater a lot at night, and they’d take us in by bus and got the bus, which was only a train ride away or a bus. I guess it was a bus ride.
EE: So you did get to play the tourist a little bit.
AB: Yes, and we got to London. One time we missed our train in London and we ended up–I was thinking of this yesterday or the day before. We ended up at Reading. We got into a train and they were boys, because they were men that had been in the army, and they annoyed the hell out of us. They wouldn’t let us sleep, because we had to wait for the next train that would get us to Bristol.
EE: You said that you left the service in May of ’46?
AB: Yes.
EE: Were you at Butler in May of ’46? That’s when you were discharged?
AB: No, I was on leave.
EE: Oh, that’s just built up and technically you were there. Sometime during the war they had actually taken you and made you a real lieutenant.
AB: Yes. Yes.
EE: So what was your rank when you left?
AB: First lieutenant.
EE: First lieutenant, okay.
AB: Well, I was first lieutenant when Karl came. When I was still in Wraxall, I made first lieutenant.
EE: Okay. So that’s been like ’44, probably?
AB: Yes. I was one of the last to get it, because the chief nurse, director of nurses, where she trained was a Jeff nurse, and she didn’t like Jeff nurses.
EE: Too much familiarity, I guess, then.
AB: Yes.
EE: Generally, how did you feel you were treated by the men that you worked with in the service?
AB: Very well. They were real good. In fact, one of the doctors when we were in France–we picked up some odd ones, you know. Different ages they moved them, however old they were or whatever specialty they had. And there was a doctor surgeon when we were in Commercy in France who told me if I wanted a job when it was over to come to Cook County General Hospital and he’d give me a job. He liked the way I used my hands, because he didn’t believe in using a retractor to hold the belly open. He wanted hands to hold it open.
EE: Probably not standard procedure, I would think.
AB: But there was a–I don’t know why the word balfour [phonetic] sticks in my mind, and that may be the wrong name. A lot of things you don’t have names, and different hospitals name them different things.
EE: Different procedures then?
AB: No, not procedures. Instruments. And the one that we usually used in the belly was a round ring. We had one doctor called it a whirligig, and it had four blades on it, and you could fold them in. They were lead.
EE: And then you’d just crank it and pull back?
AB: Yes.
EE: Did you ever think about making the military a career?
AB: No, I hated it.
EE: It was just work, just like you’re talking about.
AB: That’s right.
EE: Prepare to work and then just forget about it.
AB: Not only that, the G.I. Bill was there, and I wanted to go to college.
EE: Right.
AB: See, I wanted to teach algebra in junior high school, but I missed getting into Normal School in Philadelphia, which would have been free, by two-tenths of a point.
EE: Thinking back, because I know in a moment I’m going to ask you a few questions, more than a few, about your time when you got back and were at WC, what was the hardest thing, either physically or emotionally for you, about your time as an army nurse?
AB: I can’t think of an answer for that. The worst time, of course, when I had pneumonia and my temperature hit 105.6 for three days. So that’s a little rough. But the best time was the people. The men were marvelous. You know, they were always full of jokes. And when I was sick, the soldiers that I had seen–oh, I had been on night duty as night supervisor before I got sick, and I saw every patient every night. God forbid I should miss one. And when I got sick, I had for a long time a number of letters that they sent to me saying, “You came to visit us. We hope you’re all right. We hope you’re getting better.”
EE: They didn’t forget you.
AB: No. One of them one time I washed his hair. He was in a body cast, and he got hysterical. I washed all over him, and I said, “Now, I’m going to have to call somebody in to finish your bath.” So he said, “Oh, no! No, no!” But he got bathed, and he said, “Thank god, I’m clean.” [Laughter]
EE: Yes, it would be kind of a strange grungy feeling.
AB: Another soldier– one time we were in the kitchen on the ward. We didn’t have stoves. We had some sort of a teeny thing that they’re supposed to heat blankets. But we didn’t heat the blankets. We’d heat dishes so that the food would stay hot. We were in there, and I was getting lunch ready and he was talking to me. He had a cane. A fly boy was dating one of the nurses and he flew over low, and this boy threw me in the corner behind the stove and got on top of me. I asked, “What the hell are you doing?” He said, “I thought they were strafing.” Now, he really did. It triggered the action like that. [Claps hands]
EE: It was just automatic.
