December 4, 2019 — In 1905, the Red Cross received its Congressional Charter in a time of relative peace. Prior to World War I, it introduced programs involving water safety, first aid and public health nursing.
The need for qualified nurses increased after the war, when the veterans returned home. There was also the Spanish Flu epidemic, which affected thousands of people. And yet another health issue was a need for better sanitary conditions to curb the spread of diseases.
On this date in 1919, Miss Abigail Stebbens, an instructor for the Red Cross, announced that the home health course in Williston was being well attended. The course was conducted using the Red Cross Manual of Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick. Initially, Miss Stebbens had wanted to begin the course among the more rural and remote areas of Williams County, but with the onset of winter, that plan was abandoned. In rural states such as North Dakota, the lack of doctors and trained nurses made the population particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease. The programs were aimed at educating the women in the communities through practical lessons on home health care.
Over one hundred and ten ladies had enrolled in the course, which was much larger than expected. Miss Stebbens referred to the program as “Sickly Susie,” and it was growing slowly but surely. Lessons were conducted daily except Saturday and Sunday, and only those who attended a total of twelve classes were allowed to take the examination at the close of the course.
On Saturdays, a four-hour course was offered to the ladies of Happy Hollow in rural Williston. Lessons were repeated, making it possible to miss a class and still complete the course in two months. The fee for the course was one dollar, which included a copy of the textbook. Dolls were used for demonstrating the care of infants.
When the weather improved, the program was repeated across the county. Upon successful completion of the course, the women were awarded a certificate. The course was not meant to replace the need for doctors and nurses in the rural communities, and it did not certify these women as nurses. It did, however, make them much more aware of what they could do as homemakers to provide a healthier lifestyle, and it also trained them on how to provide first aid and medical care when needed, a good thing to know when the help of a qualified physician could be hours away.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.