In Her Words

“An Actual Day’s Work” by Julia C. Stimson, 1912

Julia C. Stimson, 1917
Julia C. Stimson, 1917

Julia C. Stimson was superintendent of nurses and head of the Social Service Department at Harlem Hospital in New York prior to coming to St. Louis in October 1911 to assume similar duties at the St. Louis Children’s and Washington University Hospitals. This narrative, written by Stimson, was included in the First Annual Report of the Social Service Departments, published in 1912. In it Stimson describes in great detail a “typical” day and the variety of activities related to responding to the specific medical needs of patients. Stimson, whose title was “Head Worker,” refers to herself in the narrative in the third person.



First, there was the mail to be attended to. One letter referred a new cripple case for our special investigation on cripples. This name was sent in by one of the workers of the Provident Association. The next letter contained a check for the annual dues of the Mission Free School for membership in the Charities Registration Bureau. As Treasurer of this Bureau, the Head Worker had to send a receipt.

The next letter was from a doctor of the city asking some information about the Russell Sage Foundation of New York.

Then there was a bill for eggs which for two months had been supplied a tuberculous boy for whom the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Tuberculosis for various reasons were unable to provide.

The next was a receipt from a graduate nurse who had been engaged to nurse a little hunchback boy through a severe attack of measles, in one room in an alley down on N. 10th St. This boy has long been a patient of the Orthopedic Department, and when he contracted measles and it was impossible to put him in the contagious ward of the Children’s Hospital because of its over-crowded condition, the only solution of the problem of his cure seemed in securing a private nurse. The mother, a foolish sort of person, was utterly unable to look after him. On account of his bad back it seemed inadvisable to send him out to the City Contagious Hospital. A few days’ expert care in his own home pulled him through the worst of his trouble, and the mother, after watching the nurse and being instructed by her, was able to go on with his care. The Provident Association met the emergency of the mother’s being obliged to give up her work, by sending provisions and coal, and as soon as all danger of contagion was over, the boy was brought back to the hospital, from there to be sent to the Convalescent Home.

Next was a letter from the Jewish Alliance about a patient that had been referred to them by the Prenatal Nurse.

Waiting in the office when the workers arrived, was a woman and her little 4-year-old boy. Mrs. M. is one of our old friends. Her two little girls have been under our care for a long time. One had been removed from great moral exposure, and the other had been brought to the hospital and kept under surgical treatment for tuberculosis of the spine, which her mother had thought was only a little cold in her neck. This child is still wearing the celluloid jacket which supports her head and is going to make her well, which was paid for by the Provident Association. Mrs. M. wanted advice about undertaking to run a rooming house. One of the workers was sent out with her to go over the house, the contents of which she was thinking of buying, and to talk over the whole proposition. She has a small sum of money that had just come to her from the sale of a piece of long-tied-up property.

The next caller was a woman who has three little children, one of whom is badly crippled from Infantile Paralysis. Mrs. K. had come from Tennessee, where she had been deserted, and was living in St. Louis with a relative, but the relative was obliged to leave town, and the difficulty here was whether Mrs. K. should go back to her own home town, and if she should do so, whether her crippled child could be left in the hospital. The doctors were consulted, and it was decided that Myrtle could be admitted to the hospital, later to be sent to the Convalescent Home. So Mrs. K. decided she would go back to Tennessee.

The next caller was a man who had been referred by a church. It took but a few minutes’ telephoning to find out that he was an expert beggar. He was told where he could go to find work, but it was apparent when he left that he was dissatisfied with this assistance, as what he was looking for was cash.