AB: Yes.
EE: That was nice to know at wartime you had friends who would do that.
AB: And then when we started getting American products, we used to open the window and yell across to the nurse next door, “Hey,” whatever her name was. “What kind of butter do you have?”
“I have Land ‘O Lakes today.”
“I have Luella.”
EE: So this is the care packages you’d get back from home?”
AB: No, these were government.
EE: The government supplies.
AB: I guess the war was over just about and they could get it over. The German U-boats weren’t as bad then.
EE: Did you ever feel physically in danger or afraid during wartime?
AB: No. No.
EE: It doesn’t sound like it, much like your personality.
AB: No. My brother and I were in the movies. We were standing in line to see the movie, Mrs. Parkington, when a buzz bomb went over, and I said, “Oh, look at that.” Another time I was there with friends and a buzz bomb went over and I was taking a bath. We were all in the bathroom. The water went up. Oh, well.
EE: Whatever will be, will be, and can’t do much about it. You’re talking about the people is really what makes–and I think for most folks I talk to that what they remember about their service time were the people.
AB: Oh, yes.
EE: Because the service puts you, you know, you could have had a career as a nurse and stayed right there in the Philadelphia area, which, of course, by being a big metropolitan area, you see a lot of different kinds of folks. And yet you had a mix of people with different ethnicity, cultures, and backgrounds.
AB: That’s how you learn.
EE: You learn. Are there some memorable characters that stick out in your mind?
AB: Our chief nurse. When somebody said we had been under her, she said, “Oh, you’ll get a padded seat in heaven.” But Maggie turned out to be a very good friend. I worked with her after I got out of college.
EE: Is there a particularly embarrassing moment that comes to mind? It’s a strange question to ask. What was your most embarrassing moment? I often think of, well, if there’s not one you want to tell on yourself, is there anything particular?
AB: No, I can’t think of any.
EE: You told me a few that are pretty funny already.
AB: Yes. But, see, it was never embarrassing. I thought it was funny.
[Clock chiming]
EE: That’s right. But, see, I think part of the thing as a nurse, and my Mom’s a nurse, and she works at family planning, where you get used to having people do strange things and things like that and people are embarrassed. But it’s just hard work. Just hard work.
AB: That’s right. [Unclear]. We were never anyplace to [unclear]. Except at our house in France.
EE: It’s a free world in France.
AB: I remember one time we decided to see what it was like to take a bath out of our helmets when we were in France in that one big building. So there were about seventy or eighty of us all taking a bath, helmets hung on the cot, because we were sleeping on cots then, and somebody walked right by the window. No curtains. There was no such thing as curtains. “Oh, my, look at that. I hope they didn’t look in.” And they just kept right on. Wasn’t nothing we could do about it.
EE: No, you just live and let live. When you think about that time, was there any particular–you mentioned a couple of movies that just came out, were there any particular songs or movies that when you hear or your see now that takes you back to those times?
AB: Yes. “Si Bonne.”
EE: What?
AB: “Si Bonne.”
EE: “Si Bonne.”
AB: I was on the Riviera when that was introduced. Also, “Please, Mr. Truman, Why Can’t We Go Home?” That sung to the tune of “Lily Marlena.” But “Si Bonne” I remember very well. I used to be able to translate it, and I can’t anymore. Don’t even remember the words.
EE: Who sang that?
AB: I don’t know.
EE: I’m trying to think. When was Piaf?
AB: Well, Piaf was a little after that, but she probably sang that. But she was a little later.
EE: There’s something I’ve heard folks talk about is how patriotic folks were.
AB: Right.
EE: And I hear that kind of stateside. Was there ever a fear among people that you worked with that we might not win the war?
AB: Oh, God, no. No way. We’re here and we’re going to win. Americans don’t lose. That’s why I won’t support the Spartans. The Spartans were always losers, and I don’t believe in that.
EE: That’s [unclear]. Pick the winning side if we’re going to pick something–
AB: That’s right. Athena always won. Brains always win over brawn.
EE: Well, the thing that seems more logical [unclear].
