The Rural Nurse

Check out one blogger's fond memories of rural life and medical care in the 1930s and '40s.

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Courtesy of the Library of Congress
This 1919 photo is of a rural nurse visiting a farm wife and her daughter.

When I was a little guy during the 1940s, medical care in rural areas was much different than today. Many babies were born at home, sometimes with the help of a midwife, although I was born in a hospital in 1933. That was the last time I saw the inside of a hospital, except to visit someone, for more than fifty years. If there were hospital emergency rooms in those days we never heard of them, not even the time when Dad, while planting corn when I was four or five, flipped the disc row marker from one side to the other as he turned the team at the end of a row and it came down right on my head causing a severe cut.

My grandmother suffered from heart trouble but until she died in 1943 she was cared for at home by my grandfather and Mom and Dad, with help from dad’s sister who lived on the next farm. We had a family doctor, whose home and office were in a town nearly fifteen miles from the farm, but all it took was a phone call, day or night, and he’d make the long drive over not always good roads to see grandma. Naturally, my sister and I ran the gamut of mumps, measles, chicken pox and whatever else was going through our one-room school, but good old Dr. Boyd would faithfully show up to minister to us.

There was a person, signing himself J. Edw. Tufft, who wrote short poems under the title, “The Cheerful Plowman” that were published in several farm papers in the 1930s and ’40s. He penned this little ode to the rural nurses of his younger years.

                                  THE EARLY DAY RURAL NURSE


                        No hospital training like nurses have now,

                        Just mindful to serve and a native know-how!

                        Just practical wisdom acquired on the side,

                        The call of experience learned and applied!

                        Just love for humanity filling the heart,

                         Creating an urge to do life’s greater part!


The early day nurse in this section of ours

Possessed, I am certain, unlimited powers

To drive away sickness of every known kind,

Both illness of body and illness of mind!

She had many children to care for at home,

A family to wash for and to iron and to comb,

Yet time never was when she hadn’t a day

When all of her hours couldn’t be parceled away!

Ah, chicken pox, measles and tonsils and mumps,

With all of their fevers and red little bumps.

Small eyes full of spots and small ears full of chimes,

Were soothed by this nurse in those earlier times!


When the stork came along he was certain to find

This nurse on the job with her sureness of mind,

And dozens of babes in this region of farms

Spent all their first day in her motherly arms!

I see all about me strong men in their prime,

Grown bearded and fine in the passing of time,

Who would not be on earth in their vigor today

If the early day nurse had been lax in her way!


Rewards may be plenty for statesmen and seers,

And Heaven be filled with the judges and peers;

Great blessings may come to the teachers of men,

To physicians and pastors again and again,

But I have a feeling that close to the Throne

The pioneer nurse will come into her own.–J. Edw. Tufft.

I’ll dedicate this to all the modern day health care workers–nurses, doctors, aides, EMTs, cleaning staff, and all the others who have been doing their jobs during this pandemic in spite of the personal danger they face. Thank you!

Sam Moore

Farm Collector Magazine
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