Baptist Sanitarium student nurses album, circa 1918

by Alethea Drexler

archives assistant

I’m going to take a little bit of a detour this Friday and do a posting on another of my favorites from the historical collections.

The following images are a small selection from a photo album that belongs to the Memorial Hospital collection.  The nutshell history of the Memorial Healthcare System can be found in the Handbook of Texas Online.  Unfortunately, we don’t have any background information on the album except that we know that the girls featured in many of the pictures were student nurses during World War I.  The album was probably a personal possession of one of them rather than an album that belonged to the hospital, since it also contains pictures of what appears to be a road trip, or several road trips, to places in the Midwest and West: One sees what appears to be a railroad station in Topeka, a souvenir shop outside of Cave of the Winds in Colorado; an adobe house; and what I think is a redwood stump, which would have been in California.

To start out, this is what Baptist Sanitarium, as it was known at the time, looked like.  Note the awnings on the windows.  You’ll see those again.  This building was later expanded considerably.  The streets here are not paved, and if you look closely, there appear to be streetcar rails just visible in the dirt.

Baptist Sanitarium

Here is a surgical suite with some equipment.   The cabinets would have been white enameled metal.  The thing with the metal cylinders on it is an early sterilizer for surgical implements and bandage material.  The smaller thing with the gas bottles and oblong rubber bags is an anesthesia machine.  Interestingly, I worked for a little while as a veterinary assistant and the anesthesia machines we used in surgery were uncannily similar to this one, even 90 years later.  Note the high ceilings and transoms over the doors–this was the pre-air-conditioning era.

Surgical suite and equipment

A staged operation.  Medical technology has progressed to the point where surgical gowns, scrub caps, masks, and gloves were in use.  See the awning? I think this may be the side of the room opposite the picture above, but I’m not sure.

Staged operation

Here’s a student nurse in her uniform.  The bib on the pinafore was probably detachable, and the cuffs on the dress sleeves were also detachable, so they could be washed separately, and heavily starched and ironed to hold their shape.  This seems to have been taken from the roof of the Sanitarium; you can see the Houston skyline in the background.  It’s changed a little bit since then.

Student nurse, with skyline

Here’s another student nurse in a less-formal pose.  The dress she’s wearing is probably the same as the dress worn by the girl in the preceding picture, but without the apron and cuffs.  I can’t tell what she’s eating but I hope it’s a brownie.  Mmm . . . brownies.  (Actually, brownies were developed in 1893 and would have been relatively new at the time, which seems unthinkable to we third- and fourth-generation chocoholics.)

Brownie?

More clowning around!  The girls below are dressed in scrubs: Two in scrub dresses and two in–take note–scrub shirts and pants, which they obviously find amusing since they’re playing the part of the beaux in a mock double marriage proposal.  There are several pictures in the album of young women in scrub pants.  Scrubs, it seems, haven’t changed much in 90 years, either.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the shadow of the photographer (lower right) shows that her hands are placed near her waist, not in front of her face as ours would be.  The camera she’s using is probably a box camera such as a Kodak Brownie, which had a waist-level viewfinder instead of an eye-level one like modern cameras do.

Proposal

A new mother.  Note the elaborate hairstyle.  The lacy blouse she’s wearing may be a bed jacket.

A new mother.

This comes from a later part of the album and may have been taken a little later than the above pictures.  It’s definitely war-time, but this section of the album features a different set of girls, who now appear to be full-fledged nurses in white uniforms and dark capes. It also features a lot of young soldiers.  This early GMC truck has no windshield or doors, which was common in 1910’s, especially on vehicles that were meant to be utilitarian instead of luxurious.  The placard on the side says “[obscured] Hospital No. 1”, (presumably truck) “No. 5”, and “[Fort S?]am Houston“, which would place it in San Antonio.  Since it’s not painted with the red cross emblem, it may simply have been a troop transport or cargo truck.  Presumably, the album’s owner worked at Fort Sam Houston during the war.

Fort Sam Houston truck

I’m going to include a few of the travel pictures even though they’re medically irrelevant, simply because they’re kind of interesting.   I don’t know where this was taken but it’s a sign of the times: It’s a steam tractor (also called a “road locomotive”; steam tractors looked very much like early train engines).  The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum can tell you more about these.

Steam tractor

There is no clue who this is, but she’s standing on the Galveston seawall.  Behind her are the pillars that commemorate the construction of the seawall after the 1900 Storm.  That may also be Murdoch’s Bath House in the background, if it occupied then the location that it does today; this would have been Murdoch’s as it was rebuilt after the 1915 hurricane.

On the Galveston seawall

Here’s the Topeka train station.  The current Great Overland Station was built in 1927 and I can’t find any pictures of this one.  I assume it was either replaced, or was a lesser station that has been forgotten.  The style has overtones of Richardson Romanesque, suggesting it was built around 1880-1895.  The flatbed wagons were used for transporting luggage.

Station in Topeka

Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs, Colorado.  I lived in Colorado for a while when I was a kid, and I’ve been to Cave of the Winds.  This is the visitor’s center as it appeared from the 1910’s at least into the 1950’s .  The car in the foreground is a post-1915 Buick.

Cave of the Winds

I can’t prove it, but this could be Garden of the Gods, which is not too far from Cave of the Winds.  If it’s not, it’s at least some place with very similar geology.

Is this Garden of the Gods?

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Posted in Images
2 comments on “Baptist Sanitarium student nurses album, circa 1918
  1. Shannon says:

    Great post Alethea! We want more!

  2. Carl says:

    It certainly looks like Garden of the Gods.

    Really nice post!

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