AB: Well, we had a chancellor at that time who didn’t want to win it, and he named them Spartans. Now, come on. I refuse to support them.
EE: When did that name come into vogue? Was that with UNCG [University of North Carolina Greensboro]?
AB: No.
EE: Was it before?
AB: I left right after men came on campus. They came in ’63, and I left in ’66. When I was teaching on campus.
EE: Do you have any heroes or heroines from those war days?
AB: No, I can’t think of any. They all were heroes.
EE: What about the leadership of the country and the military at that time? What did you think of them? Or Roosevelt, for example?
AB: Well, he was Democrat and I was Republican. But I got to admire Mr. Truman.
EE: He had a tough role to come in on, didn’t he?
AB: Yes. He did a hell of a good job. I mean, he got, you know, the buck stopped here is absolutely right. You don’t pussy-foot.
EE: You came back and you had the option of your G.I. Bill. Why, of all the places in the universe, did you end up in North Carolina?
AB: I went to the University of Pennsylvania for veterans’ guidance, and a professor-emeritus of engineering said, “You don’t want to come here. My niece just graduated from the Woman’s College in the University of North Carolina. It’s an excellent liberal arts school.” I sent for a catalog. I applied. I was admitted, and I came. Best decision I ever made. The only problem is when I got off the train, got in the taxi, I said, “I want to go to the college.” I didn’t know there were two. And he said, “WC or GC?” Now, as a nurse, GC means gonorrhea, and having been in England WC meant water closet. I thought I was going to pass out.
Then he dumped me on the stops of the old McIver Building, because I was to live in McIver House, and he put me with all my luggage on the porch of the McIver Building, which was the entrance to the Weatherspoon Art Gallery. I couldn’t find anybody.
A groundskeeper came along and said, “What are you doing here?”
I said, “Well, I’m going to McIver.”
“Oh, come on. I’ll take you.” He picked up my bags and took me over to McIver House, which was where the Grogan Garden is.
EE: Well, that was a nice transition to have somebody friendly say, “Okay, I’ll get you where you need to be.” So you knew nobody, had no connections.
AB: No, nothing at all. Nothing at all.
EE: Did you have any inkling what you wanted to study? You said you wanted to teach algebra at one point in junior high.
AB: No.
EE: Were you coming out to be a math major?
AB: No, I was coming for a liberal arts degree. I didn’t know what it was.
EE: Did you know coming down that this school was already attracting a large number of veterans?
AB: No. No.
EE: That wasn’t factored in your decision?
AB: No. No.
EE: It was just a good place to come for a liberal arts degree?
AB: No. And he was professor-emeritus. I figured he knew what he was talking about.
EE: What was it like as a nontraditional student in college?
AB: Now, that’s a hard question to answer, because I don’t know what it was to be a traditional student. Now, we were fine. I just couldn’t, that society.
EE: Didn’t they house you all separate from the regular–
AB: No, there were only nineteen of us that were housed separately, and we were in McIver House, which was on the edge of campus. Miss Hattie Elliott, Harriet Elliott, came in to talk to us, and she said, “You ladies have had more experiences than any of us here on campus. We have one rule we wish you would keep. Woman’s College students do not drink.” That was the only thing she said. Of course, we all had a bottle in the closet, but we did not drink in front of the students. We did not drink when we were going to be with them.
EE: Was there smoking prohibitions back here at that time?
AB: No. No. There were no sign-out or sign-ins either. The house president locked the door where we lived, where I lived.
EE: Right, as opposed to on campus. What about having gentlemen visitors?
AB: Oh, no. Oh, no. At least nobody did that I know of.
EE: So the rules didn’t bend quite that far, okay. Favorite classes, professors stick out in your mind?
AB: Jo Hege, she was wonderful.
EE: What was her–
AB: History. Marc Friedlaender. Jimmy Painter [phonetic]. Monsieur Hardre.
EE: He must have been here forever.
AB: Oh, I ended up a French major. Miss Mossman was an excellent teacher. That’s theology.
EE: When did Miss Elliott pass away? It must have been while you were here, wasn’t it?
AB: Yes, first year. Yes.
EE: Was she dean at that time?
AB: Dean of Students, yes.
EE: I know she was in D.C. and then she came back to here. So she was dean when she passed away?
