Cherry Ames, Boarding School Nurse by Helen Wellspublished 1955
It took Cherry the rest of the afternoon to get settled. She hung away her dresses and her crisp white uniforms, and laid out her own thermometers, bandage scissors, glass syringe, and patients’ record book on the infirmary table.
Right after Labor Day, girls began to arrive in a rush at the Jamestown School. They poured in in ones and twos and threes, travelling together if they were old pupils, but the majority of them were brought by their parents. Laughter and chatter filled the house, and girls overflowed into the dormitory buildings and on the sunny grounds. Their noisy reunions reminded Cherry of her own festive times with her Spencer Club crowd…
Mrs Harrison declared everyone would actually settle down, once classes began. In the meantime, she beamed like a girl herself, introducing all the new people around, including Cherry. The first day or two of the new term resembled a house party, what with comparing snapshots of summer vacations trying on another’s new clothes and nobly ‘getting along’ with one’s assigned roommates.
…’That’s a cute nurse’s cap,’ Betty said. ‘Is it your school cap, Miss Cherry?’
‘No, this is the conventional cap.’
commentary: There have been a few schoolgirls on the blog in recent times, and there are more to come. When I featured schoolgirl detectives recently, commentator Jessica came to say ‘I recommend "Cherry Ames, Boarding School Nurse" by Helen Wells, another interesting schoolgirl mystery.’ So of course I ordered it, and here it is – the 17th in a long series of books. I cannot explain better than Wikipedia:
Cherry Ames is the central character in a series of 27 mystery novels with hospital settings published between 1943 and 1968. The series stars a job-hopping, mystery-solving nurse in the Nancy Drew mold, named Cherry Ames. Cherry (short for Charity) hails from Hilton, Illinois (based on Wells' hometown of Danville, Illinois), and was steered into nursing by Dr. Joseph Fortune, an old family friend. Cherry's training at the Spencer Hospital School of Nursing is chronicled in the first two books. There, she meets the classmates who become lifelong friends.And in this book, obviously, she comes to work in an upmarket girls’ boarding school. There is a complex mystery involving a slightly difficult girl, Lisette, who is looking for something in the old house which forms the school buildings. Cherry and nice young Dr Alan help out, and also look after the routine medical problems in the school, and the odd emergency. Cherry teaches the girls how to make flower petal sachets to add fragrance to their clothes, and the instructions are included.
And sometimes doctor and nurse go out on dates – I was so entranced by this romance that I had to cheat (look up later books) to find out if this relationship was going somewhere, but sadly not. (I need a regular reader to tell me whether each adventure had its own young Dr Alan/Todd/Greg/John.)
The mystery was fine, and the details of perfume-making unexpected and quite interesting. But the real fascination for me was the picture of Jamestown school, and the lives of the pupils. I was particularly intrigued by the differences between this picture of American life, and the idea of a similar school in the UK at the time. Of course, I can only really say how literary depictions would vary – real life may have been quite different for all. Blog friend Lucy Fisher is by no means from the era of the girls in the book, but may well have relevant experience of a posh girls’ school a bit later.
So – the differences. The older girls at this school are much more interested in boys than their UK (I stress – in books) counterparts would be. Dating, sneaking out, connections with a boys’ school all feature. At ALL such British schools (unless they were very modern or experimental, as in this blogpost) there would be no connections with boys. And – equally important - the pupils would wear uniform most of the time. End of. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, and they get chances to dress up, wear their casual clothes, and accessorize with nice jewellery. Unthinkable at the Sixth Form of St Swots.
By happy chance I recently read a family YA novel from 1946 by Gwendoline Courtney, and there was a reference to the rector being ‘dreamy’: I at first misunderstood this to mean that he was attractive, romantic, but that was by no means the case, he was just vague. In the Cherry Ames book, it is very clear that ‘dreamy’ means ‘super-fanciable’.
UK school stories are often big on riding, but I could never imagine this rather splendid sentence:
Virtually the entire school had gone off on their horses for an overnight trip to River’s End and the lodge.- life at the Cherry Ames school is much more rugged.
My copy of the book is a re-issue from 2007, and has a fascinating introduction from Harriet Schulman Forman, who says she was inspired to become a nurse by the books:
Thousands of other young readers were motivated by Cherry Ames to become R[egistered] N[urses] as well. Through her thought-provoking stories, Cherry Ames led a steady stream of students into schools of nursing across the country [the USA] well into the 1960s and 1970s when the series ended.And that inspired Forman to get the books re-published, very charmingly.
I found the splendid nurse pictures at the National Library of Medicine – they are from a series showing different nurse uniforms from around the world.
There are many many posts about schools, girls schools, boarding schools and uniforms, vocational training (yes, of course I mean stage school) all over the blog. Many. Click on the labels below.