A worried looking man was the next caller. He had come, he said, to talk about taking his little girl home from the hospital. He had been known before, because he had been paying for his child’s brace a little at a time through the Department. He said that neighbors had told him they were sure his girl would never get well. His baby was sick at home and his wife was very much worried, and he had felt he must take Marna home to die at home if she were going to die. It was a simple matter to let Mr. W. talk to the doctor in charge of Marna, who relieved his fear at once, and urged him to leave her in the hospital. Mr. W. thought that if he could but see her a minute, in order to tell his wife that he had seen her, that maybe she would not be so distressed. Special permission was obtained from the Superintendent to let Mr. W. see Marna in the ward for a minute. He had been unable to come at visiting hours the day before because he is a night worker and had to sleep. The next matter was the sick baby at home. Mr. W. said that the child was too ill to be brought to the hospital, and he could not afford to pay a doctor, so he did not know what to do. It happened that just the day before, a doctor had offered his services for just such cases as this. He was telephoned to at once, and promised to see the baby that day. Mr. W. left with a mind that was much relieved.

The brace maker came next. He wanted to know whether he was to go ahead with the celluloid jacket and brace for a little Italian boy in the ward who three years ago had been shot in the back and had been unable to move below the waist ever since. The doctors wanted to put this apparatus on the boy but his parents were unable to pay for it. The brace maker was told to go ahead with the order, as the interest of a special Sunday School class had been enlisted and they had agreed to be responsible for the cost.

The telephone had been ringing at intervals. An applicant for a position on the Staff had been told to call at the office. One of the Probation Officers from the Juvenile Court had telephoned about a woman that she wished referred to our Prenatal Nurse.

The Superintendent of a large Sunday School had telephoned about a special Thanksgiving offering of his Sunday School, which was to be distributed through the Department. This offering was to be in two forms, groceries and cash. The groceries were to be turned over to the Provident Association, to be distributed through their regular channels, and the cash to pay for some of the cripples’ needs.

There was also a telephone message from a woman inquiring whether the celluloid jacket for her little boy must be paid for at once or not.

Telephone messages about various matters were sent to the Legal Aid Society, the Tuberculosis Society and the Provident Association.

The applicant had arrived and when found untrained for hospital work was told where it was possible that she might get information about such work as she would be able to do.

A large colored woman and a badly crippled little 13-year-old girl were the next to call. Their visit was purely social. They had come to see the doctor and had just stepped in to say how well things were going with them. It had been necessary to use the influence of the Juvenile Court to persuade this woman to allow the little girl to come to clinic and to be fitted for a necessary brace, but that part of the story seems to have been forgotten and only the friendliest feelings remain.

Various members of the Staff were then waiting to talk over special problems. One worker wanted a $5.00 loan to pay the transportation of an 18-year-old girl and a friend of the same age back to their home town. These girls were inexperienced and unused to the ways of the city and had been living for ten days without a single cooked meal.

A volunteer visitor came next to tell of some success she had had in placing an unmarried girl with her baby in a private home where the girl could work and have her baby with her.

Here things stopped for a few minutes while luncheon was secured. Immediately afterwards two members of the regular staff came to talk over some of their cases and soon the 16-year-old ward of one of the workers came in have a few minutes’ talk. This young girl with her brother and younger sisters have been taken away from a drunken father by the aid of the Juvenile Court. The other children were placed with relatives or in good homes, but this girl was given into the care of one of the workers. The girl, although under the required age, had had much experience in caring for her younger brother and sisters, and because of her responsible ways and intelligence, was admitted to the Children’s Hospital to take the course for a Baby Nurse. She at this time had been in the Hospital doing excellently, for about six months, happy and liked and well, and in a few months will be fitted to go out and earn her own living.

The next visitor was a woman who came to talk about payment for a glass eye for her stepson who is in the Hospital.

For a little while afterwards there was opportunity to write some letters and give dictation on some work to the stenographer.

A little after five, just as the Head Worker was leaving, a Deputy Sheriff appeared with two subpoenas for her to appear in the Juvenile Court. One was on a matter of a baby that had been deserted at the Children’s Hospital and had been referred to the Juvenile Court for commitment to some institution. The other was a case where the Head Worker had been called in as a witness (by accident) by one of the Probation Officers. A case of the little 4-year-old child in the home of a drunken man and woman who were not married.