AB: Yes.
EE: So you picked French as opposed to all these other things because you wanted–
AB: Yes, because–
EE: Did you pick up some French while you were over there? Did you have any background when you were in France?
AB: High school French.
EE: High school French. So enough to get you in trouble.
AB: No, I went shopping with a woman in France, because I wanted a gold chain. She said, and I understood it, even though it was in French, that they would cheat me. So we went shopping, and I’d see something and she’d go in and price it for me and come out and I’d say, “Combien?” And she’d tell me, and she’d say, “Très cher, très cher.” That’s too expensive. So we’d go on to something else. Spent a lovely day together.
EE: That’s great. That’s great. You were at WC and you graduated in ’50. And there were a number of other women who came through on the G.I. Bill, I guess?
AB: Oh, yes, quite a few. There was Eleanor Rigney [phonetic]. Esther Samuelson, Beulah Coventry. Beulah was a nurse. Beulah Coventry. Oh, hell, I can’t think of the rest of them. Frances Kirby Schultz, she’s dead. She committed suicide or her husband shot her. I don’t know which. My roommate was Pug Cooney, Eileen Elizabeth Cooney. There was a [unclear]. What was her name? Oh, I can’t think of her name. She’s from Poughkeepsie, and she left to go to Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and finished up there.
EE: I noticed in some of the correspondence you commented there was really a large number of out-of-state students in that year, because of this thing with the [unclear]. It does make a difference.
AB: Yes, 40 percent of the class was out-of-state.
EE: That is high because to this day, I think, the state university system, because it’s underwritten by the state here, they see as one of their major missions is to offer affordability.
AB: Of course, it was then, but there weren’t students. So 40 percent of our class was out-of-state.
EE: I think out-of-state students tend to bond with each other because they’re in the same–I mean, you come from the land of scrapple down to the land of grits.
AB: Yes, I brought scrapple down and we used to have it for breakfast after Christmas. We had a hot plate. In fact, Easter vacation when we went away, some of the students would stay in our house because we had a toaster, a hot plate, a frying pan, a two-burner hot plate, and we always had margarine, because you didn’t need to refrigerate that. And they’d stay in our house and in our rooms while we were away.
EE: While you were in school, you continued to work summers and weekends as a nurse, I guess, for spending money, because the G.I. Bill paid for your school expenses.
AB: That’s right. And we got seventy-five dollars a month.
EE: On top of that?
AB: Yes.
EE: Did you have access to veterans’ hospital or veterans’ stuff by being an army nurse?
AB: I guess we could, but we would have had to go to Fayetteville.
EE: There wasn’t anything nearby, no.
AB: I thought at the end of my college career I might be interested in going back into the military, but because I had had a slipped disk in the army before I went to Europe, I would have had to go to Fayetteville for a physical, and I didn’t feel like going that far. So I said, “The heck with it.”
EE: So this is when you went back to Philly to work at Albert Einstein?
AB: Yes.
EE: And you got that offer right out of school?
AB: Yes. That was where a chief nurse who was working there and she said, “Come on back here, Alice. It’s a good program.”
EE: This is the chief nurse from the army days?
AB: Yes.
EE: This was Maggie?
AB: Maggie.
EE: What was her last name?
AB: Hornicel.
EE: Well, we’re taking the transcript from that. Well, that’s great. That’s good to have a friend who remembers you and looks out for you. You were at Einstein for like a number of years. I did this transcript. How long were you there? From ’50 to when?
AB: ’57.
EE: ’57.
AB: I came back here in ’57.
EE: When you go back to Einstein, you’re there as an instructor teaching other nurses. What’s that like?
AB: Oh, that was wonderful. I still hear from some of them at Christmas. If anything goes wrong, we hear from each other.
EE: As an instructor in a nursing program, are you still charged with duties other than supervisory duties?
AB: No.
EE: So you’re sort of just looking after their performance. You don’t have additional floor duties?
AB: No. No, they didn’t then. They do now.
EE: As you come back to Woman’s College as they’re getting a program in nursing started.
AB: That’s right.
EE: You’re about, I think, the second hired for this program.
AB: Yes.
EE: Who was the founder?
