"Doctor! I'm not that kind of girl!" 13 facts about nurses learned from a box of '60s nurse romance novels
Each Monday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets around Los Angeles.
A big 'ol box of '60s nurse romance novels
Discovered at: The Last Bookstore's great warehouse sale three weeks ago
"It wasn't in our nursing manuals, Dr. Braden," Lisa jerked out, "that we had to allow doctors to kiss us!"
"Wear kiss-proof lipstick, Veronica. There might be a bit of necking on the evening's schedule."
She laughed past the embarrassment. And said lightly, "Doctor! I'm not that kind of girl!"
(Both from from 1962's Nurses Dormitory, by Alice Brennan.)
For most of America's history, the only jobs legally available to women were teacher, flag designer, astronaut's wife, and nurse, an important position that by the 1960s seems to have demanded but two important criteria, at least according to the box of nurse romance novels I recently discovered at The Last Bookstore's warehouse book sale.
1. Wearing starchy uniforms as white and soft and tasty as slices of wedding cake.
2. Ability to aid the august doctor in pretty much the same way that the spur-winged pulver aids the mighty crocodile, except the nurse cleans patients' bottoms instead of croc teeth, and the crocodile-doctor is always trying to talk the bird into necking.
Here's what else I discovered:
Nurses Refer To Each Other By Darling Pet Names, Including "Darling" and "Pet"
In the 1965 Harlequin The Taming of Nurse Conway,
Nurse Jane, Nurse Nicola and others call each other dear, pet, darling, honey cherub, "conscientious clot" (?!) and more. Jane even says this:
"You could have had a lucky escape there, chick. I don't want to sound mean, but just imagine being married to a blind man!"
Nurses Are Prone to Excitability:
"He'd looked at her! He'd really looked at her! Not as Veronica Leighton, the kid sister! Not as Veronica Leighton, the little girl who'd grown up next door to him. Not even as Veronica Leighton, nurse. But as Veronica Leighton, desirable woman!" (Nurses Dormitory)
I hope she puts that on her business card! Also:
"Deep inside, hidden under the uniform, her heart leaped and bounded like a lamb in a cloverfield." (Nurses Dormitory)
(A side-note: Narrating nurse excitability allows authors to sneak in physical description without slowing down the story.)
"Was she running away? Running away from a heartache that could still the tawny splendor of her eyes that with the tears she refused to shed? The very thought brought a droop to her small face." (Nurse MacLean Goes West, a 1961 Harlequin)
Nurses Don't Always Support Other Nurses:
In The Taming of Nurse Conway, Nurse Nicola Conway finds herself unable to forgive Dr. Trenton for taking well over half an hour to get to the hospital when Nurse Conway's mother was in critical condition - a failure that led to the mother's death. This prompts Nurse Jane to snap:
"If I were Dr. Trenton, I'd see that you didn't last one more day on the nursing staff - and that's the honest truth, Nicky. You're just a spoiled, self-opinionated little brat!"
Later, in the same book:
Nurse Bette: "Spoiled brat! The trouble with you, Nicky, is you didn't have enough spankings when you were a youngster. They should have set out to break that too-independent spirit of yours."
Nurses Are Understandably Reluctant to Take on OB-GYN Work:
"'Fine chance of picking up a bachelor on this floor! Rich or poor!'"
Nurses Perform Comedy Routines:
"The first time I had to observe an operation, I fainted dead away! Luckily, there happened to be a really cool-looking intern standing just behind me!" Her grin changed to a forlorn scowl. "I found out afterwards, he also just happened to be married."
Veronica laughed. "That didn't keep him from catching you when you fell, did it?"
Susie shook her flyaway hair. "No, but it did keep me from catching him!"
Nurses Get Shamed for Their Bad Decisions:
"I once tried to look at an eclipse of the sun and for days afterward I could see fascinating little suns everywhere I looked."
"You idiot," Geoff's smiling face almost found hers. "You could have blinded yourself for life."
(The Taming of Nurse Conway)
Nurses Travel for Work:
Nurses are Suspicious:
He slowed the car. "I'm taking you to my favourite drive-in. It's not as crowded as some of the others." He laughed uproariously as Jean moved away from him in unconscious alarm. '"You silly little coot! It's not a petting park but a place where they make the best hamburgers!" (Nurse MacLean Goes West)
Nurses Tend to Use (and Be Described In) Language That Later Generations Will Find Rude or Sexually Suggestive:
"Aha! Beat me off duty, eh?" Nicky stood still stuck in the doorway. "Marie, what on earth are you doing?"
"I might just do that!" Nicky cried gaily, but there was no laughter in her beautiful, pansy-dark eyes.
Also, Nurse Conway claims her fiancée Geoff looks "as dark as a sunburned Hottentot."
(All from The Taming of Nurse Conway)
Nurses and the Doctors They Love are Forever About to Marry the Wrong Person:
In Congo Nurse Nurse Andrea Bartlett loves Dr. Dexter "Rusty" Stewart, her childhood friend and co-volunteer at a hospital in the Congo. But she is close to marrying Pierre Desseau, the French owner of one of the Congo's largest plantations. Desseau is known for calling the natives "baboon"s and chasing them away with his guns. The good-hearted Dr. Stewart, meanwhile, is engaged to a Park Avenue society woman who wants to set him up with a posh Manhattan practice.
She says things like:
"[Dexter] had the audacity to suggest that one of Pierre Desseau's native boys drive me here. Now he leaves me to you, Miss Bartlet, while he attends to some boring details about an iron lung."
Doctors Tend to Condescend to Nurses Before Falling in Love With Them:
In The Taming of Nurse Conway, Dr. Trenton denounces Nurse Conway's "appalling impetuosity" and says things like:
"'If you were even a few years younger I'd turn over my knee and give you the thrashing you deserve!'"
Later, he cables her father to alert him to her unprofessional behavior.
Even at the Moment of Declaring Their Love, Doctors Tend to Condescend to Nurses:
"Why the blue blazes do you think I've put up with your tantrums all this time? You know damned well I've been in love with you since the first time I ever set eyes on your stupid, sulky, adorable little face!" Into the stunned silence, he flung a last word. "You utterly spoiled little brat!"
Nurses are Equal Partners in Their Happy-Ending Marriages to Doctors:
"What do we do next" Jean managed to introduce a practical note into the proceedings. "Can I go on working after we're married?"
Gavin lifted his eyebrows. "Getting independent already? Sure, if you want to, but it's got to be in the same hospital. I don't want to be wondering who's making eyes at you when my mind should be on other things." (Nurse MacLean Goes West)
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