AB: A woman named Mary Mansfield. She was from someplace else, New York State.
EE: Did they approach you?
AB: Oh, yes. They wrote to all of the nurses who had gone through their program. I was the only who answered. My sister said she’d kill me if I didn’t take the job.
EE: Well, now, your degree was in French, but you were taking some sort of nursing stuff here?
AB: They didn’t have any.
EE: They just knew that you were a nurse and that you had been to WC and would you be interested? And here this is a sort of transition in nursing, because I know most nurses, for many years, and it’s still today, are trained in hospitals. A lot of them are trained in hospitals.
AB: That’s right.
EE: Not in a separate bachelors.
AB: No. No.
EE: The idea of a bachelor of science in nursing is sort of a fairly recent phenomenon, I would think.
[Clock chiming]
AB: Yes. There were five. When I came here to start this AD program, there were five baccalaureate programs in the United States.
EE: So this was a pioneering program.
AB: Well, this is the AD program. It was an AD program, two years. It was a demonstration unit for the State of North Carolina, and we were the twenty-eighth ADN program. ADN, Associate Degree Nursing.
EE: With a bachelors you’d get an RN after four years. Is that what the deal is? Was that the breakdown on–
AB: Yes. The AD you could get an RN after two years if you passed the exam. I mean, it’s an exam. It’s not a degree.
EE: So ADN and then you have two years of on-the-job work and then you get an RN once you pass your exam. And you were at Woman’s College from ’57 to ’65 or ’66.
AB: I was the one that insisted that it should be a baccalaureate program, because the State of North Carolina said that they should not have two-year programs in a four-year school, and I agree with that.
EE: What was your role with the school when you left in ’66?
AB: I was chairman of the department.
EE: When did you become chair? After Ms. Mansfield left?
AB: After Mary Mansfield left, yes.
EE: She left in when?
AB: She left in ’60. She was only here for three years. She had a three-year appointment. She was a nurse.
EE: I would imagine when you left in ’66 were there other bachelor programs in the state at that time for nursing?
AB: Chapel Hill.
EE: Chapel Hill? When did Chapel Hill start theirs?
AB: Chapel Hill started theirs, I don’t know whether it was around 1950, someplace in the late forties or early fifties, I think. I don’t really remember.
EE: And then, I guess, the transition because of the way that women were not at Chapel Hill for so long and then tended towards becoming coeducational for all the schools is this blurring of the service role lines for–
AB: Yes. And you know what? We’d send students who didn’t make a grade to be able to go on here to Chapel Hill, and they’d make a B when they made a D here. Now, you know that’s not possible. So that was easier. They’ve lowered the standards here, you know, because when we were students an A was 95 to 100.
EE: Yes, now you might get 90 to 100.
AB: That’s a tenth, and an A is never a tenth. Seventy-five was passing.
EE: What changed during the process of the training? Was it more science based? Did you have more basic science in the training? Was it more practical training? What’s the difference as you developed that program?
AB: My training in the three-year program was an apprenticeship. When they came to college, they were students. You never let them practice something they had not been taught. I was put in and shown what to do on the ward. I was never taught it.
EE: You weren’t taught how or why something worked, you just were shown how to do it.
AB: Well, we were taught why in the classroom, but you could have learned how to do it before why to do it, which is not very economical.
EE: I’m going to go back and ask you a couple more questions about WC, but I’m just trying to track your career. After you left WC, which was then UNCG in ’66, where did you go?
AB: I went to teachers’ college, Columbia University, for my doctorate, and I didn’t practice nursing anytime after that.
EE: When did you finish that doctorate at Columbia?
AB: ’72. The title of my dissertation is “An Analysis of Four Concepts of Nursing Care Using the Logic of Language.” I read the dictionary for eighteen months.
EE: And you’re doing this with the idea of going back to continue being the head of a department?
AB: Baccalaureate.
EE: And is that what happened?
AB: I established the baccalaureate program at Rutgers.
EE: Camden.
AB: Camden.
EE: Was this a position in mind sometime before the end of your doctoral work? Had you already planned where to go?
AB: No. When I finished my doctoral work and moved back with one of my roommates, she said, “By the way, they’re opening a program at Rutgers. Call them up.” So I called them up.
EE: How long were you at Rutgers-Camden?
AB: Till I retired.
EE: Which was?
AB: ’84. I said to the dean, “I want to retire. I’ll be sixty-five on the second of January. I don’t want to be here the third.”
“Well, you have to work a full year.”
And I said, “I can’t help it.” Because they had changed the program the year I was out on sabbatical. And I said, “I want to get out of here.”
So the administrative assistant said, “Find out if she can [get a medical reason to quit].” So I had a friend write me a letter saying he wasn’t sure my mental health would hold up. So I got out, and I slept for two years. I was exhausted. Trying to find faculty is hard.
EE: It’s the biggest challenge in running a program. It seems to me, as long as I can remember, there’s been a shortage of nurses, or nurses have always been in demand. So finding, perhaps, a pool of people to come teach is not the problem so much as getting people.
AB: To teach them, yes.
EE: Is part of that problem that they make more money doing something else, or is part of it is just getting the qualified people with the right education?
AB: I’m not sure what it is right now. Oh, to teach?
EE: Yes.
AB: Getting qualified people. And the universities that insist you have to write books and articles and there’s no place to get nursing ones.
EE: [Unclear] is for disciplines which are not word oriented in their practice, it’s difficult.
AB: That’s right. That’s right. It’s more than difficult. It’s like the motto of the Signal Corps. The difficult, we do it once. The impossible takes a little longer.
EE: Looking now at the nurses program here, what–
AB: I haven’t seen the program here. Of course, I’m a heretic. I believe that nursing should be totally generic, as you do the whole four years in one place, and then when they want to get a masters, go someplace else to get a different philosophy. I don’t believe in these people doing nursing in Podunk, and then coming here and taking two years. I think that’s a bastard degree.
EE: It doesn’t give you enough of a consistent exposure to how you did things.
AB: Not only that, I really think they should have a liberal arts base and nursing two years on top of it or four years like a medical school, and then they’re truly the professional. I used to tell the students, when they said they didn’t need a degree, I’d say, “Well, except for the oldest profession of women, nursing’s the only one that doesn’t require a baccalaureate.”
EE: Sure. And yet they’re entrusted–
AB: With people’s lives.
EE: Precious lives. They’re responsible. My sister just finished her nursing degree last week after spending some time doing other things and decided she wanted it. She thinks of herself as a professional.
AB: Of course, she does.
EE: And she is a professional, and yet she didn’t have the bachelor’s training. She went through a three-year program.
AB: Oh, she shouldn’t have done that.
EE: Yes, but she did it as part time.
AB: That’s all right. You still can in public schools, which makes being an administrator even worse, because you have to offer courses, and they want the classes full. And to get everybody–
EE: So you take courses at strange hours where you can find your pool of people to fill up the classes. It does make it difficult. It makes it difficult.
AB: And then who wants to go to a hospital in the middle of the night? Of course, I had a hospital administrator say, “They’re not going to work nights anyway.” When I said no nights.
I said, “No. Do you?”
And he said, “No.”
I said, “Well, my philosophy is if it isn’t good enough for you, it isn’t good enough for me.”
EE: When you think back and try to integrate your military experience and all the rest of the stuff that came afterwards, what impact do you think the military years had on the rest of your life?
AB: Well, for one thing, they gave me a broader base to work from, because there were so many different things that I picked up and learned that I had not learned before and so many new ways to do things and new ways to think of things. And that’s important. And I think a lot of people lose that. But I think the discipline. It was just like being in training, but it was a little different. It’s something I wouldn’t do again, but something I wouldn’t take a millions for.
EE: You would never have known in advance what you were going to learn there.
AB: That’s right. That’s right.
EE: And having learned it, you’re grateful. At the same token, having known what you went through, thanks, but no.
AB: Yes.
EE: Think it make you more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?
AB: Not more, just a little stronger. I was already independent. Because I was the baby and my mother was over forty when I was born, she was, “I’m not always going to be here. You’ve got to do it for yourself.” So I was basically pushed.
EE: Pushed from the beginning to be independent?
AB: Yes.
EE: Would you advise women who had similar opportunities to join a service nurse corps to do that? Is that something that joining the service was something you’d recommend to other women?
AB: Only if there’s a war. I’m still patriotic. You have something to offer the service then and your country.
EE: But as an addition to their life experiences in and of itself?
AB: No, I think they can get it elsewhere. If there’s not a war on, you don’t meet the same kind of people. The people you meet who are in a peacetime army are people who want to be in the military. They’re not people who are there to do a job. I mean, they’re there to do a job, yes, but it’s a different kind of job.
EE: Right. There’s not the same urgency or intensity or, maybe, teamwork spirit. I don’t know.
AB: I don’t know. I can’t explain it.
EE: The general debate about women’s involvement in the military, do you think there are some certain jobs that should be off limits to women in the services? We just had two years ago sent our first combat pilot into action in Iraq.
AB: Yes, I know. No, women have been fighting in the Israeli army and on the line. I mean, if you’re going to get shot, you’re going to get shot.
EE: And it is sort of the equivalent in the academic game of copus shapiris [phonetic].
AB: Yes.
EE: In the military you have to be in combat or either you’re not going to get the promotion. So either you have a two-tiered system, or you say everybody’s accessible to everything.
AB: I think it’s interesting, you know, that in World War I, when the navy took yeomanettes, they thought there would be two yeomanettes for one sailor, and they found that one yeomanette did what three sailors did.
EE: Yes. That was the male ego getting in the way, I think, of the [unclear] process going on there.
AB: Well, that was true in the army, too, with the WAACS. They thought that they would be extraneous and not do anything. They proved themselves.
EE: One of the things that I’ve heard some army nurses say, even if they liked the work, they really didn’t want to linger in the military nurse corps in that advancements were so slow for the amount of time that you were in, you were only going to move up one pay grade every three or four years. It just wasn’t going to be worth it.
AB: Oh, well, that never got in there. I wouldn’t stay there because I knew the patients would be the same. I’d much rather have a variety, all ages, all sexes.
EE: I think that’s part of it. You thrive off of the personalities that you’re working with and you’re helping.
AB: And I like people.
EE: You have to. You have to be that way. A lot of folks, when they look back at your generation and women who entered the workforce, say if you want to look at the start of the women’s liberation movement, the women’s movement in this country, you just look at that generation, because they saw physically that women could do things that only men could do.
[Clock chiming]
AB: Well, only men.
EE: Right. Only men. Well, do you think of yourself in those ways, as a trailblazer, a pioneer?
AB: No. No. Now, I’m surprised that the college gave me that plate. That really stunned me. I can’t get over it. I’m just one of the group. I don’t let anybody step on me.
EE: Well, but you’re part of a generation of women that had that attitude, just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean X, Y, or Z. I’ve had to work hard just to confine you to ninety minutes, because I know we could talk a long time today, especially about your nursing work in the school, and my task with my little chat is to talk mainly about the military time. But I know probably there’s a longer conversations that a more informed interviewer could talk to you about the nursing program. But I appreciate you sitting down and talking with me today. Is there anything about your time in the military part of your service or your association with our school that I haven’t talked about that you’d like to have on tape?
AB: No, I don’t think so. I just say it was the best move I ever made, and because I was here, my niece got here, and she’s a WC graduate.
EE: Excellent. Well, you find quality and you stick with it.
AB: That’s true. The only thing is quality is getting a little diluted.
EE: Well, that’s a general societal problem, not just any one place, I’m afraid. We’ve got to fight for that.
AB: Yes. Oh, you do know that one time, I guess, while I was in doctoral study I sent in my hundred dollars for my annual giving and found out they gave most of the scholarships to men. They next got a letter from me saying, “Next year this will be in cents, not dollars.” And Barbara Parrish said, “Of all the women that had been on campus, I was the only one that picked it up.” But that made me mad.
EE: This was obviously in trying to make it more fully coeducational they were really trying to draw people in or something.
AB: Yes.
EE: Well, thank you. I’m going over a few names I want to go over with you just to double check. But, transcriber, I appreciate your perseverance. I think you’re going to have fun with this.
AB: Oh, God. I forgot I was on that. [Laughter]

Interview with Alice C. Boehret by Eric Elliott, May 15, 2000, Alice C. Boehret Collection, Women Veterans Historical Collection, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.